2019 Ministerial Statement on Defence Operations

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Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC

Minister for Defence

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Nicky Hamer (Minister Reynolds’ Office): +61 437 989 927

Defence Media: media@defence.gov.au

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5 December 2019


Some six months into my tenure as Minister for Defence, it is my privilege to deliver my first Ministerial Statement on the Defence portfolio.

Today I will provide an overview of the global, regional and domestic operations of the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

Australia’s security environment is the most challenging it has been for many decades.

We face an increasingly multipolar and competitive world in which consensus is becoming more difficult to achieve.

Today, Defence is in more places, doing more things, at the same time.

The ADF deploys integrated capability to support operations globally, regionally and domestically, with some 4,000 ADF service members deployed at any one time.

Army now participates in 90 international engagements and exercises a year.

Navy has on average 20 ships at sea per day, conducting in excess of 200 foreign port visits across 32 foreign nations and participating in up to 30 Naval exercises a year.

Air Force conducts 53 international exchanges, exercises and dialogues each year.

This year the ADF training team in Iraq reached a milestone in training over 47,000 Iraqi Security Forces in counter terrorism.

In Afghanistan we have around 300 personnel providing security, training Afghan forces and also supporting NATO.

We have had record numbers of defence engagements with our regional neighbours – India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Japan, just to name a few.

In the Philippines we have trained over 10,600 members of their armed forces to counter the rising threat of terrorism.

We still deploy personnel to UN peacekeeping missions and have assisted Fiji and Vietnam with their peacekeeping deployments this year as well as maintaining multinational force observers in the Middle East.

This level of activity reflects the Government’s commitment to pursue our national interests.

An additional 18 ADF and civilian positions have been established in our overseas posts since 2016 – bringing the total number of diplomatically accredited positions to 119 worldwide.

Our servicemen and women are magnificent soft diplomacy assets in this broad range of activities in the national interest.

Operations Update

Since the release of the 2016 Defence White Paper, the Australian Defence Force has maintained a high operational tempo to deal with more numerous and increasingly complex security threats and challenges.

Today, there are 17 active operations and activities supported by approximately 1,900 personnel deployed on operations, and 900 personnel deployed on regional engagement.


Since 2014, the ADF has trained Iraqi Security Forces and deployed combat, refuelling and transport aircraft to support counter-terrorism operations against Daesh, the self-proclaimed Islamic State. To date, around 14,000 ADF personnel have deployed to Operation OKRA, including Air Task Group, since 2014.

Task Group Taji, a joint Australia/New Zealand initiative, has to date trained over 47,000 Iraqi Security Force personnel to build their capability to defend Iraq against terrorist and violent extremist organisations, including Daesh. The Reserve forces continue to make a significant contribution, with 40 Reserve members deployed on operations in Iraq with Task Group Taji IX.

The ADF has made significant progress in enhancing the capabilities of the Iraqi Security Forces to defeat Daesh.  The ADF’s local partner, the Iraqi School of Infantry Non-Commissioned Officer II, is ready to deliver most of its training without the assistance of Coalition partners.  This progress means Australia has been able to reduce our contribution to the training mission from around 250 to around 120 ADF personnel.

Middle East and Africa

Today, the ADF maintains its strong support for maritime security in the Middle East region.

Since 1990, 67 Royal Australian Navy ships have worked as part of an international coalition to support counter-piracy, counter-terrorism and Gulf security operations under Operation MANITOU. 

This year alone Australian ships assigned to Operation MANITOU have intercepted, seized and disposed of drugs with an estimated combined street value in Australia in excess of $1.1 billion.

Over the same period, Royal Australian Navy ships also seized over 470,000 rounds of ammunition and in excess of 12 tonnes of precursor chemicals required to manufacture explosives.

International Maritime Security Construct

In August, the Government reaffirmed its longstanding commitment to safe passage and freedom of navigation in the Middle East by announcing it would make a contribution to the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) – freedom of navigation and safe passage in the critical waters of the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman through supporting the international maritime security mission.

This decision was made following a series of security incidents involving shipping in the Strait of Hormuz which threatened regional security, global trade, the rules-based order, and the best interests of Australia and the international community.

Australia’s current contribution to this initiative included the recent deployment of a P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft and a small number of ADF personnel to the International Maritime Security Construct headquarters. 

The P-8A Poseidon and its crew returned after a month long deployment having made an important contribution to maritime domain awareness in the region.

In January of next year, a Navy frigate will deploy in support of the mission for six months, in support of Australia’s contribution to the IMSC and the Combined Maritime Forces

As with all deployments, the Government will keep Australia’s contribution to the International Maritime Security Construct under review.


Since 2008, in Afghanistan, the ADF has focussed on training, advising and assisting the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces to defend their country in the face of terrorism.

In addition to the train, advise and assist mission, the Government contributes US$100 million annually to Afghan security sustainment projects.

To date, there have been 36,511 ADF personnel deployed to Afghanistan.

We currently have approximately 300 people deployed on this operation in a range of training and advisory roles, including around 28 Reservists. Over the many years of our commitment, Reserve force members have made a very important contribution to a range of ADF missions in Afghanistan.

