Minister for Defence – Address to the Asia-Pacific Chiefs of Defence Force Conference

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Thank you General [David] Hurley for that introduction. Thank you also to Admiral [Samuel] Locklear, Commander United States (US) Pacific Command, for co-hosting this Conference. 

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. 

I am very pleased to be here this evening at the Annual Asia-Pacific Chiefs of Defence Force Conference, a key forum as we increasingly recognise the growing strategic importance of our region for global security. 

I warmly welcome the Chiefs of Defence Force participating in this Conference, along with the senior military representatives from a total of 26 participating countries. 

The Conference theme “Two Oceans, one region: Strengthening Security in the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean” is deeply relevant as strategic weight shifts to our region, to our part of the world. 

Your deliberations are of importance to regional security and therefore of global significance. 

The rise of Asia, the Indian Ocean Rim and the Pacific 

In this century, the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean Rim, what some now refer to as the Indo-Pacific, will become the world’s strategic centre of gravity.  

The rise of China is a defining element in this, but it is far from the only or whole story.  

The rise of India is still under-appreciated, as is the rise of the ASEAN economies combined.  

The major and enduring economic strengths of Japan and South Korea also need to be acknowledged.  

So must the great individual potential of Indonesia – as it emerges from a regional to a global influence so important to Australia.  

As well, the US re-balance to the Asia-Pacific will see greater US military, economic and political engagement in our region.

The Indian Ocean 

The critical strategic importance of the Indian Ocean continues to be substantially under-appreciated.  

The countries of the Indian Ocean Rim are home to more than 2.6 billion people, almost 40 per cent of the world’s population.  

The security of its waters goes to the heart of global, regional and Australian strategic interests.  

The Indian Ocean already ranks among the busiest routes for global trade. It will become a crucial global trading thoroughfare in the future.  

The proportion of world energy supplies passing through critical transport choke points, including the Straits of Malacca, the Straits of Hormuz and the Suez Canal will only increase in coming years. 

Crucial trading routes, the presence of large and growing naval capabilities, as well as transnational security issues such as piracy, will drive Australia to ultimately put the Indian Ocean alongside the Pacific Ocean at the heart of our maritime strategic and defence planning.  

The growth of military power in the Indo Pacific 

The ongoing shift in influence towards our region is, however, not just about economics or demographics. 

Military and strategic influence is also moving to our part of the world. 

Economic growth has underpinned military modernisation and military capability growth across the region.  

The Indo-Pacific will be home to three of the world’s superpowers – the United States, China and India – and is home to four of the world’s largest militaries – the United States, Russia, China, and North Korea.  

The Indo-Pacific is also home to the world’s largest navies, including the navies of the United States, China, India and Russia. 

The implications of this historic shift continue to unfold.   

These changes of strategic circumstance, the changes in economic, political and military weight, do require adjustments in our region. 

How the international community manages that adjustment to ensure continued stability and prosperity is the most important objective we have and the central challenge that we have in the coming decades. 

And that adjustment cannot be done by what some describe as a policy of containment, which is not viable.  It is not possible for a country or countries to contain another country with a population of 1.3 billion, whether that is China or India.  

These shifting strategic influences must be managed by the international community through constructive and positive bilateral relationships, though dialogue and through regional architecture.

Australia’s policy is for Australia and the world to engage China, and for China to engage the world.  

The level of economic integration between Australia and China sets an important benchmark for our political, strategic and defence to defence and military to military engagement. 

The challenge is to raise our level of political and strategic engagement to the same level as our economic engagement. 

The same is true of the US-China relationship, but even more importantly so. 

Australia is encouraged by the enhanced engagement between US and China which we are now seeing. 

The “rebalanced” role of the United States 

Some assume that the economic and strategic influence of the United States, the world’s largest economy and superpower, will be rapidly eclipsed overnight as a result of this new distribution of strategic influence in the Indo Pacific.  

That is not Australia’s view. 

In Australia’s view, the United States has underwritten stability in the Asia-Pacific for more than the past half century and will continue to be the single most important strategic actor in our region for the foreseeable future, both in its own right and through its network of Alliances and security relationships, including with Australia.  

