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NZ Australia Joint Press Conference On Solomons

PRESS CONFERENCE

Following annual Australia and New Zealand defence talks

12:30pm, Thursday 26 June 2003

E&oe Solomons

Australian Defence Minister Robert Hill:

Can I start by welcoming Mark Burton, the New Zealand Defence Minister here and his party, the Chief of the New Zealand Defence Forces and the Secretary of his department and others. We have annual defence and security discussions with New Zealand and this year it was our turn to host it. We’re very pleased to have them here with us in Canberra. We’ve had a useful morning’s discussion.

We tried last year to be a little more specific in our demands in terms of setting a range of different projects for officials. Those projects tended to be very practical in terms of looking at ways in which we could improve interoperability, looking at ways in which we could learn from each other’s experience in terms of upgrading capability – such as our experience with the P3s and the C130s.

Looking at projects in which we have a mutual interest, and we have a particular interest in the New Zealand project to acquire new maritime capability because some of those capabilities would be in areas where we don’t have similar ships. We’re very interested in finding ways in which we can work in closely together, maximise our capability, recognising we can’t always have everything that we want in terms of equipment. And officials have met the charge that we’ve given them and reported three times during the course of the year. This was the fourth report today. We’re very pleased with the way in which that has progressed. And so we did an update of that to date and assessed progress in those areas in which we can work together cooperatively.

We also obviously took the opportunity to look at a range of operations where we’ve been working either together or which we’ve been working within the same operation. So we talked about the war against terror – where New Zealand has had ships in the Gulf and has a P3 operating in the Gulf and a C130 operating out of Kyrgyzstan into Afghanistan – and we talked about the contribution that we likewise have made in that regard to the war against terror.

We also talked about the cooperative endeavours that we’re building with regional states and how that might be progressed in the coming year. We talked about the experience in Iraq and obviously we still have significant force elements in Iraq and in the region, and New Zealand’s looking at the possibility of making a contribution in this phase to the reconstruction of Iraq. We looked at Bougainville where next Monday we’ll be having a little ceremony to mark the completion of the peace monitoring group’s work. And it’s I think an example where significant progress has been made and I think both Australia and New Zealand can take some credit for the support they’ve given to that process. Similarly we talked about East Timor where we both worked together and still working together, the progress that’s been made there and what might follow from completion of the UN mandate in the middle of next year. At least a preliminary discussion of those subjects.

We talked about issues within the Pacific and in particular obviously we had a discussion about the problems of the Solomon Islands and the possible ways forward in support of the government of the Solomon Islands.

So it does I think underline the fact that although from time to time we have some strategic differences or differences in strategic assessment, there are still so many areas in which we have obvious common interests and can work constructively together to provide benefit to third parties and also to better provide for the security of both Australia and New Zealand and our respective interests. So I think it’s been a very constructive, positive morning. I appreciate the good will and the frankness of Mark. And I’m looking forward to the work we do together over this coming year and next years meeting in New Zealand.

Do you want to say anything?

New Zealand Minister of Defence Mark Burton:

Just to echo the value that we place on the close working relationship, as Robert said, in Wellington last year we’d reached the beginning of a new chapter in that relationship. And I think we tried to reflect that in an increasingly practical and specific set of areas of work that we’re doing together. They’re recorded in the paper that you have and in some of the comments that have already been made.

I’d simply want to echo our satisfaction that that progress is being made. The practical work is being done at a multitude of levels and for a lot of very good and serious reasons. There is mutual benefit to be had from the sort of cooperation that we’re doing. And I’m absolutely confident that we’ve added another page to that new chapter today in building that ever closer working relationship.

Senator Hill:

Any questions?

Journalist:

The issue of the moment is obviously the Solomons. What’s the commitment sought and received from New Zealand? What will New Zealand’s role be? And also Minister Hill, is there going to be an SAS component?

Senator Hill:

Well I didn’t specifically seek anything. What is obviously well known is we are inclined to responding positively to requests from the Prime Minister and the Government of the Solomon Islands. That we support them in dealing with a problem that they are unable to deal with effectively themselves. Predominantly a law and order issue. And that we’ll do that through the provision of police and we’ve provided a military element in support of the police. And that we would like it to be done no just by us but through a cooperative Pacific regional basis.

We would therefore obviously like New Zealand to participate in that force and to help us achieve the objective of support of the Solomon Islands in this way. And so I talked to Mr Burton about the sort of force that we have in mind and the basis of that force and the relationship with the police and matters of that nature. We are working on a force structure.

