Thursday, 8 September 2022
Questions without Notice
International Relations: Timor-Leste
My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Wong. Yesterday Australia and Timor-Leste signed a defence cooperation agreement. Can the minister update the Senate on how the agreement will strengthen our defence relationship with Timor-Leste?
I thank Senator Bilyk for her interest in foreign policy and for her question, which does go to a very important issue about how Australia can work best with the countries of our region to support and promote our mutual security and sovereignty.
Australia is committed to supporting Timor-Leste's security and sovereignty, including through our enduring defence cooperation. The Albanese government was pleased to sign a defence cooperation agreement with Timor-Leste, and the agreement signed yesterday by our defence ministers is a status of forces agreement that sets out reciprocal protections, responsibilities and privileges each country will grant the military personnel of the other in its territory. It will allow both countries to increase defence and security cooperation, especially in the maritime domain, given our shared border and adjacent maritime zones. This responded to, particularly, a priority that was expressed publicly by President Ramos-Horta. It will announce our ability to operate together as required, conduct exercises and training, and cooperate on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
I'm pleased to advise the Senate the agreement also means Timorese military members operating or exercising or training in Australia will receive the same protections, responsibilities and privileges as Australian personnel will receive in Timor-Leste. Australia welcomes this defence cooperation agreement. We acknowledge the contribution of the Timor-Leste government, and I particularly acknowledge my counterpart, Minister Magno, for her assistance in bringing this agreement to conclusion.
The agreement provides the opportunity to deepen our close defence and security partnership with Timor-Leste. This is the government working to listen to our partners in the region and responding to their needs in order to maintain a stable, prosperous and peaceful region.
Senator Bilyk, thank you for that question. The economic resilience of Timor-Leste is of great importance not only to the people of East Timor, but also to Australia, which has a stake in the Timor-Leste independence and sovereignty, and obviously there are very close personal relationships and friendships between our two peoples.
On a recent visit I announced an additional $20 million in budget support for Timor-Leste to support its economic resilience and recovery from COVID-19. We're also on track to provide our first bilateral concessional loan for Timor-Leste for the development of Dili airport. We have a partnership to deliver a submarine fibre-optic cable, the first such connection between Timor-Leste and Australia. And we continue to support Timor-Leste's ASEAN member aspirations and its path to ascension to the World Trade Organization. We will continue to work with Timor-Leste— (Time expired.)
The government is looking to rebuild and strengthen our relationships in South-East Asia and the Pacific. As senators may be aware, across the government—whether it's the Prime Minister, myself or other ministers both within cabinet and within the portfolio—we are obviously actively engaging in the region. What we hear from other nations in the region, from friends and partners, is the value of genuine engagement, of respect and of listening. Most importantly, we want to engage in a region that recognises that our futures are shared. These are challenging times in the world. We all understand that. But it's best that we navigate these challenges together—stronger together—with our friends and our partners in the region. The region does value partnership, and that is the approach that this government will continue to take.