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STANDING COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
21/11/2008
Economic and security challenges facing Papua New Guinea and the island states of the southwest Pacific

CHAIR —I welcome the representative from the Department of Defence to this hearing. A copy of today’s opening statement has been provided to you. Do you have any questions regarding the statement?

Brig. Nikolic —No.

CHAIR —The committee has before it submission No. 18 from Defence. It is a public document. Do you wish to make any amendments to your submission?

Brig. Nikolic —No.

CHAIR —I now invite you to make a brief opening statement. Then we will proceed to questions, Brigadier.

Brig. Nikolic —Thank you. Good afternoon, Chair and members of the committee. Today I would like to make a short opening statement outlining Defence perspectives on the major security challenges facing Papua New Guinea and island states of the southwest Pacific. Australia has close links to this region, stretching back many decades. We have a longstanding commitment to support stability and prosperity in the region and a responsibility to protect the sizeable Australian expatriate community.

A key economic and security challenge for many island states is managing their large economic exclusion zones or EEZs. All of these states lack the capacity to effectively protect their EEZ resources from illegal fishing and to monitor their maritime boundaries against threats like smuggling without substantial help from outside. Recent history, such as ethnic conflicts in Tonga and Solomon Islands and the coup in Fiji, has shown how quickly small Pacific Island countries can be plunged into instability, with serious consequences for their security and economic prosperity.

Australia needs to be able to help these states help themselves, and a key part of that is being able to use Australian Defence Force assets where appropriate. Defence brings unique capabilities to the table but, having had a chance to listen to some of the other presentations to the committee today, so do other departments and agencies like Customs, AFP, Fisheries, AusAID and DFAT. Increasingly, broadened concepts of security require these and other agencies to work closely together. A year ago, for example, Australia’s humanitarian effort following Cyclone Guba in PNG’s Oro Province was led by AusAID and supported by Defence. Similarly, managing maritime security in the Pacific also has whole-of-government implications.

For decades Defence has provided assistance to meet Pacific security challenges through a range of practical measures that feed into government strategic objections. Defence’s contribution is achieved primarily through the Defence Cooperation Program, or DCP. In the financial year 2008-09 the DCP will provide A$51.11 million in regional assistance to security and police forces in areas such as reform and governance, strategic planning, command and control, maritime security, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and education and training.

The DCP engages 11 members of the Pacific Islands Forum: Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu, Palau, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Cook Islands. You are aware that the DCP with Fiji is currently suspended because of the 2006 coup.

The Australian government plays a leading role in improving the capacity of Pacific Island countries to protect their sovereign rights and EEZ interests. This includes improving situational awareness, communications and coordinating multinational enforcement operations to deter illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing and other forms of transnational crime.

The Pacific Patrol Boat Program is an important part of these endeavours. As outlined in our submission, Australia has donated 22 Pacific class patrol boats to 12 Pacific Island countries. Defence continues to provide technical and operational support to the program, with 30 Royal Australian Navy maritime surveillance and technical advisers. These advisers reside in each of the countries and underpin local support and a broad Defence engagement program. Crewing, operating and maintaining the boats is a recipient nation responsibility that is difficult for most Pacific Island states to achieve, predominantly due to funding constraints. The rising cost of fuel, for example, varies greatly between the countries, and this has increased dependence on Australia for financial supplementation.

The 21-year-old Pacific Patrol Boat Program has played a role in assisting Pacific Island countries to police their exclusive economic zones. Defence remains committed to the existing program and the contribution it makes to the region’s maritime security and economic stability. The Pacific patrol boats are now halfway through their life extension refits, with the first of the boats not due to reach the end of its extended design life until 2017. I can advise the committee that Defence is currently considering options for a follow-on capability in consultation with other agencies. These options are still under development.