We are also assisting the Kabul Garrison Command to provide security in and around Kabul, and training and mentoring the development of the next generation of Afghan National Army leaders through the Afghan National Army Officer Training Academy.

Australia is also a proud contributor to the NATO Resolute Support Mission.  The ADF contributes personnel to headquarters positions, including the Senior Gender Advisor position that is dedicated to the Women Peace and Security effort in Afghanistan.

South East Asia

In South East Asia, the ADF continues its broad and long-standing programs of engagement with our many partners in the region, with a particular focus on collaborative activities, exercises and training, and capacity building.

ADF maritime patrol aircraft and naval frigates have continued to conduct transits of the region in keeping with long-established deployment patterns.

In the Philippines, surveillance aircraft, naval frigates and specialist advisers have provided assistance to the Armed Forces of the Philippines in their counter-terrorism operations.

Our counter-terrorism cooperation program with the Philippines commenced in October 2017, with support from each of the three Services.  In the last two years, our personnel have been involved in training over 10,600 members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

I recently met with the Philippines Secretary of Defense, Delfin Lorenzana, at the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus in Bangkok. There we announced that this training effort would transition to an enhanced Defence Cooperation Program, setting our relationship on a long-term trajectory for closer engagement.

North Asia

In North Asia, Defence continued to contribute to international efforts to enforce UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea’s proliferation-related activities.

Since May 2018, the ADF has contributed Maritime Patrol Aircraft and surface vessels to help prevent North Korean efforts to evade UN Security Council sanctions.  Intelligence collected by the ADF has been used to illuminate the networks involved in sanctions evasion activities, and to support diplomatic representations to the flag states of vessels suspected of illicit activities.

The ADF has also contributed personnel to support United Nations Command led operations.  In July 2019, Vice Admiral Stuart Mayer assumed the role of Deputy Commander United Nations Command, only the second foreign officer to be appointed to the position.

In May 2019, Defence established Operation LINESMEN and deployed a small contingent to the Republic of Korea to assist United Nations Command with Armistice compliance monitoring in the Demilitarised Zone.

United Nations Peacekeeping Missions

Australia has 35 personnel deployed to the United Nations peacekeeping missions in Cyprus, Israel/Lebanon, Syria and South Sudan. ADF personnel are not deployed in combat roles, but fulfil important military observer and headquarters positions such as military liaison officers, operations, aviation and logistics support roles.

This year, Australia contributed a senior officer to United Nations Peacekeeping Forces in Cyprus in January 2019. Major General Cheryl Pearce is only the second woman to be appointed Force Commander of a United Nations peacekeeping mission.  Her appointment makes the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces in Cyprus the first United Nations peacekeeping mission to have three women in charge of military, police and civilian staff.

As part of our assistance to our regional partners, Australia has deployed aircraft to assist Fiji and Vietnam with their peacekeeping troop rotations in the Middle East and South Sudan respectively.

Multinational Force & Observers

In addition to the United Nations peacekeeping missions, Australia is deployed to the Multinational Force & Observers mission in Egypt. Australian peacekeepers monitor the border and provide support to the mission headquarters.

ADF personnel are also providing training and mentoring to the Republic of Fiji Military Forces contingent to the mission.  This has contributed to building the capability of the Fijian troops.

I would like to also acknowledge and congratulate Major General Simon Stuart on a highly successful three-year tour as the Force Commander for the Multinational Force and Observers mission.

Australian Signals Directorate Support to Military Operations

The Australian Signals Directorate plays a critical role in supporting the ADF while on operations around the globe.

This includes by providing intelligence and offensive cyber capabilities to enable our warfighters, and to protect ADF personnel and assets.

ASD’s offensive cyber operations have supported the ADF and coalition partners in conducting military campaigns in the Middle East.

These capabilities have also been used to support the ADF by degrading the terror group Daesh’s propaganda and communications networks on the battlefield, disrupting their ability to launch attacks.

Support to civil community

Despite its extensive overseas operations, training and exercise commitments, the ADF remains ready and able to respond at home. 

Defence regularly provides Defence Assistance to the Civil Community (DACC) domestically and Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) in Australia’s region within one to seven days, depending on the nature and location of the incident.

Throughout 2019, Defence has assisted emergency and civil authorities in response to many natural disasters under Defence Assistance to the Civil Community arrangements, including flooding in the Townsville and western Queensland regions, and other firefighting efforts in Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland.

Defence also assisted the Northern Territory Government in the evacuation and repatriation of people living in remote communities, and with logistical support in the lead up to, and after the passing of, Tropical Cyclone Trevor.

This past month, the ADF has been working with emergency services to assist with firefighting efforts in NSW and Queensland, providing airlift to move fire-fighters interstate, helicopter support, transport and logistics, bases to provide accommodation and catering support to firefighters, and aircraft refuelling.

Defence has enhanced its planning and support network to provide advice to emergency services, including embedding staff in state emergency coordination centres.

On Monday 11 November, I directed and authorised all local base commanders to provide local assistance wherever it is required in response to emerging circumstances.

