AUKMIN press conference with UK Secretary of Foreign Affairs Philip Hammond and UK Secretary of Defence Michael Fallon, Admiralty House, Sydney

  • Transcript, E&OE

JULIE BISHOP Good afternoon. I am absolutely delighted to confirm that the seventh AUKMIN meeting, the high-level ministerial meeting between the British Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary and Foreign Minister and Defence Minister from Australia has concluded and it has been a most productive and detailed discussion today. It certainly underscores that the relationship between the United Kingdom and Australia is effective, essential and enduring. And the range of topics we covered today demonstrates that this is not a relationship based just on history, but it is of contemporary relevance. We spoke in detail about foreign policy challenges, defence issues and security and intelligence matters, following on the bilateral meetings that we had respectively yesterday. Particularly, Foreign Secretary Hammond and I spoke about the trade and investment ties and other issues during our bilateral meeting yesterday.

We discussed in some detail the emerging threat of a form of terrorism that is more complicated, more diversified, more global, more dangerous than ever before. And we agreed that we face an epic battle with this strain of terrorism, not only as open liberal Western democracies, but as nation-states. And this threat of terrorism-in the form that we've seen – in ISIL or Daesh, Boko Haram and others have territorial ambitions yet respect no governments, no boundaries and no laws. They have no regard for humanity or civilised behaviour. We discussed our collective efforts in Iraq to work with the Iraqi government to defeat Daesh. We discussed our perspectives on countering violent extremism and what initiatives we can undertake, individually and collectively to counter extremism in all its forms and to ensure that those who seek to appropriate Islam for barbaric, violent purposes can be countered.

We also discussed Russia and its behaviour over Ukraine and our commitment to enforcing sanctions. We had a general discussion about the Asia-Pacific, the challenges and opportunities, and we welcome the United Kingdom's deeper involvement in our part of the world. We also discussed our Five Eyes arrangement and the need for a continuing exchange of information, experiences and intelligence. The Foreign Secretary and I signed a memorandum of understanding during the course of the day which relates to our shared diplomatic resources in times of crisis. It's what we do now. It was brought home to us in the aftermath of the downing of MH17 that where Australia didn't have diplomatic or consular representation we relied heavily on the United Kingdom. So we've now formalised an arrangement where we work even more closely with each other in times of crisis or conflict, or other emergencies.

Finally, I want to pay tribute to the British High Commissioner, Paul Madden, who has been to his fifth AUKMIN today. He came to Australia in 2011, he will be leaving shortly, and he has most certainly epitomised the strength and the depth of our relationship with the United Kingdom. I thank him for his contribution to our deep and enduring bilateral relationship.

PHILIP HAMMOND Thank you. Well, thank you Julie. And I'm delighted to be here in Sydney with the Defence Secretary for what is my fourth AUKMIN, although my first as Foreign Secretary. And I too would like to pay tribute to Paul Madden for his work here as British High Commissioner to Australia. His important work in cementing and building that close relationship that Julie has spoken about. I can say from the experience I've had over the last four years that this has been the most free-flowing and open of the AUKMIN dialogues that I have seen. Since we met last year for our AUKMIN talks in London, the work has seen the emergence of Daesh in Syria and Iraq and seen the brutal treatment that that organisation has inflicted on those that it controls. And our talks this year have taken place in the shadow of the brutal murder of two Japanese hostages and the recent appalling terrorist attacks in Paris, in Brussels, in Ottawa, and of course right here in Sydney.

And my visit to the Lindt Caf̩ this morning has really brought home to me, certainly, the fact that no city anywhere in the world Рnot London, not Paris, nor Sydney, is immune from the threat of global terrorism. As joint, core members of the anti-ISIL coalition both of us engaged in military action against Daesh in Iraq. The United Kingdom and Australia are determined to remain unflinching in our resolve to stand firm and to confront this poisonous ideology. These annual dialogues on foreign defence and security policy are an invaluable opportunity to turn our shared values and our coincidence of interest and our excellent close working relationship into concrete commitments and practical cooperation that will protect our people and promote global security. And we've taken stock today of the concrete work strands that we've set out in previous AUKMINs and assessed our progress against them, as well as setting ourselves some agenda items to work on over the next year.

Over this past year the UK and Australia have worked closely together in the United Nations Security Council and in the G20. Over the course of your Security Council membership, Australia has demonstrated international leadership, helping to shape global security, particularly in co-authoring the Security Council's first resolution on humanitarian access in Syria and also in securing discussion of the human rights situation in North Korea. And as permanent member of the Security Council, the UK will ensure that these excellent initiatives remain a focus of Security Council attention in the future. We've discussed today how we could build on our cooperation to address the range of challenges that we share and we've agreed on a set of practical steps which we will take together to counter terrorism in our own countries and overseas.

