TRANSCRIPT: JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE – AUKMIN
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 18 JANUARY 2013
TOPICS: AUKMIN; Middle East peace process; Syria; Algeria; Afghanistan; Defence Cooperation Treaty; Japan; Julian Assange.
BOB CARR: The United Kingdom, of course, is a key global player, the sixth largest economy in the world, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and the fourth largest military spender. The United Kingdom is also one of our most like-minded of world companions and today was there for a very valuable opportunity, to talk about the alignment of strategic interests and coordination on security and intelligence matters.
We discussed a broad range of security and strategic issues. They included Syria, the Middle East peace process, Mali, Afghanistan, and the changing power dynamics of Asia. I conveyed the Australian Government's sympathies to the British for their hostages caught up in Algeria and we extend our best wishes for a safe outcome for those victims of terrorism.
Such an outrage as this only reinforces our determination to work together on the various security challenges that we face together.
We agreed on an urgent need for progress on the Middle East peace process. We agreed that the US is the only country with the authority and influence to lead a major urgent effort to get negotiations that lead to an outcome. An outcome that sees Israel secure and the Palestinian state established.
We believe this is not business as usual when it comes to the Middle East peace process. There must be an urgent concentrated effort and only the United States has the capacity and the authority and the influence to bring this to fruition but it's in the interest of the region and in the interest of the world that the cycle of violence in the Middle East over Arab-Israel conflict is brought to a peaceful.
At the same time, of course, we are seeing the Palestinian authority and the new Israeli Government must engage seriously in these negotiations without preconditions and act in the interest of peace. We call on Israel unequivocally to end settlement activity and we urge the Palestinians to see that there are no acts of violence, and that includes the rocket attacks from Gaza.
We condemn the continuing violence in Syria and underlined our shared position that any use of chemical weapons would be unacceptable. We call on President Assad to step aside so that peaceful transition can occur. The UK expressed strong support for Australia's proposal to protect medical facilities and medical workers in Syria so that even in the absence of a ceasefire and even without a peaceful transition, the things we want most of all, there can at least be medicines and doctors and hospitals for people who have suffered in the violence that deforms Syria today.
United Kingdom welcomed out election to the UN Security Council and we went into detail about the agenda this year for the UNSC. We welcome the deployment of French military forces to Mali in support of the transitional government in that country and the support provided by the United Kingdom as well as by the US, Canada, and Belgium. We agreed to work closely together in the UN Security Council to expedite the deployment of the African-led International Stabilisation Force in Mali.
WILLIAM HAGUE: Thank you very much indeed. Thank you ladies and gentlemen, it's always a great pleasure for British Ministers to join our Australian colleagues at AUKMIN. This is the third one that I have attended and the second in Australia. We had last year's meeting in London and I think these meetings in recent years have gained real momentum. They contribute tangibly to the security and to the international goals of both of our countries.
Two countries, as Senator Carr has just said, that have a great like-mindedness. That have very strong shared values and an exceptionally close relationship. And the discussions that we've had today have been very good further evidence of that, we're very grateful to our Australian hosts for having us here, to Senator Carr, but also to Minister Stephen Smith for having us in the great city of Perth.
Of course, we've at times had some other things on our mind, and I again condemn utterly the wanton act of terrorism carried out against workers in Algeria. I'm very grateful for the sympathy and condolences that Senator Carr and others have extended to us. This remains a fluid and evolving situation and many details are still unclear but the responsibility for the tragic events of the last two days squarely rests with terrorists who chose to attack innocent workers, murdering some, and holding others hostage.
Our priority remains at the moment to identify exactly what has happened to each British national caught up in this incident and indeed to help other countries determine what has happened to their nationals. We've sent additional staff to Algeria, we're in close touch with the Algerian authorities and with BP, we're working to ensure that those who survived this ordeal are properly cared for and reunited with their loved ones, and that the families of all those involved receive full and accurate information and support.
This terrible incident of terrorism has highlighted again the threat in North African and the Sahel from international terrorism and working with our international partners we will maintain our resolve to see that threat countered and defeated and Al Qaeda denied a foothold on Europe's southern border.