A continued, indeed enhanced, United States’ presence in the Asia Pacific is essential to peace and stability in our region.  Australia welcomes the United States enhanced engagement, its rebalance to our region.  

Amidst these strategic shifts, some have posited, indeed even suggested to the US itself, a substantial decline in or a withdrawal from our region. 

I do not see it this way. 

President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense Panetta have all reinforced that the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean Rim is of vital importance to the US. 

Australia in the Asian Century White Paper  

In this century, the region in which we live will become home to most of the world’s middle class and will be the world’s largest producer of goods and services, and the largest consumer of them.  

The scale and pace of Asia’s rise is staggering, and there are significant opportunities and challenges for Australia, and all countries in the region.  

The Australian Government recognised the significance of Asia’s transformation with the 28 October release of the “Australia in the Asian Century” White Paper. 

The White Paper lays out an ambitious plan to ensure Australia will emerge stronger over the decades ahead, by taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the Asian century.  

The White Paper also emphasises that the ongoing prosperity of Australia is irrevocably tied to the sustainable security of our diverse region.  

It outlines the Government’s national objectives for building sustainable security in our region, including:  

  • maintaining a comprehensive approach to security, including through the release of a new Defence White Paper in the first half of 2013; 


  • promoting cooperative arrangements among major powers in the region including promoting the development of the expanded East Asia Summit (EAS) as a crucial regional institution;


  • working with the US to ensure it continues to have a strong and consistent presence in the region, including through enhanced practical cooperation between Australia and the US;


  • supporting China’s full participation in the region’s strategic, political and economic development;


  • maintaining Australia’s strong support for global, regional and bilateral security frameworks and norms based on the United Nations Charter, including through our membership of the UN Security Council; and


  • pursuing practical cooperation and building local capability with regional partners across a range of areas such as terrorism, people smuggling, transnational crime, counter-proliferation and disaster management.  

The White Paper identifies new opportunities for Australia to pursue deeper strategic and security partnerships.  

This will also be a key theme of the 2013 Defence White Paper. 

2013 Defence White Paper 

In May, the Prime Minister and I announced that the Government will deliver a new Defence White Paper in the first half of 2013. 

Defence White Papers outline strategic, risk-based judgments about long-term national security and defence needs and set out a Government’s future plans for Defence, and how it will seek to affect these.  

The significant strategic developments which occur over such a period inevitably mean that the principle focus and judgments in any White Paper after such a lengthy period would relate to addressing those strategic events and changes. 

As a consequence, the 2009 White Paper had an almost exclusive focus on strategy and capability. 

While there have continued to be significant strategic developments since 2009, it’s been in the nature of an evolution or a consolidation, and therefore the core judgements of the 2013 White Paper will remain the same: 

  • Australia’s most basic strategic interest remains the defence of Australia against direct armed attack;


  • The security, stability and cohesion of our immediate neighbourhood is the next priority;


  • Australia has an enduring strategic interest in the stability of the wider Asia-Pacific region;


  • Australia has a strategic interest in preserving an international order that restrains aggression by states against each other, and can effectively manage other international risks, including from non-state actors;


  • The ongoing effects of the global financial crisis remain a challenge; and


  • The ADF needs to continue to modernise and upgrade its capabilities.


The 2013 Defence White Paper will consider in detail the implications of the changing strategic circumstances in our region for Australia’s Defence and national security, including:  

  • The ongoing strategic shift to our region, the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean Rim, particularly the shift of economic weight to our region; 


  • The US re-balance to the Asia Pacific and Australia’s enhanced practical cooperation with the US pursuant to our 60 year old Alliance relationship;


  • The ADF’s operational drawdown from Afghanistan, East Timor and Solomon Islands;


  • Australia’s Force Posture Review – the first in a quarter of a Century;


  • The ongoing adverse effects of the Global Financial Crisis, which have continued to have a significant deleterious impact on the global economy.  