Finally, I'd just like to thank Julie Bishop and Kevin Andrews for hosting us today. I'd like to thank Prime Minister Abbott for hosting our working dinner last night and all of the Australian side for the extremely warm welcome that we've received, and for the strong personal commitment from all of them, a personal commitment which Michael and I share, to continue to take the partnership between our two countries from strength to strength. The world has become a more dangerous and uncertain place over the last few years. And with threats to the rules-based international order from both state and non-state actors, the collaboration between Britain and Australia, two countries which are separated by geography but joined closely by a shared history and shared values, that cooperation helps to keep the people of both our countries safe, secure and prosperous and that is a cooperation that we are determined to maintain and to build upon in the future.

KEVIN ANDREWS These discussions, both formally today and informally with Michael, the British Defence Secretary, yesterday when we visited the HMAS Canberra, have been invaluable for me, as Australia's new Defence Minister, because we are at a critical stage in terms of the development of our white paper concerning defence and this comes at a time when the UK is also developing its strategic defence and security review. So the opportunity to share insights in that process between both our nations, as I said, has been invaluable.

We've also discussed the increasing interoperability of our forces, something which is critical now and will be significantly critical in the future. And as both Phillip and Julie have said, the challenges that we face in common in a more uncertain world in which we live, particularly the challenges which we are both engaged militarily in the Middle East in fighting the Daesh death cult. It reminds me of the priorities that I have as the Defence Minister, and that is the priority for the security and stability of this nation and that we are in a critical situation in the world today. We are not alone in that and, as Philip said, this reaches out from other parts of the world – regrettably to the main streets of London and Sydney as we've seen in this country recently.

MICHAEL FALLON Well this is my first AUKMIN and let me repeat Philip's expression of gratitude for the hospitality we've received and particularly to Kevin Andrews for organising my visit to HMAS Canberra yesterday. There is already a robust and longstanding defence relationship between our two countries. There is increasing cooperation between our armed forces, we share intelligence, our armed forces exercise together and they exchange personnel. But we've worked today continuing to deepen that relationship and let me just pick out three points from that.

First, as Kevin said, there is the coincidence – the literal coincidence – of our two defence reviews. Ours is due to begin shortly after the general election and your own white paper here. There is plenty of scope for us to examine together the risks we both face, the ambitions we have as nations to contribute to international order and indeed, to improve defence productivity. Second, we discussed defence procurement, including some of the complex weapons programs and again, we are both looking to renew our frigate fleets and we both have similar challenges in maintaining the flow of work to our naval shipyards and improving productivity. And thirdly, we've agreed to work to identify further opportunities in innovation and technology as the apply to defence, to see what more products can be developed between us and how we can put the brain power that we share to the cause of more efficient defence.

JULIE BISHOP Now, our friends do have some time constraints – we are prepared to take two questions each, but the shorter the question, the shorter the answer, the more likelihood that we can do two. The longer the question, the longer the answer, the fewer there will be.

JOURNALIST Are you able to explain – give us a little more detail on what you're actually planning to do in terms of cooperation on frigates, for instance? Has that progressed? And – Ms Bishop, we've got to throw in a domestic question, but do you…

JULIE BISHOP Do you get two questions? So that's one of my questions and that's one to Kevin. I'm just keeping track here.

JOURNALIST Well I'll let one of my colleagues ask the second question.

KEVIN ANDREWS Look, we're at very early stages in terms of the Future Frigate program. Obviously there are a range of options. What we need to ensure is that wherever the vessel is built - and I'm not making any definitive statement about that future – that we have vessels which will suit our needs. Given that the life of such a vessel is 30, 40 years or so, then we must go about this process in a careful, cautious way to try and assess all of the risks that are involved and come up with the best product that will meet the capability requirements that our Navy has.

JOURNALIST Are you leaving the way open to cooperation with the British on the [indistinct] frigates?

KEVIN ANDREWS Look, we – as I said, we are looking at a range of options in relation to this. This is very, very early days and I'm not making any announcement whatsoever in terms of what we might decide in the future, because we are still some way off from collecting all the facts, let alone making a decision.

JOURNALIST The Islamic State is now recruiting actively in Afghanistan. We're all leaving Afghanistan, in terms of our large numbers of troops. Do you think that it's likely that IS will take a hold in Afghanistan and if so, what should we be doing to counter that? And my second part is about the Ukraine and the weapons flow from the United States to the Ukraine. Does Australia and the US support – does Australia and the UK support that flow of weapons and will you be getting involved in that in any way, shape or form?