This is an example, of course, of the international concerns that we face and many of which we have discussed at AUKMIN today and in the bilateral discussions that we've had earlier in the week. We've discussed, as you've heard, how to work together during Australia's membership of the UN Security Council, which we very strongly welcome and as an example of that is the agreement that we've made at AUKMIN that British embassies in 12 African countries will host Australian diplomats during this two years in countries where Australia doesn't have an embassy of its own.
We are, of course, already sharing diplomatic reporting from many places around the world, something that the United Kingdom does not do with any other country in the world. We have discussed and reiterated our shared condemnation of the DPRK's long range rocket launch and our work on the Security Council on that.
I won't repeat what Senator Carr said about Syria, which indeed we have discussed and which is set out in the Communiqué but I will particularly emphasise what he has said about the Middle East peace process, the need for urgency on this, and we call today that UK, Australia together call on the United States to lead a major effort this year to achieve a negotiated two state solution. And, of course, we must all play our part in supporting such an initiative and this is something in both our Governments that we look forward to discussing further with the US Administration and others.
I want to particularly welcome the support of Australia for my initiative in this year of our G8 presidency for preventing sexual violence and conflict, another issue on which we can work together in the United Nations, and on Fiji we echo Senator Carr's recent concerns on a new decree which poses onerous requirements on political parties and we encourage all in Fiji to work towards a return to democracy.
So these are vital issues. It's very important that countries like ours discuss them in this way, to make sure that we understand and wherever possible support each other's approach, so I'm very grateful to our hosts and I look forward to building further on the momentum of the AUKMIN discussions in future years, including next year in the United Kingdom and we cordially invite our host for this year to join us in Britain for the next meeting next year.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Bob, thanks William. Bob and I have been very pleased to host AUKMIN this year and I've been particularly pleased to host our two British colleagues in Perth. Yesterday, in addition to our formal AUKMIN meeting today, Philip and I had a full bilateral program starting at HMAS Stirling and concluding last night at Swanbourne Barracks with a briefing from our SAS.
It was appropriate to start at HMAS Stirling, our Indian Ocean port, because one of the subjects that we spoke about today was the increasing and rising importance of India and the Indian Ocean and discussed our mutual interest in that respect. We also spoke about the ongoing transition in Afghanistan and I made clear to Philip and to William our analysis which I made public earlier this week that we confidently expect to transition in Uruzgan province by the end of this year and our focus now is on transition in Uruzgan, transition by the International Security Assistance Force, Chicago and Lisbon mandated end of 2014 timetable, and to focus on what our post-2014 contribution in Afghanistan might be.
We've made it clear that under an appropriate mandate, Special Forces is a possibility but we've also committed, and it's reflected in the Communiqué, to join in with the United Kingdom in the proposal to train Afghan National Army officers.
We spent some time speaking about what our United States colleague, Leon Panetta, describes as the new fiscal reality. How do we manage the modern day defence and security challenges at a time of fiscal constraint. In that context, we were very pleased to sign early today a defence treaty between Australia and the United Kingdom; the Australia United Kingdom Defence and Security Cooperation Treaty. And some of the matters that we spoke about yesterday, the possibility of collaboration on future Frigates, the possibility of collaboration on submarine capability, are formalised in the Communiqué and we look very much forward to pursuing the potential for even greater practical cooperation on the capability, maintenance, and sustainment front.
Finally, we spent some time talking about one of the modern defence and security challenges; that of cyber and cyberspace. This conversation commenced formally at AUKMIN in Sydney two years ago in 2011 which William will well recall and since that time we have established a first class partnership, not just between Ministers, but more importantly between relevant agencies dealing with the challenges of cyber and cyberspace.
This is not just a challenge for governments or for nations, there are non-state actors. It is a challenge also for industry and commerce and cyber will continue to be one of the challenges for us into the future.
Bob and I are very happy, William, to take up your invitation to join AUKMIN next year in the United Kingdom. The concentrated attention that both countries have put on AUKMIN in more recent years has been most productive and in both of our countries, national security interests.
