The Southwest Pacific: a strategic priority for Australia
8 May 2015|

Defence Ministers from South Pacific nations

The Defence White Paper, to be released later this year, will set out how Australia will respond to its future strategic environment and will outline a strategy for securing Australia’s strategic interests in the period to 2035 and beyond.

It’ll give substance to the principle that the primary purpose of the ADF and Defence is to secure Australia and to shape Australia’s strategic environment in support of our national interests.

Yet, Defence does not exist in isolation. The White Paper will be a whole-of-government product. It’ll focus on Defence’s role as an element of a broader national approach, alongside our diplomatic, trade, policing, intelligence and aid efforts. And it’ll reflect the Government’s overall strategic, fiscal and broader policy priorities.

As a nation we cannot secure our strategic interests in isolation either. That’s why the security of Australia’s immediate neighbourhood, including the South West Pacific, is one of the highest strategic priorities for Australia. We are committed to supporting regional stability.

Last week, in Port Moresby, I met with Defence Ministers from South Pacific nations. Regional security was top of our agenda.  It’s clear to me that Australia has a critical leadership role to play in this forum, as together we promote security and prosperity in our region.

With Australia’s renewed operational focus in the Middle East, it is even more critical we work with regional partners to support regional security. Indeed, regional Pacific nations have a strong and proud history of supporting global security operations, including Tonga in Afghanistan and Iraq, Fiji in the Middle East, Papua New Guinea in Sudan and New Zealand globally. Shortly Task Force Taji will commence training the Iraqi Security Forces alongside their New Zealand counterparts.

Geographically, Australia is an island continent – the world’s sixth largest country by area.  This unique geography means we have specific defence requirements and responsibilities. Australia’s close defence partnerships with our neighbours reflect our shared interest in a stable and secure South Pacific region.

For government’s part, our first responsibility is the safety and security of our citizens and central to this is recognising and responding to regional threats to Australia and its people.  Instability, illegal maritime activity, including transnational crime, people and drug trafficking, and illegal fishing are threats to our region’s shared security. We can address these threats though coordinated information-sharing, surveillance and patrols, and capacity building.

South Pacific Defence Ministers agreed to practical ways to help regional partners in maritime security, stabilisation operations, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Of these initiatives, the centrepiece of Australia’s security engagement in the South Pacific continues to be the Pacific Patrol Boat and follow-on Pacific Maritime Security Programs.  Along with other Pacific nations, I was pleased that PNG confirmed their participation in this Program.

The Patrol Boat Program provides a regional solution to regional security issues, offering a model for cooperation and assisting participating countries to enhance their maritime security capability through coordinated information-sharing, surveillance and patrols.

Our region is vulnerable to natural disaster. The regional response to the Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu showcased the benefits of operational familiarity between our respective forces, with several Pacific Patrol Boats and assets from Tonga, Samoa, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands contributing to the much needed relief effort.

Moving forward, the Pacific Maritime Security Program will strengthen and expand the region’s capacity to secure maritime resources and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief functions within their Exclusive Economic Zones, as well as across the region.

Under this program, Australia will deliver replacement patrol boats, increased aerial surveillance, and develop proposals to enhance regional coordination. The production of up to 21 new patrol boats is a significant investment in Australia’s defence industry.

The Australian-built patrol boats will be larger and more capable than the current fleet are expected to cost $594 million in addition to through life sustainment and personnel costs estimated at $1.38 billion over 30 years.

Australia is committed to a regional partnership approach in maintaining a stable and secure South Pacific, which will ensure our region’s continued stability and prosperity.

Regional forums, such as the South Pacific Defence Minister’s Meeting – and the initiatives it fosters – helps to ensure the a stable and secure region; that’s ready to combat emerging threats and challenges.