Transcript – Joint press conference by Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon Marise Payne, and Malaysian Minister of Defence, the Hon Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein

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Senator the Hon Marise Payne

Minister for Defence

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  • Henry Budd (Minister Payne’s office) 0429 531 143
  • Defence Media (02) 6127 1999

The Hon Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein

Malaysian Minister of Defence

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23 March 2016

Topics: 2016 Defence White Paper, Australia-Malaysia relations, counter-Daesh campaign

MINISTER HISHAMMUDDIN: Good day to everyone.  First and foremost, I would like to welcome Senator Marise Payne and thank you for being able to be with us here. I just want to report to the press that we had a very good meeting. One of which is that Senator Marise Payne actually briefed me on the latest Defence White Paper that had been tabled in Australia. I am really appreciative of your decision to do that and that is something that I really appreciate as we move forward bilaterally.

We spoke about a host of matters ranging from the threat of militancy – IS and Daesh. We spoke with regards to the future of FPDA and also on the South China Sea. But I will just give an opportunity to Her Excellency Marise Payne to say a few words, maybe if you start with the White Paper that we discussed.  Thank you, Senator.

MINISTER PAYNE: Thank you very much Minister and thank you for your extremely warm welcome here this afternoon. I would like to begin by saying that on this visit as Australia's Defence Minister, I am only visiting two locations in our region to provide a personal briefing to my counterparts on Australia's Defence White Paper and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is the one here this afternoon and Jakarta is the other.

So, I do think that is a very important indication of the history, the depth and the strength of our relationship, not just in relation to Defence cooperation but in fact, between Australia and Malaysia more broadly. So to you Minister, to General and to your Secretary-General, thank you very much for your extremely warm welcome.  The honour of being met by the honour guard, General, in particular.

Ladies and gentlemen, our White Paper for 2016 is essentially a document that provides for Australian Government and for our Defence operations our primary strategic guidance for how we approach our capability, our resources and our Defence posture. It sets our relationships and again reinforces why I am here today.  It sets out the premise for our Force structure, looking not just into the near future but in fact across the next decade and the decade beyond that, and similarly our strategic engagement and the security environment in which we face ourselves.

We’ve identified a number of things as part of that discussion this afternoon in which we work with common purpose and common interest. We identified challenges which would include ensuring that as sovereign nations, we are able to expect and work within an international environment that operates on a rules-based global order with a degree of predictability, with observations around international law that we would expect to see in the work we do ourselves and of our counterparts more broadly.

We discussed and identified a number of the challenges we faced in the counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation environment as well. They are challenges not just for each of us in our own countries but in our broader region and then of course in the battles that we face in both Iraq and Syria currently in relation to the challenges of countering Daesh and the insidious impacts.

We’ve also, and in fact this is a very contemporary observation and an important part of our White Paper, discuss the challenges that we face in the cyber world today, in how we do our business, how we protect ourselves from attack in that context, and I think that they are very important and very current observations.

As the Minister has indicated we also emphasised the importance of the partnerships that we enjoy in ASEAN Defence Ministers Plus and also in the FPDA arrangements – both of very strategic importance to Australia and Malaysia.

Hishammuddin, I thank you very much for the opportunity to have met with you this afternoon. It's never long enough. I am a serial offender in that regard and I can certainly indicate that I intend to make my next visit to Kuala Lumpur one which enables me to spend more time here and to engage even further with you and with your very senior officials.

MINISTER HISHAMMUDDIN: You are most welcome. Maybe a couple of questions?

JOURNALIST: Hi, Melissa from Channel News Asia based in Singapore.  Will Australia take a more active role in sending ships to patrol the South China Sea for Freedom of Navigation?

MINISTER PAYNE: Thank you very much for your question. In fact, I had the opportunity to meet with the Defence Minister of Singapore myself in Sydney as well last Friday. This is something which the White Paper covers in some detail; both our relationship – our extremely important relationship – with China, but also the importance to the region of ensuring that we have freedom of movement, freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight through the South China Sea for all nations who are prepared to operate under the auspices of international law.

Australia, in releasing our White Paper, did not necessarily please our colleagues in China with some of the observations that we made. But we've been extremely consistent in saying that our activities will continue, that we will send our ships and our planes through that part of the world as and when we require necessary in accordance with international law – that's not a position that we’ve changed.

JOURNALIST: Hi, Rozana from Reuters. Minister Hishammuddin, you said last week that China's might may build up in the South China Sea. If it is proven to be true, might you demand a pushback from Malaysia and other ASEAN countries? Today, we saw that Indonesia has called up the Chinese Ambassador over disputes in the South China Sea as well. So, any updates on that?

