TRANSCRIPT: JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE WITH DR JONATHAN COLEMAN, NZ MINISTER OF DEFENCE, PERTH
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY AND E & OE
DATE: 16 NOVEMBER 2012
TOPICS: Australia-NZ Defence Ministers Dialogue; Afghanistan; MRH-90.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much for turning up. I'd like to firstly welcome very much New Zealand's Defence Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman to Perth and Australia. Today we've conducted our annual Australian-New Zealand Defence Ministers dialogue or the ANZAC Defence Ministers meeting as it's commonly known. This year's dialogue of course takes place here in Perth, last year we did it in Wellington.
Whilst it's the first dialogue that Minister Coleman and I have done it's our fourth formal meeting this year, which reflects the strength of the relationship that we have and the warmth of the friendship. Whilst we've met formally on four occasions this year we are very often on the phone exchanging notes and communicating at a personal sense, and that very much reflects the nature of the relationship between Australia and New Zealand.
The Australia-New Zealand bilateral relationship and the Australia-New Zealand defence relationship is in very good order, very good order. We effected a review of the formalities of the relationship last year, a 2011 review which Dr Coleman and I endorsed earlier this year, and we're making very good progress under that heading.
That review very much formalised the range of things that in the past we had done as a matter of friendship or as a matter that reflected the close cross-Tasman relationship. And our practical cooperation continues to be enhanced across the board. We've issued a statement or a communiqué and there you'll see that we continue to be very pleased by the navy-to-navy collaboration which we are effecting. We've got very good collaboration which we are enhancing with the heavy amphibious lift area, and the sea support ship area, including and involving cross crewing and the like.
That's very good in a number of respects. It's very good for general cooperation, it's very good for interoperability, but it also puts us in a very good position when it comes to response to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercises which we are regularly called upon to do in our part of the world.
One of the things which we effected as a result of the review in 2011 was to have a ready response taskforce, and the establishment of that has been effected. Fortunately we have not yet needed to utilise that, but as sure as night follows day, that will occur in due course. As part of our 2011 review we receive in Canberra next month the first of our 1.5 security and strategic dialogues between Australia and New Zealand. This will be a very useful addition to the discussions we have on defence-to-defence, military-to-military and strategic and security conversations.
We work very closely together in our area and of course in our area, the South Pacific, and in the course of our discussions this morning we have swapped notes on progress for the draw down of the stabilisation force, which we both strongly support, in East Timor, the draw down from the stabilisation force in the Solomon Islands, and also reviewed the very successful joint effort that we had in the recent Papua New Guinea elections where New Zealand made a substantial contribution so far as helicopter support was concerned.
And Australia and New Zealand joined with the PNG Defence Force to ensure that the PNG Defence Force personnel and election officials were transported throughout PNG for the purposes of that election.
We also of course work closely in Afghanistan. This has been a particularly tough year for New Zealand with five fatalities, and we feel very much the pain across the Tasman in those fatalities. So we've reviewed our joint contributions in Afghanistan in terms of the post-2014 contribution, we're both looking at the potential for Australia and New Zealand to contribute to an Afghan officer training scheme which is also supported by our British and Canadian colleagues.
After this press conference and when Jonathan has made his opening remarks we're happy to respond to your questions. We'll lay a wreath at the war memorial in Kings Park, continue our discussions over lunch and then after lunch Jonathan and I will visit the Special Air Service regiment in Swanbourne.
So Jonathan, it's very good to have you here. We have to confess that Jonathan's visit started with him and I having a drink last night which we both enjoyed. And again that just reflects the strength of not just the personal relationship, but the strength of the relationship between Australia and New Zealand- ANZAC colleagues and ANZAC countries.
JONATHAN COLEMAN: Thank you very much, Stephen. I just wanted to start by saying we've had great hospitality here in Perth, and it's certainly a real pleasure to be here, and we've had a bit of a preview of summer weather which we haven't had so much of lately at home.
But look, we have had very productive discussions this morning, as Stephen said, you know, this is a very special relationship both for us and for Australia, and it's a relationship which we don't take for granted. We've got a long history together, but with the signing of that relationship agreement in Melbourne at the end of January, that really put in place a formal framework that means we're going to get regular engagement between officials and Ministers, and continue to work on issues related to defence which are very important to both countries.
So in that context today, as Stephen laid out, we've had some discussions about how we can work together more effectively in the future, but it's not all talk there's actually some good practical cooperation that's going on. So if you look at the area of sealift, our heavy sealift capability is in drydock at the moment, Australia is helping us out in that regard. At the same time while Australia's tanker capability is in drydock as well, New Zealand is able to contribute through the use of our Endeavour tanker to help refuel Australian ships at sea.
