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Tuesday, 2 September 2014
Page: 9388

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (14:08): My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Will the minister please outline why we have been invited by NATO members to become an enhanced partner? What advantages will this bring to Australia and to Australians?

Ms JULIE BISHOP (CurtinMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:08): I thank the member for Herbert for his question, and I recognise the interest of his electorate in defence and international security matters. Tomorrow, the defence minister and I will travel to Wales to attend the NATO summit, and I can confirm that Australia will be accepting a formal invitation to become what is called an enhanced partner at the NATO leaders' summit this week. This is a rare honour for our nation and our defence forces and is in recognition of the constructive role that Australia has played, particularly in relation to Afghanistan.

The enhanced partnership means that Australia will continue higher-level engagement with NATO in terms of capability, exercises and consultations. This has the potential to bring ongoing benefits to our defence forces and our strategic considerations, which are always in our national interest. Australia will continue to maintain its autonomy, of course, in deciding the extent and character of our engagement in future NATO-led operations. Our strengthened relationship with NATO reflects not only the trust that our international partners have in our country, but also our shared goals in seeking a peaceful and stable international order. Australia's relationship with NATO has strengthened substantially over the past decade through Australia's participation in NATO's longest-ever mission, the ISAF mission in Afghanistan. Australia has proven itself, time and again, to be a reliable and capable partner in these activities.

As this mission draws down, the international security environment remains highly volatile. It is therefore in Australia's security interests to remain engaged with the world's most powerful political-military organisation. Our enhanced partner opportunities will allow us to consolidate our existing cooperation. While the focus of the NATO leaders' summit is of course on Afghanistan and the scenario post 2014, I also expect that the summit will be an opportunity for the leaders and foreign ministers of countries represented there to discuss the current circumstances in Syria and Iraq, and Russia's behaviour in eastern Ukraine.

I have spoken with Secretary of State John Kerry this morning. We have discussed a range of matters involving the increasing security risks facing not only our country but other countries in the region, and the NATO summit will be an opportunity for us to discuss our response—the clear and proportionate role that Australia can play in responding to a number of the crises that are currently facing the partners of NATO and its supportive countries, and that includes Australia as an enhanced partner.