Today I attended the inaugural South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting (SPDMM) in Nuku’alofa in the Kingdom of Tonga.
I was accompanied by the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Senator David Feeney and the Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley.
We participated in the inaugural SPDMM with our Ministerial counterparts from Tonga, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. The Chilean Vice Minister of Defence also participated in the Meeting.
In recognition of the important links France maintains with the Pacific, we were joined by France’s Ambassador to Tonga, representing the French Minister for Defence.
The SPDMM represents a significant new initiative for our region. Today’s productive discussions and initiatives demonstrate a strong shared commitment to regional security.
Ministers issued a Joint Communiqué summarising the outcomes of the Meeting (South Pacific Defence Ministers Meeting - Joint Communique).
We agreed that the SPDMM will be held on an annual basis, with next year’s meeting to occur in Papua New Guinea.
We reviewed opportunities to enhance our cooperation on maritime security, as well as avenues to deepen our coordination on disaster relief activities.
We agreed to the establishment of a new framework for regional multilateral exercises that will enhance and maintain operational familiarity between our forces. Exercises will be conducted under the banner of Exercise POVAI ENDEAVOUR.
The exercises will help develop skills among contributing militaries in core areas such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, peacekeeping activities, and multilateral amphibious operations.
We also agreed to share information on the capabilities that our respective militaries could provide in undertaking regional humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts or maritime security operations.
This exchange of information will help our nations better understand our complementary capabilities and allow us to better align our respective operations and activities to regional needs.
During the SPDMM, I was pleased to announce that Australia will fund new initiatives to improve maritime security in our region.
Australia will initiate and lead a regional effort to develop improved Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) in the region.
MDA is the effective understanding of any element of the maritime domain that could impact on security, safety, the economy or the environment.
Australia will work with our Pacific partners to improve understandings of the MDA concept, and identify and remediate MDA-related capability shortfalls within the region.
This could, for example, include the provision of additional computer hardware and software to improve regional capabilities to detect and respond to illegal or suspicious activity.
Australia will also fund the short-term attachment of Pacific Island military officers and maritime police officers to the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Association (FFA).
The FFA was established to help countries sustainably manage the fishery resources that fall within their 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones.
Each short-term attachment will be for several months and will help build the skills of the officers involved. This will also foster practical links between the FFA and maritime officers in the region.
To further improve fisheries surveillance, Australia will fund a one-year air surveillance trial in the Pacific.
This will utilise chartered aircraft in various Pacific Island countries, along with observers from local military and police forces as well as other government agencies.
Following the completion of the trial, Australia will consider whether further air surveillance assistance, including the lease of a dedicated aircraft, would be beneficial.
During the SPDMM, I also reaffirmed Australia’s intention to implement the Pacific Maritime Security Program (PMSP) as a follow-on to the Pacific Patrol Boat Program.
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 MDA agency modelled on the FFA.
I also took the opportunity to extend Australia’s appreciation for Tonga’s strong leadership and hosting the inaugural SPDMM.
Minister Smith's office: Andrew Porter 0419 474 392
Senator Feeney's office: Jeffrey von Drehnen 0477 348 476
Defence Media Operations (02) 6127 1999