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Monday, 26 March 2018
Page: 2105


Senator MOLAN (New South Wales) (14:40): My question is also to the Minister for Defence, Senator Payne. Can the minister update the Senate on this year's United States marine rotation to Darwin and advise of how it contributes to regional security?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:40): I thank Senator Molan for his question. The 2018 Marine Rotational Force will be the largest and most complex of the rotations to date. It will include 1,587 US marines, which is an increase of more than 300 on last year's rotation; eight Osprey rotor aircraft; and an artillery battery of six howitzers. During the major exercises of the rotation, additional equipment will be included, comprising helicopters, F/A-18 hornets and an MC-130 Hercules aircraft. It's fair to say that, as the senator well knows, Australia and the US have a longstanding history of working together to promote security and stability across the region, and this seventh rotation is a strong reinforcement of that relationship. The presence of US military forces in our region is vital to Australia's defence interests and is essential to the preservation of stability and security in the Indo-Pacific over the coming decades to which I've referred.

As part of the US-Australia Force Posture Initiatives, the marine rotation provides us with new opportunities for engagement with regional partners and better positions both of our nations to respond to crises and contingencies in the region. During the six-month training period, the marines are expected to participate in a range of 15 training activities alongside the ADF. Regional nations, including Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and potentially others, will observe or participate in training activities. The US military plays that vital role in underwriting security and stability across the Indo-Pacific, and the FPI is an essential component in that. I'd also note that in the last week we've seen at least 50 US marines here in Darwin as part of the rotation advance party working alongside ADF personnel to assist in the post Cyclone Marcus clean-up in that city, which has been a very productive, cooperative exercise as well.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Molan, a supplementary question.

Senator MOLAN (New South Wales) (14:42): Can the minister update the Senate as to how else the US Force Posture Initiatives are strengthening cooperation and interoperability between our defence forces?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:42): I can, because the rotation particularly helps us to broaden our ability to work together in the air, not just on the ground. The FPI also comprises an Enhanced Air Cooperation initiative, which involves a series of air training exercises between the ADF and air elements of the US Pacific Command. This is the second iteration of the Enhanced Air Cooperation initiative, which gives the ADF unique opportunities to undertake high-end training. This year's training will build on the 2017 exercises and will include a number of new activities: an aeromedical evacuation training mission, fifth-generation fighter integration, combat mobility activities with the US Marine Corps, integrated aircraft maintenance, and expansion of our air-to-air refuelling capabilities. These are training exercises that assist both air forces to respond to a range of challenges, including humanitarian crises and disaster relief operations, as well as enabling important further security cooperation across our region.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Molan, a final supplementary question.

Senator MOLAN (New South Wales) (14:43): Can the minister advise the Senate as to how else the United States and Australia are working together to uphold the rules based global order which underpins regional security?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:43): This year of course marks 100 years of mateship between the United States and Australia—100 years, which shows our working together to promote regional and global security. Australia is one of the largest contributors to the US-led international coalition to defeat ISIS in the Middle East, and we also continue to work very closely with the United States through the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan. I met the US leaders of both of those missions in the Middle East recently in Kabul and Baghdad. In our region the presence of United States military forces also plays a vital role in ensuring security across the Indo-Pacific. Across the Indo-Pacific we both continue to work with our regional partners and our allies to support the rules based order, which has helped to underpin the economic development that has benefited the growth of our region. Both of our nations support the ASEAN Regional Forum and the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting Plus as part of that process. (Time expired)