HMAS Choules, an amphibious landing ship, departed Townsville on 19 February bound for Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, where Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel will undertake an extensive program of bilateral training with regional militaries and other government agencies.
Minister for Defence Christopher Pyne said the activity was an early contribution to the Australian government’s Pacific step-up announced by the Prime Minister last November.
“Regional security and stability and promoting the capacity of our regional partners remains one of the Australian government’s highest priorities, as demonstrated by this deployment of HMAS Choules to the Southwest Pacific.”
The deployment marks the beginning of several joint activities with regional partners in the Pacific scheduled this year.
The Pacific step-up strategy incorporates a number of different focuses, ranging from economic and infrastructure development, combined with a renewed Australian strategic and defence commitment to the broader Pacific region, which were outlined by Prime Minister Scott Morrison as part of the 2018 APEC leadership conference in Port Moresby.
The Prime Minister identified two interconnected key areas for Australian focus, namely:
- enhanced regional economic collaboration and integration through investment in key infrastructure and economic drivers, like communications networks; and
- regional strategic partnerships and alliances to promote transparent dialogue and amicable strategic relations.
As part of Australia stepping up it’s commitment and presence in the Pacific, the government announced a $2 billion Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific, which was created with the view of supporting the economic and infrastructure development of key partners in the Pacific region in particular.
Australia will also provide training and infrastructure upgrades to support the domestic security and defence capabilities of regional partners like Vanuatu, with the Prime Minister outlining an expansion of the island nation’s police force and the appointment of a new Australian defence adviser in Vanuatu. Another example is the recent signing of a major joint initiative between the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea on the construction of the Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island.
“This activity will enhance Australia’s engagement in the region, strengthen our regional relationships and assist in the building of regional partner capacity. Australia and the Southwest Pacific have partnerships built on historical and community links as well as shared trade, investment and security interests,” Minister Pyne added.
Building on these factors, Defence will play a critical role in implementing the Pacific step-up program, providing training, support and officer development, providing people-to-people connections and the introduction of specialised, large-hulled, multipurpose amphibious ship to support increased engagement in the Pacific region.
HMAS Choules, her Ship’s Company and other ADF personnel will return to Townsville in March.