Joint Press Conference with UK Secretary for Defence, the Rt Hon Michael Fallon – HMAS Canberra Sunday – 1 February 2015

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a great delight to be here on the HMAS Canberra with my British counterpart the Secretary for Defence, Michael Fallon, who’s out here in Australia with the British Foreign Minister for the annual Auckmin discussions which are going to take place in Sydney formally tomorrow.

But a great opportunity for both of us to look at the Canberra, this is the largest ship in the Australian Navy. To give you a comparison our last aircraft carrier was about 20,000 tonnes this is about 27,000 tonnes. So this is a very large ship, it’s in the final stages in terms of being ready for operability and going through various series of trials so I thank the Fleet Commander and the Captain of the ship for giving us some time to be able to look around it today.

The talks tomorrow are important because we have these talks annually; there is a long term, very warm and close relationship between Australia and the United Kingdom and this is something that these talks will continue to foster into the future. We have a formal treaty so far as defence is concerned which was signed about a year ago, but we’ve got interests in different parts of the world, in the Middle East in the fight against Daesh and this sort of vessel will be important in the future for us and for those around the world that we operate with as well. So it’s a great opportunity to have the Defence Secretary here and to be able to look at the newest ship in the Australian fleet and I’ll ask Michael to say a few words.

SECRETARY FALLON:

Well thank you very much and my words are simple, I’m impressed to see a ship of this capability and this adaptability. Our two countries navies already work closely together but we’re both modernising our navies and both investing in the future to make sure we have the adaptable platforms that we need. Australia as ever is slightly ahead of us but we’ve got a couple of carriers under construction to catch up and this visit has given me the opportunity to discuss with my Australian counterpart how we can work more closely together in modernising our maritime capabilities. We both face the challenge of ensuring a flow of work to our respective shipyards and improving the productivity of our shipyards and there’s plenty to talk about as we both prepare out defence papers our reviews during this year.

We’ve also discussed security cooperation, what more we can do together. We worked together on humanitarian relief operations in the past but the terrorist outrage in Sydney, and the savage murder, apparent murder of a Japanese hostage are a very stark reminder that the threats we face are global but they’re also increasingly in this region too. And I look forward to deepening our cooperation through more defence engagement together and to improving the communications work our security agencies do together and to ensuring that we stand side by side with Australia in helping to secure the stability of this region.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Now any questions about the visit?

QUESTION:

Of the things you mentioned in the priority list what would be the biggest priority for the talks starting tomorrow (inaudible)?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Look there are a number of issues we have in common; I mentioned the Middle East and we’ve both obviously got operations there. There’s the continued threat of terrorism not just in the Middle East but elsewhere around the world. We’ve regrettably shared some of those in terms of instances which happened sadly in both of our countries. If the reports are confirmed about the Japanese hostage then obviously that’s a continuation and a problem in that regard and if that’s the case then we obviously send our condolences to the people of Japan in this regard as well.

Interoperability of our forces is something which is quite important and that’s why a visit like this to this vessel gives us some insights into those things, so we’ll be informed by all of that in terms of general defence issues, security issues and the broader foreign relations issues.

SECRETARY FALLON:

Yes, I mean the growing; the terrorism in the Middle East will obviously be a huge part of the talks tomorrow. How we combat the Daesh and taking stock of the enormous contribution Australia is making in the Middle East as we are in support of the Coalition there.

But we’ll also, I hope, spend some time talking about the growing aggression from Russia that we’ve seen. We’ve seen Russian ships down here; we’ve had Russian aircraft been flown up the Channel this week so we’ll be, Russia of course is an Asian power as well as a European power so we’ll be spending some time on that.

And also some of the nuts and bolts about how we can deepen our defence cooperation, particularly in the field of defence technology and what collaborative research we might be able to do together.

QUESTION:

On a slightly different topic Secretary Fallon, we’ve got the anniversary of Anzac this year. What will be the UK’s involvement in those commemorations?

SECRETARY FALLON:

Well we’ve announced plans for a special commemorative service in London to mark it, we do mark that every year but this will be a very special service that’s already been planned and of course we’ll make sure that we are fully represented at services in Canberra and Wellington and indeed out on the peninsula out in Gallipoli.

QUESTION:

So there’ll be a representative of the UK Government at Gallipoli Cove would you expect?

SECRETARY FALLON:

Yes.

QUESTION:

You both talked about the efficiency of shipbuilding, it’s a very vexed issue here in Australia. Minister this morning the Opposition Leader said that Canberra needed to hear that Australians want submarines built in Australia is that a message the Government has heard?

MINISTER:

Well I can say in discussions so far with Secretary Fallon that we face many similar issues in terms of ensuring that we have the ships that we need in the future, how you maintain a shipbuilding industry is a challenge not just for Australia but it’s one which is shared by other countries around the world including the UK. As you know we are working through a process in relation to the submarines and we will continue to work through that. I’m taking a cautious, careful approach to it and when I’ve got you know all the facts on the table then we’ll be able to have a discussion at the National Security Committee and proceed from there.

QUESTION:

How long can we go on without a decision on this, this is causing a huge amount of damage to the Government?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well the damage really comes from the previous government not having made decisions in the past and that’s why we’ve got a vacuum there in terms of what happens when the current destroyer program comes to an end. This is a long timeframe in terms of actually not just deciding on what submarine but then the design of it which will suit our conditions here in the Southern Hemisphere in particular and then the whole building programme that goes into it. So the main thing is that we’re aware of what the capability needs of the navy are and more generally the defence forces in Australia, because there’s the connection between all arms of the defence force, this vessel is a great example of that. But we’ve also got to do it in a way which we get the decision right in terms of the defence of the country. So as I said it’s better to take a little bit more time and get the decision right rather than rushing into something which given the life of any of these vessels which is 30 to 40 years or so that you make a mistake about and as I said I’m going to take a careful, cautious approach and that’s the approach of the Government generally.

QUESTION:

Talking of the destroyer program and what comes thereafter, I believe the UK is working on a frigate programme that is more advanced than ours. Is there a potential stopgap here to perhaps have some of that programme incorporated here in Australia to give our shipbuilders something to do if you like when the air warfare destroyer programme finishes?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Look it’s too early to give any clear indications on that, as I said we’ve got to have all the facts on the table, these are complex matters and we’ll look at them very carefully in terms of where we go in the future. I’m aware that there’s a programme with a new vessel which I think is about three or four years away from completion in the UK and we’ll be having discussions about that. But having said that, that’s not to foreshadow any particular decision or any particular direction that we will take, it will be part of the fact finding exercise.

QUESTION:

Secretary do you have any comment about your frigate programme and how it might work with shipbuilding here in Australia?

SECRETARY FALLON:

We’re at the very early stages of replacing our type 23 frigates with a new generation of ships. We’re proposing a global combat ship it has a hull that is we think one of the quietest around in terms of (inaudible) warfare. That’s a ship that can be built anywhere in the world, it can be built in Australia as well as in Britain. But look these are matters for the Australian Government, it’s for the Australian Government to take its decisions and we have not ourselves yet taken final decisions on the shape of that frigate replacement and we’re going to do so in the next few weeks.

QUESTION:

Just a political question for you if I may, you’d be aware of the ruckus distractions at the moment if you like surrounding the current Government, is that going to be a distraction during these talks would you think? (Inaudible)

SECRETARY FALLON:

You’re not going to draw me into discussions of domestic politics in Australia.

Ends