Thursday, 14 May 2020
Questions without Notice
Defence Cooperation Program
Thank you very much, Senator Scarr, for that question. I am very proud that this government is committed to supporting all our friends and security partners with their responses to COVID-19. Our ADF and also our Defence personnel have been working side by side with their Pacific counterparts as we address this global pandemic together.
I've pivoted and stepped up our defence cooperation programs across the region to meet the changing security needs of our partners. I remain in very close contact with my international counterparts to coordinate our own responses to COVID-19 and also to deal with the geostrategic challenges that this pandemic is only serving to intensify. Defence has rolled out very successful online training packages to prepare our own ADF personnel to conduct medical support tasks. We've already pivoted and provided this training package to 19 friends and neighbours, and it's been translated already into Bahasa and into Vietnamese, with some more to follow.
In the Pacific, I redirected $18 million worth of Defence funding to address immediate health, economic and security impact of COVID-19 in the region. We're leveraging an existing contract for aerial surveillance under the Pacific Security Maritime Program to support the movements of supplies through the Pacific and also to Timor Leste in the humanitarian corridor, so ably led by our foreign minister. In Papua New Guinea we have 40 ADF members working alongside their PNG counterparts, providing technical advice, specialist equipment and also training.
Our Defence advisers also across the region are supporting a range of tasks, including strategic, maritime and airlift, to support the PNG Defence Force operations and the refurbishment of critical infrastructure and capabilities. We all, again, should be very proud of our ADF and their support to our region.
Tropical Cyclone Harold was indeed devastating to a number of nations in our immediate region. Australia's defence forces, like they so often do, are playing an important role to assist our Pacific family respond to Tropical Cyclone Harold, just as their own troops stood side by side with our ADF during our own 'black summer'. It's this mateship and also our solidarity, both in the good times and the bad times, that makes our region so strong.
The Morrison government remains resolutely committed to strengthening Australia's longstanding relationships in the Pacific through ADF assistance in support of our friends and our neighbours. To date, the Royal Australian Air Force has conducted three emergency relief flights to Vanuatu and another four to Fiji. These flights have delivered tonnes of life-saving supplies and assistance, including shelter kits and tents, utensils, blankets, lanterns and water containers. (Time expired)
There has never been a more important time for Australia to stand side by side with our near neighbours. Together, we are tackling the scourge of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we continue to address COVID-19 at home, we are standing by our region and assisting them to manage shared health, security and the economic impacts of COVID-19. Being there for each other in challenging and uncertain times goes to the heart of our Pacific Step-up. Australia's COVID-19 response builds on the Morrison government's Pacific Step-up, which continues to grow regional economies, which continues to build resilience and which continues to enhance regional stability through your defence, policing and border security cooperation. The Pacific is our home, and Australia's engagement in the Pacific remains one of our highest priorities in these challenging times.