William Hague: Well good morning ladies and gentlemen. Over the last two days we have conducted the meetings we know as AUKMIN which are detailed substantive consultation between Britain's and Australia's Foreign and Defence Ministers and we're very grateful to Kevin Rudd and to Stephen Smith for travelling here with such a senior delegation and for the excellent tenor of the talks that we've held.
We believe close consultation between Britain and Australia has never been more important and I think I can confidently say, and that we would all agree, that our approach to world affairs has seldom been more in step with each other. Our countries are strategic and global allies. We share democratic values and the will and the determination to play a leading role in world affairs. Our membership of the Commonwealth means we're not just allies, we're also family. But while this is a partnership rooted in history it's also relentlessly forward-looking and practical which is why we attach such importance to it in the British Government.
Australia's neighbourhood is of growing importance in world affairs and we particularly appreciate Australia's understanding of the Asia Pacific region and of the emerging powers, just as I know Kevin and Stephen and their colleagues appreciate our leading role in the foreign policy discussions of the European Union.
Our talks reflected our interests and priorities over the next decade. Yesterday the European Union agreed to a phased ban on the import of Iranian oil and action against Iran's Central Bank. This is a significant increase, a major increase, in the peaceful, legitimate pressure on the Iranian Government to return to negotiations over its nuclear programme. Until it does so, the pressure will only increase, and Britain and Australia share the same sense of resolve about that.
We've discussed cooperation in the Asia Pacific. We share close views about the development of the region and we discuss it regularly among ourselves and with our mutual ally, the United States of America. We have a valuable information sharing relationship which is critical to our security and this morning Kevin and I have signed a new agreement which will increase this area of our cooperation.
We exchanged views on cyber security following last year's London conference on cyber space. We explored how better to protect our Governments, our industry and our national infrastructure from cyber attacks and how we can work with others to mitigate cyber threats while championing human rights and the social and economic benefits of the internet. And both our countries are committed to developing our partnership in the cyber arena.
We've discussed preparations for the London conference on Somalia next month and later today we will also discuss the situation in Nigeria where we condemn the appalling acts of terrorism and stand behind the Nigerian Government and people. We've agreed to work closely on the Arab Spring including assistance to countries in transition to more open, democratic Government. We support the work of the Arab League in Syria and both our countries believe the United Nations Security Council has a responsibility to speak out and will work to that end.
We looked ahead to the important NATO summit in Chicago as the next milestone in the transition of security in Afghanistan to Afghan control and we discussed our bilateral ties and I'm pleased that British exports to Australia increased by thirty per cent in the first ten months of last year and we'll take every opportunity to build on this success.
The deep trust at the heart of our relationship will be reflected at the meeting of our National Security Council later today which both visiting Ministers will attend and fully participate in. And I thank them both for the energy and friendship and intellectual rigour that they have brought to our discussions and for the many areas where we have agreed we will work more closely this year. And I'm delighted to hand over the floor to Kevin Rudd.
Kevin Rudd: Thank you very much William and to our British colleagues for being such excellent hosts for this the fourth AUKMIN meeting here in London.
AUKMIN, this ministerial meeting between Australia and the United Kingdom, reflects a fundamental transformation in the Australia-UK relationship. Once this relationship was narrow and limited to our respective wider regions; Asia and the Pacific and here in Europe. Now it is, indeed, broad partly reflective of this age of globalisation where we find our values and our interests intersecting right across the world.
Australia sees itself as a middle power with global interests, a middle power with regional interests in the Asia Pacific region, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean itself. Britain is a major power with global interests and, of course, profoundly engaged in the affairs of Europe. What underpins the success of this relationship is in fact our common values and our common interests and these extend across the many areas in which we are engaged.
It's reflected in the scope of the discussions that we have had in the last forty eight hours. Through our collaboration through the United Nations, our activities with our common ally the United States, our work together in Afghanistan, of course our common concerns with the challenge of cyber security into the future as well as new areas of cooperation right across the needs of developing countries, common development projects in countries as diverse as Pakistan, Bangladesh, right across Africa and elsewhere across the world including the Caribbean.
