28th Proliferation Security Initiative Operational Experts Group Meeting, Canberra

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The Hon Alex Hawke MP

Assistant Defence Minister

Minister for International Development and the Pacific

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24 September 2019

Well, good morning everyone and welcome to Canberra, firstly, and thank you, Celia for that warm introduction. Certainly, I'd like to welcome all of our guests from overseas. I'd also like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to the elders past, present and emerging. And again, welcome.

You've really got a spectacular morning day in Canberra, which is quite unrepresentative of Canberra weather. Please do enjoy the spectacular weather as you're seeing out here this morning. I drove from my home, the city of Sydney, last night, very late, and it was a beautiful 22 degrees in Sydney. As you sort of travelling down the highway and sort of hit 18 and 15 degrees and then 12, then it was four. And the ice comes, then it's two, then it was zero. And I thought, well, Canberra, you know you’re here when it hits that zero mark. But look, a beautiful day here in Canberra.

And welcome to all the ambassadors, the diplomatic representatives, our partners here - partner countries, officials. Obviously all our Defence Department officials, I'd like to acknowledge them and make special mention of our Australian Defence Department representatives who are here today. They are experts in their field, very highly capable people. Also I'd like to particularly mention the head of Strategic Policy and Intelligence, Peter Tesch, who the Government works with very closely. He's our Deputy Secretary here this morning, and his presence of course reinforces our whole of government cooperation with our other agencies who are here this morning from across government. So, welcome all.

It's a privilege of course to be here this morning. We're out of session in Parliament but I'm here today and I thought I would come and open this important conference to highlight, from the Government's perspective, how important we regard this initiative. It's a privilege for Australia to have the opportunity to host this event. We regard it as very important in this day and age and certainly we see it as an ongoing relevant forum internationally.        

This forum, of course, is where we can address the shared challenges that we do face in our region and in our world today. And I'm proud to say of course that Australia, like in so many ways, is a founding member of this initiative. Australia has been at the forefront of many important security initiatives but being a founding member of the Proliferation Security Initiative is something we take particular pride in. When it was founded, I think, as you know in 2003, the mission was simple: work together to stop the illicit proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Through this network, of course, we've got a unique opportunity to exchange ideas, to strengthen capacity and capability and coordinate our counter-proliferation activities. As one of the 21 states that can comprise the Operational Expert Group, and again, I'm pleased to see you've all made your way here to Canberra for this meeting. We want to see of course effective and best practice, what we're doing already, but also looking at what more can be done, given the volatility that we are seeing in the world, and sharing all of this information with our PSI partners. So you've got unanimous agreement here at this conference today.

We want to deepen our cooperation to ensure the mitigation of risk of any use of weapons of mass destruction in the future - a challenge that we all face. And none of us of course are immune. Australia will continue to be a leading and important partner in PSI. We'll be an active participant, and we'll support you in any way that we can, and our Government will certainly do that through our alliances and our partnerships worldwide.

I'd like to just take a moment before you get your important deliberations underway this morning just to say a few words about the current state of global proliferation and the importance of the efforts that you are making here, starting of course with our own backyard here in Australia - the Asia-Pacific region. And as the Minister for Pacific, of course, I worked closely with partner countries in our region every single day to make sure that we have greater security and greater sovereignty in this region, and we understand how important the work you're doing here is to the Asia-Pacific. The Asia-Pacific region, as you know, sees about $5 trillion of global trade of our food pass through the region every single year now. And of course, with that much trade passing through the region, of course, the transnational shipping, the shipment hubs, the increasingly advanced technological capability in countries, and then the shipments, of course, advanced technology and materials for manufacturing, and manufacturing the missiles and weapons of mass destruction has increased. Within the trade, of course, we see state and non-state actors attempting to hide their illicit efforts at proliferating weapons technology and materials. And of course, outlining the UN Security Council resolution to countries like North Korea and Iran are at the forefront of the illicit global trade, and their illegal activities undermine all of our international activities and arms control regimes. This has led and will lead to a continued deterioration of the security environment – an environment where the safety of our nations and our people must always come first. We take this responsibility very seriously here in Australia and in the Asia-Pacific region, and we're very conscious of rogue states and terrorist groups that are constantly looking to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction, holding them to account, making sure they're caught and dealing with them internationally.

As law abiding nations and partners here in this group, we shouldn't stand idly by while our citizens are put in harm's way. There are serious consequences that all of us have seen in recent times with attacks involving weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons. In addition to the threats to lives, there are consequences of challenge to this country's sovereignty, economic prosperity and confidence, and the trust and the safety and the wellbeing of the community.

