4 February 2024

Defence and Foreign Minister talks draw Australia and NZ closer in 'most challenging time in decades'

| Andrew McLaughlin
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small Australian and New Zealand flags on a table

A joint statement described the current geopolitical environment as the most challenging strategic climate in decades. Photos: DFAT.

Senior ministers from Australia and New Zealand have agreed to closer defence and foreign policy ties between the two countries at the inaugural Australia–New Zealand Foreign and Defence Ministers Consultations (ANZMIN 2+2).

Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles and Foreign Minister Penny Wong hosted their New Zealand counterparts, Defence Minister Judith Collins and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters on 1 February in Melbourne.

The ministers also met separately for their respective Defence Ministers’ meeting and Foreign Ministers’ consultations.

A joint statement says the meetings took place in the context of the most challenging strategic environment in decades, and said the ministers welcomed the establishment of the 2+2 mechanism as a step to further strengthen the Australia-New Zealand alliance to address these challenges in close partnership.

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It says Australia and New Zealand share close bonds of history and geography, liberal democratic values, regional and global interests and strategic outlook. Ministers noted the enduring nature of the ANZUS Treaty, which continues to underpin the strategic relationship between the two countries some 72 years after it was signed, and formalises the commitments the two countries share as allies.

They undertook to build on the Anzac history between the two counties by increasing integration between their military forces through common capability, senior military officer exchanges and increased participation in exercises.

The issue of the AUKUS construct between Australia, the UK and the US was also discussed, with New Zealand agreeing it made a positive contribution to peace and stability in the region and recognising Australia’s commitment to be responsible nuclear stewards for the submarines planned to be acquired under AUKUS Pillar 1.

Interestingly, in a post-meeting joint media conference, Mr Marles committed to brief New Zealand on developments about AUKUS, particularly AUKUS Pillar 2, which promises greater cooperation in autonomous systems, cyber, quantum, space, undersea sensors, hypersonics, and other advanced technologies.

four politicians walking and talking

(From left) NZ Defence Minister Judith Collins and her Australian counterpart Richard Marles walk with NZ Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters and Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong.

Minister Collins went one step further in raising the possibility of some level of New Zealand participation in AUKUS.

”Australian officials have been actually asked to work together with New Zealand officials to see some of the opportunities that are available in AUKUS [Pillar)] 2 for New Zealand,” she said.

“We have quite an active space industry and also technology sector, which is involved with providing assistance to quite a few countries in terms of their defence areas but also in terms of telecommunications and other areas.

“It is quite important when we’re looking at Pillar 2 to work out what we can add but also where that fits in, and I think it would be very helpful for the right people to come from Australia to see some of what we already have.”

Mr Marles downplayed Ms Collins’ optimism, but wasn’t closed to the idea.

“We want to see runs on the board in relation to Pillar 2 between the three countries – Australia, the US and the UK – but in the longer term we are open to the idea of Pillar 2 being open to other countries who may be interested,” he said.

“In that context, we’re keen to ensure New Zealand is abreast of where discussions have got to between ourselves, the UK and the US in relation to Pillar 2, and that was the basis on which we’re sending a team to brief New Zealand.”

They also recognised the importance of the Pacific to both countries and agreed to continue efforts with Pacific countries to strengthen regional cooperation and interoperability.

Senator Wong said the world and the region were being reshaped, and said New Zealand had much to contribute to maintaining stability in the region.

“As I have said to Deputy Prime Minister Peters, I believe New Zealand has a lot of wisdom, a lot of history and cultural expertise, to bring to the discussion of the Pacific,” she said.

“We want a region that continues to develop and we want to be part of that, and we want to work closely with New Zealand to those objectives.”

Mr Peters described the Pacific as the “blue continent”, and said the conversations between the New Zealand Liberal Ministers and their Australian Labor counterparts had not been about politics and were of great importance to the region.

“Everything we talked about today in 2024, right here, right now, the end of this month, is of far greater importance than it’s ever been in the lifetime of anybody in this room,” he said.

Original Article published by Andrew McLaughlin on Riotact.

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