Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020 - consideration in detail

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell—Minister for International Development and the Pacific and Assistant Defence Minister) (17:07): I thank members for their contributions and questions. In response to the member for Corio, who has unfortunately had to leave, I'll just respond briefly. I can confirm the US and the UK commitment. I cannot comment any further on any other countries. It's a matter for other countries.

In response to his points about the command and control arrangements, there is no information at this time that I present to the House. Obviously, the Minister for Defence is keen to offer briefings in relation to this and has addressed this matter in the Senate. I'd encourage him to work with his counterpart to seek further information from the government in relation to the sensitive defence matters.

Turning to the member for Stirling's contribution, I want to thank him—in particular for his service to the ADF. We heard a little bit about that. When you think about the snapshot of his service, it is a metaphor for our entire defence cooperation in the region—having served in Timor and Solomon Islands, having a spouse from Defence. It really does highlight and underscore the involvement of the ADF in the region over many years.

This week we had the state visit of Fiji's Prime Minister Bainimarama. It was a pleasure to welcome Mr Bainimarama to the Command and Staff College as he is a former student of the college. It also underscores the fact that the ADF served alongside members of the Fijian Military Forces as part of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands and as part of INTERFET—deployed to the Middle East—and the ADF has proudly assisted Fiji with its deployment there. There are many other examples of defence cooperation with PNG, Tonga and elsewhere in the Pacific over a long and proud history. It's one of our highest foreign policy priorities, because it's where we live. As we know, the Prime Minister has indicated that through our step-up we take care of our family as the first priority of the Australian government.

The government is undertaking a series of initiatives to deepen our engagement with the Pacific in defence and security cooperation, not least by elevating our relationships with countries like Fiji from very strongly existing bilateral relations to our 'vuvale' partnership, which has five pillars to it, including, importantly, security cooperation, but also through our elevation of the PNG relationship to a comprehensive and economic strategic partnership which will see great opportunity for enhanced security arrangements in the Pacific. We're seeing our Pacific partners work together to build a region that is sovereign, stable and secure, where partners in a Pacific future work together on regional security.

We recall our shared history with our Pacific neighbours as well. Speaking as a minister in the Defence portfolio, defence is critical in terms of the step-up because of that shared history—our wartime history, our shared adversity and shared struggles that the Pacific has faced. Together, in times of trial, we've been magnificently served by our partner countries and the sacrifice and the service of their civilians, soldiers and people who have served with us and alongside our forces and supported us. We always recognise the contribution of Pacific countries in wartime endeavours with Australian Defence Force personnel.

You'll see from our step-up more joint operations and more operational service between our two countries, in a bilateral sense, of PNG and Australia, and also with other countries in the region, including Fiji and other military forces. We also have a long history of providing humanitarian disaster relief in the Pacific. As we've said before, a dedicated humanitarian disaster relief vessel, a large-hulled vessel, will be in service to support increased engagement with our Pacific partners.

We'll reinforce the already strong alumni networks, keeping in mind the example of Prime Minister Bainimarama, who served in our staff and command college. In the security sector I'll be addressing the Pacific heads of security conference in the coming weeks, where we'll have all of the Pacific security heads in Brisbane to collaborate and work together on regional security issues, including important issues on the Prime Minister's priorities like combating the scourge of illegal fishing throughout our region. It's something we can do more on together and it's something that, through ADF cooperation, we will do more on. For the Pacific, their fisheries are the equivalent of the Australian mining and resource sector, and the scourge of illegal fishing is a high priority for them.

In the time I've got remaining: Defence's role in the Pacific step-up is only one part of our broader commitment. On the people-to-people links, we've heard the member for Stirling's example of people who have had military service. The ADF has been deployed in the region for decades and has an exemplary record of service to the Pacific. We're proud of their contribution, we're proud of our shared future together and Australia will be stepping up under the Morrison government.

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