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Tuesday, 23 February 2016
Page: 799

Australian Defence Force


Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:41): My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Payne. The minister has repeatedly claimed that: 'Australian vessels and aircraft will continue to exercise rights under international law to freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight, including in the South China Sea.' Yet, at Senate estimates, Air Chief Marshal Binskin testified that the Australian Defence Force is not conducting deliberate freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. Minister, why are you and other members of the government continuing to pretend that Australia is conducting freedom of navigation operations, when the Chief of Defence has made it clear that is not the case?


Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:42): I thank Senator Conroy for the question. I do not have the benefit of the Hansardof the estimates in front of me, but the government and the ADF have the same view on this matter—that is, that Australia supports the rights of all states, including our own, to exercise freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight under international law, whether it is in respect of the South China Sea or elsewhere.


Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:42): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. When China unilaterally imposed an air defence identification zone in the East China Sea in 2013, Foreign Minister Bishop defended the Australian government's strong response by saying: 'China does not respect weakness.' Given China's unilateral actions in the South China Sea, and Ms Bishop's previous comments, why has the government failed to authorise a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea?


Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:43): As I have indicated—and as the senator has observed—on a number of occasions, both to him and elsewhere, the government will make its own decisions in relation to these activities, but we consistently and strongly say that we support the rights of all states, including our own, to exercise freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight under international law. We have also indicated that we do have concerns about aspects of various claimants' activities in the South China Sea. We have indicated that in relation to a number of those parties. In fact, Foreign Minister Bishop, in both of her visits last week, in both Japan and China, took up a number of these issues and reinforced Australia's position in that regard.


Senator CONROY (VictoriaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:44): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Our allies and partners, including the United States, clearly believe it would be valuable if Australia acted in support of the international rules based order. Why has the minister not heeded Foreign Minister Bishop's advice, acted with conviction and authorised a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea?


Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:44): I think Senator Conroy is adverting to statements made yesterday by a visiting US admiral, in Australia, in at least part of his question. As I indicated in comments released to the media last night, the admiral himself indicated that these are matters for each country to make their own decisions on. Australia will continue to do that in support of international freedom of overflight and freedom of navigation and in accordance with international law.