I will now turn briefly to Papua New Guinea. The two principal components of Australia’s bilateral defence relationship with Papua New Guinea are the Defence Cooperation Program and assistance to the PNG Defence Reform Program. Our DCP relationship with Papua New Guinea is where the largest share of our DCP funds is allocated. In 2008-09 the budget in PNG is A$13.4 million, of which A$2.6 million is for the Defence Reform Program. This funding encompasses a range of exercises, training, infrastructure projects and support personnel. We are also supporting Papua New Guinea in its development of a defence force which is economically sustainable and supports Papua New Guinea’s national interest. This is an enduring commitment, currently in its second phase, aimed at improving the PNGDF’s maritime and border patrol capability.

In conclusion, the maintenance of peace and stability in PNG and the southwest Pacific is a whole-of-government endeavour. Defence’s focus is on building stability, mainly through our longstanding Defence Cooperation Program and other forms of bilateral defence cooperation. Responding to these challenges requires Defence planners to work closely with other agencies, and this approach increases the resources available to develop innovative solutions to complex policy challenges, avoids duplication and ensures that government has the widest possible range of responses at their disposal.

We will continue to closely scrutinise all of our regional programs and adjust them as the situation requires. Fundamentally, our goal is to ensure that our neighbours can be as self-sufficient as possible, an aim that can only be achieved through a whole-of-government effort and with the willing involvement of regional partners. That concludes my statement.

CHAIR —Thank you very much, Brigadier, for those opening remarks. They were most interesting. Can I turn to a couple of the issues that you have raised, firstly in relation to training of PNG defence personnel. We bring down 20 to 30 people each year. Can you outline to us the programs they attend, the level of officer that comes down, the training they receive and follow-up responsibilities we have.

Brig. Nikolic —There are three elements to our defence engagement with PNG. There is the bilateral Defence Cooperation Program which I alluded to in my introductory remarks; assistance to the PNGDF Defence Reform Program; and I think you heard one of the earlier presenters talk about the Strongim Gavman Program—

CHAIR —Yes.

Brig. Nikolic —which, as the pidgin name implies, is a capacity building program, and we have a Defence person within the PNGDF assisting them as part of that program. I mentioned that the DCP with PNG is our largest and longest-running DCP. The training element of it is supported by 23 ADF and Department of Defence personnel based in PNG. They assist the PNG in a range of areas. But, going to your particular question, we offer the PNGDF around 20 places on Australian based training courses and then fund and provide advisory support for about 50 in-country training opportunities as well. In the financial year 2007-08 the DCP funded training for 56 PNGDF members in Australia.

CHAIR —Is that training in Australia military training or more generalised?

Brig. Nikolic —It is a mixture. It is attendance at colleges. It is attendance at things like the Launceston Maritime College to provide skills in running the Pacific patrol boats. It is attendance at some of our military schools within the training command construct. So it is a broad diversity of training opportunities that transcend not just specific military training as you would understand it but also training in support of things like the Pacific Patrol Boat Program.

CHAIR —Got you. So we have 50-odd in situ and 20 to 30 members of the PNG Defence Force come down here annually. Do those sorts of figures vary much from year to year or is there a bit of a continuum?

Brig. Nikolic —It is relatively consistent, but it is only a small part of our engagement. There is a broad range of exercises that we conduct as well, which provides larger scale interaction between our two defence forces, and I am talking here about both joint and combined exercises. To give an example, Exercise Puk Puk is an annual combined engineering exercise that focuses on infrastructure development and two-way transfer of engineering skills—train the trainer type training so that they can take forward some of their own infrastructure work. In 2007, for example, Exercise Puk Puk refurbished water reticulation systems at Igam Barracks in Lae. In 2008 Puk Puk was held at the headquarters of PNGDF in Murray Barracks and 2009’s exercise is planned for Goldie River Barracks.

