Press conference, Melbourne

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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02 6277 7800

Senator The Hon Penny Wong

Leader of the Government in the Senate

Minister for Foreign Affairs

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1 February 2024

Subjects: Australia–New Zealand Ministers Consultations; AUKUS; Australian humanitarian assistance to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA); Australian defence exports; further sanctions on the Myanmar military regime; strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: It is our great pleasure, on behalf of Penny and I, to be welcoming Winston and Judith here as part of the first Australia New Zealand 2+2 that has occurred with the four of us. And we are very mindful that this has happened very early on in the life of the new New Zealand Government and for that we are deeply grateful to both Winston and Judith in coming to Australia to have these talks.

When we think about our relationships with the community of nations, each of those relationships has a different character, but the character between Australia and New Zealand is one of family. There’s no country in the world with whom we are closer than New Zealand and it makes this meeting and what we have spoken about today, particularly important, and the manner in which we have engaged in a dialogue between Defence Ministers and Foreign Ministers and as a group of four has very much befitted, at a personal level, the relationship which exists between our two countries.

We all recognise that we are meeting at a moment in time where we face a troubled world and strategic circumstances that we share which are deeply complex, and in that context, there has never been a more important time to work with close friends, and we do not have a closer friend than New Zealand. Today in my meeting with Judith and again, in our meeting as a four, we have committed to working much more closely together in terms of defence operations to give effect to deterrence. We have agreed to work much more closely together in terms of building interoperability and interchangeability between our two defences forces. In other words, we are committed to constructing two defence forces which are seamless, in the way in which we are operating. We bring much greater effect when we work together than we do when we work on our own. And I think there is a huge step forward that has been taken today in terms of building that seamlessness.

Core business, of course, for both of our countries is the Pacific and we have agreed to continue to pursue the Pacific Response Group which we initiated at the recent South Pacific Defence Ministers’ meeting in Noumea last December. We look forward to developing that. Finally, we have agreed to send a team to New Zealand very shortly to brief New Zealand on developments in relation to AUKUS, particularly AUKUS Pillar Two. I think the content and the manner in which we have spoken today really does reflect two countries which have a very shared view of the world and a shared sense of how both of us need to go about our business in terms of working in the world and that is making sure that in every respect, we can work as closely together as possible.

WINSTON PETERS, NEW ZEALAND DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Thank you Richard and Penny, ladies and gentlemen. Both myself and Judith Collins have had a most interesting, by that I mean, by interesting, expansive conversation with the two serious ministers from the Labor Government in Australia today. But it’s not been about politics, it’s been about, summarised by Richard where you talk about interoperability with defence. And it’s a very complicated word but we need to get to that in foreign affairs, in our aid program in the Blue Continent in the Pacific, wherever we might work together and make our effort and money go further, that’s what we need to do. And everything we talked about today in 2024, right here right now, the end of this month is of far greater importance than it’s ever been in the lifetime of anybody in this room. I think I can say that fairly, in the lifetime of anybody in this room.

So it’s a very very significant date and a very significant time and I do think that it will be a benchmark going forward of when we turned things around, and got greater results for the efforts of the New Zealand and Australian taxpayers in our national, in our regional and in our global interests. So thank you very much.

PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you Winston, can I add my voice of welcome and thanks to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister Collins for coming to Australia. We are the closest of friends but we are more than that, we are family and that is demonstrated by the bonds history, by the bonds of geography, but also by the bonds of community. We live in a country where we have so many of your compatriots working here with us in Australia. The significance of the 2+2 at this time is substantial. What it is is the foreign and defence portfolios coming together to talk about the shared challenges but more importantly, work out how we can better work together so that our influence in the region and the world is greater together than separately.

We spoke about what we can do together in the Pacific. We spoke about stronger regional capability. We spoke about being much more strategic and granular in how we operate together whether it's in the defence portfolio, or in Winston and my portfolio areas. We deeply appreciate the Deputy Prime Minister Peters and Minister Collins, Winston and Judith, making this trip so early in their tenure. We do recognise what it says about the importance of this relationship. What we say to you is, it is a relationship of similar importance to us. So thank you for being with us.