Of course we also find ourselves engaged deeply with recent developments in the wider Middle East. Of course we observe developments in Syria seriously, we are deeply concerned about Iran and, of course, we wait for outcomes concerning political developments through the Arab Spring.
In these most recent deliberations we have focused on a number of particular areas as well. We in Australia believe that we should be confident about Europe's economic future. As a visitor to this conference, this continent, I often find people disappearing into tunnels of despair, Europe we believe has a robust economic future and the current difficulties can be overcome.
Secondly, on recent British and wider European diplomacy and international diplomacy on Iran important decisions were taken yesterday morning, in Brussels. As far as EU sanctions against Iran are concerned, those concerning oil and other measures, I would confirm today that the Government of Australia formally and fully supports the range of these sanctions which have been announced in Brussels. We believe this is the right course of action, we believe that for the simple reason that the Iranian nuclear weapons program is fundamentally de-stabilising not just for the wider Middle East and the Gulf States but also for the wider world.
I would commend British diplomacy in relation to Burma. The recent visit there by the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, is fundamentally important to bringing Burma in from the cold. I visited Burma myself in June -July of last year. It is important that our two countries, our two democracies work together in providing the supports necessary to underpin continued political liberalisation in that country, the continued release of political prisoners and the continued democratic transformation of that country. Much work remains to be done but I believe the Foreign Secretary's visit has been an important and major global step in that direction.
Finally, the Foreign Secretary mentioned the upcoming British initiative concerning Somalia and the international conference which is planned to be convened here in London next month. Again we commend this piece of international diplomacy by the United Kingdom. We in Australia will be supporting this initiative. We are currently among the top five humanitarian donors to the food crisis in the Horn of Africa but the fundamental political problems which underpin the security challenges in the Horn of Africa need to be addressed as well. Not simply through measures which we take in common endeavour on the question of piracy but more broadly on the security challenges we face in the Horn as well.
I conclude by saying this. The Australian engagement with both the United Kingdom and with Europe has changed fundamentally in the last several years. Not just the deepening of this relationship with the United Kingdom but also in my recent visit to France, the upgrade of our partnership with the Government of France to that of Strategic Partnership and discussions I had at the Quay D'Orsay with Foreign Minister Jupee only a few days ago. And I travel here, from here in to London to Germany for discussions with Foreign Minister Westerwelle. Also we are engaged in the formalisation and finalisation of a treaty relationship with the European Union, matters I discussed with President Van Rompuy when I was in Brussels only a few days ago.
This reflects our overall view that Australia sees great value in our wider partnership with Europe and the common challenges we face in to the future anchored, of course, in this important relationship with the United Kingdom. William thank you for your hospitality.
William Hague: Thank you Kevin. Next Philip.
Philip Hammond: Thank you. Well good morning. I'm delighted to have been able to welcome Ministers Smith and Rudd to London to continue the AUKMIN bilateral dialogue. This is a standing event in our bilateral calendars but one which has been reinvigorated under the Coalition as the Foreign Secretary has said with a broader focus than we have enjoyed in recent years.
From a defence perspective we enjoy substantial ties between our two nations and between our Armed Forces. Intelligence is shared, we exchange personnel, we cooperate on international training initiatives and in areas such as science and technology and, increasingly, the new frontier of defence; cyber. We are both members of the Five Powers Defence Arrangements in South East Asia.
This year's AUKMIN dialogue has been useful and productive, we've covered a lot of ground and I think it's been testimony as well to the strength and depth of our relationship and the understanding of context that both sides have. Our discussions have included Afghanistan post the 2014 cessation of combat operations where both countries are committed to signalling our resolve to continue to support the Afghan National Security Forces as they take over the burden of maintaining security in Afghanistan. The wider contemporary security challenges such as the consequences of the Arab Spring, the piracy challenges off the Horn of Africa and, increasingly, the cyber challenges that we face, again areas where we have a shared view in so many areas.