Exercise Wantok Warrior is a two-phase infantry exchange, with annual legs conducted in PNG and Australia. The 2008 PNG leg of Wantok Warrior has been deferred, but in previous years, as I said, they came to us, we came to them, and it is an infantry skills exchange exercise. Exercise Paradise provides the principal bilateral engagement mechanism between the Royal Australian Navy and the PNGDF maritime element. Exercise Kakadu was a regional naval exercise hosted by the Royal Australian Navy. Two PNGDF patrol boats participated in Kakadu 2008. Exercise Long Reach is a regional whole-of-government humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise. In October 2007 it examined PNG’s response options for a potential cyclone in the Milne Bay Province. Exercise Helicon Luk is an annual ADF—Australian Defence Force—high-density altitude helicopter flying activity.

The Papua New Guinea Defence Force also participates in the Army Aboriginal Community Assistance Program, AACAP, each year. AACAP 15 took place in Kalumburu, which is a remote Aboriginal community in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia. The DCP also funds a number of smaller exercises which occur on an as-required basis. Exercise Logi Tura, for example, was linked to building logistics capacity within the PNGDF, and similar on-occurrence exercises occur as a matter of course.

CHAIR —So, Brigadier, I am hearing you say that there is extensive training, interchange and exposure to and from the PNG Defence Force in all their capacities.

Brig. Nikolic —Absolutely. Under the DCP we also fund a range of infrastructure projects in PNG. I can—

CHAIR —No, I have got the general picture. Those 20 to 30 members of the PNG Defence Force that you bring down each year for training, are they officer corps or NCO as well?

Brig. Nikolic —It is a mixture. Predominantly officer corps, but it is a mixture. If you wanted specifics, I would have to take that on notice.

CHAIR —No. It is a mixture of both?

Brig. Nikolic —Yes.

CHAIR —How big is the PNG Defence Force?

Brig. Nikolic —The PNG Defence Force, aspirationally, is trying to get down to a size of approximately 2,000 people. I think it is in the order of 3,300 people at the moment. That is a phased process and that is the Defence Reform Program that I alluded to in my introductory remarks. Australia supported phase 1 of that Defence Reform Program, which is a downsizing of the PNGDF, and we contributed in the region of A$38 million to phase 1. Australia has previously announced its support to phase 2 of the Defence Reform Program, which is titled ‘The Capability Rebuild’, and that will predominantly help improve the PNGDF’s maritime and border patrol capability. The support under phase 2 amounts to approximately A$48 million over 10 years.

The PNG government has agreed to this package of support at Defence policy talks in December last year, and ministers from both governments reaffirmed their commitment to the package at the Australia-PNG Ministerial Forum which was held in April of this year. So the phase 2 support package is linked to strengthening the border security capacity, providing for some infrastructure upgrades, capital equipment and personnel military equipment, but that support under phase 2 is conditional upon the PNG government adequately funding any expansion of the PNGDF that they elect to do beyond the agreed numbers.

CHAIR —Got you. I turn the discussion now to the Pacific Patrol Boat Program. Your submission states clearly:

… Defence does not intend to recommend a Defence-led follow-on PPB program in the options taken forward to Government.

Is that position in your submission the current position of Defence?

Brig. Nikolic —Government has not made a decision on a follow-on capability.

CHAIR —No, I understand that. The white paper is going to give consideration to the need for the PPB, but Defence seems to have a formed view that there is not a requirement to have a phrase 2 PPB. Is that correct?

Brig. Nikolic —The reference in the Defence submission to the committee relating to a follow-on Pacific patrol boat capability was inappropriate. It is a long-established principle, I am sure you will understand, that departments do not provide a running public commentary on issues still being considered and that are yet to be put before ministers. It should not have been in our submission. It was an internal process error that resulted in it going into our submission, and I do apologise for that.

CHAIR —Right. I had not been aware of that. So is Defence’s position that we have a Pacific Patrol Boat Program; the 20-odd boats are in the number of locations; they are being used to varying degrees of effectiveness; all of them are to go through midlife refurbishment; that is going to take another five to nine years; and a decision on the PPB is really a matter for white paper or government to decide at some future time?

Brig. Nikolic —Government has not made a decision on the follow-on capability for the patrol boats.

CHAIR —No, and they would not for some time.