And of course all of this is dependent upon the debate that will take place in the Parliament of the Solomon Islands, and the passage of appropriate legislation, and a formal request from the Governor-General and all of those prerequisites. But in terms of normal planning we have been working on an appropriate force structure. But whilst that is fluid at the moment, I don’t think it is really appropriate to give a report on work in progress in that regard as to components.

Journalist:

So the numbers haven’t been locked in yet?

Senator Hill:

No.

Journalist:

There are reports of 1500. Is that the sort of thinking you have in mind?

Senator Hill:

We – the starting point should be the combat capability to provide the police with protection in circumstances where police would need it. We fear that because of the type of arms that criminals/former militia may be holding and they’d be prepared to use – there could well be circumstances where the capabilities of police would be tested. And that’s why we think it’s reasonable that they should be supported by a military capability.

So if you start from working out what sort of force on the ground would be necessary to support the police, and I don’t think that need necessarily be a particularly large force, and then you work backwards in te3ms of what sort of logistic support that would need, medical support, transport – it may also be that we use the military logistic capability to support the police themselves rather than have them try and duplicate those capabilities. So it could add up to some numbers but the combat part of the force I wouldn’t expect to be particularly large.

Journalist:

Under a battalion size?

Senator Hill:

Well if you’re looking at a couple of hundred police or protective services people you can start to work out what sort of military they might need behind them. But bear in mind also that over a period of time they may decentralise and therefore the military support that they would need would have to be large enough to cover perhaps a range of different police elements in different places within the country.

Journalist:

Minister putting all those variables together, does it come up to anything like the 1500 figure that’s been published today?

Senator Hill:

Well I haven’t added to that debate and I don’t think it’s appropriate that I do now because as I said it is work in progress and we’re talking to our friends and colleagues in the Pacific about it. And we’d like their views and then we’ll wait for the invitation we get and publish what we think is the appropriate force at the appropriate time.

Journalist:

(Inaudible) naval and air force involvement as well as an army involvement?

Senator Hill:

I think it’s reasonable to assume that we would have a naval element. As has been demonstrated in the past, it brings particular benefits in terms of logistic support, hospital capabilities and the like.

Journalist:

So Manoora or Kanimbla?

Senator Hill:

I can’t – apart from mainly a transport function, I can’t immediately see a significant Air Force role.

Journalist:

May I just ask what is the attitude of the New Zealand Government to this issue as it’s arisen. Has New Zealand committed to it in principle as the Australian Government has and what is the extent of the commitment that you foresee (inaudible)?

Mr Burton:

As Senator Hill said it’s a good opportunity for us to have some discussion about the announcement that was made yesterday here. It’s certainly the case that the New Zealand Government would be sympathetic to the sort of formal request that is being discussed with appropriate legislation and so on should that come.

We share the view very strongly that should such a request come that the priority should be to reinforce and support the appropriate civilian authorities through the police and again there is appropriate discussion going on at the Police Commissioner level which is as you would expect. Our officials are talking to each other about perhaps what then that might require and what our analysis of that might be in terms of backup and support to give authority to that civil and other infrastructure development.

But I think the time for the next phase of discussion is next week in Sydney when the foreign ministers of the Pacific Forum come together. And it’s certainly at that point I think we’ll get an opportunity for the whole community of the region to discuss what’s emerging in the Solomons and what the Pacific solution might be about.

Journalist:

Is New Zealand at this stage envisaging a military commitment?

Mr Burton:

We’re considering what the situation is and giving our own analysis to that and obviously our Minister of Police and Police Commissioner are in Australia as we speak, engaging in those discussions. And our Foreign Minister will join yours and others at the pacific forum to continue that discussion next week in Sydney.

Journalist:

Are we now seeing that new resolve on both the part of Australia and New Zealand to address what’s commonly described as the arc of instability in the Pacific?

Mr Burton:

I don’t think there’s been any such discussion. Certainly not today. We discussed many things today, one of which briefly as the Solomon’s in terms of that we both described. I don’t think to try and expand upon that into some other over arching motion would be helpful.

Journalist:

You are talking about greater interoperability of forces, maximising capability. What do we need to do that?

Senator Hill:

Between ours?

Journalist:

Yes between Australia and New Zealand.

Senator Hill:

Because we so often find that we’re working together in the same projects. And we may be working together in another one in the near future. We need to be able to…

Journalist:

What’s that?

Senator Hill:

The one we’re talking about. We need to be able to communicate effectively and every other aspect of military interaction if that comes to pass. It’s better to plan for that.