JUDITH COLLINS, NEW ZEALAND DEFENCE MINISTER: Well I'd like to thank in particular Richard and Penny and the whole team that's been looking after us here in Australia. And I know that Winston and I have been enjoying and learning a lot more about some of the opportunities for New Zealand in Australia in the foreign affairs and defence areas.

We face a world of increased strategic competition and challenges increasingly, the rules-based order which we rely on as democratic countries is under threat. And in this complicated strategic environment, one thing is crystal clear – Australia is our closest friend and partner. It's our family and we are stronger when we work together.

And so Australian officials, as Richard has alluded to, have been actually asked to work together with New Zealand officials to see some of the opportunities that are available in AUKUS II for New Zealand. The opportunities that open up to our space and technology sectors are actually immense and it is very important that some of this great work that has been going on in New Zealand is part of that wherever possible. Because throughout our shared history, our people have always stood shoulder to shoulder.

We've made some comments today around the interoperability in defence and also foreign affairs. In defence, that means that we have taken the step today of authorising and instructing our officials to work together to look for opportunities in procurement to make sure that we purchase that we are looking to see how that fits with our friends and partners so that we are constantly thinking the ANZAC model, where we are better together. So it is really important that we did that. So today's combined defence and foreign policy meeting furthered that shared understanding between New Zealand and Australia. And more importantly, we have identified ways where we can strengthen and deepen our future, so thank you so much.

JOURNALIST: Just on Israel, a question for both Foreign Ministers, Minister Wong and Peters, did you discuss funding for the UNWRA in the wake of Israel’s allegations? And exactly what conditions do both New Zealand and Australia want to see met before we are willing to resume funding for it? I just, also on Israel, for Ministers Wong and Marles, the ABC reported this morning that defence industry believes there’s a ‘go slow’ on exports of Australian made military equipment to Israel, has any directive been issued to officials on this front? And is it a response to the war in Gaza?

FOREIGN MINISTER WONG: I might start, if I may on UNRWA. Can I start by reminding people why successive Australian Governments since 1951 have funded this organisation and it is because it is the only organisation which delivers the sort of assistance and substantive support into the Occupied Palestinian Territories within the international system. So that is the reality.

Can I also remind people what is happening in Gaza at the moment – we have reports from the UN that 400,000 Palestinians in Gaza are actually starving and a million are at risk of starvation. An estimated 1.7 million people in Gaza are internally displaced and there are increasingly few safe places for Palestinians to go.

More than 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering within UNRWA facilities. And 3,000 of the workers for that association are working on the humanitarian response in the most trying of conditions. That is the context in which Australia and Australians provide humanitarian assistance to UNRWA.

Now we have made clear that these are deeply concerning allegations. And we have made clear that they need to be thoroughly investigated and those responsible need to be held account. And I have directed this week Australia's Humanitarian Coordinator to lead urgent work coordinating with like-minded partners as well UNRWA on these and other matters.

But I think it is important that we remember why it is, that previous governments have funded this organisation, but also the scale of the humanitarian crisis and the absence of any alternatives. If we are serious about trying to ensure that fewer children are starving. That is what we are faced with.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER PETERS: You asked whether we discussed it, not in great depth is the answer because –

FOREIGN MINISTER WONG: Yes we did, sorry.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER PETERS: Yes but because Australia has its position. And our position was based on the fact that you have 13,000 plus, probably many more – it’s difficult to say – people working for that organisation in Gaza as we speak. There are so many hundreds of thousands of people desperate, as a result of their work and our humanitarian aid. But with the timeline of the tranche of our next funding, we have an opportunity having heard the allegations which we regard as deadly serious because the UN is investigating them, to find out what the UN’s outcome of that investigation might be in plenty of time for us to make, when our tranche is due, the next lot, in the middle of this year, a decision before that.

And so we do not want to hear people rushing to the press saying New Zealand has stopped it, because we have not. I made it very clear from the word go that we had said, we are looking at what this investigation means. Our timeline for the next tranche of our ongoing multi-million dollar aid will carry on until we have made our decision, having had first the benefit of that investigation’s evidence and findings.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER MARLES: Perhaps I’ll just answer the other part of your question. First, to be clear, there are no exports of weapons from Australia to Israel and there haven’t been for many, many years. Australia’s defence export control regime is one which is thorough and detailed as it applies to defence exports or dual-use items, to anywhere in the world. And in short, the application of that process takes time.

