AUKMIN press conference

with Defence Minister David Johnston, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, UK Secretary of State for Defence Phillip Hammond

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

11 March 2014

WILLIAM HAGUE (Foreign Secretary): Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen I'm delighted to welcome our Australian colleagues and friends and visitors Julie Bishop, Foreign Minister, and David Johnston, Defence Minister, and to welcome them to London for their first AUKMIN since taking office in Australia six months ago. Both the Defence Secretary and I are very pleased to host them here today.

Our unique relationship with Australia makes it without doubt one of our most important international partners. In this centenary year of the beginning of the First World War we, of course, remember the tens of thousands of Australians who on the battle fields and in the trenches of the First World War fought and died in defence of our freedom We particularly remembered them at the Australian War Memorial on Hyde Park corner this morning.

In more recent times our armed forces have been serving side by side in Afghanistan and our intelligence and diplomatic services work together on a daily basis with extraordinary trust and confidence in each other. As I said in my speech in Sydney last year, allies don't come with broader shoulders, bigger hearts or greater courage than Australia.

I never cease to be astonished that when I first went to Australia as Foreign Secretary three years ago I was the first Foreign Secretary to visit there in seventeen years, this was too long a gap. To me this is a vital twenty first century partnership. We are key partners in Asia, our trading ties are going from strength to strength, we work together on a huge range of global issues and that is why Julie and David were invited to participate in our National Security Council meeting with the Prime Minister this afternoon. This close working relationship of course is not restricted to Foreign and Defence Ministers, the Prime Minister and Prime Minister Abbott have met on several occasions and at their very first meeting they agreed on the need for a strong UK - Australia partnership.

I'm very glad that this partnership is going from strength to strength and this year will bring many opportunities to strengthen our foreign policy work together. This year Australia chairs the G20 group of countries and is a member, as you know, of the United Nations Security Council. These are important roles which help shape global prosperity and security and I applaud the leadership that Australia shows in both.

Australia recently took the lead in co-authoring in the Security Council's first resolution on humanitarian access in Syria. We're now working together to ensure that that is implemented and that more humanitarian support gets through to the people who desperately need it.

Today's discussions have covered a number of crises and conflict situations including those in Africa and in the Middle East. We've discussed issues, developments and friendships all over the globe from the Asia - Pacific region to the Falkland Islands. We're delighted to announce that we have signed an agreement on diplomatic network cooperation which will facilitate practical cooperation in areas such as consular and crisis response. Where it makes sense we will also share buildings and resources overseas and I'm pleased to say we now plan to make this happen in Baghdad. This is about identifying the synergies that make our respective diplomatic networks more efficient and effective. It's about ensuring we get the most out of our work, it's about strengthening our diplomatic cooperation for the long term.

Today, we have also launched, on the visit of our colleagues this week a new UK - Australia dialogue on Asia involving a partnership between Ditchley Park and the Australian based Lowy Institute which will allow us to share insights and expertise on a key area for the future of our relationship. And my colleague David Willetts, the Science Minister, has been working with Foreign Minister Bishop to support the Square Kilometre Array, a project to build the world's largest and most sensitive radio telescope. This will increase our capacity for understanding space and improve our knowledge of the universe and projects such as these allow for better exchanges between our governments and our academic communities helping us to share knowledge and improve the way we do business.

So I'd now like to offer Julie Bishop the opportunity to share her version on our meeting today and the Australian perspective on this vitally important relationship. Thank you.

JULIE BISHOP (Australian Foreign Minister): Thank you Foreign Secretary Hague and my colleague Minister David Johnston and I are delighted to be at this annual ministerial dialogue on foreign affairs and defence issues. It began for me yesterday with a meeting with William where we discussed a whole range of matters and I appreciate that. This morning we attended a wreath laying at the Australian Memorial at Hyde Park Corner where we acknowledged the sacrifice of so many Australians in the pursuit of freedom. We have fought side by side with our British colleagues in so many theatres and conflicts and it was a fitting start to our dialogue today.