Brig. Nikolic —No. And they do not need to at this time.

CHAIR —No.

Brig. Nikolic —I think we have mentioned in our submission that the first of the patrol boats is due to reach its end of life around 2017 and then further boats in the decade after that are programmed to reach their end of life, so they do not need to make that decision at this time. The assertion—and I have read some recent media reporting—that government might be considering amending its support for the program is simply wrong.

Where we are with the Pacific Patrol Boat Program is the midlife upgrade you referred to. Since the start of the PPB Program in 1987, all 22 boats have completed a half-life refit. That happened at the seven-year mark and that was fully funded by Defence. You are aware that, in recognition of the deterioration of the boats, a previous government in 2000 agreed to extend the design life of the boats through a life extension program. That was in the order of $350 million over 25 years and that was intended to double the life of the boats from 15 to 30 years. To date, 10 Pacific patrol boats have been refurbished with the 11th boat commencing its LEP—life extension program—in July this year in Townsville. But you are quite right: the entire Pacific Patrol Boat Program remains under pressure. It is subject to increased costs for a variety of reasons that I have touched on in my introductory remarks, and Defence’s capacity to sustain the Pacific patrol boat is certainly under review about how we might continue with the LEP, as indicated in 2000.

Senator FEENEY —Forgive my own ignorance but, as I understand it, Australia donates those vessels to other nation states, so we have no practical command and control over those vessels, do we?

Brig. Nikolic —No, that is right. We gifted the vessels to recipient countries. I think the then Prime Minister Hawke gifted the first vessel to PNG in 1987 and the last one in 1997; so over the course of a decade. So they are gifted to these recipient nations.

Senator FEENEY —They are responsible for staffing them?

Brig. Nikolic —For crewing the boats. That is correct. We do have that framework of Royal Australian Navy advisers and we do have assistance that we provide to those nations with some fuel supplementation and the like for a variety of reasons, which assists them in maintaining sea days on those patrol boats; but they have been gifted to those recipient countries.

Senator KROGER —Presumably our only control over them would be withholding parts for maintenance or withholding things required for maintenance, if we were wishing to negotiate use of it.

Senator FEENEY —We get to pay for them. We do not get to control them.

Brig. Nikolic —No, what we try and do is cooperatively agree with the recipient nation’s numbers of sea days that we have the boats operating. The more days they spend out, the greater is their ability to look after what are quite enormous exclusive economic zones. We try and encourage cooperation with some of the emerging regional frameworks with the Forum Fisheries Agency and other regional forums, so we try and do that in a very cooperative way.

CHAIR —What are the critical operational problems?

Brig. Nikolic —It is the ability to keep the boats on the water, the costs of fuel. I have had estimates, and fuel varies. Fuel costs vary from nation to nation, but it could cost in the order of A$10,000 per boat per sea day, so it is an expensive undertaking and a lot of these nations have difficulties maintaining the number of sea days they would like and we would like for those reasons.

CHAIR —Who funds the operations at the moment? The host nation?

Brig. Nikolic —The host nation provides some of that funding. Under the Sea Day Initiative, we do provide supplementation for fuel, particularly where we are doing bilateral exercises or some multilateral exercises that exercise nations and allow us to participate cooperatively in patrolling the exclusive economic zones. So it is a mixture.

CHAIR —Are they coastal patrol vehicles or ocean-going vehicles?

Brig. Nikolic —They are 31-metre, steel hulled, ocean-going vessels.

CHAIR —Ocean-going?

Brig. Nikolic —Yes.

CHAIR —So they have capacity to go deep into the Pacific Ocean, into the exclusive economic zones and the fishing zones?

Brig. Nikolic —Yes, they do. They are used principally for that purpose but they are also used for a range of other purposes: everything from quarantine, search and rescue, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, medical evacuations, to collecting ballot boxes from some of these more remote areas. The point was well made by the senator: we gifted these boats, so it is a combination of the purpose for which we donated and the purpose for which the host country seeks to use those boats. It is a combination of those things.