MINISTER HISHAMMUDDIN: The calling up of the Chinese Ambassador in Indonesia is on a completely different matter which is not related to what I referred to earlier.  It is important, as I said, that Malaysia cannot face the complexities of South China Sea on its own. One engagement with Senator Marise today is an effort looking forward where we look at the consistency and the facts and the sharing of information and what transpires later on must be verified by so many parties who have very clear intentions and clear principles in the way forward. What is wrong is wrong but before we decide that it is wrong, we better get our facts correct. So moving forward, as far as the South China Sea, I consider platforms that already exist like the FPDA, ADMM-Plus, bilaterally with Australia, and personal relationships between leaders is something that is important as we navigate very difficult waters.

Separate incidents that happen bilaterally between China and other states should not affect the overall wish to make sure that South China Sea and related areas are stable and safe and the free movement in the air and in the waters are continued.  That is our joint responsibility and the more people we engage and get on board with very clear rules-based effort as mentioned in the White Paper, I think the better chance of us getting it correct.

The point within ASEAN: it is very important for me personally to engage our friends in ASEAN and I indicated after this I would be meeting with my counterpart in Vietnam and also in the Philippines. As you know, in the Philippines there’s a presidential election so it will have to be after the new President comes in?

[to Minister Payne] I could see she [journalist] is mimicking saying ‘when?’ So, before you actually ask me, I might as well answer.

MINISTER PAYNE: I’m in an election year myself so I understand these issues.

MINISTER HISHAMMUDDIN: That was the question right, ‘when’? So, we'll have to wait until the presidential election takes place in the Philippines. As far as Vietnam is concerned, there will be a new Defence Minister next month. So, when that takes place, I’ll be visiting Vietnam.

JOURNALIST: I'm from Bloomberg. Could you explain the incidents and threats of IS and Daesh in this region to Australia and how Australia can contribute?

MINISTER PAYNE: I think the question was the threat that Daesh plays in this region.  Thank you very much for your question.

We’ve indicated in the White Paper, and this perhaps is indicative of the changed environment in which we find ourselves, but this does change the outlook and the approach that a country like Australia has to take both domestically, then regionally and then more broadly as I said earlier.

We, in Australia, have encountered individuals within our own community who have, through their adoption or pursuit of the approach that Daesh takes, presented quite serious threats to our common border and to our society. That would be the first thing that I would say. For those other countries in the region who have also within their own communities been dealing with the challenges of pockets of radicalisation, pockets of adherence to the views of Daesh, we understand and we have dealt with it ourselves.

We recognise that, including from Australia, from our country and from countries within the region a number of individuals have gone to the Middle East to fight against our ways of life and against the global-based rules order, in particular in Syria and Iraq most recently, in concert with Daesh. As those individuals, to greater and lesser degrees, make efforts to return either to their own countries or to the region, we as partners and counterpart Ministers need to be very much aware of the challenges that that creates for our legal systems, for the defence of our nations, and we have certainly discussed that in our considerations this afternoon.

I want to be very, very clear that none of us can afford to underestimate the importance of dealing with this challenge in a concerted and determined and assertive way. That is why Australia is engaged in Iraq and in Syria. It is why we work with our counterparts in the region, why we learn, in fact, from our counterparts in the region and approaches that countries like Malaysia take on de-radicalisation and dealing with individuals who purport to take up the case of Daesh and why we do it ourselves. I think the Minister and I are absolutely at one in terms of the importance of this.

MINISTER HISHAMMUDDIN: Marise, if you allow me just to add to that, finally. We have both decided to share information and intelligence on flash points and areas that we should monitor. The template that we see happening in the Middle East, for example, must not be allowed to be replicated here. So, I refer specifically to developments in southern Philippines, southern Thailand, the movement of people from Myanmar and even from China when it involves the Rohingyas and the Uighurs; these are something that we have learnt from unfolding stories and developments in the Middle East. It is something that we should take stock and both Australia and Malaysia in respect to militancy and terrorism, especially with the threats of Daesh, we will be working together. I open that up to Australia too because all ten nations, all of ASEAN through ADMM, have all united to fight IS and Daesh. So, it is another platform for Australia to engage ASEAN on that matter. So again, on behalf of everybody, Senator, thank you so much for coming around and sharing all those thoughts. Thank you.


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Henry Budd 0429 531 143

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