This annual dialogue reinforces the close and strong relationship between Australia and the United Kingdom, one of the closest international relationships one can imagine taking in to account our historic, political, economic, cultural and even sporting ties. Today we took the opportunity to review current areas of cooperation and to identify new areas of cooperation and as the Foreign Secretary noted we have signed a new partnership agreement in relation to the more efficient use of our resources in the diplomatic networks of both countries. We will pursue opportunities to work more closely and cooperatively together and we have identified Baghdad as one of those areas where we can share resources and be more efficient in our presence overseas.

The big science project, the Square Kilometre Array, is very exciting and we're delighted that the United Kingdom will contribute to the pursuit of this project. It's located in South Africa and my home state of Western Australia. It will be the biggest radio telescope the world has ever seen. It is truly a fascinating international science project that will open new worlds to us. It really is cutting edge and new boundaries of science and we appreciate the support of the United Kingdom.

We've also signed a new partnership agreement in relation to overseas development assistance and this is where we really are of a like mind. There is a new paradigm in the development assistance world and we are very likeminded when it comes to how to alleviate poverty by promoting economic growth, by leveraging the private sector, by empowering women in economic terms. I think that there is much that we'll be able to do in the development assistance space.

We discussed many global and regional issues. The United Kingdom led the discussions on Ukraine and Syria. Australia led the discussion on the Asia - Pacific, Indian Ocean and we discussed other matters including the Falkland Islands. In fact, I note today that it's the first anniversary of the referendum by the Falkland Islanders who voted overwhelmingly to remain a British territory. Now, Australian doesn't have a position on the competing claims on sovereignty, but we do believe the wishes of the islands' inhabitants should be taken in to account in any peaceful resolution of this matter.

We also had a very long discussion about humanitarian crises around the world, in Africa, in South Sudan, Somalia and the support that both our nations are giving in that regard. And, our joints efforts on the UN Security Council as Australia is a temporary member of the Security Council at present.

I also reiterated my personal, unequivocal and enthusiastic support and Australia's support for Foreign Secretary Hague's initiative on the prevention of sexual violence in conflict. We note that you will be hosting a seminar in June this year. Australia will do what it can to support that initiative and advocate amongst other nations to ensure that this remains on the global agenda as a matter of great importance.

So over all it's been the most fruitful and productive discussion. We've certainly found the National Security Council meeting fascinating, it gave us some ideas on how we could conduct our own which I'll pass on to Prime Minister Abbott. And, it has been a most enjoyable but more importantly a most cooperative day spent discussing mutual interests and areas where we can work for not only our own countries but for the betterment of our friends, allies and countries in our respective regions.

So thank you for your gracious hospitality William, we have enjoyed it very much.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Thank you very much Julie and Philip, Defence Secretary.

PHILIP HAMMOND (Defence Secretary): Thank you William. I'm delighted to be able to reiterate William's welcome to Julie and David here in London today to continue the AUKMIN dialogue. Our relationship with Australia is, of course, a deep historic relationship. It's about a shared culture, a shared ethos but it's also about a strategic alignment in the way we look at the world. And as the Asia - Pacific region occupies a more important part in our strategic thinking Australia's regional perspective adds an additional layer of value to the relationship as far as the United Kingdom is concerned.

This is a standing event in our calendar, the AUKMIN summit, and we seek to use it to reinvigorate the relationship, the defence relationship, which is already very strong to make sure we don't become complacent about it, that we explore opportunities to build on the intensive collaboration that we already have.

We worked together, we fought together in Afghanistan, we share intelligence together in the Five Eyes community. We cooperate on international training. We exchange personnel. We work together on science, technology and the cyber area. We are both members of the Five Powers Defence Arrangement - one of the few formal defence arrangements in the South East Asia region.

We've covered a lot of ground today. We've talked about Afghanistan post 2014, our own bilateral alignments and strategic reform in our defence establishments and our armed forces. We've talked about coordinating our respective defence engagement programmes. How we work to build capacity and prevent conflict. How we can collaborate together in the Asia - Pacific region, in humanitarian and disaster relief operations and exercises and how we can cooperate together on equipment programmes.

We've agreed a list of deliverables, the list of specific areas of potential enhancement to the UK - Australian defence cooperation that our officials will now go away and turn in to a reality. Tomorrow Philip Dunne, the Defence Equipment Minister, will travel to Scotland with David Johnston to see our aircraft carriers being built at Rosyth and to visit the dockyards on the Clyde where the Type 25 Destroyers were built and where our Type 26 Global Combat ships will be built.