We've also had an opportunity to discuss areas for potential equipment cooperation and to share our experiences of defence equipment procurement, an area of great importance to both countries as we try to get the maximum defence output from fixed budgets.
The global shift in emphasis towards and the importance of the Asia Pacific region has been high on our agenda and also the growing importance of the Indian Ocean. Today Stephen and I are going to visit some of our defence industry partners on the south coast and we will see sections of the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier taking shape and look at the innovative block construction technique. The carrier's being constructed in different sections in different yards around the UK and will then be taken by barge to Rosyth where it will be finally assembled.
We continue to seek new ways in which we can enhance what is a robust and long standing relationship and Stephen and I have been discussing the finalisation of the Australia UK Defence Treaty and we look forward to signing that treaty later this year. The treaty will formalise the many strands of existing military and defence cooperation, it will provide a framework for doing more and it will ensure that the bilateral relationship continues to evolve in line with contemporary security challenges.
That treaty will drive forward closer cooperation on a wide range of issues making our forces more interoperable and maximising their capabilities.
The AUKMIN process underpins what is a very strong defence relationship between our two countries and I look forward to the defence treaty giving further strength and structure to it as we take that relationship forward in the future. Thank you.
William Hague: Thank you. Stephen.
Stephen Smith: Well thank you very much William and can I start by thanking you and Philip for your hospitality. Everyone sees the long standing, historical, cultural, people to people and commercial relationship between Australia and the United Kingdom but not enough appreciate the strength and the depth and the long standing nature of our strategic defence, national security and intelligence partnership. AUKMIN reflects that very much. It's been my great pleasure to be involved in three AUKMINs in Leeds, in Sydney and now in London and I echo William's remark that these are bilateral discussions that take place with great rigour, great depth and with great friendship and very much a shared set of values and a shared view of the world.
I'm also very pleased to indicate that we've agreed that next year, consistent with the undertaking that we gave in Sydney that AUKMIN would now become an annual event, that next year's AUKMIN will take place in Perth. Whilst that's important to me as the member for Perth it also underlines the fact that part of our discussions on this occasion have centred on the rise of the Asia Pacific, which is not just the rise of China but the rise of India, the rise of the ASEAN economies combined and the ongoing importance of Japan and the Republic of Korea. So meeting in Perth, Australia's Indian Ocean capital, will give us the opportunity to pursue further discussions on our mutual interests in the Indian Ocean including piracy.
As both William and Philip have indicated we also discussed in detail Afghanistan. This will be a most important six months for Afghanistan in the lead up to the Chicago Summit. We are of the view that we are on track to effect transition to Afghan National Security Force lead responsibility in Uruzgan province – where we are – by 2014 or earlier and we continue to believe it's very important that at this stage in the process we focus very much on the post 2014 transition arrangements.
Part of the very close working relationship that we now have between, between the United Kingdom and Australia, which Philip has referred to particularly in terms of our work on a treaty to bring all of these cooperative arrangements under one heading, is in the very important area of cyber. We agreed in Sydney that we would maximise our bilateral relationship and joint working efforts on cyber and that continues and is at a very high level and later today I'll pursue discussions with senior UK officials so far as cyber is concerned.
As Philip has indicated later today he and I will go to Portsmouth to look at some capability issues. The aircraft carrier that is being constructed is being constructed essentially on the same model that our air warfare destroyers are being constructed; block by block and then pieced together. So there are shared experiences that we can have on the capability, acquisition, maintenance and sustainment front and in the last couple of days I've pursued discussions with defence industry in the United Kingdom about some of our interests in amphibious heavy lift, in air warfare destroyers, landing helicopter docks and also submarines.
