Today I depart for New Zealand to hold bilateral talks in Auckland with my counterpart, Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman, and for Tonga for the inaugural South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting.
I will be accompanied by the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Senator David Feeney and the Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley.
Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Defence Minister, Dr Fabian Pok, will also accompany me to New Zealand and Tonga. Dr Pok and I will conduct a formal bilateral meeting en route to Auckland from Australia.
This evening I will conduct a formal bilateral meeting with Minister Coleman in Auckland.
Dr Coleman and I will discuss how we can identify opportunities for enhanced engagement in Australia and New Zealand’s bilateral defence relationship.
Australia and New Zealand are natural allies.
Our already close bilateral relationship has continued to strengthen in recent years with the implementation of the 2011 Review of the Australia-New Zealand Defence Relationship.
I will also brief Minister Coleman on the development of Australia’s 2013 Defence White Paper.
While in transit to New Zealand, I will hold a formal bilateral meeting with Minister Pok. This will be my first opportunity to meet with Minister Pok since his appointment as PNG’s Defence Minister late last year.
PNG is the largest recipient of assistance under Australia’s Defence Cooperation Program. Our meeting will be a timely opportunity to examine options for further cooperation between Australia and PNG, including in maritime security.
On Wednesday 1 May, Ministers Coleman, Pok and I will depart New Zealand for the Kingdom of Tonga to attend the inaugural South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting.
This will be the first visit to Tonga by an Australian Minister for Defence.
The South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting will involve the Defence Ministers of Australia, New Zealand, PNG and Tonga.
Chilean Vice Minister of Defence, Mr Oscar Izurieta, will participate in the meeting.
France’s Ambassador to Tonga, Ambassador Gilles Montagnier, will also participate in the meeting in recognition of France’s important links with the Pacific, including French Polynesia and New Caledonia.
The South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting is a significant new initiative for our region, and will allow Australia to improve and expand cooperation with our Pacific partners.
We will discuss the strategic challenges facing our region, and examine opportunities for our respective Defence forces to further enhance cooperation and ensure the maintenance of security in the Pacific.
Australia is pleased that the inaugural meeting is hosted by Tonga, an important security partner for Australia in our region.
As Tonga has demonstrated through its contributions to operations in Solomon Islands, Afghanistan, and Iraq, Pacific countries have an interest in supporting both regional and global security.
Over the past few years, Australia’s relationship with Tonga has expanded to include a range of new cooperation initiatives in training, infrastructure development and bilateral exercises.
Defence Ministers will have an audience with His Majesty King Tupou VI and I will hold bilateral discussions with Tonga’s Prime Minister, Lord Tu’ivakano, who is also the Minister for Defence and for Foreign Affairs.
These meetings will be an opportunity to emphasise Australia’s commitment to assisting the development of Tonga’s Defence forces, and the mutual benefits that arise from our cooperation.
Minister Smith's office: Andrew Porter (02) 6277 7800 or 0419 474 392