Monday, 9 September 2019
Questions without Notice
International Maritime Security Construct
My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Reynolds. Can the minister please update the Senate on the importance of the stability of the global rules-based order that's behind the decision to make an Australian contribution to the International Maritime Security Construct in the Middle East region?
I thank the honourable Senator for that most important question. The government has been deeply concerned about security incidents involving shipping in the Middle East in recent months. This destabilising behaviour does threaten Australian interests in the region. Like many countries, Australia relies on the passage of ships through the Strait of Hormuz for a substantial proportion of our energy supplies—in fact, 40 per cent of fuel used in Australia transits through the Strait of Hormuz. Freedom of navigation through international waters, whether in the Middle East or in our more immediate region, is a fundamental right of all states under international law. It is in Australia's interests to work with international partners to uphold these fundamental rights. That's why the government has reaffirmed its longstanding commitment to safe passage and freedom of navigation by announcing that Australia will contribute to the International Maritime Security Construct. This commitment comes after very careful consideration of Australia's national interest and after close consultation with our allies and partners. Also, I thank the opposition—Senator Wong and Richard Marles—for their constructive engagement in this process.
Australia's contribution to this international effort has three main objectives: first, the preservation of the rules based order; second, upholding freedom of navigation for the flow of commercial vessels through international waters; and, third, to de-escalate tensions in the Middle East. Australia's contribution will be modest, will be meaningful and is strictly time limited. It includes three elements. The first element is the deployment to the Middle East of a P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft, which will be deployed for one month prior to the end of this year. The second element is a frigate, HMAS Toowoomba, which will be deployed in January 2020 for a period of six months. I can confirm that a small number of ADF personnel have now been dispatched to the headquarters. (Time expired
As I was saying, there are three parts to our contribution. Our forward deployment has now gone to the Middle East, to the IMSC headquarters, to do some more planning for this activity. Australia's contribution to ease tensions in the Gulf builds on our longstanding contribution to the Middle East maritime security. In fact we've had a near-continuous maritime presence in the Middle East since the 1990s. Those opposite might yawn at this, but, I've got to say, Australia's contribution, and Australia's continued contribution by the Royal Australian Navy in particular, is no yawning or laughing matter. We've had a near-continuous maritime presence under governments from both sides of this chamber in the Middle East. When the frigate HMAS Toowoomba deploys, it will be the 68th such deployment of a Navy vessel in the Middle East on similar operations. HMAS Toowoomba will support the safe passage of maritime trade. It is something for us to be proud of, and not to be yawned at. (Time expired)
Opposition senators interjecting—
Australia is proud of its longstanding contributions to security in the Middle East. Despite the rather puerile interjections from those opposite, and their yawning and their comments, our service and our support is nothing—
No-one on this side devalues the contribution of Australia's service personnel—no-one! Please do not demean this parliament by making such an accusation; please do not. We can deal with what might or might not have been said, but I can say to you, Minister, that there is no-one on this side of the parliament or, I suspect, anywhere in this parliament who demeans the contribution of Australia's service personnel. You have engaged sufficiently with the Labor Party through this period, and you would know that. Can we please come back to some bipartisanship on this issue.
Honourable senators interjecting—
The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and party leaders get some discretion. Because of the subject matter I didn't call for points of order to be strictly points of order; I think the subject matter allowed that discretion for me.
As I was about to say, we currently have over a thousand Australian men and women serving with great distinction in the Middle East. I am, and I know many in this chamber are, very proud of that. That also, I am very proud to say, includes over 100 reservists who are also serving us in the Middle East at the moment. I was greatly privileged to spend time with many of these members during my visit to the region in July. I was greatly impressed by their strong commitment to their mission and also the respect in which they are held by the people they serve with and those who they are working for. Something that we should all be very proud of is not only their service but the service and support their families provide. (Time expired)