Australia seeks further military cooperation with NZ

By Greg Ansley

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Australia wants to further ramp up military cooperation with New Zealand in the South Pacific as problems compound across the island states.

New Zealand observers will also be embedded for the first time in the American-led Talisman Sabre exercises in Queensland and the Coral Sea this year, easing the problems Australia has had in dealing separately with the two defence forces since the 1985 Anzus split.

New Zealand was ejected by the US from the three-way alliance because of its policy banning nuclear ships.

The moves form part of a tightening of military and security cooperation within the South Pacific, and follow this week's inaugural meeting of the region's defence ministers in Tonga.

The meeting, which included officials from Chile and France, covered cooperation on maritime security, disaster relief coordination, and plans to launch a series of regional military exercises.

The ministers will now meet annually.

Ahead of the meeting, Australian Defence Minister Stephen Smith met New Zealand counterpart Jonathan Coleman in Auckland, and briefed him on Canberra's new defence white paper.

The white paper, released yesterday, made clear Australia's fears for future stability in the South Pacific.

A key concern of Australian defence planners is the potential for problems in the region and the need for the nation to be able to handle major crises such as East Timor and the Solomon Islands.

Its remaining forces are now pulling out after a decade in the two trouble spots.

The white paper says the South Pacific faces major challenges from fast-growing populations, high unemployment and poor governance, which created conditions for escalating crime and violence.

"These difficulties will be compounded by the effects of climate change,'' the white paper says.

It says the island states have only limited ability to deal with threats - either internal or from abroad - and would depend on foreign help for decades to come.

And it says Australia will rely heavily on New Zealand, which would remain a "significant contributor "to security in the region, and which shared Australia's interest in its stability.

The white paper notes New Zealand's increasing military capabilities, and its focus on cooperation with Australia in the region through initiatives such as the Anzac ready response force.

"New Zealand is the country we are most likely to conduct operations with in the South Pacific, exemplified by our combined operations in East Timor and Solomon Islands, and in support of the 2012 Papua New Guinea elections,'' the white paper says.

"The Government is committed to working with New Zealand to enhance peace and stability in our region.

"As a result, we must align our defence postures and continue to coordinate our approaches to defence cooperation.''

With tight finances in both countries, the white paper says the two countries need to cooperate in the development of military capabilities, increase their ability to work together, and share resources where possible.

Key priorities included sea and airlift capabilities.

- NZ Herald

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