JULIE BISHOP Well I'll take the ISIL one, because I've just come back from Afghanistan – and Philip, perhaps if you take the Ukraine question. I have just returned from a visit to Afghanistan and I was made aware of the fact that there is some evidence of a connection being made between ISIL or Daesh and some extreme elements of Taliban, but there isn't a great deal of evidence that ISIL has a presence in Afghanistan. But there is the concern that should ISIL turn its attentions away from Iraq and Syria, there is an element of the Taliban that would be receptive to its brutal ideology. We are aware of it. The Coalition is aware of it. Most importantly, the Afghan Government is aware of it and is doing what it can to bolster the capacity of the Afghan Security Forces to counter terrorism in all its forms.

But it does indicate the insidious and dangerous and complex nature of this strain of terrorism, that can go across boundaries that sees a theatre of conflict across nation states, which is why both Foreign Secretary Hammond and I have talked about this issue in terms of it being a threat to our rules-based international system. These non-state actors have no regard for governments of any form – not just democracies, but any nation-state composition. So, we are certainly conscious of the need to contain, disrupt and degrade – and ultimately defeat – ISIL, Daesh, wherever it exists. That's why our focus is so much on Iraq, currently working with the Iraqi Government. The fact that there are tentacles reaching towards Afghanistan just doubles our resolve to defeat ISIL.

PHILIP HAMMOND Yeah, just briefly on ISIL, this is a generational struggle and although the focus at the moment is on Iraq and Syria, we should be prepared to see manifestations of extremist Islamism, violent, extremist Islamism popping up all over the place and we've got to be prepared to deal with them wherever they emerge, wherever they show their head. On the question of arms to the Ukraine - to Government of Ukraine, that's for each individual country to make a decision on. The US is entitled to make its own decision. The UK's position is that we supply non-lethal equipment to the Ukrainian Armed Forces but we are not currently supplying lethal equipment to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

JULIE BISHOP That's the same position for Australia. We've provided non-lethal equipment and resources – a proportionate amount to Ukraine.

JOURNALIST Foreign Minister Bishop, if I can ask the domestic question, the Prime Minister in his Press Club address has just said that the Government will be cracking down on Hizb ut-Tahrir. Do you know what that means? Is that means that Hizb ut-Tahrir has been put on an ASIO watch list or will it go further than that? Did you meet with the Prime Minister last night, did he ask you not to challenge for the leadership and did you give that assurance?

JULIE BISHOP In relation to Hizb ut-Tahrir, we are determined to expose terrorism, to list terrorist organisations where we have the evidence to do so. Indeed Australia has been very active, not only as a temporary member of the Secretary Council over the past two years but under our own criminal laws to list terrorist organisations. We will pursue the financers, we will seek to disrupt the financial flows and we will seek to disrupt the flow of people – particularly Australian citizens – who are attracted to this brutal, barbaric ideology, an ideology that wants to take us back to the Dark Ages. So I - as Foreign Minister - have the power to cancel, suspend passports or not issue passports. I have the power to declare certain areas off limits unless someone has a legitimate reason for being there, for example, Al-Raqqah Province, which is essentially the headquarters for ISIL and we are doing what we can to protect Australians overseas, in Australia from the scourge of terrorism.

In relation to my meetings with the Prime Minister, yes we had a delightful meeting last night. In fact, they [Defence Minister Kevin Andrews and British counterparts] were all there over dinner. As for any private conversations between the Prime Minister and me, I don't reveal the details of private conversations I have with any leaders, let alone my own Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST Can we just go back to Ukraine, is there not a shift in policy or potential shift in policy, the US seems to be moving toward, perhaps, supplying arms to the Ukraine forces?

MICHAEL FALLON Well, let me try and deal with that. The Foreign Secretary made the British Government's position absolutely clear, that we're not currently supplying lethal equipment that would intensify the conflict. Obviously, we keep this under review. What we have been supplying is protective equipment, personal protective equipment and other aids like that whether field dressings or night goggles and so on.

JOURNALIST What about defensive weaponry, though – that's what the US is talking about – defensive weaponry, through NATO, into that area.

MICHAEL FALLON The Foreign Secretary just explained that every country makes its own decisions on exactly what it supplies. What we're not supplying is lethal equipment. We have been and will go on supplying equipment for personal protection that is not lethal.

JULIE BISHOP Okay, thank you ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for your time.

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