On Thursday, I will be hosting David at Barrow-in-Furness to visit the submarine building yard where our Astute submarines are currently being built. That will set the context for discussions that we will continue over the next few days on future collaboration between the UK and Australia around our respective submarine and frigate building programmes, where there is much that we can learn from each other and much efficiency that we can derive from cooperation together.

We will continue to seek new ways in which we can enhance our robust friendship. We both look forward to the entry in to force of our Defence Treaty which we signed last year, it's currently going through our respective parliamentary ratification processes. That treaty will formalise the many strands of cooperation that we have across defence and security. It will help us to ensure that our forces remain interoperable and maximise their joint capabilities.

So all in all it's been a thoroughly productive day and I anticipate that tomorrow and Thursday will be similarly productive as we look at the shipyards and submarine yards. I'll now pass over to David to give us his perspective, his perspective on the day's talks. David.

DAVID JOHNSTON (Australian Defence Minister): Thank you Philip and to each of you Secretaries may I say thank you for our programme, a most stimulating and interesting programme not just today but for the four days that we are here.

Now, as we've heard most of what can be said has been said and me being the lucky last there's not a lot left for me to say other than, of course, tomorrow I'm looking at British expertise in shipbuilding and submarine manufacture and may I say this is very important for Australia. We have some enormous challenges confronting us in to the future as we seek to maintain an indigenous naval shipbuilding capability and naval submarine enterprise.

Thank you for the opportunity to see the way you do business, in that regard this is a very special skill and I'm greatly appreciative of the opportunity to go to Scotland and have a look at what you've achieved there. May I say in dealing with the Astute Class I've been a student of that boat's progress over the years and may I say it is a fabulous capability and I'm extremely impressed with it.

Today we had the honour and privilege of attending the National Security Committee of Cabinet, that was a very special opportunity for us. I thank you for that and may I thank the Prime Minister for that opportunity. We discussed very important mutually important issues to each of Australia and the United Kingdom inside the committee. It is remarkable how the values and cultures of our two countries are very synergistic and similar.

So that was the important evolution today. I want to say that what this meeting has been about is the leveraging of each of our own specialist knowledge in our region. So we've discussed the Ukraine and Syria from the UK's perspective, learning as we go as to what the realities, the problems and challenges are in those regions. We, of course, have brought South East Asia and East Asian issues, to the United Kingdom. Now this is a mutually beneficial engagement.

I don't want to go on much more other than to say we are starting out professionally discussing these issues, building a relationship, building trust and at the end of the day, of course, we built friendships and I thank you for that. Thank you.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Thank you very much indeed. We've just got time for a few questions. The Defence Secretary and I have to vote in the House of Commons shortly, so that may constrain it but Carl do you want call some questions.

Unidentified Male Speaker (BBC): [Inaudible] Jonathan from the BBC, a question to the Foreign duo if I may such call: could you tell us a little about Australia's position on Ukraine, are you willing to join Western sanctions against the Russian Government? And Foreign Secretary could you tell us in a little more detail perhaps the exact legal basis for financial measures against Russian individuals that are being, being discussed by experts in London today?

And to the Foreign, and to the Defence duo if I may, this sort of ministerial meeting is great, it looks very nice, I don't know how many, how much real military clout, it displays on paper. Is the time coming perhaps that particularly as our deployments on (indistinct) missions might slowly begin to decrease that we should be looking at a British, a permanent British naval deployment to the Asia Pacific region, perhaps based as some American forces are in Australia?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Right now if everybody asks a question of everybody there won't be many questions but Julie would you like to go …

JULIE BISHOP Yes of course …

WILLIAM HAGUE: … first on Ukraine?

JULIE BISHOP … Australia has taken a view that Russia's intervention in the Ukraine should cease, that Russia should remove its troops back to base, that the proposed referendum in the Crimea is unconstitutional given that Ukraine's constitution does not recognise a regional referendum for secession and that we will work with our friends and allies in seeking to find a diplomatic resolution to tensions in Ukraine.

As far as economic or other sanctions are concerned, we will work closely with our friends and partners. We believe that this action on Russia's part is unjustifiable, that it is in breach of the UN Charter, it's in breach of Russia's own agreements with Ukraine as to its sovereignty and if there is action that we believe will resolve this issue then Australia is prepared to take it.

