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Minister for Defence returns from visit to Ethiopia and Poland.



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THE HON. JOEL FITZGIBBON MP Minister for Defence

www.defence.gov.au

Monday, 23 February 2009 019/2009

MINISTER FOR DEFENCE RETURNS FROM VISIT TO ETHIOPIA AND POLAND

The Minister for Defence, Mr Joel Fitzgibbon, has returned from a visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and a NATO meeting of Defence Ministers, held in Krakow, Poland.

The Minister used the NATO meeting to highlight Australia’s substantial contribution as a non-NATO partner and to once again call for more burden sharing and a greater focus on the marrying of the civil, political and military efforts in Afghanistan.

He also stressed the need to ensure non-NATO partners continue to have the opportunity to participate in Afghanistan planning meetings.

“It is important that all nations who deploy troops to Afghanistan have the opportunity to provide input into NATO strategic plans, review progress and explore future areas of cooperation.”

Among those in attendance were United States Secretary for Defense Robert Gates, Dutch Minister of Defence Eimert van Middelkoop, British Defence Secretary John Hutton, New Zealand Defence Minister Wayne Mapp, Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Afghan Minister for Defence General Abdul Rahim Wardak.

Mr Fitzgibbon’s meeting with Secretary Gates was the first at Ministerial level between the Australian Government and the new Obama administration.

“The meetings I had with our close partners were beneficial as always, and allowed us to discuss our common efforts in Afghanistan as well as a broad range of shared bilateral security issues,” said Mr Fitzgibbon.

“Australia welcomes increases in US forces in Afghanistan, and the elevation of Afghanistan as the US’s top military priority,” said Mr Fitzgibbon. “We look forward to continuing to engage with the US and other ISAF nations in assisting the development of a secure and stable Afghanistan.”

While in Poland Mr Fitzgibbon and Chief of the Australian Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston AC AFC, took the opportunity to visit the former Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz to pay their respects to the victims of the Holocaust.

“Auschwitz is a reminder to us all that we must be vigilant to protect our freedoms and liberties and never again allow tyranny to reap such a horrific toll,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

Mr Fitzgibbon also travelled to Addis Ababa and met with the Ugandan Minister for Defence, senior African Union representatives and Ambassadors to the AU from African nations.

Mr Fitzgibbon announced new Defence African engagement initiatives including a resident Defence Attaché, training in Australia for AU-nominated military officers as well as a symposium on peacekeeping co-hosted by the AU, the UN and Australia in Africa later this year.

“These initiatives are part of the Government’s commitment to deepen and broaden engagement with the African continent.” said Mr Fitzgibbon.

“This visit offered the opportunity to compare perspectives and discover areas of mutual interest where Australia and Africa can further cooperation and the sharing of expertise on peace and security matters.” said Mr Fitzgibbon.

Images will be made available on the Defence website at: http://www.defence.gov.au/media/download/2009/Feb/index.htm

Media contacts: Christian Taubenschlag (Joel Fitzgibbon): 02 6277 7800 or 0438 595 567 Defence Media Liaison: 02 6265 3343 or 0408 498 664