Doorstop Interview with the German Minister of Defence, Ursula von der Leyen

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The Hon Christopher Pyne MP

Minister for Defence

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25 October 2018

MINISTER PYNE:  Well thank you very much for coming along to this press conference this afternoon with myself and the German Defence Minister. It’s my great pleasure to welcome the Minister to Parliament House, to Australia where of course she has been a regular friend of Marise Payne, my predecessor.

We have a number of very significant projects with Germany. The most obvious of which is the Combat Reconnaissance Vehicles, the Boxer vehicle that RMDA is building with its Australian partners. That does give us a tremendous piece of ballast in the relationship.  But I have to say the relationship has been growing in a number of different ways over recent years.  Mathias Cormann and Lucy Turnbull of course have both been very active in the Australia-German industry partnership and relationship, building those connections which have been very important.

And of course Australia and Germany share the same attitude to the international rules-based order which is one of the subjects of course the Minister and I have discussed. We want to see peace and prosperity in our region. We work together in Afghanistan and Iraq, which of course we’ve also discussed, and I want to see that relationship continue to grow and build both economically and of course military to military.

MINISTER VON DER LEYEN:      Yes, thank you so much for taking time for this visit. It is my very first visit in Australia and I just learned that it’s the very first visit of a German Defence Minister in Australia.

MINISTER PYNE:  Oh is that right. I didn’t realise that.

MINISTER VON DER LEYEN:      Yes it is. It was fantastic day already. We have a traditional strategic partnership between Australia and Germany, and as was said we stand up for the multilateralism, for the rules-based order. We share the same values and it was very good to be here with friends and to have these in-depth talks.

We do have a lot, we had a very good talk on our Boxer program, yes, and also on the missions where our soldiers stand side by side either in Afghanistan or in Iraq where they do the capacity building in Taji.  So a lot of common experience in our different topics.

Tomorrow I will visit the Invictus Games in Sydney and I’ve heard fantastic things about that already. It is a fabulous event. And I really want to thank from the bottom of my heart, thank Australia for being such an outstanding host to these Invictus Games. So I am looking forward to seeing the 20 German soldiers who are taking part in the Invictus Games tomorrow. Thank you again.

MINISTER PYNE:  A pleasure, thank you.  Questions?

JOURNALIST:         Minister Pyne, will Australia pause or ban current or future military exports to Saudi Arabia in the wake of Jamal Khashoggi’s death and if not why not?

MINISTER PYNE:     We are appalled by the death of Jamal Khashoggi and the means at which this came about. We utterly condemn what has occurred in the consulate in Istanbul. There is an investigation being conducted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We expect this to be a thorough investigation and a fair one and we look forward to the outcomes of that investigation. We have had a growing export relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over recent years, particularly the last two years, and we have a very strict criteria for the application of our defence export permits and so we don’t allow any exports to Saudi Arabia that could for example be used in the conflict in Yemen. Because the criteria themselves wouldn’t allow any breaches of human rights and so forth to be able to be conducted with exports from Australia. We will of course take into account however, this most recent incident because it would fit within the rules of those five criteria under human rights considering the activities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. So in terms of future export permits, this incident will be taken into account about whether we wish to export a particular kit or services to KSA.

JOURNALIST:         Minister, the same question for you as well. The stance of the German Government to stop weapon deliveries to Saudi Arabia. Do you think France, United States and England should follow suit?

MINISTER VON DER LEYEN:      Well I can only speak for the German Government and the German Government has frozen any kind of exports to Saudi Arabia out of the same reasons you’ve just been talking about. So I stand for Germany.

JOURNALIST:         Minister could I ask, this afternoon during the Senate Estimates hearings, the Department of Defence could not say what had happened to the Australian arms exports deals, what had happened to those weapons. Why can’t Australians know through export deals, where those weapons go and what they are being used for?

MINISTER PYNE:  Well I’ve just told you that there is the criteria for permits, for export permits of defence materiel to KSA would not allow the export of any kind of product that could be used for human rights abuses or in the Yemen conflict, because our view on Yemen is that the conflict must come to an end and the countries that are involved there must end that conflict and allow the parties in Yemen to come to a peaceful conclusion.  So I can tell you categorically that the permit system would not allow Australian kit to be used in any of those human rights conflicts.

JOURNALIST:         Well are you able to determine whether those weapons have wound up in Yemen?

MINISTER PYNE:  They could not possibly be in Yemen as a permit would not have been granted.

JOURNALIST:         Minister you’ve been [inaudible] in Beijing and how far did the impressions you gained in China been part of the talks today?

MINISTER VON DER LEYEN:      We have been talking about my Chinese impressions too today and Europe is the largest, biggest economic trade partner of China so there are strong economic relationships between China and Europe, Germany too but on the other hand we do have issues with China too. For example the issue of the South China Sea or issues in the cyber domain. We have been discussing that all day long with different partners here in Australia. We have shared our experiences with China and we have common analysis and we have been talking about how to proceed. So this was very interesting for me to listen to that.

JOURNALIST:         Minister Pyne would you comment on South China Sea and your discussion about China?

MINISTER PYNE:     This will have to be the last question because I think we agreed two plus two.

Obviously we have a very frim view in Australia about the South China Sea. We continue to have overflight and navigation of vessels throughout the South China Sea. We regard the South China Sea as international waters. There are disputed territories and we don’t take sides in those disputes. We obviously reserve the right to continue to hold out the possibility of passing within 12 nautical miles of disputed territories.  But we don’t seek to create stress or strain in the region but we continue to navigate through the South China Sea and that remains our position.

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