WILLIAM HAGUE: The meeting today has been to coordinate preparations among likeminded countries, the legal base will vary from one country to another and depending on the decisions that we take. Bear in mind that at the moment, our diplomatic efforts are very much directed at trying to bring Russia and Ukraine in to direct discussions with each other, with the support of other countries, that's why we've been discussing a contact group or coordination group. We had those discussions very intensively in Paris last Wednesday, we've been pursuing them ever since, and those discussions are still going on.

But yes we're making preparations, as agreed at the European Council last Thursday to take other measures, the Council referred specifically to measures in the field of travel bans and asset freezes and in the European Union there would be the necessary decisions if we come to that, provide the regional base for that, of course will be different, a different position in the United States and other nations. But the important thing is that so many key nations are working closely together on this and we will remain united in our approach.

Defence Ministers on the other question.

PHILIP HAMMOND: Yes on the question, on the question of our naval presence in the Asia Pacific, we did of course last year deploy HMS Daring in to the Pacific for a period of about six months including joining many other countries' navies in Australia for the centenary of the Royal Australian Navy, that was a very successful visit. I, as our focus increasingly turns to the Asia Pacific I would expect us to send ships more regularly in future in to the Pacific and, of course, looking out another four years when our carrier strike capability is regenerated we will then have the reach that the possession of aircraft carriers will give us. But I wouldn't envisage at the present time basing ships in the Pacific. I think extended visits on a more regular basis is likely to be our immediate objective.

DAVID JOHNSTON: Well I think that is exactly the position that I'd seek to adopt but oh that it were so simple for me to stand here to say let's have a, a naval base, a UK naval base in Australia, that's a decision for Government. Given that we have a very large cohort of Royal Navy personnel in the Royal Australian Navy many people might argue we already have a, a base in Australia. But, seriously, we do have US Marines coming to Darwin, it will not be a basing, it's, it's an opportunity for them to utilise our facilities. Now we welcome such a similar utilisation at every opportunity for the Royal Navy or any other of the services from the United Kingdom to come to Australia and, to interoperate with us, to train with us and to do things that are mutually beneficial.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Okay next question.

Unidentified Female Reporter (ITV News): (Indistinct) ITV News. The French Foreign Minister has today suggested that the Russians may face sanctions as early as this week, when do you think sanctions will be taking place, perhaps after the referendum this weekend? And one final one, how can the Russians de-escalate this crisis without losing face?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well you'll have, you will have heard the Prime Minister speak yesterday in Parliament about the coming days and, indeed, the European Council last week spoke about decisions to be taken in the days to come on this. We haven't, neither France nor we have put a precise time on it, that depends on whether we are making progress diplomatically on the de-escalation of this situation.

So the decisions on, on that remain to be made but clearly we are approaching a referendum in the Crimea on Sunday which in our view given all the circumstances of tens of thousands of troops there, of no opportunity to have a referendum campaign, of the inability of the Ukrainian leaders to visit that part of their country and the extreme brevity of the notice given of that referendum very few people in the world are going to regard that as a legitimate referendum and legitimate exercise but we are approaching that on Sunday and a meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels on Monday and so decisions will be coming.

But we will remain focused in the coming hours on trying to find a diplomatic progress towards the contact group which we have discussed involving Russia and the Ukraine and I think it is possible diplomatically and politically possible for Russia to enter in to such an arrangement. We have stressed throughout to Russia, that we recognise the importance of relations between Russia and Ukraine and that we have never seen this in a zero sum strategic sense, it is very important for the people of Ukraine to be able to be, to freely choose closer relations with the European Union but for the benefits of that to be felt by them and by Russians as well.

So we don't see it as a zero sum strategic choice for Ukraine, we do want the people of Ukraine to be free to make their own decision. So I think it is possible for Russia to enter into such a political and diplomatic process. When I was with Foreign Minister Lavrov last week in Paris I urged him to do so and we continue to urge Russia to do so.

Charles Miranda, Daily Telegraph Sydney: [Inaudible] Minister last year, late last year at the G20 (indistinct) your predecessor actually was signing an MOU with Russia and specifically with Foreign Secretary Lavrov on intelligence sharing and defence cooperation, has that actually gone ahead in any way, shape or form? Has it been abandoned? Five months is a long time in foreign policy I suppose.

