This morning I spoke with my colleague and friend, US Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper.
We reaffirmed our Alliance is based on shared values and close friendship. As we have done for over 100 years, we band together in times of crisis, just as we are now in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I conveyed to Secretary Esper that Australia stands in solidarity with our American friends as they confront difficult circumstances at home, and passed on my condolences for the lives lost to the virus in the United States.
We agreed that the pandemic has only served to reinforce the importance of the Alliance between our two nations. Our defence organisations’ focus is now on maintaining force readiness and helping our partners in the Pacific and Southeast Asia.
We are continuing to train and operate together, as recently seen with HMAS Parramatta’s activities with the US Navy in the South China Sea.
I was pleased to inform Secretary Esper that after careful consideration, the Government has decided that a modified 2020 Marine Rotational Force – Darwin (MRF-D) can proceed later this year, adhering to strict measures in place to protect against COVID-19.
The decision was based on Australia’s record to date in managing the impacts from COVID-19, as well as strict adherence by deployed US Marines to the mandatory 14-day quarantine and other requirements.
Hosting this key Alliance activity provides interoperability benefits as well as signals our firm joint commitment to regional security. It is a clear testimony to the strength and value of the Australia-US Alliance.
Secretary Esper and I confirmed our respective commitment to ensuring the health and safety of Australians, with special provision for local Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.
In our discussions, I noted how impressed I am by the cooperation between our defence science and technology experts in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Australian and US researchers, with the Five Nation Research and Development Council, are examining the survival of the virus that causes COVID-19 on various surfaces, and how it is impacted by environmental factors such as temperature and humidity.
We look forward to further discussing ways that the Alliance can deal with the long-term strategic and economic impacts of the pandemic leading up to AUSMIN this year.