Topics: Australian assistance to Solomon Islands; confirmation of vessel off Australia’s coast.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning. I’d like to provide an update on matters in the Solomon Islands. The situation has been deteriorating over the last couple of days. Last night, 23 members of the Australian Federal Police – including members of the tactical response teams – were deployed to the Solomon Islands. They have landed now in Honiara. Later today there will be up to an additional 50 members of the Australian Federal Police who will be deployed to the Solomon Islands and an additional 40 ADF personnel who will be deployed from Townsville will go to the Solomon Islands.So it is quite an extensive presence that Australian officials will be able to provide – with members of the Australian Federal Police and members of the Australian Defence Force at the Solomon Islands.
I’d like to be clear that our role is one supporting the Solomon Islands Police Force. So this is a policing presence for Australians on Solomon Islands. Over the coming weeks we will be working to support the Solomon Islands Police Force, to assist them to re-establish law and public order in the Solomon Islands. Our presence there is a direct result of a request by the Solomon Island Government in accordance with the 2017 treaty. Happy to take any questions.
QUESTION: Is this the full extent of the Australian commitment to the Solomon Islands, or is there a capacity to scale this up if the situation worsens?
KAREN ANDREWS: So the Australian Federal Police deployed very quickly with 23 offices. Members of the Australian Federal Police deployed last night, more to be deployed today. So is a significant presence. We will be monitoring the situation there and responding accordingly.
QUESTION: Reports this morning a Chinese Navy vessel, spy vessel, is drifting off the coast of Australia over a number of weeks outside of the usual Talisman Saver exercises. Given that there were no military exercises going on during this time when we normally see these Chinese spy ships, how concerning is it that this Navy vessel appeared to be gathering information on critical infrastructure?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I can confirm that there was a Chinese military vessel operating off the East Coast of Australia in August of this year. We’re also aware that that vessel did transit through the Torres Strait. It’s a matter that we were certainly aware of. We do monitor all vessels that are in our exclusive economic zone or approaching Australian waters. I think it’s very fair to say that Australia has very strong border security measures in place. We monitor all vessels that are approaching Australia, so we’re aware of the activities and certainly very conscious of it. We actually support nations in conducting the work that they need to do lawfully, and we would expect them to respect our rights to conduct the work that we need to do lawfully as well.
QUESTION: Given you are monitoring it, do you know what it was doing here and have you sought the information from China as to what it was doing here? It’s a Chinese naval vessel in Australia’s economic zone, it’s interesting.
KAREN ANDREWS: For national security reasons I’m sure you’ll understand that there is a limit as to the information that I can publicly provide about our awareness of the activities of that particular vessel or any other vessel that we have been aware of in the past. But I think Australians can be assured that the Morrison Government is aware of vessels as they approach Australia. We do monitor our borders, and we do that because our priority is to make sure that we are keeping Australia safe and secure.