The second question is have you actually had any direct contact with the Kremlin other than calling in the, the Ambassador in Canberra?

JULIE BISHOP Well in answer to your last part of the question we've been dealing through the ambassador in Canberra. We've not dealt directly with the Kremlin and we see this is a matter where the European Union will take the lead, our friends in the United Kingdom, the United States but Australia will support action where we believe it can lead to a peaceful resolution of this. And that's why we're working closely with our friends and allies on the appropriate response to what we believe is unwarranted, unjustifiable actions on Russia's behalf.

In relation to the bilateral relationship - Australia has already put on hold a visit from our Trade and Investment Minister to Moscow that was to take place last weekend. We have put on hold a visit from Russia's National Security Adviser and a delegation at the end of this month. We are reconsidering our work agenda with Russia as part of the troika in the lead up to the G20 but I'm not aware of us entering in to a defence agreement that was discussed last year but I'll defer to my defence colleague in that regard.

DAVID JOHNSTON: No I'm not aware either Julie, and I don't believe we've progressed that greatly since we participated in discussions around that.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Okay one more question.

Barbara Miller, Australian Broadcasting Corporation: To the Foreign Secretary first, there's all this talk of sanctions, you're continuing to condemn the referendum but it is going ahead and it looks like a foregone conclusion. What happens on Monday in your view, how do things progress there? And you've constantly emphasised the need for dialogue which Secretary Kerry has said he won't talk to Vladimir Putin at the moment, is that sending the right signal?

And to the Foreign Minister if I could Tony Abbott the now Prime Minister has talked of re-shifting the diplomatic focus to Jakarta. He was critical of the previous administration's focus on Europe and the US, we've heard today about the very strong relationship between the UK and Australia, has that stated policy aim been revised, has it been abandoned?

WILLIAM HAGUE: On Secretary Kerry, no one is more active and energetic on trying to promote a diplomatic solution to this and, indeed, dialogue with Russia than Secretary Kerry, and I've witnessed that myself very much and, and spoke to him last about twenty four hours ago about the continuing efforts to do this. We're in constant almost daily touch about it. He is trying to establish that further discussions with Russia are on a basis that is likely to make progress, he's not in the position of refusing to talk to Mr Putin he is trying to make sure there is a real basis for the discussions and, and there's a fair chance of making progress. That's what he and all of us are continuing to work on.

So that is the work we are now engaged in. We've set out at the European Council, the European Heads of Government did make clear the three stages of our response in, in the absence of such diplomatic progress. The first stage of the actions we've already taken in the G8 and the suspension of talks on visa liberalisation and on a new agreement between the European Union and Russia.

The second stage is what I was talking about earlier and that is what we would need to make decisions about in the near future, in the coming days as we've discussed earlier in terms of travel bans and asset freezes on individuals. And they have set out, the European Heads of Government, a third stage if Russia intensifies the crisis involving more far reaching measures including economic measures.

So that, that is our response and we will stick to that response but we will continue to make every effort as things stand this week to find a way forward for dialogue to bring Russian and Ukrainian leaders in to discussions and talks with each other and with all of us. That is, that's what our effort is focused on at this moment.

JULIE BISHOP Prime Minister Abbott's articulation of our foreign policy is "more Jakarta less Geneva" was in fact a reference to our preference for bilateral relationships, developing our relationships bilaterally rather than relying exclusively on multi-lateral organisations. We unambiguously focus our foreign policy assets, whether they be military and defence capability or economic and trade ties or diplomatic and, and development assistance activities on our region, the Indian Ocean, Asia Pacific. But as today's dialogue demonstrated we work in partnership with close friends and allies including the United Kingdom in our region and so many of the initiatives that we discussed today were, were about Australia - UK relations and cooperation in the Indian Ocean, Asia Pacific. Likewise with the United States, our alliance with the United States remains the bedrock of our security in Australia and long may that remain the case.

We work closely with the Five Eyes in terms of our intelligence cooperation, our security cooperation so it's not an "either - or" it's an "and - and" but our focus is very much on our region, our neighbourhood, it's where we can make the biggest difference.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Okay, thank you very much indeed.

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