PHILIP HAMMOND: Thank you, Stephen. Well I'm delighted to be here in Australia and to have an opportunity at last to see Minister Smith's hometown, Perth, a place I haven't visited before but about which I can assure I've heard a great deal from my previous meetings with Stephen.
I'm particularly pleased that we've been able to sign the Defence Cooperation Treaty this morning. This treaty embodies a defence cooperation which is longstanding and deep and multifaceted. It will reinforce that collaboration and set a framework for future cooperation between our two countries. It also, from our side, is a clear expression of the UK's interests in the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean region and a recognition of Australia's position as a key regional partner for the UK in this area and underscoring again the importance that the UK places on the longstanding defence relationship that we have with Australia.
Through the treaty we will look to expand further our existing military cooperation. Cooperation which has been greatly reinforced by the shared experiences of Afghanistan and Iraq, experiences which we are determined not to lose. The inter-operability and close working relationships of our armed forces will be retained and we're determined to make sure that we create the mechanisms to retain those huge benefits.
There are very significant ties between our two Defence ministries and between our armed forces. You might even say that their DNA is inextricably linked. We share intelligence, we cooperate on international training initiatives, we have a strong personnel exchange program, we work together in areas such as science and technology and cyber and we are both members of the important regional Five Powers Defence Arrangements.
As Stephen said, yesterday we made a visit to HMAS Stirling and to the Henderson shipyards, reinforcing the importance of Australia as an Indian Ocean as well as a Pacific nation and providing an excellent backdrop for discussions about our respective submarine and surface ship development programs. These are areas where we have very much in common in terms of our requirements and in these austere times it makes sense to collaborate together with trusted allies to get the maximum value we can for our taxpayers' pounds and dollars.
And our discussions have highlighted how similar our requirements are and therefore we've agreed to conduct an immediate review of the scope, the opportunities for cooperation and potential collaboration, both in the building of frigates and in the sustainment, potentially life extension, and ultimately building of submarines.
We will continue to seek new ways to enhance our robust and longstanding relationship and to ensure that our troops work together in the future and we look forward to greater defence cooperation under the umbrella of the new treaty, which is ever closer and stronger to the mutual benefit of both nations.
I look forward to the next AUKMIN in London next year, to taking this process forward and making it an irreversible part of the architecture of our bilateral relationship.
STEPHEN SMITH: Philip will tell you that he is looking at a reduction of some $74 billion over a ten year period. In our last budget, we saw a reduction of $5.5 billion over the forward estimate years. Despite that, the United Kingdom remains in the top five defence spenders, we remain in the top 15 defence spenders, indeed, 13 or 14 together with Canada. And what we need to do is to makes sure that our capacity to spend, determined by a fiscal reality, doesn't adversely impact upon our priorities, and that is why in the last budget we protected our overseas operations, whether that was Afghanistan, whether that was the Solomon Islands or East Timor.
We protected the kit to those soldiers who were to be deployed or on deployment. We ring-fenced and protected military numbers. We protected our core capability and indeed since the budget, in terms of capability, we have announced acquisition of ten C-27s and we have announced the acquisition of a sixth C-17 and most importantly we have announced the acquisition of the electronic warfare capability, Growler. And so our core capability continues.
The challenge we have, and this will be one of the challenges of the 2013 White Paper, which we'll deliver in the first half of this year and in respect of which I briefed Philip and William, the challenge will be as we draw down from Afghanistan, the Solomons, and East Timor where goes the ADF, where goes the priority for our national security, and how do we ensure that our priorities match the resources that will be available and allocated to defence.
This is not a novel issue. Before sequestration in the United States, our colleague Leon Panetta and his reduction over the next ten years of $487 billion in United States Defense Budget. So these are challenges shared by all comparable countries. In our own region, despite our $5.5 billion reduction we remain, far and away, the most comprehensive defence and national security spender in our own immediate region.
So we continue to confidently protect and defend our defence and national security interests, but we now need to make sure that we do that in ways which provide better value for money, are more efficient and more effective, but also take up the opportunities that close collaboration and inter-operability, whether that's with the United States, the United Kingdom, or countries in our region, becomes much more of a focus for us.