But Philip and I are very confident that we can enhance the close practical working arrangement that we have on capability, procurement and sustainment issues. As all three Ministers have said we regard the AUKMIN talks as a most invaluable contribution to the relationship. We deal with the array of strategic security and, and defence and foreign affairs issues and this has been a most productive AUKMIN session following on as it did from the successful Sydney session and I look forward to hosting the colleagues in Perth next year.
William Hague: Thank you, very good. So we have time for five or ten minutes of questions. If any one has any questions Carl will supervise who's going to ask them. Reuters yes.
Journalist: (Indistinct) Reuters. Question for, for all of the Ministers. Is there any likelihood of future joint defence projects between the UK and Australia as Australia rebuilds its military, specifically on the Type 26 frigate, was that discussed? And, secondly, Mr Rudd said that Australia supported the ban on Iranian oil but, but will Australia follow suit and impose a ban on imports of Iranian oil?
William Hague: Do you want to take the defence question first (indistinct)?
Philip Hammond: Well I think the reality is that we're all trying to work with constrained budgets and we're also all trying to put back in its box the myth that defence procurement always runs over budget and over programme. And we will look to cooperate together where we have experiences and technologies that can contribute to each other's programmes and certainly on Type 26 it's one of the areas that we will want to discuss whether there is scope for collaboration that, that there is some difference in timing between our own needs and the Australian needs but we think there is possibly scope for looking at the options for collaboration in that project.
Stephen Smith: Well I echo those, those remarks. It's really at two levels. Firstly, is there, are there any future procurements of capability which we might be able to do jointly and that depends on a range of exigencies as Philip has referred to. But, secondly, sharing our experiences on acquisition, on maintenance, on sustainment and making sure that those processes are more effective and more efficient. We are not alone in being subject to budget constraints and financial and fiscal difficulties so we need to maximise the effectiveness and the efficiencies of defence procurement, maintenance and sustainment and there is a lot of shared experience that we have, both in terms of respective reform programmes which we're pursuing but also the day to day effectiveness and efficiency of those arrangements.
William Hague: And on the oil issue Kevin?
Kevin Rudd: On the question of Iran let me be absolutely clear. The actions taken in Brussels yesterday on sanctions by the European Union we in Australia will undertake precisely the same parallel action for Australia. It is not just that we endorse the actions taken in Brussels for Europe we, of course, will do the same for Australia.
And finally on that the reason is very clear, the message needs to be delivered to the people of Iran, the wider political elites of Iran as well as the Government of Iran that their behaviour is globally unacceptable. And the material impact on sanctions taken to date by Australia in relation to Iran, our exports to Iran have declined massively in recent times. So this is not a piece of idle philanthropy on the part of Australian foreign policy, this costs but is a cost worth paying.
William Hague: So a very good example of how closely we work together and how closely we see world affairs, our perspective on world affairs has come together. Next question Carl?
Journalist: Secretary Hague just noted that as Britain acknowledges Australia's standing in its region Mr Rudd how do you think that standing may be affected if Australia adopts a policy of turning around all refugee ships at sea?
Kevin Rudd: Well this invites a question concerning Australian domestic politics and policy and our foreign policy engagement with the United Kingdom. We believe that the policy, as I understand it articulated by the Leader of the Opposition in Australia is unworkable and unacceptable and we base that on the solid advice of the Royal Australian Navy and other relevant institutions of state.
Secondly on the question of border security more broadly Australia is not Robinson Crusoe, you spend some time here in Europe every European jurisdiction faces parallel problems of one form or another. Speak to any Minister responsible for border security in any of the Mediterranean states you will find that parallel debates are had. These are complex and difficult issues requiring therefore well thought through, integrated policy responses not knee jerk reactions of a populist nature.
Stephen Smith: Can I just simply draw your attention to the evidence given by the Chief of Navy at the last Senate Estimates hearings which make it crystal clear the policy position which Mr Abbott says he will pursue will only lead to rescue at sea operations, will only have the effect of putting asylum seekers and Australian seamen and seawomen at risk. It shows very, very bad judgement.