We've also got a wide range of exchanges between our personnel. So what it shows is that actually, at a practical level, we are really working through and closely together. And what the framework also allows us to do for the future is to plan more effectively around capability development, plan around complementary aspects of procurement where it's appropriate, and really keep in touch very closely with what both countries are doing together across the defence establishment.
I want to acknowledge the Australian sacrifices in Afghanistan. I know Australia has lost six people this year, and I know that's something that is felt very deeply across the country, and also across New Zealand, because obviously we have had those similar experiences. And we were certainly very, very appreciative when our deceased were brought back from Afghanistan in September that they came back on an Australian C-17. So that was noted and very much appreciated.
So look, we're facing common challenges across our defence establishments in terms of the affordability of future capabilities. These are challenges that all listed nations are having to face up to at the same time. As Stephen said, we've got a period where we're drawing down out of East Timor, out of the Solomons and out of Afghanistan.
And as he also said, we're working together on what our future configuration might be in Afghanistan. But overall, the relationship is an absolutely excellent one. Our two Prime Ministers get on very well together. As Stephen said, we've got the sort of relationship where our Foreign Ministers and Defence Ministers are on the phone, texting as appropriate when required, and we don't have that relationship with any other partner.
And I think what we've discussed to day is just a very clear manifestation of the great mateship and practical co-operation between our two countries.
So we're very happy to take any questions.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Jonathan.
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible question]
STEPHEN SMITH: Well AUSMIN of course is our separate consultations with the United States. We'd actually planned for our ANZAC Defence Ministers dialogue in September, but terribly that coincided with some multiple fatalities out of Afghanistan for New Zealand. Jonathan wasn't able to travel to Australia, so we agreed on this date as essentially the mutually agreeable time between now and the end of the year.
We're very keen to not break our record of an annual Defence Ministers dialogue each year. So it's a coincidence, but it does allow me to make this point which is that in the last 12 months or so we have seen New Zealand substantially enhance its practical cooperation with the United States - that's a very good thing.
And our main bilateral training exercise with the United States is called Talisman Sabre - we do that every second year. Next year, 2013, we will see New Zealand observers fully embedded into the Talisman Sabre exercise. And in 2015 - because they're done every two years, 2015, New Zealand will take a full role in that exercise. So that's a very good thing, and Jonathan will no doubt be able to fill you in.
But we were very pleased to see the so-called Washington Declaration when Jonathan visited Washington early this year, and also very pleased to see a very successful visit by Secretary Panetta to New Zealand in the last couple of months.
JONATHAN COLEMAN: Yeah, and that was a very significant visit for us. It was the first visit by a US Defence Secretary for 30 years, and it was just an expression basically of the state of the relationship, how we've been working together very closely for the last 10 years in Afghanistan, and how, at a practical level, defence cooperation has been increasing between New Zealand and US on an incremental path for quite some time.
So that agreement really just put a bow around what we were already doing. But we're very good friends with the US, but Australia is an ally of the US and it's a subtle difference in our relationship vis-a-vis the US.
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible question]
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, every time there is a difficulty with any of our aircraft, whether it's fixed wing or rotary as are the Black Hawk or MHR-90s are, there is an immediate assessment as to whether there are any wider implications which flow from that.
We are very, very conscious of air worthiness, and there's a very strict regime that applies to that. So that's the first point.
Secondly, so far as that particular project is concerned, yes, it's well known that that's the project where we have had some difficulties, and we're working very hard with the company concerned to seek to resolve that difficulty. And Jason Clare, the Defence Materiel Minister and I have been in the course of our time as Ministers working very closely with the company, but also working very closely with our counterparts in France who have an interest to make sure that the difficulties we've experienced in that particular project are resolved satisfactorily and as quickly as possible.
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible question]
JONATHAN COLEMAN: Yeah, well we have NH-90s - ours are manufactured in France. But look, when you buy a military helicopter it's not like picking up a Toyota off the wharf, put in the key and it's ready to go. There's this two year period of actually working through issues. So I'm not familiar with these Australian issues, but what I can tell you, this stuff happens with any military helicopter, and we've had to make changes and work with the manufacturers.
And so our experience has been that - and this is why there's this two year period of bringing them into service is that there are always ripples to iron out along the way and certainly we've had that experience.
JOURNALIST: Sorry- three questions in a row.
STEPHEN SMITH: That's alright. It's called a hat-trick.
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible question]
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I haven't seen his remarks so I wouldn't propose to comment on the remarks of a state parliamentary colleague without actually having seen them. So I'm sorry, I haven't seen those.