Press Conference, Noumea, New Caledonia

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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02 6277 7800

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6 December 2023

SUBJECTS:  Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting, Pacific Response Group

JOURNALIST: I have a question for Mr Marles. You started joint patrol a couple of weeks ago with Philippines Navy. What kind of offer you have just made- you mentioned some reaction force. Is it similar to what you have been doing or is it something new?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you for the question. We did do a joint sail with the Philippines and that forms part of a growing body of cooperation between ourselves and the Philippines. But what we are exploring this week is really a different idea. We're very pleased that the meeting this week has endorsed moving forward on the idea of a Pacific Response Group. This really is an evolution of what I think has been the key storyline of the South Pacific Defence Ministers' meeting since its inception ten years ago. We are really a family of countries where there is an instinct to provide assistance and help when any of us need it. Be that in a moment of natural disaster or be that in a moment of civil unrest or insecurity. And a lot of the work of the Defence Ministers' Meeting over the course of the last ten years has been trying to make sure that there is the best coordination possible in relation to those instincts so that support can be provided as best as possible. The Pacific Response Group is really the next step in relation to that, which is to explore the idea of having a standing formed unit which would be there to provide assistance when invited to do so by a country, be it a natural disaster or be it some other emergency, so that that assistance can be provided immediately. There's a lot of work which needs to be done to put the flesh on the bones of that, but it would be the most significant step forward in terms of coordination between our militaries in relation to responding to natural disasters or other emergencies. And we are very excited about the desire that has been shown this week to move forward with that idea.

SPEAKER: Inaudible

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: So, firstly, this meeting is not about other countries, it's about the countries who are present at this meeting working together as a family of nations to assist each other and to help when help is needed. And it is a family of nations who are deeply committed to each other. But I really appreciate the question because it does give me the opportunity to speak about France in the Pacific and to speak about the Defence Minister of France. I'm sure on behalf of all of us, we are deeply grateful to Minister Lecornu for hosting this meeting. France is a global power. I mean, France has got interests around the world, and I know that Sébastien has his attention taken from matters in Africa to Europe to the Middle East. So, to have a French Defence Minister spend the time that he has here in the Pacific over the last few days is an enormous commitment, and one which has been very much noticed by the rest of us and deeply appreciated. And it speaks to the fact that while France is a global power, France is also very much a Pacific power. We see that with Minister Lecornu's presence here this week and the hosting of this meeting. But we also saw it with the visit by President Macron to Vanuatu, the first visit of a French President to Vanuatu since independence, and his visit to Papua New Guinea, which I think is the first visit of a French President to Papua New Guinea in its history. These are really big statements, and it's not just the form, it's the substance. We've seen French leadership on issues around shipriding and dealing with illegal fishing. We've seen French leadership on issues around training and the Pacific Academy. We've seen French leadership in respect of sharing of information and other matters. So, we are really, really happy with what we see in terms of France's presence here. And finally, I just want to say that is in no small part due to the personal leadership of Sébastien Lecornu. It is something which is really noticed here. And we feel deeply that Minister Lecornu is a friend and that the French presence here in the way in which is being expressed through Minister Lecornu is an enormous asset to the entirety of the Pacific family.


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