Federation Week: An Australian Mosaic - Alexander Downer

Notes for the speech delivered by the Hon Alexander Downer for Visions for a Nation

Alexander DownerAlexander Downer was born in 1951 and was educated at Geelong Grammar School, Radley College Oxford, and the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Before entering Federal Parliament, Mr Downer held positions as an Economist with the Bank of New South Walkes, as a Diplomat, as a Political Adviser to Malcolm Fraser and to Andrew Peacock and an the Executive Director of the Australian Chamber of Commerce. Mr Downer was elected Federal Member for Mayo in 1984. He served as a Shadow Minister in a number of portfolios before becoming Leader of the Opposition in 1994.

Mr Downer stepped down as Liberal Party Leader in early 1995 and became Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. In 1996 he was appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs when the Liberal-National Party Coalition was elected to Government. Mr Downer is married with three daughters and one son. He is the grandson of prominent SA Federationist, Sir John Downer, who was instrumental in drafting Australia’s Constitution.

 In the last hundred years Australia has built a strong social and economic base

Proud of our achievements

At an international level this century will be characterised by certain trends

  1. Increased global economic interdependence is inevitable and desirable
    • As people are brought closer together (tourism, communications) communities will become more tolerant and understanding of each other, ie moderate the mutual threat perception.
  2. There will be a substantial change in the nature of the geo-strategic power structure of the world (it has never been static).
    • The Asia Pacific region will become increasingly important
  3. Transboundary issues. Illegal people movements, competition over scarce, non-renewable resources, and the spread of pandemic diseases are three issues that create tensions within nations and between nations.

Each of these three trends will present Australia with a number of difficult challenges.

  • Interdependence. To be a successful country we are going to have to be appropriately:
    • Competitive ie quality of goods and services we produce, our education system, research and development
    • Open ie we need to be mentally prepared to seize the opportunities of engagement with the rest of the world
    • We need to strike the right balance between nationalism and internationalism. We need not surrender our national characteristics, we can have every confidence that we can do these things as we have done in the past.
  • Power Structures
    • We have to be versatile in the relationships we build with other countries.
    • The single most important regional development in the next 50 years will be the growth of China. China will change and Australia will need to build a successful relationship with an increasingly democratic and prosperous China.
    • In terms of our security we will need to play our part in a contributing to building a mature security framework in the Asia Pacific Region but it will evolve in ways we cant say.
    • The US will remain the most powerful country in the world and integral to securing a stable Asia Pacific Region.
  • Transboundary issues
    • Scarcity of resources – oil, gas, water, nuclear waste
      • China, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand suffer endemic water shortages: critical to hydro-electricity generation and rice growing.
      • Global freshwater consumption increased six-fold in 20th century cf doubling of population growth. By 2025 UN estimates two-thirds of world’s population could under ‘water stress conditions’.
      • Major energy producers like the countries of Central Asia will attain greater international significance.
      • But new technologies will also help meet a number of environmental challenges – ie global warming (and inevitably create new challenges too)
      • Australia as a net exporter of energy, stands to gain but adaptability to new technologies will be important.
    • Pandemic health threats. HIV has already killed 22m people and 36m are infected – by 2021 UN estimates are that 150m will have died or been infected. Approx 8m people in the Asia Pacific are currently infected and an estimated 40m may have contracted the virus by 2025.

The world is not doing enough to address these transboundary issues.


Versatility in our bilateral relationships is crucial. We cannot focus on one group although naturally our attention will be directed at our neighbours.

Political parties in Australia that don’t understand these trends will not be able to deliver the results the people want.

While the views presented by speakers within The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre public program are their own and are not necessarily those of either the University of South Australia, or The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, they are presented in the interest of open debate and discussion in the community and reflect our themes of: Strengthening our Democracy - Valuing our Diversity - Building our Future. The Hawke Centre reserves the right to change their program at any time without notice.