Senator FEENEY —Do you think it is a successful model?

Brig. Nikolic —Initially it was intended that those boats would be part of a broader system, and I think some of the discussion that has been held here today casts light on the fact that, in the early- to mid-1980s, Defence was the natural partner for what was a fairly significant project at that time. But in the 20 years since, there has certainly been a broadening of concepts of security: what was security 20 years ago is fundamentally different today. So an interagency approach to some of these security issues, including the things that the patrol boats do, is certainly a way forward and I sensed, from some of the responses, that the other agencies see that as well.

Our discussion with agencies on what might reasonably follow the Pacific patrol boat capability—in the 2017-2027 time frame—in the early conceptual stage is certainly talking about an interagency flavour.

Senator FEENEY —In theory only: is it completely impractical for Australia to have a fleet of that size to operate it and to operate it effectively in what are essentially the waters of another sovereign state? Is that not an option?

Brig. Nikolic —It is a major undertaking and there are extensive sovereignty issues associated with it. To be truly effective you not only need to detect illegal activity but you need to be able to cue a response to that illegal activity and you need to do something about it once you have cued the response. You are talking about doing those three important things with all of those sovereignty implications that I discussed. Superimposed over that you have some quite useful and emerging regional arrangements that we might be able to build on into the future. I have mentioned some of those, but if you like I could talk briefly about a few others.

The Forum Fisheries Agency is one of several emerging Pacific networks which is in place to facilitate fisheries and maritime law enforcement, exchanging information, and cooperating more actively. You have other presences in the region—and we have quadrilateral defence talks each year with the United States, New Zealand, France and other countries in the region—to see where we might cooperatively merge some of that effort with what Pacific Island nations are doing, with what the Pacific patrol boats are doing, and what we are doing.

I heard the deputy commissioner talk about the transnational crime network and trying to see where we might be able to interact and interchange intelligence information. The Pacific Islands Chiefs of Police conference is another crime related emerging network that might be able to participate, as well as Customs and the Oceania Customs Organisation. On the immigration side, you have the Pacific Immigration Directors Conference. So, as we look into the future, we would always like to do these things better: an interagency flavour and perhaps leveraging some of these emerging regional arrangements might be a way that we could do that.

Senator FEENEY —Apropos of that, I wonder if you could explain to me, going back to basics: does the Australian Defence Force have treaties or alliances with these countries which govern in an overarching sense the relationship between the two countries? I am talking about something analogous to ANZUS, for instance. Do we have alliances with some of these states about mutual support in times when either party is threatened or whatever?

Brig. Nikolic —Some of the countries do, and not just with us. I think the DFAT representative before talked about the US compact countries: Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands. You are also, I am sure, aware that the Cook Islands is in free association with New Zealand and there is an undertaking in terms of the defence of the Cook Islands that New Zealand has principal responsibility for that.

Senator FEENEY —And with respect to PNG?

Brig. Nikolic —With respect to PNG, on the Pacific patrol boat side are you talking about?

Senator FEENEY —No, I have gone back to Stone Age fundamentals. Can we describe PNG as an ally? Are we under any treaty obligations to protect PNG were it to be invaded or attacked by a third party?

Brig. Nikolic —We have a very close defence relationship with PNG. I know we have understandings relating to our Defence Cooperation Program but I would have to take on notice the treaty question you asked because that is bigger than simply Defence.

Senator FEENEY —I wonder if you might take a couple of other things on notice as well. I would be interested to know the defence budgets in total for each of the countries that this inquiry is considering, and then what percentage of their overall budgets those defence budgets represent. Then, finally, to what extent is that defence budget supplemented by Australian aid? Does that make sense?

Brig. Nikolic —When you say ‘Australian aid’, are you referring specifically to the defence cooperation dimension of aid?