I pay tribute to the emergency services personnel fighting these fires across the country and I want to acknowledge the excellent support the Australian Defence Force has been providing to the bushfire fighting effort.

Defence also regularly assists law enforcement agencies in tasks such as searching for missing persons in inhospitable areas, providing access to Defence establishments in support of policing operations, searching for hidden materials, and providing niche expertise in non-emergency disposal of commercial explosives and chemicals.

Enhanced Defence International Engagement

Enduring and mutually beneficial partnerships with partners and allies are a key pillar of Australia’s defence policy, in particular in the Indo-Pacific region.

We derive significant strategic and soft power benefits from our broad network of Defence-related bilateral and multilateral arrangements, in particular the long-established relationships that we enjoy with our partners in South East Asia and the South Pacific.

Last month, I visited Bangkok to represent Australia at the annual ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus.

The ADMM-Plus forum was productive and a Joint Statement on Advancing Partnership for Sustainable Security was unanimously adopted.

This meeting is evolving into an important part of the region’s security architecture with a strong focus on practical defence cooperation.

Australia’s input helped to reinforce commitment to the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, and for the respect of freedom of navigation and overflight.

Last month, I also visited Japan for bilateral defence discussions with my counterpart, the Minister of Defense of Japan, Mr Taro Kono.

As a result of these discussions, Australia and Japan committed to accelerate defence cooperation in the coming years, including in the fields of military exercises, personnel exchanges, space and cyber policy, defence science and technology.

Minister Kono and I also reiterated our determination to enhance defence and security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, both bilaterally and in cooperation with other key partners.

At the core of Australia’s international partnerships is our alliance with the United States.  We have deepened the Australia-US Alliance with the US Force Posture Initiatives, including the Marine Rotational Force-Darwin.

We are committed to working with the United States to bolster our alliance architecture, with a particular focus on how we can work together to strengthen our collaboration with other partners in the Indo-Pacific.

The United States has played a key role in contributing to security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.  We believe that deep, broad-based and enduring engagement by the United States in the region will be critical in the decades ahead.

These were my key messages to my US counterpart, Mark Esper, the Secretary for Defense, when I visited the United States between 31 October and 2 November this year.

I am pleased to say that the commitment to the Alliance is reciprocated by the United States and the Alliance is as strong as it has ever been.

We are also working to further deepen our defence partnerships with Indonesia, Japan, India and the Republic of Korea.  These countries are critical partners for Australia in seeking to preserve rules-based frameworks in the Indo-Pacific.

Defence has increased its program of international engagements since the release of the 2016 Defence White Paper, with a particular focus on our region.

The Defence Cooperation Program budget that is directed primarily towards South East Asia and the South Pacific has grown from $98.3 million in 2016-17 to $159.2 million in 2019-20. Our international education and training program has expanded from 1,251 placed for foreign defence officials in 2016-17 to 1,690 places in 2019-20.

Pacific Step-Up

Australia seeks to be the security partner of choice for our friends in the South Pacific.

Defence is contributing to whole-of-government efforts to further deepen Australia’s engagement in the South Pacific – the Pacific Step-Up.

Defence-related activities being progressed as part of the Pacific Step-Up include infrastructure projects, an increased ADF presence in the region, and deepening people-to-people links with our Pacific neighbours.

Current areas of focus for Defence include:

  • significant infrastructure projects in Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Vanuatu;
  • an increased Navy presence in the region, with options to be considered for a dedicated vessel to support increased ADF engagement with our partners in the Pacific;
  • a dedicated ADF team to provide training in priority areas for Pacific Island military and security forces;
  • medical diagnostic training to partnered security forces;
  • a regular program of senior leadership dialogues;
  • reinforcing security alumni networks; and
  • expanding ADF sporting engagements with Pacific Island security organisations.
  • Defence is working closely with other Australian government agencies and our partners in the Pacific to identify further opportunities to deepen our engagement in the region as strategic circumstances may require. 

Indo-Pacific Endeavour 

In each of the last three years, the ADF has embarked on large-scale task group deployments through the Indo-Pacific Endeavour exercise across the Indo-Pacific.
This year between March and May, the ADF deployed a joint task force of around 1,000 Navy, Army and Air Force personnel into the Indo-Pacific region, focussing on South and South East Asia. 
Such deployments are highly supported and demonstrate Australia’s enduring commitment to strengthening our relationships with our regional partners.
Closing Remarks
In closing, the more competitive and more highly contested strategic environment in which we now live has significant implications for Australia, and for the role that Defence plays in contributing to our national security.
The Australian Defence Force is doing more activities with more partners in more places in pursuit of our national interests.
I want to put on the record my thanks for the efforts of all those in Defence – our men and women in uniform and their public service colleagues – for the magnificent work they do to plan and carry out operations.
The Government will continue to invest in building a capable, agile and potent joint force of highly-skilled Australians that is enabled by advanced technology, fit for purpose enablers and modern business systems.
I look forward to continuing to work closely with the men and women of the Defence organisation to meet the challenges ahead. 

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