William Hague: Next question.
William Hague: Well on Syria we, of course we're disappointed that the Assad regime will not do the sensible thing. The plan put forward by the Arab League was a good plan, I commend the Arab League for the leadership they have shown on this but since that plan would involve a power sharing Government, a new arrangement without President Assad well then that's not something that President Assad is currently agreeable to. We hope he will change his mind. We have said since last August that he has lost all credibility and should leave power.
So we, in support of the work of the Arab League we will continue to intensify as much as we can the pressure on the Assad regime. As you know several months ago we brought in an EU oil embargo on Syria, we added further sanctions on Syria yesterday, a further twenty two individuals and eight entities were added to the designations under our Syrian sanctions. We do think it is overdue for the UN Security Council to speak out and as you know with our EU colleagues we've put forward a resolution on the 4th October which was vetoed by Russia and China, I think that was a mistake on their part.
While we have seen no indication yet that they're ready to revise that opinion I hope in due course the Arab League will explain the situation to the United Nations and ask the United Nations Security Council to pass an appropriate resolution that will assist towards saving lives in Syria and ending this appalling situation.
Kevin do you want to comment on that?
Kevin Rudd: Just briefly William. I met in Paris last week with the President of the Syrian National Council and discussed the unfolding humanitarian disaster in that country. The United Nations estimates that five thousand people have already been killed, of course international verification of larger numbers is very difficult but we follow these developments with acute concern.
Secondly we've supported the diplomatic initiative by the Arab League, it has been framed seriously by members of the League, the view not just to engaging the Assad regime but finding a way through. It is in my judgement appalling that the Assad regime has chosen to reject comprehensively what has been put to them by the Arab League in good faith.
I reinforce and fully support the statements just made now by Secretary Hague on the absolute importance of the UN Security Council being briefed by the Arab League on what they have found with a view to the UN Security Council taking appropriate action to protect Syrian civilians. Each day whatever capital we meet in, whatever discussions we have about whatever aspect of the Syrian challenge let us remember by the end of that day more people, more people will lie dead than did the previous day. This is an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe and the UN Security Council ultimately must face its responsibilities.
William Hague: And on the military question Philip?
Philip Hammond: Yes, the UK maintains a warship on patrol in the Gulf area and has done effectively since the 1980s. At the weekend we took the opportunity of HMS Argyle's presence in the Gulf of Oman to join the US carrier task group, the Abraham Lincoln carrier task group together with a French warship as it passed through the Straits of Hormuz to send a clear signal about the resolve of the international community to defend the right of free passage through international waters.
We also maintain mine counter measures vessels in the Gulf which are an important part of the overall allied presence there and, of course, the UK has a contingent capability to reinforce that presence should, at any time, it be considered necessary to do so.
William Hague: Okay thank you. We've got time, the Cabinet meeting starts in eight minutes so the Defence Secretary and I are going to have to be a bit quick now. We've got time for one more quick question.
Journalist: Firstly Minister Rudd how much, if any, does Australia rely on Iranian oil and to Mr Hague will there be any safeguards for Greece given it was relying heavily on discounts of Iranian oil and is now back in the free market?
Kevin Rudd: On the question of our own imports of Iranian oil they have been, they have become negligible over time.
William Hague: And on the question about Greece one of the reasons we agreed to a phased introduction of the embargo yesterday, of course with the Greek Foreign Minister taking part in our deliberations, was because of the existing commitments of Greece and one or two other countries. That's why we have said the 1st July for the phasing out of the purchasing of Iranian oil. That does gives Greece some time to adjust, we would have preferred a faster timetable, it was partly in recognition of the difficulties of Greece that we've agreed to a five month phase in.
So that, that's our principle way of assisting with Greece. If Greece has further difficulties after that with the purchase of the necessary quantities of oil then, of course, we and other countries will stand ready to help.
Okay thank you very much indeed.
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