‘Ozanda’: Australia, Canada could be powerful strategic partners, says Julie Bishop

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Toronto: Australia and Canada should join forces to become a powerful voice that could help manage tensions between the US and China as competition intensifies in the Indo-Pacific, former foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop says.

Speaking in Toronto as she chaired a global forum of 150 senior business and political leaders, Bishop, a former deputy Liberal leader, also suggested Canada should have a greater role in the AUKUS military pact.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to Julie Bishop, Australia’s former foreign affairs minister, at the Australia-Canada Economic Leadership Forum in Toronto.Credit: Bloomberg

She also called for the two nations to consider a new trade deal to deepen investment.

“I believe that like-minded nations, such as Canada and Australia, together, could be a powerful voice in managing tensions between the United States and China,” she said.

“We’re one of a few nations of the world with a trade surplus with China, while Canada and the US are obviously joined at the hip in a number of ways, so there’s so much that I think Australia and Canada could do to help manage tensions.”

Four years after retiring from politics, Bishop is now is the co-chair of the Australia-Canada Economic Leadership Forum, which seeks to identify areas where the two Commonwealth countries can work more closely on trade, investment, foreign policy and global security.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at the Australia-Canada Economic Leadership Forum in Toronto on Tuesday.Credit: Bloomberg

As catastrophic wildfires continue to burn across Canada, blanketing cities across North America in heavy smoke, Australia has sent firefighters and specialist staff to assist the firefighting effort, just as Canada supported Australia during the 2019-20 summer bushfires.

Thanking the Albanese government for its help, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pointed to Canada’s devastating wildfire season – its worst on record – as yet another reason for the two countries to work together to tackle climate change.

“The world is facing incredible uncertainty, but something that hasn’t changed is the connections between Canada and Australia,” Trudeau said.

“Canada and Australia have the resources and energy that a net-zero world will need. We cannot understate the urgency of building that clean economy.”

As of 2021, the two-way trade and investment between the nations represented more than $170 billion.

What’s more, Australia and Canada share so many similarities that an article in The Economist recently suggested they could form a single country called “Ozanda”, citing the countries’ vast land masses “populated by comparatively few people and dangerous wildlife”, their membership of the Commonwealth and the fact that they are both a hot spot for immigration and rich natural resources.

Bishop, noting that the countries were essentially “a mirror in terms of their values, world perspective and approach to many global issues”, said there was scope for greater co-operation, potentially in the form of a new trade and investment agreement.

Bishop’s comments came days after the AUKUS pact to supply Australia with nuclear-propelled submarines moved a step closer to reality, when a powerful US Senate committee approved draft legislation designed to turbocharge the ambitious three-way military pact with the US and Britain.

If it is passed in full by Congress, Australia would be given a 20-year exemption from strict US export control laws to help accelerate the delivery of its $368 billion deal.

However, AUKUS is also on the agenda for Canada. Canadian publication The Globe and Mail reported in May that the country was making efforts to have a greater say, amid fears that it could be excluded from valuable intelligence and technology sharing, which make up so-called “Pillar 2” under the deal.

Bishop said Canada was a “natural partner for AUKUS as it evolved”.

This sentiment was backed by Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott, who told the forum that AUKUS was “a game-changing deal that rewrites power dynamics and opens up a new set of broader economic opportunities”.

“Our view is that we don’t want to see Canada excluded from these benefits,” Westacott added.

Australian Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus also attended the event on behalf of the prime minister. He used his speech, in part, to talk up the campaign to recognise Australia’s Indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Island people constitutionally through the establishment of a representative Voice providing non-binding advice to the parliament.

“With daunting challenges facing the world, we have much to learn from First Nations peoples, both at home and in an international forum,” Dreyfus said.

“I know that Canada shares that determination for indigenous peoples including first nations to be heard, recognised and empowered – culturally, socially, and economically.”

Bishop, also chairwoman of the Prince’s Trust Australia, hit out at Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ abrupt decision to cancel the Commonwealth Games.

“I am astounded that the premier has cancelled the Commonwealth Games in this fashion,” she told this masthead.

“He is sending a message to the Commonwealth countries that Australia cannot afford to host a Games, yet we would expect a developing Commonwealth nation to host it. Is this Premier, from one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, signalling the death knell of this sporting contest?”

Both countries were also in a unique position to work together to safeguard the Indo-Pacific, she said, as Canada and Australia are strategic allies to the US, while China is Australia’s largest trading partner.

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