PHILIP HAMMOND: Well I'd say three things. Be realistic, having a program stuffed full of stuff that you really can't afford and you're never going to deliver just diverts resources. We've been very ruthless in pruning our program and identifying what we can expect to actually deliver. We have given our armed forces a much greater role in prioritising the equipment that they need within the budget available. And do it smarter. Every business, every organisation, can drive efficiencies if the incentivisation and the motive is there, especially in the area of procurement.
One of the things that Stephen and I have been talking about over the last couple of days is where we have some opportunities for some relatively early wins for both countries by trying to work together to drive cost out of programs, increase volumes so that we can better deals with suppliers, working in exactly the same way a business would work to try to drive down costs and increase value.
JOURNALIST: My question is to the Ministers – your call for the US to take a robust lead in kick-starting the peace process is fairly strongly worded. Can you both just give us a brief idea of the background and where this idea came from [indistinct]? And Bob, if I could also ask you, we're used to the term forced settlements are illegal under international law; does that represent a toughening of Australia's leaders in relation to those settlements?
BOB CARR: Let me dispose of that one first and then I'll invite William to comment. No it doesn't, that's been a longstanding Australian position. It goes back to the Fraser Government.
BOB CARR: All illegal, yes. It goes back to the Fraser Government and it's based on the Geneva Convention, which specify that no occupying power is entitled to settle its own people on the territory that it has conquered. And by that test, of course, as we say all settlements are illegal in international law.
WILLIAM HAGUE: And our thinking on this, and it's very consistent with what I've been saying in our Parliament over recent months, is that the possibility of a two state solution is totally sleeping. It's at a stage where we don't have much longer to bring it about due to changes on the ground, principally including settlement activity on occupied land.
And we're also clear about that those are illegal settlements and I regularly condemn those settlements. We do need, therefore, urgently to make a new effort. I've called on the United States, which is the country with the particular capacity and leadership role to drive that, to make the greatest efforts in this regard since the Oslo Peace Accord in the 1990s.
I think as the Israeli elections come to an end next week and with the re-elected administration starting its new term in the United States and with these changes on the ground rapidly eroding, the prospects for a two state solution. If we are going to make such an effort it has to be made in the near future.
And that is not to place all the responsibility on the United States. We all have to play our part in supporting such an effort. On countries of the European Union, countries like Australia, and the Arab League, but it's very important for that effort to be made and that is one of our main messages, I think, jointly one of our top messages to the incoming team at the State Department in the United States.
BOB CARR: It won't be lost that a Labor Government in Australia and a Conservative Government in the UK are settling on this language. We think time is running out. We think the spread of settlement activity mandates American leadership in an urgent, concentrated burst of activity. To bring the parties together and allow them to negotiate a two state solution without which there won't be a peace, ever, in this region of the world.
WILLIAM HAGUE: A Coalition Government in the UK.
BOB CARR: I stand corrected.
WILLIAM HAGUE: My Liberal colleagues will be upset by that. Point that out.
WILLIAM HAGUE: Well our prime effort remains to secure a peaceful solution, a transitional government, a diplomatically agreed solution. So, we strongly support the work of the UN and Arab League envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi. On this we continue to talk regularly to Russia about this, Russia of course having, with Chinese support, vetoed UN resolutions that in our view would have advanced the situation and made the prospects of peaceful solution more likely.
That remains our prime focus, but in the absence of such a resolution we have increased our practical support to the National Coalition of the Opposition. I announced a further increase in that support last week that is non-lethal support. We are also, like Australia, giving generously to the international humanitarian appeals given that the desperate state of hundreds of thousands of people who have fled across Syria's borders.
But yes, I have talked about the need to do more if there is no improvement in the situation. We cannot simply say there is nothing we can do in the face of perhaps 100,000 people dying this year on Mr Brahimi's estimate, although it's difficult for all these reasons for us to come to a solution. So, we have built more flexibility into the policy of the European Union, rolling over our arms embargo for a shorter time than previously intended to 1 March. We are now discussing with our EU partners how to amend that.
