This evening in Auckland I met with my New Zealand counterpart, Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman, in the run up to travelling to Tonga to attend the inaugural South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting.
I was accompanied by the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Senator David Feeney and the Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley.
During our bilateral meeting, Minister Coleman and I shared perspectives in advance of Thursday’s South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting in Tonga. We also reviewed our bilateral Defence relationship and discussed options for future practical cooperation.
We noted the good progress that has been made in implementing the initiatives we agreed at the Australia-New Zealand Defence Ministers’ Meeting, held in Perth in November last year.
This includes conduct of a 1.5 Track Australia-New Zealand Security Dialogue in December 2012, and an enhanced program of cross-crewing between our respective Navies. As part of this initiative, 11 Royal Australian Navy personnel recently completed a three-month stint with HMNZS Endeavour.
This year will see bilateral defence engagement continue to deepen at both the strategic and practical levels.
Practical cooperation will increase with the planned participation of New Zealand embedded observers at Exercise TALISMAN SABRE 2013, as well as Australian participation in New Zealand’s Exercise SOUTHERN KATIPO later this year.
We also discussed the implications of the drawdown of our respective operational commitments in Timor-Leste, Solomon Islands and Afghanistan.
The Australian Government decided last year to bring forward the 2013 Defence White Paper in part to address the strategic and practical implications of the Australian Defence Force’s operational drawdown from Afghanistan, Timor-Leste and Solomon Islands.
I briefed Minister Coleman on progress of the 2013 White Paper.
Tomorrow, we will depart New Zealand for the Kingdom of Tonga for bilateral meetings and to attend the inaugural South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting on Thursday 2 May.
The South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting comprises the Defence Ministers of Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Tonga.
We will be accompanied by Papua New Guinea’s Defence Minister, Dr Fabian Pok, and Chilean Vice Minister of Defence, Mr Oscar Izurieta.
France’s Ambassador to Tonga, Ambassador Gilles Montagnier, will join us in Tonga to participate in the South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting.
In recognition of its significant links with the Pacific, France was invited to participate in the meeting.
The meeting will be an important opportunity to discuss the strategic challenges facing our region, and to examine opportunities for our respective Defence forces to further enhance cooperation and ensure the maintenance of security in the Pacific.
Minister Smith's office: Andrew Porter (02) 6277 7800 or 0419 474 392