WELLINGTON - New Zealand Defence Minister Wayne Mapp and his Australian counterpart, Stephen Smith, held their annual meeting Feb. 10 here and announced that Australia will have access to New Zealand's amphibious ship HMNZS Canterbury through a joint forces initiative.
"Today's meeting provided both countries with the opportunity to discuss strategic defense and security priorities in the region … and to give our respective defense organizations the strategic guidance they need for our essential and growing bilateral cooperation in 2011," Smith said.
The ministers asked secretaries in their respective departments to produce a joint report by July 31, detailing preliminary proposals to improve bilateral engagement structures and strengthen strategic bilateral exchanges.
The report is expected to detail proposals to ensure cost-efficient cooperation, notably complementary military capabilities, and the efficient implementation of ANZAC policies.
The ministers noted that the Pacific-focused Ready Response Force (RRF), initiated in September 2009, will be finalized in March, with New Zealand Defence Force personnel to be placed at the Deployable Joint Forces Headquarters in Brisbane.
"We have agreed that, to maintain a robust capability to respond to regional contingencies, the Australian and New Zealand defense forces will jointly develop and exercise plans under the RRF for a common response to contingencies, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief," Mapp said.
The ministers also announced the sharing of key capabilities, including HMNZS Canterbury, as part of the RRF banner, with a view to early opportunities to exercise planning functions and amphibious interoperability.
"HMNZS Canterbury's amphibious-lift capability will be particularly important in our region over the next few years [as] the Royal Australian Navy faces challenges in amphibious capability," Smith said.
"The integration of HMNZS Canterbury in this way is a practical example of ANZAC cooperation which can benefit our region, particularly in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief," he said.
The ministers also highlighted the successful reinvigoration of the Australia-New Zealand Airlift Agreement, an initiative developed at the previous defense ministers meeting in Sydney in 2009.
As well, Mapp announced that New Zealand will provide a maritime surveillance adviser to the Cook Islands in support of the patrol boat given to that country by Australia.
In addition, both countries will expand their cooperation in English language training for regional militaries, starting with Vietnam, to increase the number of personnel eligible for training courses in New Zealand and Australia.