That does not mean we've made any decision to send different equipment to the Syrian Opposition, but it does mean that we're looking for how we provide for flexibility of decision making on that in the future. Bearing in mind there are many items, such as body armour or chemical detection equipment that could save lives, which we can't give to them at the moment under our own arms embargo.
So that it is the kind of flexibility that I'm talking about but as things stand today, our prime effort remains to support a diplomatic and peaceful solution.
JOURNALIST: Just ask – the treaty is moving forward with both parties but just something of the past. The atomic testing in Maralinga in the centre of Australia I understand just recently the British High Court ruled it was too long to prove that the radiation from that has contributed towards illnesses for Defence personnel and Aboriginal people of that area. Is there any other scope of payment – sorry, grace payment from the British Government? Is there anything that these people who could find waiting for compensation?
BOB CARR: I think that is a – Philip, do you want to comment on that?
PHILIP HAMMOND: I was just about say I think that's a Foreign Office question.
BOB CARR: In that case, the Foreign Office will take it up.
PHILIP HAMMOND: I think, I mean, I think the answer is that this has been thoroughly tested through the legal channels. The reality is that these events happened a very long time ago. The chain of causality is not there able to be demonstrated at this stage and the courts have ruled that the claim is inadmissible.
As far as I'm aware, there is no other mechanism at the moment available to those claimers.
JOURNALIST: Australia's point of view.
STEPHEN SMITH: Nothing to add to that. It's been a long standing issue and the most recent incarnation of that was the decision of the relevant British court and Philip's assessment is as it is.
JOURNALIST: To the Foreign Ministers. What does the Obama administration have to do in its second term that it failed to do in its first to get the sort of negotiator settlement you're talking about in the timeframe you're talking about?
PHILIP HAMMOND: Well it requires, of course, an urgency and constancy of approach. There was a serious effort, many serious efforts were made and I pay tribute to what Hillary Clinton and former Senator George Mitchell did in their work on this. But bearing in mind now the alignment of circumstances as I mentioned earlier, the Israeli elections being over after next week, the American elections now being over, the situation politically becoming more difficult, including at the United Nations as the vote at the end of November and the UN General Assembly showed.
The situation across the Middle East becoming more difficult and uncertain as many recent events have shown. That requires a particularly strong international effort. We lay no criticism or blame for previous attempts at this that have not been successful. It's been right to attempt it, but I do think it requires the US Administration to give a strong lead and other countries to support it, and I stress that. We're not placing the sole responsibility on the United States.
STEPHEN SMITH: We acknowledge the hard slog that is involved here. We acknowledge that America has tried valiantly again and again to get the two sides to agree on that two state solution but the point about now is that running out and we need that concentrated focus on getting Palestinians and Israelis to the negotiating table with the agreement that is so close, but at the same time so elusive.
JOURNALIST: Foreign Ministers, you made no mention in your preliminary points about growing tensions between China and Japan over two islands. Almost every week we're seeing some form of escalation. Was that part of discussions? Have you heard anything that Australia or the UK could do to help ease [indistinct].
BOB CARR: Last Sunday I met for the first time with the new Japanese Foreign Minister and we discussed this as one of our urgent agenda items. We acknowledge the tone taken by the new Japanese Prime Minister, which I think is realistic and conciliatory in the time he's been in office. We underlined our commitment to seeing a settlement in accordance with international law, including international law of the sea.
We hope that with a leadership transition completed in China there's an opportunity for good sense to prevail and the matter to be resolved between these parties.
WILLIAM HAGUE: We also want to see a peaceful resolution of these disputes in line with international law.
JOURNALIST: Julian Assange, did he come up during discussions?
BOB CARR: No, this was a meeting dealing with matters of international peace and security, not with consular issues and his position is, of course, a result of a decision sought and obtained by the Swedish prosecutor in the United Kingdom courts. He's no stronger defender than I but it's noteworthy that he's had more consular support than any other Australian in a comparable time.