Monday, 17 March 2014
Questions without Notice
My question is also to the Minister for Defence, Senator Johnston. I know the Australian people are—and I certainly am—interested in the Australia-United Kingdom Ministerial Consultations the minister participated in last week. Can the minister please update the Senate on those meetings?
I thank the senator for his question. Last week I attended AUKMIN with my friend and colleague Foreign Minister Bishop. We place a high value on these annual discussions and we certainly value the United Kingdom highly as a partner of Australia. The two countries have closely aligned interests and perspectives, including on international security challenges. Our close and longstanding defence and intelligence partnership has evolved to meet contemporary threats, such as terrorism, piracy and cybersecurity. The UK is also an important economic partner, being the second largest direct foreign investor in Australia—ahead of all Asian nations and second only to the United States.
These annual talks commenced in 2006 under the auspices of the Howard and Blair governments. They quickly became recognised as being in the national interest of both Australia and the United Kingdom and have, since 2010, become an annual event. Australia is the only nation with whom the United Kingdom has what are termed two-plus-two talks.
In 2013, AUKMIN talks resulted in Australia and the United Kingdom signing the Australia-United Kingdom Defence and Security Cooperation Treaty. This treaty will enter into force following consideration by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. It is being similarly considered by the UK parliament. I point out that, for the first time in history, Foreign Minister Bishop and I attended the national security committee of the UK parliament. It was indeed an honour and a privilege to discuss issues of national security of vital importance to both nations. One issue worth noting is that of foreign nationals in wars, particularly in Syria. This is a major security threat to both countries. We discussed our respective dispositions to that ever-growing problem.
Australia and the United Kingdom share a strong bilateral defence relationship, a relationship that has been enduring since even before Australia became a sovereign nation. Our cooperation is based upon a strong degree of like-mindedness, historical connections and shared values, as well as extensive cultural and political links. We also have longstanding intelligence and science and technology links and have together moved to modernise the Five Power Defence Arrangements.
In recent years, our engagement has been chiefly in the operational space, through the ISAF operations in Afghanistan. I made it clear to my UK colleagues that Australia remains committed to the post-2014, NATO-led 'train, advise and assist' mission in Afghanistan, subject to the necessary legal arrangements being agreed and put in place pursuant to the status-of-forces agreement. Without a status-of-forces agreement in place, there is very little likelihood of Australian forces remaining in Afghanistan. We also welcome the UK's interest in the Indo-Pacific region. (Time expired)
This is an extremely important subject. This is a highly regarded issue for all nations, as was demonstrated with the adoption of UN Security Council resolutions 2106 and 2122, which support women, peace and security issues being strengthened. Foreign Secretary Hague and Minister Bishop were as one on this issue and were strongly supported by both Secretary Hammond and me. Australia is committed to supporting global efforts to prevent and respond to sexual and gender based violence in situations of conflict and armed violence. We came to the unanimous position that sexual and gender based violence is a serious human rights violation that can also amount to genocide, crimes against humanity and, particularly, war crimes. Minister Bishop and I both gave our strongest possible support to the summit that Foreign Secretary Hague will be hosting in the United Kingdom in June. This summit will focus on engaging with women's organisations and the importance of United Nations Security Council resolution 2122. (Time expired)