TRANSCRIPT: JOINT DOORSTOP, AUCKLAND
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY AND E & OE
DATE: 30 APRIL 2013
TOPICS: Australia-New Zealand Defence relationship; South Pacific Defence Ministers' Meeting
JONATHAN COLEMAN: Well, we're here today ahead of this meeting tomorrow in Tonga. Ah, look, we've been working together closely for a long time, but on a personal basis, Stephen and I meet three of four times a year in this bilateral [indistinct] is part of that ongoing cycle of meetings.
So we were talking about the agenda in Tonga. We discussed issues around our engagements in Afghanistan. We talked about various challenges around Defence Reform, and it's been a very good discussion.
We also mentioned, of course, our purchase of Seasprite helicopters. We talked through some of the history of that, but we're both very much looking forward to going to Tonga tomorrow, and it's great to have Stephen here after being hosted in Perth last December.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, thanks Jonathan. Very pleased to be in Auckland, Jonathan's hometown. It's not my first time to New Zealand as Defence Minister, but it's my first time to Auckland as Defence Minister and I'm very pleased that today I travelled from Australia to Auckland with Papua New Guinea's Defence Minister, Fabian Pok.
And Jonathan and I look forward to travelling with him tomorrow to Tonga for the inaugural Pacific Defence Minister's Meeting.
As Jonathan has said, we meet formally once a year in the Anzac Defence Ministers format. This year's meeting will be held in Wellington in November. It follows on from last year's meeting in Perth, where I was very pleased to host Jonathan. But we talk and meet regularly.
Generally, we meet three or four times a year, and we just had a very good bilateral session where we've gone through the range of interest that we share, the range of practical cooperation, and reviewing the meeting in Tonga tomorrow and Thursday, which we're very much looking forward too.
There's a very strong practical defence cooperation relationship between Australia and New Zealand. We exercise together. We man Navy ships together. We do humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in our region together, and we share experiences in Afghanistan, in the Solomon Islands, and also in Timor. So the relationship couldn't be better and we look forward to discussing a range of issues with our Pacific colleagues over the next couple of days.
JOURNALIST: What do you think the issues are going to be? What are the regional South Pacific issues as you seem them?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, one of the things that Australia and New Zealand share is of course we're in the midst of a drawdown from Afghanistan, from the Solomon Islands, and we've completed our drawdown from East Timor. So very much - and the Australian Defence White Paper, which we'll publish in the near future will have, as one of it's themes, essentially a return to our own area, both our northern and western approach, as so far as Australia is concerned, but also our immediate region, the South Pacific and Timor-Leste, our area of responsibility.
So we will speak with our colleagues about firstly, the ongoing importance of practical cooperation. It'll be the inaugural meeting so we want to keep that going on a regular basis. Increase the level of interoperability and cooperation between our various defence and military agencies, so that there's good exercise and training so far as they're concerned.
But also down the track look to the Pacific Maritime Security Arrangements. We're coming to the end of our Patrol Boat Program. By about 2018 we need to start looking at replacements to our patrol boats. So one of the things we'll start in early discussion - and Jonathan and I touched upon this - is the need to ensure that maritime security in our part of the world is well coordinated and we apply the resources that we need to assist some of our Pacific Island States, who don't necessarily have the resources themselves to do that big job.
QUESTION: And presumably that we remain the primary guarantor of that security, in a sense?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, Australia and New Zealand are looked to by the region to take the lead responsibility and the lead role in this area, and that's a responsibility we've always taken. And as partners we've always done it by working very closely together.
JOURNALIST: When would you hope to have some kind of replacement system in place?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the first of the patrol boats come out of operation by 2018. So over the next five years we've got to work through the detail of that and work through the replacement. But the Patrol Boat Program will end in various countries in the Pacific between 2018 and 2028. So we've got a good lead time, and there's a long period of transition, but that is something which we will discuss with our Pacific colleagues in Tonga over the next couple of days, and essentially start that detailed conversation.
JONATHAN COLEMAN: Yeah. So from the New Zealand perspective, you know, we realise that maritime security is the number one strategic priority for the interested parties who will be there at the meeting. In regards to the boat program, you know, there are different ways of cutting the cake too.
So we know that that is a capability that is going to need replacing. But there's also ways to augment it. So, for instance, we now have the OPBs which we're able to send up to that region.
We also have Orion flights which we send up there on a regular basis. So this first meeting of Defence Ministers is an opportunity to, you know, identify or talk about those common strategic priorities, get some work going around coordination and capacity building, and start to work together in the way that Australia and New Zealand have been working together for a long time on some common solutions to the issues that are confronting the region around security, especially from the defence perspective.
STEPHEN SMITH: [indistinct] we've got the experience of the Patrol Boat Program. We've got the need for what is described technically as maritime domain awareness, so how can we assist in terms of surveillance, how can we assist in terms of access to information.
There's a very good model now with the Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency, so the fisheries forum a very good regional hub. There are some suggestions that could be a model for a broader maritime security arrangement.
So there are a range of experiences that we've had, so a simple replacement of patrol boats is not the only option or the only matter we're looking at.
JOURNALIST: You're probably both aware of the campaign in Australia at the moment to allow New Zealanders to join the Australian Army. Was that discussed at all or-
JONATHAN COLEMAN: We haven't talked about that, but we've got two days to cover a range of issues, so there's plenty of time left for discussion on all sorts of things. But look, New Zealanders and Australians have served in each other's militaries for decades, literally. Two countries are very close on a variety of fronts, so I'm sure we can work through any of the practical issues that might arise.
But look, in the wider context, we've got an excellent defence relationship, we've been working together for a long, long time and we're going to continue to work together. I mean, we are close - we're not closer to any other nation in the way that we are with Australia, so we're very happy with the defence relationship.
JOURNALIST: Right. And Minister Smith, from your perspective, is the idea of perhaps opening up the Australian Army to New Zealand citizens something that the Australian Government is willing to take a look at?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well our starting point is that as a general proposition members of the Australian Defence Force are Australian citizens, but we have so many friendly kiwis in Australia that we're very happy to have the conversation.
JONATHAN COLEMAN: And a lot of them do have dual nationalities so you know - but look, I don't think this is a big issue in the wider context of our defence relations. Certainly not from the New Zealand perspective.
JOURNALIST: Would you be concerned at all if Australia was to open up its Army to New Zealand citizens who didn't have that dual citizenship, that there might be an exodus of New Zealand defence force personnel?
JONATHAN COLEMAN: Well I don't think that's a policy position that's on the table from the Australian point of view. So look, we're talking hypotheticals. I mean, look, the wider point is there's always been trans-Tasman migration, and you've got a big economic [indistinct] when you put New Zealand and Australia together, and we accept that for many years our people have gone to Australia to get work experience.
Some have chosen the lifestyle over there. So look, I don't think this is a big issue, this particular one about - that you phrased there around New Zealanders in the Australia Army. I certainly don't think it's going to suddenly see a drain on our defence force.
SMITH: Thanks very much. Cheers, thank you.