I visited Brussels on Wednesday 5 and Thursday 6 October for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Defence Ministers’ Meeting on Afghanistan.
I was accompanied by Australia's Ambassador to NATO, Dr Brendan Nelson and the Chief of the Defence Force General David Hurley.
Defence Ministers welcomed progress in Afghanistan following the transition of the first tranche of seven districts and provinces to Afghan-led security and the forthcoming announcement of the second tranche of districts and provinces for transition.
Defence Ministers also welcomed the outline of the NATO Strategic Plan for Afghanistan which sets out the proposed approach to the NATO/ISAF presence in Afghanistan for the 2012-2014 period and for the post-2014 period.
Ministers also noted the recent change of tactics by the insurgency to mount high profile propaganda motivated attacks and assassinations as a sign of insurgent weakness not strength.
These attacks are aimed at undermining confidence in the minds of the Afghan people that the Afghan security forces will not be able to provide them with security and sapping the political will of the international community by distracting from the real progress being made.
I held bilateral meetings with Afghan Defence Minister Wardak, NATO Secretary General Rasmussen, Supreme Allied Commander Europe Admiral Stavridis, Commander ISAF General Allen and NATO Senior Civilian Representative Ambassador Gass.
This was US Defense Secretary Panetta's first NATO/ISAF Defence Ministers’ Meeting. During my formal bilateral meeting with Secretary Panetta, we also discussed our collaborative work on the US Global Force Posture Review.
I held bilateral meetings with a range of NATO Defence Ministers, including UK Secretary of State for Defence Fox and Canadian Defence Minister Mackay.
I discussed our mutual interests in submarines with Swedish Defence Minister Tolgfors.
I discussed progress on the Air Warfare Destroyer and Landing Helicopter Dock projects with Spanish Defence Minister Chacon.
I met the new Turkish Defence Minister Yilmaz and we agreed to strengthen our bilateral defence relationship ahead of the ANZAC Centenary in 2015.
The new Portuguese Defence Minister Silva and I agreed to hold further discussions on East Timor ahead of that country's elections in 2012.
I also met European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton and discussed her forthcoming visit to Australian to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth.
The Chief of the Defence Force and I attended the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ieper. We laid wreaths in honour of those Australians who gave their lives in the First World War.
The Menin gate records the names of 55,000 of the Commonwealth soldiers, including over 6000 Australian troops, who gave their lives but have no known grave in Flanders Fields.
I presented Slouch Hats to Benoit Mottrie, the Chairman of the Last Post Association, and two Association buglers, Christope Wills and Jan Callemeyn.
The Last Post Association has honoured the sacrifice of Australian and Commonwealth troops on the Western Front by playing the Last Post at the Menin Gate every evening at 8pm since 1928 (less the years of occupation during WW2).
I visited London on Tuesday 4 October.
In London, I met with Mr John Coles, the independent expert from BMT Defence Services who is leading the review into the maintenance and sustainment of the Australian Collins Class submarines.
I received an update from Mr Coles about progress being made on his review. Just as the Rizzo Report, released on July 18, provides a plan to improve the repair and management of the Navy’s amphibious fleet, Mr Coles will provide a plan to improve the repair and management of our submarine fleet.
I also met with representatives of BAE Systems to discuss the Air Warfare Destroyer and Landing Helicopter Dock projects.
In recognition of the importance of cyberspace to economic well-being and national security, I met with senior UK officials to discuss the challenges of cyberspace and our continuing cooperation on cyber security.
Mr Smith’s Office: Andrew Porter 0419 474 392 or Sacha Fenton 0467 784 528
Department: (02) 6127 1999