Mr Burton:

That’s been the case for a long time. I mean this update statement today is not all new. We’ve tried to, as any useful document should, it needs to be updated and to keep up progress. We’ve made progress but I think we’ve had enough recent examples from Bougainville to East Timor to know that if we are interoperable and if we are training together and if we are taking account of each others decisions, they won’t always be the same, but foolish of us not to fully take into account our ability to get along side each other as competently as we can. Because we have enough evidence over many many years that as good friends and neighbours we’re often going to be in the situation where we need to do that. So we want to make sure that we maximise our ability to do that when and where we need to.

Journalist:

When you were talking about the New Zealand Police Minister before were you signalling that New Zealand’s involvement in this would be more likely to be New Zealand Police?

Mr Burton:

No I’m signalling that we share the analysis that should a formal invitation and request for help from the Solomons come, then the first and preferred response to that is to reinforce and support the civil authority and the police. And I think we all agree on that and so therefore it’s obviously important that there is a police to police discussion going on. That defence people are talking to each other about what that might involve and require in back support. And than ultimately of course the foreign ministers are looking at the wider issues because we strongly believe, as I think the statements from various Australian ministers in the last couple of days have said, that all of that has to sit alongside medium and long term work to support the economic recovery and development of the Solomons as well.

Journalist:

How long do you think it will take in the initial stage to restore law and order to the Solomons?

Senator Hill:

We think it shouldn’t take too long. Depends what you mean. You qualified your own question by saying in the initial stage but to – the worst elements of their law and order problem are well recognised. They are unable to deal with those worst elements by themselves. And so an appropriate police force that’s not sort of locked into the existing situation, with adequate military comfort,if you put it like that, I think should be able to deal with them relatively quickly. And I would think certainly within a couple of months.

Journalist:

Senator Hill it’s been …

Senator Hill:

Maybe a couple of weeks.

Journalist:

It’s been reported the Solomon’s Foreign …

Senator Hill:

Then I think there’ll be a long ongoing process because as we said there is a break down through a whole range of institutions within the Solomon Islands but we believe before the other breakdowns, whether it’s economic, judicial or whatever, can be adequately tackled, you’ve got to improve the law and order situation. And that’s why we’ve identified that as the starting point but we’ll want to support the Solomon Islands as it works through the problems it has in its range of institutions and that will take some time.

Journalist:

It’s been reported that the Solomons Foreign Minister has asked for an SAS element, particularly to deal with matters on the (inaudible) coast. You’re talking about its fluid, the make up of the intervention force, but you’re not ruling out an SAS component?

Senator Hill:

I haven’t seen that report but it doesn’t – if it’s suggesting that a military response is what’s necessary to solve the Solomon Islands problems, that’s not the way we see it. We think a police response is what’s necessary. It’s a break down of law and order. But we do say because of the likely weapons that those who are going to oppose the police have got and the history of their behaviour it’s too much to ask just of a police force. And we think that they may need support and protection. And that’s why we’re talking about a military role.

Journalist:

So ordinary infantry troops can do that job? You won’t need to send Special Forces on a job like this?

Senator Hill:

Well I don’t want to – that’s for professional military advice as to what qualifications you want from the troops. I’m emphasising the point that this is not a military operation in terms of us sending the military in to do a task other than to support the civil authority and the civil authorities from outside that go in at the invitation of the Solomon Islands.

Journalist:

Mr Burton, does Australia want New Zealand to increase its defence spending? And secondly is New Zealand concerned about the spread of terrorism in the Pacific Island states?

Mr Burton:

We don’t engage in trying to tell each other how we should run our budgets. As sovereign nations we’re good friends but we have respect for each other’s sovereign independence. In regard to your first question, there’s never enough in any defence minister’s budget is my experience.

Journalist:

(Inaudible) coming to our national force development decisions take into account a need to operate surely?

Mr Burton

They take into account …

Journalist:

Surely budgetary policy has an impact there?

Mr Burton:

Our needs to operate together means making the most effective use of the resources we have and continue to get. That doesn’t extend to trying to put, for New Zealand to put a budget bid into the Australian Federal Minister. I’m sure he’d not welcome it. But in terms of yes of course we share the global concern about the spread of terror. It is why, along with Australia and many other nations we’re a partner in the war against terrorism. And I think the work that is going on between our nations and others in the region at a multitude of levels is very important. A lot of it is at a less visible level as it should be in terms of information and intelligence sharing border control information, airline information, a multitude of areas where in the end we’re sharing the means to keep our people as safe as we can.

Journalist:

In the Solomons for example, is there any evidence that apart from the average crim, money launderer and drug runner, are there serious terrorist elements in the Solomons potentially?

