Address to the Lowy Institute: Indo-Pacific operating system, digital conference

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The Hon Peter Dutton MP

Minister for Defence

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2 December 2021

The Lowy Institute is one of Sir Frank Lowy’s great legacies to our country.

Michael, you have played an essential role in bringing Sir Frank’s vision to reality, and building the Lowy Institute into a respected voice on both the national and international stage.

The Institute helps to define and shape the Australian foreign policy and security debate, and I thank you for the invitation to address this Conference on the Indo-Pacific Operating System.

Today, our region – the Indo-Pacific – is of course far-more complex and far-less predictable than at any time since the Second World War.

We are facing challenges including rapid military modernisation, tension over territorial claims, heightened economic coercion, undermining of international law, including the law of the sea, through to enhanced disinformation, foreign interference and cyber threats, enabled by new and emerging technologies.

In the discussions I have with our like-minded friends in the region, the message comes through loud and clear:

They share our interest in ensuring continued peace and prosperity. They want to see the Indo-Pacific Operating System characterised by order and stability.

The Australian Government is stepping-up its engagement with our pacific partners, and we’re working even more closely with our allies and friends.

These include our Five Eyes partners, NATO, the Quad, ASEAN, European countries – including Germany, which sent its first warship in 20 years for a goodwill visit to the region this year.

We support ASEAN’s centrality in our regional security architecture.

Australia continues to work constructively with our many bilateral strategic partners and with our longstanding friends and allies – the United States and the United Kingdom. We are working together to shape a prosperous and free region.

Over the past few months, the Australian Defence Force took part in a number of back-to-back exercises with allied forces in our region. It was a landmark time, for a number of reasons. It was the second consecutive year that Australia has been invited to participate in Exercise MALABAR with India, Japan and the United States.

Exercise Bersama Gold marked the golden jubilee of the Five Power Defence Arrangements with Australia joining with Malaysia, Singapore, the UK and New Zealand for a range of maritime and air exercises.

The Maritime Partnership Exercise between Australia, the US, the UK and Japan included the United Kingdom’s first Carrier Strike Group and that was deployed outside of Europe for the first time since the Falklands War.

In October, HMAS Warramunga joined international efforts to enforce United States Security Council sanctions on North Korea, the sixth Australian warship to do so. And just a few days ago, we concluded ANNUALEX, a very significant multilateral exercise led by the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force, which included Canada, Germany, and the US Navy.

The upshot of these complex, multi-domain exercises – and our flagship regional engagement activity, Indo-Pacific Endeavour – was a considerable strengthening in the integration and interoperability of our forces, and greater confidence and trust in our ability to work together.

The presence of the US and its military forces in our region has underpinned regional peace and prosperity for decades.

In the face of new challenges, Australia’s alliance with the US is the strongest it has ever been.

We’ve just announced further enhancements to the Force Posture Initiatives and we know that only in the last 24 hours the United States has announced further engagement and deeper obligation to the Indo-Pacific.

These include of course for our own country further enhanced cooperation through all domains and establishing a combined logistics, sustainment and maintenance enterprise to support high-end warfighting and combined military operations in the region.

It has been welcomed by our friends and our partners as further evidence of our joint commitment to a peaceful Indo-Pacific.

The decision to acquire nuclear-powered submarines with our US and UK allies as the first initiative of the AUKUS enhanced trilateral partnership, represents a massive step forward in Australia’s capability. 

The recent signing of the AUKUS Exchange of Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information Agreement demonstrates the seriousness of all parties in accelerating Australia’s acquisition of this critical capability.

AUKUS is more than submarines, though. It is a framework to enable deeper practical cooperation in developing leading-edge military capabilities and technologies.

It will help ensure that Australia remains a responsible and highly capable security partner in the Indo-Pacific region for decades to come.

AUKUS is just one example of a broader deepening of our partnerships with others in the region.

While we all share an interest in security in the region, these partnerships are – to a very large extent – built on shared values and shared history. They have been built over time, with trust baked in at every point.

The strength and durability of some partnerships I think is often underestimated and their development as defence security partnerships often overlooked. For instance, Australia and Japan are obviously both very strong democracies. We both have alliances with the United States. We are both members of the Quad and our economies are deeply intertwined, with a Free Trade Agreement that is one of the most comprehensive ever signed by Australia.

Our Special Strategic Partnership grows closer each year. At this year’s two plus two meeting, we both reaffirmed our determination to deepen cooperation to promote a free, open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific, where disputes are resolved peacefully, without the threat or use of force or coercion.

Our defence forces are also increasing joint training and strengthening interoperability.

Last year, our two Prime Ministers announced in-principle agreement on a reciprocal access agreement (RAA). This will be a landmark bilateral agreement for both countries, facilitating cooperative activities, such as joint exercises and disaster relief operations, between the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the Australian Defence Force.

In this year where we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Australian diplomatic relations with the Republic of Korea, we agreed to build on South Korea’s inaugural participation in Exercise Talisman Sabre.

We are also in the final steps of developing an annual bilateral infantry exercise that will commence in 2023.

If we look to another successful two-plus-two Ministerial Dialogue this year, I can say that Australia and India’s defence relationship is at a historic high, especially in the maritime domain.

In fact, we’re reinforcing each other’s maritime domain awareness through increased information sharing and practical cooperation.

Both of us are committed to the ongoing success of Exercise Malabar.

And we’ve invited India to participate in future Talisman Sabre exercises, to drive further operational compatibility between our defence services.

You can also see these longstanding relationships of trust at work in cyber cooperation. The Director-General of Australian Signals Directorate recently described the Five Eyes as a genuine, fully-integrated partnership, built on trust and confidence, which delivers the most impactful intelligence in the world.

Australia is a leader in cyber regional capacity and we have continued to build that through our contribution to the Pacific Cyber Security Operational Network, providing advice and assistance to our closest neighbours.

It is these partnerships which build our collective cyber resilience, allowing us to defend and act against those who threaten us through cyberspace.

When this Government came to power in 2013, defence spending was at the lowest levels since 1938. At around 1.5 per cent of GDP. We’ve lifted it beyond 2 per cent of GDP because that’s what’s required to equip the Australian Defence Force with the kit it needs and to keep Australia safe and secure.

We are maintaining investment in our core military capabilities and continuing to develop new ones to hold a potential adversary’s forces and infrastructure at risk from a greater distance.

Capabilities which send a clear deterrent message to any adversary: that the cost they would incur in threatening our interests outweighs the benefits of so doing.

The Indo-Pacific we seek has Australia as a strong and reliable partner – a nation that more than lifts its weight in securing peace in our region.

Australia can be relied upon to work for an Indo-Pacific where sovereignty is respected; which is open and free and which is stable and secure.


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