JOURNALIST: Senator Wong, new sanctions on Myanmar entities were announced today. The national [indistinct] government has long called for these measures. Why specifically has Australia chosen now to act when others [indistinct]?  

FOREIGN MINISTER WONG: Well, thank you. As you know, we have announced further sanctions today and today of course marks three years since the coup in Myanmar. The date on which the Myanmar military overthrew the democratically elected government, and undoing not only a decade of progress, but a decade of progress towards democracy and stability that many people in the region, and many people here in Australia care deeply about. We have imposed further sanctions on five entities with direct links to the Myanmar military regime. We believe this sends a clear message to the regime and we continue to engage, particularly with our ASEAN partners on their approach to seeking to encourage a return to democratic principles in Myanmar.

JOURNALIST: So we just choose to announce these on anniversaries, events, or why?

FOREIGN MINISTER WONG: No, we have, whether on Myanmar or in relation to other human rights issues, we approach the world as it is, we seek to shape it for the better, we recognise that Australia doesn't dictate what happens in other countries, but we can influence, and part of that influence – not the only part – but part of those is to utilise sanctions strategically and that is what this does.

JOURNALIST: To the Australian Ministers, [indistinct] on AUKUS, why specifically are you keen on New Zealand joining part of that deal? And what specifically can we offer up that interests you?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER MARLES: Well since the beginning of AUKUS, it has had two pillars, and there has been a lot of focus on Pillar I which is obviously Australia acquiring nuclear-powered submarine capability from the United States and the United Kingdom. Pillar II, which is really focusing on the development of other advanced technologies, has received interest from other countries to participate, particularly countries from Five Eyes.

It was an issue that we spoke about today in our meeting with, and maybe Judith, Minister Collins, might want to add to this. In our AUKUS Defence Ministers’ meeting which occurred in California at the end of last year our focus was particularly in respect of Pillar II and making sure we are taking that forward. We want to see runs on the board in relation to Pillar II between the three countries, Australia, the US and the UK but in the longer-term we are open to the idea of Pillar II being open to other countries who may be interested.

In that context, we’re keen to ensure New Zealand is abreast of where discussions have got to between ourselves, the UK and the US in relation to Pillar II and that was the basis on which we’re sending a team to brief New Zealand.

JOURNALIST: What can we offer up to give? 

DEFENCE MINISTER COLLINS: Well of course as our size as a nation, as a population, we have quite an active space industry and also technology sector, which is involved with providing assistance to quite a few countries in terms of their defence areas but also in terms of telecommunications and other areas. It is quite important when we're looking at Pillar II, to work out what quite we can add but also where that fits in, and I think it would be very helpful for the right people to come from Australia to see some of what we already have. And so that we can see whether there is something that we can add in there as well which will be very useful to our space and our tech sectors.

JOURNALIST: Minister Wong, this one’s for you, can you be a bit more specific about what you mean when you say our region is being reshaped? And particularly, what role do you see New Zealand and Australia playing?

FOREIGN MINISTER WONG: I don't think it's, if you look at what I and many others have said over the last few years, I don't think it's any surprise to hear me say our region is being reshaped. I think we often speak about having come to government at a time of the most difficult or challenging strategic circumstances since the since the Second World War. I think we do live in times where the world, the region is being reshaped.

Winston speaks very passionately about the importance of remembering our democratic traditions and our democratic values and interests and countries which seek peace, stability and prosperity, the preservation of international norms and rules, a region which, in which sovereignty is respected, where you know, we maintain the capacity to both agree and disagree, these are all attributes of a region that enables democracies such as ours to flourish – and we have a role in that. Obviously we know the relations between the great powers, but we have a role in that, and we particularly have a role, as we have discussed, in the Pacific. And as I have said to Deputy Prime Minister Peters, I believe New Zealand has a lot of wisdom, a lot of history and cultural expertise, to bring to the discussion of the Pacific which is one of the areas, as we know, of greater contest, of greater competition, we know that.

We want a region that is stable, we want a region in which the Pacific family is responsible for regional security. We want a region that continues to develop and we want to be part of that and we want to work closely with New Zealand to those objectives.

Thank you.

Media note: The press conference can be viewed here.

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