Senator FEENEY —Yes, and those various elements that you have described—the DCP, the Defence Reform Program, and no doubt other elements where you are assisting with infrastructure or whatever it might be. To explain where I am coming from, I am interested to know to what extent some of these nations have defence apparatuses that are greater, larger, more expensive than they need. To what extent do they have military infrastructures that are just inappropriate for what they need? It seems to me—and, please, Brigadier, do not hesitate to contradict me if I am wrong—that what is described as a capability rebuild is, in many respects, a capability downsize, and I wonder if that is because some of these countries had a military-industrial complex that they simply did not need and could not afford. I guess in contemplating that question—if that is what it is!—could you also perhaps tell us where Fiji fits into that matrix. It seems to me that Fiji might now, or at least very shortly, have a military capability that, in theory at least, is greater than PNG or any of its other neighbours.

Brig. Nikolic —The point I would make about numbers is that capability is not a quantitative issue.

Senator FEENEY —Mercifully, that is true, yes.

Brig. Nikolic —But in terms of defence forces, there are only three countries in the region that we are talking about that have defence forces: Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Tonga. For all the rest, when I talk about our interaction with a Pacific patrol boat, it is to do with police force interaction.

Senator FEENEY —Although we could describe some of those as paramilitaries, couldn’t we?

Brig. Nikolic —They are police forces and, although there is a desire potentially for elements of those police forces to assume paramilitary roles, they are police type organisations. They are perhaps not directly comparable to what we would class as such, but that is what they are.

Senator FEENEY —Sure.

Brig. Nikolic —In relation to your question about Fiji, since the 2006 military coup, defence cooperation with Fiji was suspended as part of the Australian broader program of sanctions. We withdrew our commitment to all bilateral defence projects, including the Pacific Patrol Boat Program; formal bilateral dialogue and senior level visits were suspended. Prior to the coup, Australia was Fiji’s most significant military partner and we maintained a defence cooperation relationship with them with a typical budget in excess of $3 million. In relation to the Pacific Patrol Boat Program, we gifted three Pacific patrol boats to Fiji in 1994-95, and they receive no support from Australia in the aftermath of the coup.

I think, from a Defence perspective, we are subordinate to that broader Australian government position, which condemns the Fiji military rule, that calls for the restoration of democratic government and, and until that happens, I can only assume Defence’s relationship with Fiji will remain as it is—suspended.

Senator FEENEY —Do you have any response to my proposition that Fiji essentially has a military-industrial complex that it can neither afford nor is suited to its needs?

Brig. Nikolic —I would not comment on the nature of the current Fijian military construct because, as I said, we have had very little interaction with Fiji since 2006, and we do not have an active Defence Cooperation Program with them.

Senator FEENEY —Do you have any comment then about the general proposition that these states have military structures that are either unaffordable or poorly suited to their needs, or is that an anachronistic view?

Brig. Nikolic —I would recognise that, by virtue of our involvement in the Papua New Guinea Defence Reform Program, for example, we are cooperative with PNG, trying to influence an outcome where they have a defence force that is affordable and suited to their needs. I think that is the desire of the PNG government as well.

Senator FEENEY —That means it sheds something like a third of its personnel, does it not?

Brig. Nikolic —Once again, it is not a numbers game, and a force of 3,300 in capability terms may not be as capable as a force of 2,000 with the right capability dimension to that 2,000-person force. I just do not think it is a quantitative game.

Senator FEENEY —No, I accept that. Could you say that at the end of the reform program the PNGDF financially has the same or less or more of a cost to the PNG budget?

Brig. Nikolic —I am sorry, I was just reading that. Could you repeat that?

Senator FEENEY —Sure. At the end of the reform program, is the PNGDF going to be more expensive or less expensive for PNG taxpayers?

Brig. Nikolic —Once again, that is a matter for the PNGDF government, and they will ultimately as a sovereign nation fund the defence force that they require.

Senator FEENEY —Sure. Brigadier, you make the very proper point that size is not everything and that of course a smaller number of troops that are better equipped and better trained can in fact be a more formidable defence force. That is a perfectly proper point. But can you make that point with respect to the PNGDF? Do you have any reason to believe that those 2,000 troops, at the end of the reform program, are going to represent a better capability than the 3,500 did previously?

