The 2016 Lowy Lecture: Exciting times ahead on a sombre day


When Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull launched the 2016 Defence White Paper one month ago he said that ‘it sets out a clear eyed and unsentimental appraisal of our strategic environment, the threats and the opportunities.’

Last night’s Lowy Lecture, delivered by Mr Turnbull, was an attempt — perhaps overdue — to put his personal stamp on that appraisal. It was characteristically longer on the opportunities than on the threats.

Mr Turnbull takes his optimism seriously, even though last night’s lecture was arguably the first stump speech of what may be an unusually extended election campaign.

Asia’s growth story is not only a market opportunity, according to the prime minister. Its economic transition also serves a forcing function, requiring greater agility of Australia as it transitions from a commodities and construction-led boom to something more enduring. The prime minister’s economic upside lens was further evident in his efforts to sell the domestic innovation benefits of the Defence White Paper.

In this, Mr Turnbull’s first real foreign policy speech on home turf as PM, terrorism was always bound to feature. After events in Brussels, he was obliged to open with it. Sympathies for Belgium aside, there were also some stinging words for ‘European governments confronted by a perfect storm of failed or neglected integration’, returning foreign fighters and an ‘intelligence and security apparatus struggling to keep pace with the scope and breadth of the threat’.