It's important of course that this forum, like so many others internationally, even in an era where international waters are facing increasing challenge, uphold the rule of law, international law, and the security and stability of our world. And in this context, we think the PSI has never been more relevant than it is today. Our community does operate within this rules-based system. There is still fundamentally in most countries, most partners, most peoples around the world, a respect for and a willingness to adhere to international law and standards of behaviour. And we have to keep that in mind in an era of increasing challenge. But we expect others to do the same, as we do here, and uphold the international rules-based system and the rules-based order. And all of us have a role in promoting this.

Countering the threat of weapons of mass destruction and proliferation is and always has been a key security priority for Australia. It's in our White Paper, it's an important part of our White Paper, and it's something that guides the government every single year in implementing our policy and making sure in our region we're adding to the international security order.

As a partner country, of course Australia has always stood by likeminded partners who are willing to act against this threat, willing to play an active role in the international effort, including by supporting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the Biological Weapons Convention as well.

We seek to minimise the risk of dual-use chemicals and equipment that could be used in chemical and biological weapons, and also of course, being a prominent member and supporter of the PSI. So participation in these initiatives, the practical initiatives, the day-to-day initiatives, is an important component of what we do - our multidimensional strategy to address the increasing threat of weapons of mass destruction; and of course our strong history of commitment to this initiative, actively participating in the operational experts group meetings, the regional exercises and the outreach around the world is very important to us. Australia's support for regional events was formalised through our commitment to the PSI Asia-Pacific exercise rotation schedule in 2013. The exercise rotation involves Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea, Singapore, and the United States of America, formerly rotating the hosting of regionally-focused PSI exercise. Australia hosted the first PSI initiative, Operation Pacific Protector 2003, off the Queensland coast. Pacific Protector 03 saw the Australian Defence Force, Australia's customs vessels, the Japanese coastguard, US Navy ships and a French aircraft carrier participate in a maritime interdiction activity in the Coral Sea. Since this first PSI exercise, Australia has reaffirmed its commitment to the initiative when we further, of course, hosted Pacific Protector exercises in 06, 2010 and 2017. And we see Pacific Protector as another practical example. Practical examples, of course, of what we can do together are very important.

I'd like to also acknowledge the success of the subsequent Asia-Pacific exercise rotations that were held in Japan, in Korea, which enhanced, of course, the PSI network and our collective counter-proliferation capability.

We think, of course, these exercises have a tangible impact, their tangible impact on our ability and our capability to interdict and stop the transfers of dangerous materials. And they also strengthen individual and collective partner nations' capabilities to respond to threats and the threat environment that is being reshaped. The exercises we think demonstrate a vital role of the PSI, not only in providing a platform for states to coordinate, but as a flexible construct well-suited to combat the proliferation activities that the world is facing today from our agencies’ points of view and obviously our armed forces. The initiative gives teeth to global sanctions. It's aimed at preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and technology and materials. But I think we all know that sanctions are only as effective as our willingness to enforce them; as individual countries' willingness to enforce them, and as the international community's willingness to enforce them. This makes the PSI significant in a world where counter-proliferation is becoming more complex and more challenging to grapple with. And I think there's a common phrase that's often said about the development and advancement of humans: the greater the technology, the greater the potential disaster. And of course, this underscores why the work we're doing here with PSI is so significant for the advancement of humankind.

By endorsing the Statement of Interdiction Principles, we will demonstrate our resolution to counter-proliferation within our respective regions, around the globe, and of course in accordance with international law. The magnitude of this initiative, I have to say, does span the globe, and looking around seeing all these different countries from all the corners of the globe, I think we can see the development of this initiative and how strong it is becoming.

The number of partners is now 107, and we have representation everywhere. This gives us a distinct advantage and I think, collectively, we can deal with the challenges wherever they occur, whether in the oceans of the Pacific, in the ports of South East Asia or in the Mediterranean, or anywhere else on the globe where they arise. And the OEG, being a unique capability in and of itself, pushes the envelope on examining what new ideas can be developed and enhanced by this initiative.

So importantly, in finishing and welcoming you again today, I think you know and we know that we must continue to shine a light on emerging and enduring proliferation threats in our world. We know the world is dynamic. It's evolving. It's challenging us in new ways in the Asia-Pacific region; but also in the world. We have to remain relevant and efficient and drive new and better outcomes. Together, we can do that. Together, we can work together here to empower all endorsing nations, enforce the sanctions that are put forward by the international community, and take action when action is called for to deter or deny the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.

I want to thank you for your commitment: your country's commitment, your agency's commitment for coming all the way here to Australia to make sure that this forum remains so relevant and important. We thank you for the work that you do. We're eager to engage from Australia's perspective with everybody here today to better prepare ourselves for the challenges that we know are coming, the threats that we are facing and we're seeing day-to-day, both in our immediate region and the world. So have some great discussions. Really do enjoy this spectacular, one-off weather that you've been given, and I welcome you all again to Canberra today.

Thank you.

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