Malcolm Turnbull

Call for Australia to become ASEAN member

A report has called for Australia to join the Association of South East Asian Nations (File). (AAP) Source: AAP

Australia should seek to join a club of south east Asian nations, a new report recommends.

A policy think tank has called for Australia to maximise its future in Asia by joining the ASEAN club of southeast Asian nations.

As Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull prepares to host leaders from the Association of South East Asian Nations in Sydney on March 17-18, a report released on Tuesday from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute makes the case for membership.

Report author Graeme Dobell suggests Australia and New Zealand could take up a new form of membership as ASEAN community partners by 2024.

"Joining ASEAN is the best way to give full expression to our future in south-east Asia and in Asia more broadly," he says.

"The Sydney summit can stir ambition into the symbolism, reaching towards substance."

Mr Dobell says southeast Asia is feeling the pressure from Asia's big beasts, the US, China, Japan and India.

"ASEAN, as a middle power grouping, needs extra middle power heft from Australia and New Zealand," he said.

The report acknowledges it will be an uphill battle to gain membership into the 10-country organisation, but one of the biggest hurdles will be Australia's own mindset.

"Australia confronts a version of the Groucho Marx line, 'I don't want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members', " Mr Dobell said.

"Or Canberra muses on a complicated semi-Groucho conundrum: 'Love the club. Think it's a wonderful, vitally important club. But we'd never want to join. Oh, and they don't want us.'"

Former Australian prime minister Paul Keating has advocated for Australia to seek membership of ASEAN in order to find security in Asia not from Asia.

The foreign affairs department has previously raised concerns that if Australia joined, it would have to refrain from criticism of ASEAN governments' human rights records, which would cramp Australian independence.

With growing middle classes, southeast Asian countries are expected to become economic powerhouses in coming decades, particular Indonesia, which is tipped to become a global top seven economy by 2030.

ASEAN members are Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei.

Australia has had a "strategic partnership" with ASEAN since 2014 and before that was a "dialogue partner".

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch