12 June 2022
Let me start with the question from the delegate from China.
AUKUS is not a new NATO.
AUKUS is principally about the sharing and joint development of capability between Australia, the UK and the United States. That is what its direction is. It’s not an alliance, so it’s not in the same set of arrangements as you would describe NATO. It is a technology sharing relationship and that will be its focus.
In that sense, it does not – as I said in my remarks – detract at all from the agenda that we have to build and improve our relationships within Asia, and within the Indo-Pacific.
From the delegate from Sri Lanka, the Indian Ocean is really important to Australia.
We’ve been, as a nation, well served in the last 15 years by a couple of West Australian Foreign Ministers, one of whom is in the room right now, Stephen Smith, and Julie Bishop, who I think have helped us a nation understand that so many of our interests lie west in South Asia and in the Indian Ocean. And that’s a really important realisation for the country, both in terms of our security framework but also in terms of economic opportunity.
That obviously applies in the context of India, and you see a range of regional architecture evolving which involves both Australia and India.
But it absolutely includes the other countries in the Indian Ocean and Sri Lanka.
There’s a growing relationship between Australia and Sri Lanka – underpinned not least by a pretty significant Sri Lankan-Australian community. Indeed in the last election a few weeks ago we had the first Sri Lankan Australian elected to our Federal Parliament – a member of the Labor Party, Cassandra Fernando – and that speaks to the significance of the community of Australia, but also speaks to how importantly we regard the relationship with Sri Lanka and the emphasis we will place upon it.
From the delegate from the UK, a question was asked of me in respect of Taiwan.
Australia has very productive relationships with Taiwan.
But we have a one China policy – none of that changes with a change of Government. It has been a consistent bipartisan policy in Australia over a very long period of time.
And as part of that, we see that what will serve the region and the world is the resolution of tensions in respect of the Taiwan Strait is done so in a way which is peaceful, and which involves the mutual agreement of both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
And in terms of Australia’s involvement, all we would seek to do is to play whatever role we could in facilitating that.
From the delegate from Japan, a question was asked about AUKUS an implications in relation to Australia’s commitment to non-proliferation (of nuclear weapons).
Australia has a deep commitment to non-proliferation (of nuclear weapons). Indeed, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has been deeply committed his entire political life to non-proliferation.
And as I said in my remarks, we have a proud record as a nation in participating in non-proliferation activities and we will continue to do so.
What AUKUS does for Australia is help us move to a nuclear-propelled submarine – not a nuclear-armed submarine, but a nuclear-propelled submarine.
It will also give rise to cooperation and technological exchange in relation to other defence capabilities, but not nuclear weapons.
So AUKUS is completely consistent with Australia’s involvement in non-proliferation, and indeed Anthony Albanese and Labor/s commitment to that.
Michael, thank you for your congratulations, I appreciate it.
You asked me a question in relation to China.
China, from where we sit, seeks to shape the world around it in a way that we’ve not experienced before. It raises challenges for Australia. Challenges that we intend to meet.
In all that we do, we will have the courage to articulate Australia’s national interest and particularly when that differs from Chinese action. And I’ve demonstrated that in the remarks I’ve made today.
Our interest in the Pacific is going to be served by Australia focusing on the Pacific – which we need to do. What we’re going to do is put in the work to build and harness long-standing relationships so that we are the natural partner of choice for the countries of the Pacific. That’s our focus.
In respect of the south China sea, we will engage in activities which promote the global rules-based order, including freedom of navigation, because it goes to our national interest, given that the bulk of our trade traverses through the south China sea.
But when we focus on our national interest, and China is our largest trading partner – we will engage with China with respect, and acknowledging China as a country with whom we have very significant interests including our trade
We are clear that we value the relationship with China, and we want to move forward.
It’s really with those goals in mind that we are going to move forward in terms of our relationship with China.
Delegate from Germany, Europe is really important to Australia.
And yes, it is about engaging through NATO as we do – and indeed the Prime Minister will be attending the NATO Leaders’ Summit in Madrid in a couple of weeks.
We’d also focus on bilateral relations of the countries of Europe, and we have really deep interests with the countries of Europe which include Germany.
And Germany is involved in a number of our defence procurements right now – our offshore patrol vessels with Luerssen, with armoured personnel carriers with Rheinmetall – these actually elevate the significance of our bilateral relationship with Germany, and we’re keen to continue to do that.
And that is a segue into the question from France.
We have announced a settlement with Naval Group, in relation to the former contract in respect of what was to be the Attack Class submarines.
We’ve done that pretty quickly because we want to really move on from that and reset the relationship with France.
France is a critical relationship for Australia. The nearest overseas population to the south east corner of Australia, to the cities of Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, is in France, to Noumea, to New Caledonia.
If you include maritime borders, France’s longest border with any country in the world is with Australia. We don’t think about it enough, but when you think about it like that, in fact France is Australia’s nearest neighbour. And that’s how we want to see it.
And they are a Pacific country, with a liberal democracy, engaged in the Pacific and we deeply, deeply value that. Iv’e had the pleasure of working with France in the past when I was responsible for Australia’s relations with the Pacific and we want to revitalise, reset, reinvigorate that relationship with France.
Another question from the UK about transparency - We’re not interested in doing a White Paper, providing all the resources that would require.
We do have a Force Posture Review – and part of that will be the question of force structure – and that will be an opportunity to give transparency to the region and to the world about how Australia is playing in terms of its defence build-up, but it will also be a means by which we communicate with the country. Those views are important.
I can tell you that as Defence Minister it will be my style to be very clear to the Australian people about where Defence Policy lies, and why we’re making the decisions that we’re making – I’ll be very clear with bodies such as this, and the global community in the same way.
Finally, there was a question from Japan, around US-Japan-Australia cooperation: That trilateral relationship I think is really important and I think the question was asked how are we going in terms of our influence in respect of China. I probably won’t answer that question – it’s ultimately for others to judge, but I guess what I would say is this.
In the context of really complex strategic circumstances, I don’t have the answers to all the ways in which we navigate those circumstances.
But one thing is really clear to me. There’s never been a more important time to compare notes, to work closely with countries who share those strategic circumstances. And Japan and the United States are two countries which do.
When I look forward and focusing – and obviously our alliance with the United States is completely central to our world view; it is the most important relationship which we have as I mentioned in my remarks and will continue to be so, the Alliance has never been more important.
In terms of our relationship with Japan, when I look forward, and that’s why I’m going to Japan the day after tomorrow – I think that is going to be fundamentally important to Australia’s future.
And I only see growth in that relationship.
And finally in respect of the military cooperation, working together on technological cooperation, working together on operational interoperability is perhaps two points I would offer in which we can grow that relationship. We need for it to be deep and we see that there is a reciprocity of feeling on the part of Japan.