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Transcript of Media Conference of the Minister for Defence: Manila, Phillipines: \n 18 October 2005: Philippines/Australia Defence cooperation talks.



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TRANSCRIPT SENATOR THE HON ROBERT HILL Minister for Defence Leader of the Government in the Senate

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MEDIA CONFERENCE

MANILA, PHILIPPINES

11.25am, Tuesday, 18 October 2005

E&oe__________________________Philippines/Australia Defence cooperation talks

(This is an edited transcript of a joint media conference with Philippines Secretary of National Defense, the Hon Avelino J Cruz.)

Senator Robert Hill: Well, firstly I’d like to recognise the very warm way in which we’ve been received in the Philippines. We’re here to further deepen and broaden the defence relationship between our two countries. It has had a long history - I guess the fact that we are now sharing in the threat of terrorism and the mutual challenges that that provides, have drawn us even closer together. So our discussions today which build on discussions we had earlier in the year, both in Australia and jointly in Singapore have been very much of a subject of how we can further assist the Armed Forces in the Philippines in the fight against the terrorist threat. That terrorist threat is a very re al one to Australia now. We fear the possibility of terrorists moving into the southern Philippines; we therefore have a real and vested interest in working with the Philippines to overcome those that threat, and that’s our commitment to Secretary Cruz and to his Government.

(cut in tape)

Senator Hill: Well, we welcome the negotiations, because we think that joint exercises would be of benefit to both sides. We’re very pleased to have received an invitation to observe exercise (inaudible) next year, which is between the US and the Philippines, and we hope, subject to the completion of the Status Forces Agreement,

that we might be able to join in that exercise the following year. This would mean that the Australian and Philippine forces in a very practical way could build their respective capabilities and that has to be in the interests of both countries.

(cut in tape)

Senator Hill: Well there’s a lot we can do without a SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) in terms of further support. The Secretary spoke about the assistance we’ve been giving in administrative areas in terms of acquisition, policy, capability assessment and that sort of thing - we want to continue that. And we can also obviously provide more training and educational opportunities in Australia for exchanges in that area. We can also, are also interested in, helping the Philippines

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Armed Forces build capability in a number of specific areas, such as maritime surveillance, operations of Special Forces, long-range reconnaissance capability, so as I understand it, there’s quite a lot more we could do without a SOFA, but when it gets into exercises which is really putting the practical training into effect, the capabilities that we are seeking to grow then a SOFA will be necessary and that’s why we’re going down that path.

(cut in tape)

Journalist: How many other similar agreements does Australia have?

Senator Hill: Well, under Australian law, a treaty is an executive decision but we do have a process of informing the Parliament and giving the Parliamentary the opportunity to comment upon the draft document and we would do that in this

instance. In relation to the number of SOFA that we have, we have quite a few. And as the world has changed in the fight against terrorism, we’ve found ourselves engaged with more countries around the world - we’ve had to and are negotiations further SOFAs so it is an aspect of globalization and the joint threat that we all face.

Journalist: What countries are your existing agreements?

Senator Hill: well, we have agreements with most of our obvious allies, and where we have been looking to expand agreements has been in the Middle East and in the Gulf States which are areas where we have needed to work cooperatively with other countries in the joint fight against terrorism.

Journalist: What about a bounty (inaudible). What about pre-emptive strike, will this effect the Philippines, and what about the Australian troops that are here, how many?

Senator Hill: I can’t recall an instance where we have specifically given a bounty in relation to an alleged terrorist.

The so-called pre-emptive strike is really part of the doctrine of self defence in the UN Charter as it now exists that applied to contemporary threats. The threat of terrorism where you don’t have the timelines that you once had in relation to conventional threats, the need to be able to move more quickly against a threat that

is more difficult to identify, doesn’t wear uniforms, and doesn’t operate under a formal command structure. So nothing’s changed in that regard, we all have a right of responsibility to self defence and we exercise that responsibly and in accordance with the rules of the charter.

In relation to the third question, we don’t have troops in Mindanao despite what I’ve read in the newspaper.

ENDS