Mr Burton:

I don’t think this is the forum to start discussing sort of detail of that sort. But certainly we’ve had no discussion along those lines over the last …

Journalist:

What about your knowledge of that though? Is there any evidence that those elements might exist?

Mr Burton:

I don’t have any firm advice that that is a serious issue in the Solomons at this time.

Journalist:

Senator Hill, can I just ask is there any foreshadowed assessment that you can give us about the budgetary implications of a commitment to the Solomons assuming to goes ahead and whether for instance that will need an addition to the existing defence budget?

Senator Hill:

Because we’ve started to look at force size and composition we’ve obviously started to look at costs as well. But until it’s bedded down and it all depends on whether the appropriate invitations are given and so forth, I wouldn’t speculate. On the question of how would we pay for it, we would look for supplementation to pay for it. On a whole of government basis it obviously has to cost quite a lot of money. If you’re looking at the police force, the sort of size that’s being foreshadowed, military support, all the necessary logistics, any form of operation becomes quite expensive very quickly.

Journalist:

Is it assumed that such …

Senator Hill:

And what we normally do is we pay from within at this time because we’re not in a budget cycle and then seek that supplementation either through the supplementary estimates or next year’s budget.

Journalist:

I was just going to ask is it assumed that an international force, presuming one is formed, would be commanded by an Australian?

Senator Hill:

Well Australian forces will be commanded by an Australian. How the command of the force as a whole is obviously still to be determine because we don’t know the composition of the force.

Journalist:

What do your plans say about when this might start?

Senator Hill:

Well we are waiting on, apart from the PIF meetings and all of the other meetings of discussions that are taking place among the possible owners or supporters of this, we’re waiting on the Solomons. They’ve got to have their parliamentary process which I think has been put back a bit. So it’s still some weeks away.

Journalist:

Some weeks until the request comes or some weeks until the force goes in?

Senator Hill:

I think it might be a few weeks before the formal processes are completed within the Solomons and then you could expect a few more weeks before.

Journalist:

France is a considerable Pacific power. Are you seeking any sort of troop support or police support from the French?

Senator Hill:

Well I haven’t, I haven’t. I don’t know whether in any other level in government has spoken to the French. France has got quiet a lot on its plate at the moment. Congo and so forth. I’m not sure whether they would see themselves as wanting to extend into the Solomon Islands.

Journalist:

(Inaudible) cooperation, are you looking to engage in more rescue missions of this type with the failed neighbouring states in the Pacific?

Senator Hill:

No we’re treating this as a one off. This is – a question was asked earlier is this part of a new doctrine. I don’t think that is so. The Solomons has sadly reached a state where it’s unable to deal with serious issues itself and has felt in those circumstances it should seek outside support. And it’s to that we are responding.

Mr Burton:

And similarly we will look at that request when it comes in that same light. We see, and our foreign and defence policies very clearly. This is our region of the world. We have responsibilities as a good neighbour to take up some of the challenges that come our way and I think it’s in that light that this particular situation …

Senator Hill:

So we have and continue our development cooperation programs with Pacific states. Both New Zealand and Australia has similar programs. We support them in institution building, in training and the like and we will continue to do that. And we think that that is valuable and worthwhile work. But particular circumstances have meant that perhaps not great value is being achieved from that at the moment in the Solomons because of the extent to which law and order has broken down. And with the break down of law and order a break down of other institutions so it’s an extreme circumstance that’s obviously led them to seek this outside support.

Journalist:

Have you received any requests previous to this like last year or the year before from the Solomons for similar help?

Senator Hill:

I don’t think so. I think there’s been – I think I should take it on notice. If you ask me the answer’s no. If you ask has the government, I think there’s been exchanges about the extent which the problems were developing. Whether they’ve asked for support of this specific type I don’t know. This is certainly the first time in which a process has developed in terms of the Prime Minister and his senior ministers coming to Canberra and sitting down with us and spelling it all out in detail and being willing to adopt the necessary steps of providing legislative background within the Solomon Islands a request from the Governor General and all the other pre-requisites that we would regard as important and necessary.

Journalist:

You wouldn’t have been able to commit a year or so ago would you because of the commitments to the war on terror and the war on Afghanistan. The timing is quite fortuitous in that regard?

Senator Hill:

We’ve always maintained the capability to address specific issues that arise within our own region. We’ve still got significant, as you know significant forces in East Timor and significant forces, a thousand odd forces in the Middle East. We’re still quite heavily extended. In terms of the historical picture, our operational tempo is still at an unprecedented high. So this is just another task that’s arisen at this time and we’re responding to it. Okay. Thanks.

ENDS


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