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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 2444

Defence Exercises

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:20): My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Carr. Minister, have you been briefed on, and what can you tell the Senate about, the foreign affairs implications of the biggest operational addition to the Australia-US alliance since the 1980s, the stationing of 2½ thousand US Marines at Robertson Barracks in Darwin on permanent rotation for joint training and military exercises, a deployment which I understand will commence within a matter of weeks?

Senator BOB CARR (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:20): The senator is correct. The initial rotation of up to 250 US Marine Corps personnel is scheduled to arrive in Northern Australia in early April. Over a six-month period that initial rotation is expected to undertake bilateral training in Australia with the Australian Defence Force and to engage with countries in the region.

I have to say that the response from our neighbours has been muted or supportive. The Senate would be aware of comments by the Indonesian President, who expressed sympathy with the proposal and even ventured the suggestion that the training exercises be expanded to include other nations in the region; I think he nominated China. You might recall that at the 2 + 2 meeting last week it was an Indonesian suggestion that the US presence and our own forces be used in disaster management exercises, again with a suggestion that other nations in the region—Indonesia, China—be involved in that. I remember the response to the announcement in November last year. I was not here then. I was not the minister then. I was, as the House might recall, an idle blogger, posting my comments—

Senator Abetz interjecting

Senator BOB CARR: It is all ancient history now.

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator BOB CARR: If you are concerned with what I said, it is your option at question time, any day in this Senate, to ask me a question about it. I have not had one from them.

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator Ludlam: Mr President, I rise on a point of order going to relevance. I ask that the foreign minister return to the substance of the question.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order. The minister is answering the question. The minister has 20 seconds remaining.

Senator BOB CARR: I was very attentive to the question of my colleague Senator Ludlam. I think my colleagues would confirm that. Again, regional responses to the announcement of the initiative have been measured. There has been interest in the scope of the initiatives, as one would expect. I was recalling, before the excitement emanated from the opposition benches— (Time expired)

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:23): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that the legal status of US forces stationed in Australia is covered by an agreement with treaty status and Foreign Affairs has carriage of treaties, are there amendments foreshadowed or proposed for re-negotiation of the 1963 agreement concerning the status of US forces in Australia arising from this announcement?

Senator BOB CARR (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:24): Not to my knowledge. Since Australia's Federation it has been a matter for the executive of the government of the day to make judgements about Australian national security and foreign policy interests. That has been the case for over a century and that is how it should continue. I would think the Australian people have been decidedly supportive, and why wouldn't they be? It has been an Australian concern for well over a century to see that our northern approaches and Northern Australia are secured as best we can. We have a treaty relationship with the United States of America which is widely viewed as a cornerstone of our security. When you have a partner—a strategic partner, a treaty partner—you engage in military exercises with that partner. This government stands firmly supportive of this initiative— (Time expired)

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:25): Perhaps the foreign minister would like to take on notice, if there is anything further to add to my question, whether the Status of Forces Agreement will require any re-negotiation. Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Will the minister clarify the legal status of US military forces stationed in Australia and who the prosecuting authority is in the event of criminal actions being undertaken by forces stationed in Australia?

Senator BOB CARR (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:25): I am very happy to do that. I might say that the senator is closing in on a very narrow focus here. He is speculating about possible criminal behaviour, a breach of the law. I am happy to explore that, but I am highlighting that this is a major strategic initiative and, we think, an altogether happy one in fulfilment of a traditional Australian security concern. We are not apologetic about it. We expect this to be viewed by Australians, as it gathers force and the first rotating presence arrives next month, as very reassuring to the Australian people.