SENATOR THE HON DAVID JOHNSTON
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE
Jakarta International Defence Dialogue
1400, 19 March 2014
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
This is my second official visit to Indonesia as Minister for Defence and it is an honour to be invited to address you today.
The idea of the Indo-Pacific is one that has received a lot of attention from strategists and researchers in recent years.
As a Western Australian, it is a view of the world which for me is as natural as night following day. For Western Australians, an Indo-Pacific orientation flows in our blood. We see the reality of it for economic growth, for deepening trade and investment links between our countries and we see the excitement of cultural exchanges and deeper people to people links.
As Defence Minister I see opportunities for closer engagement between our Defence forces. We can use our shared geographic interests to build security, to deepen understanding and to promote our common interests.
I think for many Australians, our deepening engagement with Asia over the last two decades has brought about a new realisation, which is not that we are isolated by what one of our most distinguished historians, Geoffrey Blainey, called the tyranny of distance. Rather it is that we are deeply connected with the most vibrant region of the world.
It is Australia’s great blessing that we face both the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the world’s great trade waterways.
And I would suggest it is the obligation of all of us to work together to keep our region peaceful, to build security and prosperity and to deepen our connections.
Allow me to set out a vision I have for the future of defence cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.
I believe we should aim to strengthen each other’s security by respecting each-other’s sovereign territory and helping to reinforce each other’s capacity to protect our territorial waters.
We should aim to share information on security issues of mutual concern.
We should make sure we understand each-other’s strategic thinking. Political leaders, as well as military and civilian officials, should always be able to pick up the telephone to share views.
Our Defence forces should have deep experience of each other, based on long years of training, learning and exercising together.
We should conduct joint patrols at sea and in the air, sharing information collected from these operations as closely as possible.
We should actively look for opportunities to work together on tasks that enhance global security, like UN mandated peacekeeping operations.
We must define our own security as being intimately tied to the security and wellbeing of our neighbours.
This could be the new paradigm for Indo-Pacific security – an approach which sees security as a collective prize, rather than based solely on separate national strength.
We are some years from realising this goal of close military collaboration, but important steps have been taken over the last decade to strengthen regional cooperation.
These include the growing web of regional multilateral cooperation forums, like the ASEAN Regional Forum and the ADMM Plus grouping.
In Australia I can advise that there is strong support across all major political parties to increase our regional defence cooperation.
This is a trend that will continue and has my strong support as Defence Minister.
I would like to make a few comments about the bilateral relationship between Australia and Indonesia. First, and most importantly, I can say that no country is more important to Australian security than Indonesia.
We are tied by geography, by shared historical experiences, by democracy and by our peoples shared aspirations for stability and growth.
I have to acknowledge that there are some difficult aspects in our current relationship that are slowing down our ability to cooperate more closely. I regret that is the case, but I also know that both countries are working hard to clarify and resolve this situation.
Ladies and gentlemen, I think it is vital for both our countries that we work hard to develop a closer partnership which strengthens both our countries’ national interests.
Australia and Indonesia are at our best when we cooperate. Whatever the momentary fluctuations in our relationship, we will be better off if we commit to help bring out the best in each other. That is a far better legacy to leave for future generations.
Australia’s interest is in having Indonesia as a strong, cohesive neighbour, with a high-quality Defence force able to promote Indonesia’s interests. That is the best Indonesia for Australia, a strong neighbour, a close friend and a partner in security.
I have very much enjoyed working with my respected counterpart, Pak Purnomo, Indonesia’s Minister for Defence. I know that was also the view of my predecessor, Stephen Smith.
Pak, I give you a commitment that I will also work to build the most effective defence relationship possible with Indonesia.
We will be stronger by working to emphasise the positive in our relations.
And indeed the record of our recent defence engagement is very positive.
Over recent years, we have seen high levels of training and exercising between our armed forces and strong cooperation in areas such as counter-terrorism, maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, peacekeeping and intelligence.
I am confident that this kind of practical cooperation will again resume and indeed grow stronger.
Our respective militaries are leading the way in strengthening people-to-people links between our countries.
We now have an unprecedented level of Australian representation in professional military education here in Indonesia. And likewise the number of Indonesian students in Australia has grown significantly.
Since we launched the Indonesia-Australia Defence Alumni Association – IKAHAN – in 2011, its membership has grown to over 1000 members and many of you here today would be members.
It’s these kinds of personal relationships which help us better understand each other and find ways to resolve our differences.
We should look to build on this cooperation, and indeed I see good opportunities, through new practical forms of defence engagement to strengthen our ties.
This is a dialogue I look forward to having in the future.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge my fellow panelists, including distinguished senior colleagues from India and Japan.
It’s well known that Australia strongly supports Japan’s moves towards a more normalised defence posture to help it play a greater role in the security of the region and beyond. And we continue to look for opportunities to enhance practical defence cooperation with Japan.
I firmly believe that Australia, India and Indonesia have a strong shared future together. We form, in essence, the vital geographic points of an Indo-Pacific Triangle.
We share a unique strategic outlook on the world. We are growing economies, with robust political systems and respected military organisations. We ought to be, in my view, natural partners – each with different views on many issues, but each sharing a common and constructive interest in regional stability.
I look forward to our discussions and to our closer cooperation in the future.