17 November 2023
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's great to be back here in Jakarta for the second time this year and I really enjoyed the opportunity of meeting with Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto this morning in Jakarta. We had a very productive meeting where we talked about progressing a Defence Cooperation Agreement between our two nations, which we announced that we would be pursuing during the 2+2 in Canberra back in February this year. This is really now the third intense engagement that I've had with the Minister around the Defence Cooperation Agreement this year and it reflects the energy that both Indonesia and Australia are putting towards this. Obviously, this is a significant endeavour. Other like-arrangements with other countries take years to negotiate. But we're very pleased with the progress that we've managed to make to this point in time. And I very much appreciate what the Minister has brought to this and certainly the hospitality that he has shown towards me, and I look forward to catching up with him again in the not too distant future.
JOURNALIST: Can you tell us what the timeline is for finalising this arrangement?
MARLES: We hope to do this soon. But to contextualise what that means, these are arrangements which can take years to negotiate. The Reciprocal Access Agreement that were negotiated with Japan took the better part of nine years. So these are processes which are not measured in months, they are measured in years. And this is a process that we started in February of this year. But having said that, I think both the Minister and I bring to this a significant focus and desire to move this along at pace. That's reflected in my being here today, obviously, off the back of the parliamentary week that we've just had in Canberra. But it's also reflected with the fact that this is the third significant meeting we've had this year on this topic. So we're really pleased with the progress that we've made today, we are hopeful of bringing this to fruition in the not too distant future. But these are processes which take time.
JOURNALIST: What would this actually do, if an agreement was completed, what would it practically mean? And why does Australia actually need to, in your view, have a DCA with Indonesia?
MARLES: Well, it provides for a much easier, smoother and greater engagement between our two defence forces, a much more seamless engagement between our two defence forces. When we're talking about everything from sharing information, through engaging in exercises, through to working together on technology, all of those are the sorts of means of cooperation which can happen between two defence forces, two military establishments. And this would be happening, if we were able to achieve this, under the framework of an agreement rather than in a piecemeal way. So it would be a very significant step forward. We don't have arrangements like this with many countries. But you only need to look at the map to understand the significance of this to both Australia and Indonesia. We are neighbours, the closest of neighbours. We are– Indonesia is our northern frontier, and we are Indonesia’s southern frontier. And being able to have a relationship as deep as this with each other would be hugely significant for both countries.
JOURNALIST: The relationship has been sort of historically on and off a bit rocky. If we can get this up, would this be the sort of apex of our military relationship with Indonesia? Would it represent a high point historically?
MARLES: Certainly in terms of our defence-to-defence relationship, this would be the most significant step that we've ever taken. There's no doubt about that. And I think, you know, it is important that we build structures into relationships which does create balance there over the long term. I mean, the personal relationship between myself and the Minister is very warm and I think it does reflect a shared sense of the interests that Australia has in our relationship in Indonesia, and reciprocally the interest that Indonesia has in its relationship with Australia and the importance of that for both of our countries. So, you know, we both feel that this is a moment where there's a lot for us to do as respective defence ministers which can benefit our countries.
JOURNALIST: The Indonesian election campaign is in full swing, not that this issue has been spoken about domestically, but could it potentially derail– just domestic politics in Indonesia, do you worry at all? Could it derail a DCA being realised?
MARLES: I mean, as I said, these processes that we're engaging in take years and elections are part and parcel of the environment here as they are in Australia. I think we need to bring to this the kind of maturity, which we both do, of understanding that it's important, whilst either of us are responsible for the defence policy of our countries, that we bring this to the table. And so, I think elections are things we take as a matter of course, because they are a matter of course, for both countries.
JOURNALIST: Minister, quick domestic question. You had to stay in Australia last night because of the emergency legislation that came through. There's been some disquiet today, apparently, from within the Labor Party about this mandatory sentencing for freed detainees who transgress the Coalition amendments, and some suggestion it violates the Labor Party's platform. Can you talk about that?
MARLES: Look, it's not my practice to comment on matters that are domestic while I'm overseas other than to say, given that I’ve literally come from the sitting of Parliament yesterday, that the passage of the legislation with the respective amendments that we agreed to yesterday, we believe will make a significant contribution to the safety of our community.
JOURNALIST: Just on the Philippines, when exactly are joint patrols going to begin?
MARLES: We have been working with the Philippines now for months around standing up joint sails between our two countries and we anticipate that that will happen very soon.
JOURNALIST: Joe Biden again called Xi Jinping of China a dictator. Is that Australia's view?
MARLES: Again, I'm not going to go into issues beyond here. Look, simply to say this; we value a productive relationship with China, we've sought to stabilise our relationship with China and I think the evidence of that can be seen by the Prime Minister's visit to China in the last few weeks and what we've seen happen in respect of trade, in respect of consular matters, in respect of the reinstitution of the formal defence dialogue between our two countries.
JOURNALIST: This is another Canberra question. You're overseas again, do you travel too much?
MARLES: I guess that's a question relevant to what I'm doing now. I'm the Minister for Defence and the national security of our country lies well beyond the shores of Australia. Our national security lies in having a stable and peaceful region in which we live, it lies in seeing the proper expression of the rules-based order within that region and the whole posture of our Defence Force emanating out of the Defence Strategic Review is contributing to the collective security of the region in which we live. And so inevitably, as the Minister for Defence, it won't be a surprise that will you will find me in the region in which we live.
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