Monday, 9 November 2020
Questions without Notice
I thank Senator Molan for his question and for his very strong and enduring support and commitment to our regional engagements. I also thank the opposition for their support for this very important visit.
Last month, I travelled to Japan, Singapore, Brunei and the Philippines to meet in person with my counterparts to discuss shared regional challenges, including our respective COVID-19 responses and some exciting new opportunities for our bilateral relationships. All engagements were warm and productive, and the visits in person were well received. Quite simply, there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings, albeit COVID safe.
It was a privilege to be the first defence minister to meet with the new Japanese defence minister, Minister Kishi. Together we set the direction for the next phase of our defence cooperation and new joint activities to address regional challenges. In Singapore, I met with Prime Minister Lee, Deputy Prime Minister Heng and my counterpart for defence, Dr Ng. Together we marked the 30th anniversary—a significant anniversary—of Singapore's military training in Australia, and we acknowledged our shared commitment to a secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region. We also identified new and quite exciting opportunities for us to train and operate together. In Brunei, I met with his Majesty the Sultan, and the Second Minister of Defence, Pehin Halbi. We discussed very positive developments this year in our bilateral defence relationship and we also discussed important regional issues ahead of Brunei's year as the ASEAN chair in 2021. I concluded my travels with a visit to the Philippines, where I met again with Secretary of National Defense Lorenzana. We discussed our respective responses to COVID-19 and the role our militaries were playing, and we were also looking for new opportunities, which we identified, for us to do further work under—
Again, I thank Senator Molan for the question. Happily, yes, I can. Whilst in Japan, I was delighted to receive the invitation for Australia to participate in Exercise Malabar. This is a significant opportunity for Australia to enhance its maritime capabilities and further enhance interoperability with other major democracies.
On 3 November, HMAS Ballarat joined the United States Navy, the Indian Navy and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels. Australia's participation in Exercise Malabar is a clear demonstration of the Morrison government's commitment to the 2020 Defence Strategic Update. Exercise Malabar itself builds on the strong momentum of our new comprehensive strategic partnership with India, and advances our collective interests in a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific.
Again I thank Senator Molan for his question. Our region, without question, is in the midst of the most consequential strategic realignment since the end of World War II. Increasingly, there is an imperative for Australia to actively and more assertively advocate regional security and stability, because, without security in our region, there is no prosperity. Since becoming the Minister for Defence, I've held over 70 bilateral and multilateral engagements with international counterparts, and 27 of those have been in person. These regional visits provide an important opportunity to deepen engagement with important partners, and it was very, very clear to me that, like Australia, my regional counterparts want to see a region that is secure, one that is prosperous and one where the sovereign interests and the sovereign rights of all states, be they large or small, are respected. And, Mr President, they all expressed a genuine desire to further deepen their partnerships with Australia. (Time expired)