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Working side by side for security in the region

Working side by side to provide security and assistance in the region and beyond

932 words

Defence Minister Phil Goff meets his Australian counterpart Joel Fitzgibbon in Sydney on Friday. Mr Goff explains what’s on the agenda.

Over the past nine years, New Zealand and Australia have cooperated closely on defence and security issues. New Zealand strongly welcomes Prime Minister Rudd’s commitment to continuing and strengthening that relationship.

The recent events in Timor Leste have provided us with a graphic reminder of how quickly things can change in our region.

Fortunately, the 11 February gun attacks on President Jose Ramos Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao did not succeed in destabilising Timor Leste.

This in no small part is the result of the international police presence in that country and the significant role Australia and New Zealand continue to play through the International Stabilisation Force.

Both countries are committed to ensuring security, supporting Dili’s democratic leadership and helping its economic development.

We do this to help our neighbour but also to bring stability to our region. Failed states present a haven for terrorists and those wanting to smuggle drugs, arms and people across our borders.

Since the attack on Timor’s leaders, both our countries have reaffirmed their strong commitment to Timor Leste.

Australia quickly moved to provide reassurance by temporarily deploying additional soldiers and Federal Police. New Zealand for its part provides a light infantry group, and has extended the deployment of its Iroquois military helicopters and 32-associated personnel. Like Australia, we are also contributing police, military trainers and aid money.

While the establishment of security and stability are vital for any young country, strengthening institutions such as parliament, the judiciary, defence and police force must follow. Development needs such as roading, hospitals and schools, and the development of the local economy are also vital for future stability.

Friday’s discussion with Minister Fitzgibbon will focus in particular on building Timor’s capabilities in governance, policing and defence so that in due course the country can meet its own security needs and address underlying social, economic and political issues. These lie at the heart of entrenching security and stability in Timor Leste.

The joint partnership between our two defence forces has a long and proud history. Its ongoing success requires the Australian and New Zealand defence forces to continue to invest in combined planning, joint training, shared doctrine, inter-operable equipment and good communications.

Along with Timor Leste, our two defence forces are making a smaller but equally critical contribution in the Solomon Islands in working alongside a large civilian and police contingent in the Regional Assistance Mission. The Mission has succeeded in drawing the Solomons back from the brink of being a failed state. It has restored stability and is working effectively with the new Solomon Islands Government to build capacity and assist development.

Beyond our immediate region, both countries are also making important contributions to international peace and security in Afghanistan. Both supported the international community’s intervention in that country following the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, instigated by the Taliban-hosted Al Qaeda terrorist group.

Australia is making a major contribution in the difficult Oruzgan province. New Zealand has had troops on the ground in Afghanistan since late 2001, including three rotations of Special Forces. But the centrepiece of our current contribution is a 122-strong provincial reconstruction and security team in Bamyan Province.

We also have personnel stationed with various military headquarters in Afghanistan and some medics working with the Canadians in Khandahar. In the middle of the year we’ll deploy a frigate again to the Gulf.

The resurgence of Taliban forces constitutes a major challenge to Coalition Forces. Minister Fitzgibbon and I will be discussing how that challenge will be best met with a combination of assistance in building Afghan Government capacity, improving the lives of people through development and providing stability to allow these things to happen by the presence of our military forces there.

We will also be working to ensure that our views on the direction of the campaign in Afghanistan are heard by our NATO partners.

These and other activities, as well as more routine maritime surveillance, support work in Antarctica and homeland security tasks like bomb disposal and counter terrorism training, are only possible with highly professional and well-equipped Defence Forces.

I will also be discussing with Minister Fitzgibbon the actions by our respective governments to upgrade military capabilities and how to ensure the interoperability of our two forces is maintained.

The New Zealand Army has been motorised with new Light Armoured Vehicles and operational vehicles, as well as anti-armour and air defence missile systems.
The New Zealand navy is part way through delivery of seven new ships built under contract by Australian shipbuilder Tenix. Over the next five years the air force is replacing or upgrading its fixed and rotary wing aircraft.

Our Orion and Hercules air transport and surveillance fleets are undergoing major upgrades in North America worth over $700 million. Nearly a billion dollars of new, state of the art medium-utility and light and training utility helicopters will be built in France and Italy. In combination, these represent significant additions to New Zealand’s airlift, patrol and surveillance capability, including for use in the Southern Ocean.

Australia and New Zealand are separate and sovereign countries which respect each others right to hold independent views. However, we are also like-minded, with similar values, institutions and commitment to building a more peaceful Pacific and a better world. It makes sense for us to work closely together and regular meeting between Defence Ministers and civilian and military leaders in Defence Forces and Defence Ministries is an important part of that.


ENDS

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