Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Michael L'Estrange. Thank you for that introduction. Your Excellencies. My parliamentary colleagues, the Minister for Trade, the Hon Simon Crean, and the Parliamentary Secretary for Trade, the Hon John Murphy. Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston. Peter Shergold, and other Department Heads; Distinguished guests; Ladies and gentleman.
It is a great pleasure to be here this evening with my Cabinet colleague, the Minister for Trade, Simon Crean. As you know, I was sworn in this morning and as a consequence, this is my first official function as Minister for Foreign Affairs. For over the last decade your host has been Alexander Downer--Australia's longest serving Foreign Minister.
I had the chance to speak with Alexander this afternoon. He asked that I pass his thanks and best wishes to you and express his appreciation for the work of your missions over not just the past year but his period in office. I also take this opportunity, whatever our policy differences, to acknowledge his personal contribution in our national interest in the Foreign Affairs portfolio.
It is great privilege for me to be here tonight as Australia's 35(th) Foreign Minister, the sixth from Western Australia and the sixth Labor Foreign Minister since the Second World War. I am very conscious of the role my Labor Predecessors have played in helping to establish Australia's name and reputation in international affairs. I aspire to carrying on that Labor tradition of service.
At the heart of the new Rudd Labor Government's foreign policy approach lies the responsibility to protect, defend and enhance Australia's national security, to maximise our economic opportunities and to advance Australia's national interest across the range of international issues.
There are three pillars that underpin the Labor Government's approach to foreign policy. First, our relationship with the United States. Australia's alliance with the United States was forged during the Second World War. John Curtin is a hero in my own State of Western Australia, not because he lived in Cottesloe, but because through his forging of the US alliance, he saved our nation at its moment of greatest peril.
That alliance has since been supported and developed by both major political parties in both of our countries since that time: Labor, Liberal, Democrat, Republican.
It remains a key pillar of our foreign policy approach. Our friendship with the United States is deep and valued by both sides. I look forward to pursuing that in a way which advances both our nations' mutual interests.
Second, our membership of the United Nations. The international legal obligations and responsibilities that brings are another fundamental pillar of our foreign policy approach. Australia, through Prime Minister Ben Chifley and Foreign Minister Herbert Vere Evatt, was instrumental in helping to found the United Nations. We took, for example, an active role in the first phase of United Nations activity, helping Indonesia achieve its independence. We will work cooperatively with and in the international community on the mutual challenges we face. We will play our part in finding solution to what are sometimes difficult issues.
Third, our strong focus on Asia and the Pacific. We are in a unique position as a nation State, a country of 21 million people nestled in the Asia-Pacific region. …