Brig. Nikolic —That is a very difficult question to answer, because it ultimately depends on the capability acquisitions that they make for that 2,000-person force.

Senator FEENEY —And we are not a party to that?

Brig. Nikolic —We are a party to discussing and supporting an affordable force, suitable for the PNG government’s needs. Can I just correct a figure? I have received a note. The figure of 3,300 that I gave earlier was some time in the past. The current figure is that 2,000 figure that I mentioned. The force is around that 2,000 figure at the moment.

Senator FEENEY —Is that the final number that the reform program is aiming at?

Brig. Nikolic —No. Once again, that is still being decided by the Papua New Guinea government. They are considering that as part of their budgetary process and, ultimately, it will be a matter for them.

Senator FEENEY —When the PNGDF make an assessment of the sort of capability that they need, to what extent is Australian advice sought and to what extent is Australian advice provided? I am now guessing, but I imagine we can provide them with certain assistance in logistics, for instance. To what extent is their forward planning done in concert with the ADF?

Brig. Nikolic —I have no visibility of the capability discussions in the PNG government, but I could take that question on notice perhaps. Certainly we would listen to any request from the PNG government in relation to supporting their force development processes, but as to the nature of that current interaction, I would have to take that on notice.

Senator FEENEY —Has the ADF ever contemplated the notion of recruiting personnel from any of these countries for service in the ADF—that is to say, foreign nationals essentially.

Brig. Nikolic —Not to my knowledge, but I will take that question on notice.

CHAIR —The answer to that is no. It has been asked and answered in estimates.

Senator FEENEY —Right. That is all, thanks.

CHAIR —Brigadier, in September of this year, Defence Minister Fitzgibbon advised of some negotiations with his French counterpart concerning access to French bases in New Caledonia and proposals for the two countries—France and Australia—to cooperate in training, joint exercises, maritime surveillance, and support of regional defence and police forces. Can we have a status report on the progress of those negotiations?

Brig. Nikolic —If they are still in the negotiating stage, I will have to take that on notice and see where they are at and get back to you.

CHAIR —That is fine. Could I also have a status report on developments with respect to the Asia Pacific Centre for Civil-Military Cooperation in Queanbeyan?

Brig. Nikolic —It is yet to be opened. I believe an executive director has been appointed to the centre, Major General (Retired) Mike Smith. I believe there will be announcements relating to the opening of that centre in due course, but the centre is working towards its opening and a mandate, which will be the subject of announcements.

CHAIR —Have its strategic plan and business plan been finished yet?

Brig. Nikolic —I have no visibility of that.

CHAIR —It sounds like it is going to be released publicly in due course. Give us a status report on the location of the centre, the executive officer in charge, the number of employees, a summary of their strategic and business plans, the status of any proposals to develop linkages with like overseas organisations and its purpose in terms of training, indoctrination, drafting for both Australian personnel and personnel from Pacific Island countries—really a summary of its purpose and role for the next three or four years.

Brig. Nikolic —Sure.

Senator FEENEY —Does the ADF undertake any programs with any of these nations that are based around what could be described as anticorruption or ethical training or work that is any way designed to tackle the incidence of corruption in defence forces?

Brig. Nikolic —No, but in listening to some of the responses from other agencies today, I believe that some of them, in terms of governance and capacity building, are involved in that sort of thing.

Senator FEENEY —Not the ADF?

Brig. Nikolic —Not to my knowledge, no.

Senator FEENEY —Are you in a position to make any comments or provide this committee with any advice about the incidence of corruption, to your knowledge, amongst some of these foreign defence forces with which we work?

Brig. Nikolic —No.

Senator FEENEY —Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you, Brigadier, for coming here today and for the preparation of your submission and the dialogue that you have engaged in.

Brig. Nikolic —Thank you.

Committee adjourned at 4.00 pm