Thank you very much Mr Speaker.
I join with the fine words of the Prime Minister today to honour a nation-builder and a builder of relationships between nations: the late Abe Shinzo, the former Prime Minister of Japan.
I extend a very warm welcome to His Excellency, the Ambassador Yamagami Shingo and his wife, and also the staff from the Embassy.
Shinzo Abe was the first Japanese Prime Minister born after the Second World War.
And yet, it was the shadow of war and the weight of history which would define his life’s work.
He was a man who understood the consequences of conflict, and was unwavering in his commitment to peace.
On his appointment to leadership in 2006 – his first and brief term as Prime Minister – Mr Abe spoke about his vision for Japan:
His desire to create ‘a beautiful country’ which was ‘open to the world’.
At a time when Japan was struggling to shake off its ‘lost decades’ of low growth from the early 1990s until the first decade of this century, Mr Abe believed Japan must not become disconnected from the world, and the world disconnected from Japan.
It was in his second and renowned term as leader between 2012 and 2020, which made him Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister.
We now honour Mr Abe as a leader of conviction; a patriot who uttered his beliefs with courage; and a politician who had the will and the skill to implement his domestic and foreign policy agenda.
His economic, social and structural reforms – ‘Abenomics’, as they have come to be known – injected much needed energy and growth into Japan’s economy which had been hit by years of deflation.
GDP and private investment went up, unemployment dropped, and record numbers of women were in work.
Today, ‘Abenomics’ stands alongside Reaganomics and Thatcherism as economic approaches of significance.
Mr Abe is now part of the pantheon of world leaders whose policies, due to their success, carry their creator’s name.
As Mr Abe steered his country into a new period of ‘vitality, opportunity, and compassion’ as he had always hoped to do, international outreach neither escaped his attention – nor did Australia.
Indeed, both were in his blood.
He would follow in the footsteps of his grandfather – Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi– who, with Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies and Trade Minister John McEwen, brought to fruition the Australia-Japan Commerce Agreement of 1957.
If that trade agreement normalised bilateral relations, gave rise to friendship, and engendered new prosperity for both our nations in the post-war years, then it was Mr Abe and Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s signing of the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership in 2014 which signalled the evolution of the relationship into a truly special strategic partnership.
It is hard to think of another family – besides the Royal House of Windsor, perhaps – that has had such a profound influence on Australia’s development as a nation.
Importantly, the free trade agreement which Shinzo Abe finalised with Australia was the first Japan concluded with a major developed economy.
One that, as Prime Minister Tony Abbott noted, took rare courage to challenge entrenched ideas.
And one that no doubt instilled confidence in Mr Abe to be a flagbearer for free trade and the champion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The most vivid characterisation of our bilateral relationship came from Mr Abe himself during his historic visit in 2014.
In his address to this Parliament on the 8th of July he said:
“Japan and Australia have deepened our economic ties. We will now join up in a scrum, just like in rugby, to nurture our regional and the world order and to safeguard peace.”
That same year, negotiations commenced on the Reciprocal Access Agreement to allow our military forces to operate in each other’s country – an agreement brought to fruition under the former Morrison Government.
Just like his grandfather, Mr Abe valued history, but was not a prisoner of the past.
He sought to transform Japan’s role in the world through constitutional recognition of its armed forces.
His motivation stemmed not from a desire to rewrite history or to dismiss past horrors and injustices.
Rather, because he appreciated more than most the increasing threats in the region and their implications.
Mr Abe’s prescience and pragmatism was on display in his address to the Parliament of India in August 2007.
There he delivered his famous ‘Confluence of the Two Seas’ speech – now considered to be one of the most pivotal for the region’s development.
Not only did he reconceptualise the region – a ‘broader Asia’ that had come about from the ‘dynamic coupling’ of ‘seas of freedom and of prosperity’ – but he spoke of an ‘Arc of Freedom and Prosperity’ in which Japan and India’s coming together would engender wider partnerships with the United States and Australia.
Ahead of his time, Mr Abe was the author of the concept and characterisation of a ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific and the architect of the Quad.
But it wouldn’t be until ten years later that he could give substance to the Quad – evidence of his persistence.
Testimony to his character and influence, Mr Abe’s standing grew both in Japan and internationally following his retirement from high office.
With growing tensions in the region, he became more outspoken about threats to Japan and peace in the region, especially the prospect of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
Such warnings were neither the voice of catastrophism, nor chest-beating from a man in post-political life.
They were the considered views of a seasoned statesman who had earlier said:
“We have the great responsibility to take the lessons of history deeply into our hearts, to carve out a better future, and to make all possible efforts for the peace and prosperity of Asia and the world.”
Whether as a nation builder or builder of relationships between nations, Mr Abe’s legacy will never be forgotten and will be felt throughout the world for generations to come.
Visionary statesman, pragmatic leader, conviction politician – Mr Abe is an example for all elected to office, and all who desire to enter public life.
I acknowledge the fact that former Prime Minister Morrison and his wife Jenny today have met with the Prime Minister and his wife in Tokyo to convey their condolences for their tragic loss.
As the Leader of the Opposition, and on behalf of the Coalition, I offer my heartfelt condolences to the people of Japan.
To Mr Abe’s colleagues in the Liberal Democratic Party.
And especially to his dear family and friends.
May he rest in peace.