The 2013 Defence White Paper will also address the range of institutional, organisational, operating and logistical challenges which help ensure Defence can effectively and efficiently carry out the priority tasks as set by Government through a White Paper. 

Regional Defence Engagement 

The Australian Government will continue to increase its efforts in the period ahead to deepen Defence cooperation, including joint exercises and other forms of engagement with our friends and partners in our region, many of who are represented here tonight.  

Substantially enhanced practical cooperation between Australia and the US is an essential part of Australia’s contribution to regional peace and stability. 

In November last year, the Prime Minister and President Obama announced during the President’s visit to Australia new force posture initiatives that significantly enhance practical defence cooperation between Australia and the US. 

Coming on the 60th anniversary of the ANZUS Alliance, these initiatives strengthen an already robust partnership that has been an influence for stability and peace in the Asia-Pacific region.  

It represents an evolution of existing exercises and activities that the US already conducts with the ADF in Australia.  

The first rotation of around 200 US Marine Corps personnel completed their first six month rotation in Darwin in September.  

The intent in the coming years is to establish a rotational presence of up to a 2,500 personnel Marine Air Ground Task Force, rotating into Northern Australia in the northern dry season. 

Australia and the US have also agreed to discuss closer cooperation between the Royal Australian Air Force and the US Air Force that will result in increased rotations of US aircraft through northern Australia. 

This will also enhance bilateral collaboration and offer greater opportunities for combined training and exercises.  

Down the track, it is also proposed to examine the possibility of increased US naval access to Australia’s Indian Ocean port, HMAS Stirling. 

US force posture initiatives are an extension of our existing defence cooperation and defence arrangements.  

The US does not have permanent military bases on Australian territory and this will not change.  The activities will take place in Australian facilities.   

We expect that this deepening practical cooperation with the US will also reinforce existing relationships and provide opportunities to enhance cooperation with our partners in the region. 

Australia is exploring these possibilities with both the US and our regional partners. 

For example, Australia, Indonesia and the United States are planning to hold a trilateral Australia-Indonesia-United States humanitarian assistance and disaster relief desk top exercise over the coming months and a field exercise in 2013, under the general auspices of the East Asia Summit humanitarian assistance and disaster relief framework. 

Indonesian President Yudhoyono has said on a number of occasions that he sees the prospect of China observing such exercises and in the longer term he sees the potential for Australia, the US and China doing exercises themselves, which Australia welcomes. 

Australia also welcomes Brunei’s proposal to host a humanitarian assistance and military medicine exercise in conjunction with its Chairing of the 2013 meeting of the ASEAN plus Defence Ministers Meeting. 

Defence engagement in our neighbourhood 

Such Defence and ADF international engagement must not just reflect the ADF priority tasks – the defence of Australia, security, stability and cohesion of our immediate neighbourhood and stability in the wider Indo-Pacific – it must now reflect the historic shift of strategic weight to the Indo Pacific.  

The new strategic circumstances, for example, requires enhanced defence to defence and military to military relationships with China, India, Indonesia, PNG, Tonga and Vietnam, let alone the ongoing enhancement of existing relationships such as Japan, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and the United States itself. 

Port visits, training and exercises, international engagement activities, familiarisation visits both underline neighbourhood engagement and demonstrate the ADF’s capacity to meet the strategic tasks required of it by Government, whether security and stabilisation or humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.   

Australia has well developed and well established defence to defence and military to military relationships and practical cooperation arrangements with a range of countries in our neighbourhood and region.  Some are well known and recognised, including Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea and the US. 

There are also countries in our neighbourhood and region with whom we either have defence to defence and military to military relationships which are either publicly underappreciated or with whom we need to grow our defence to defence and military to military relationship.  These include for example Indonesia, Vietnam, PNG, Tonga, China and India.  

Indonesia is of enormous strategic significance and importance to Australia.  That is only growing as Indonesia becomes a country of global influence not just regional influence. 

The importance of the strategic and bilateral security relationship between Australia and Indonesia is reflected by the Lombok Treaty, which came into effect in February 2008.  

Australia’s defence relationship with Indonesia encourages practical cooperation in counter-terrorism, maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, peacekeeping and intelligence. 

In March this year the inaugural bilateral Defence and Foreign Ministers (2+2) Dialogue took place in Canberra. In September I visited Jakarta for the inaugural Annual Australia-Indonesia Defence Ministers’ Dialogue, where my counterpart Defence Minister Purnomo and I signed a Defence Cooperation Agreement to set out a practical framework for enhancing our defence to defence and military to military practical cooperation. 

Such is the importance of our relationship with Indonesia that I have indicated to Minister Purnomo my intention to consult with him and keep him informed as work on the 2013 Defence White Paper proceeds. 

The Defence Cooperation Program with PNG is the largest Australia has with any country. The Program assists the PNGDF through training exercises, capability development and support to PNG’s Pacific Patrol Boats. 

With a small, capable and professional force, the Tonga Defence Services (TDS) is an ideal partner for Australia in the Pacific and one that makes a positive contribution to regional and global security.  

The Defence Adviser South Pacific relocated to Tonga in early 2012, reflecting the growing strength of our defence relationship. 

Tonga has been a long time contributor to the Regional Assistance Mission in Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and is making a contribution in Afghanistan through membership of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). 

Australia will support Tonga under the Defence Cooperation Program and the Pacific Patrol Boat (PPB) Program. 

The Australia-China military to military relationship is growing in prominence and complexity. Growing practical military to military cooperation is supported by enhanced bilateral dialogue on strategic and defence issues.  

Late last year, the ADF undertook with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) a bilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise in Sichuan Province. A similar exercise was held in Australia earlier this month, and included New Zealand participation. 

In 2009, Australia and India signed a Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation.  

Strategic engagement has involved high-level visits and ongoing exchanges and dialogue. Our Navy to Navy relationship continues to grow—a natural progression given our shared maritime security interests as Indian Ocean littoral states.  

It makes sense that the two best equipped and advanced Navies in the Indian Ocean Rim work together.  

In New Delhi in December 2011, Indian Defence Minister Antony and I agreed we would boost cooperation on maritime security. Our navies will join together in multilateral maritime exercises and conduct Passage Exercises.  Our officials are examining options for further substantial bilateral maritime exercises in the future. 

I have suggested to my South Pacific Defence Ministerial colleagues from New Zealand and Tonga and PNG, that we convene annual meetings of South Pacific Defence Ministers – Australia, New Zealand, PNG and Tonga to discuss regional issues of mutual interest.  Fiji would of course have to await a return to democracy. 

Consideration of a successor to the Pacific Patrol Boat Program – the Pacific Maritime Security Program (PMSP) – is an opportunity to work through carefully and strategically how Australia engages on defence and security issues with Pacific Island states. 

Possible options for the PMSP range from a straight forward patrol boat replacement program through to a coordinated surveillance and response arrangement, which includes the development of a regional maritime domain awareness agency modelled on the Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency.  

The Forum Fisheries Agency strengthens national capacity so its members can sustainably manage, control and develop their fishery resources that fall within their 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).  

Based in Honiara, the FFA is made up of 17 Pacific Island members: Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. 

Such a new regional maritime domain awareness agency could pool air and maritime surveillance assets to provide a shared maritime domain awareness picture to Pacific island states.   

The Defence White Paper will consider all of these issues and will outline a post draw down approach for comprehensive engagement in our neighbourhood which reflects our new strategic circumstances. 

Concluding remarks 

Practical defence to defence and military to military cooperation in our neighbourhood – in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, peacekeeping training and operations, exercises and training and maritime security – help build habits of mutual respect, trust and cooperation between defence organisations, militaries and nations, and adherence to international norms. 

All this not only minimises the prospect of tension, misunderstanding, misjudgement and miscalculation, but builds on and enhances positive cooperative bilateral and regional relationships. 

As strategic weight shifts to this region, the militaries that you lead will play an even greater role in contributing to regional and global security.

And the need for all of you to build on and enhance your positive and cooperative relationships through Conferences such as this one will only increase. 

Thank you.


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