Saturday 18 Aug 2018 | 12:53 | SYDNEY
Saturday 18 Aug 2018 | 12:53 | SYDNEY

Fitzgibbon in Washington


Michael Fullilove


17 July 2008 10:24

On Tuesday, the Lowy Institute hosted a speech by the Australian Defence Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, on his first ministerial visit to Washington, DC. We partnered with the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution to hold the event. The diverse audience included, somewhat surprisingly, a woman who taught Kevin Rudd Mandarin when he was studying at ANU. 

Fitzgibbon made a number of interesting points in his remarks and the Q&A afterwards, which you can read in this transcript.

He made a strong argument that the war in Afghanistan is in Australia’s direct national interests, without referring to the alliance management angle which Hugh White has privileged in his commentary. Fitzgibbon's comments gave no indication that the Government is looking to draw down Australia’s deployment to Afghanistan or impose limits on its duration, although he doesn’t anticipate sending any additional troops over there.

The minister referred to the need to change China’s aid behaviour in the Pacific, a topic on which my colleague Fergus Hanson has written. He confirmed that the National Security Adviser post likely to emerge out of the Australian Government’s forthcoming National Security Statement will probably be a bureaucratic position located in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Finally, he made one comment which has not been picked up in the media coverage but which I thought was notable. In the context of talking about Australia’s capabilities and possible deployments, Fitzgibbon said: ‘If there were miscalculations in the Taiwan Straits, for example, we’d be expected, I think, to play our role.’

That statement seemed to be a clearer official indication than we are used to getting from Australian ministers that Australia would likely participate in a conflict in the Taiwan Strait. He later noted, I should say, that cross-Strait tensions have decreased of late, which has lessened the chance of such miscalculation. Furthermore, as a colleague observed to me, ‘would be expected to’ is not the same as ‘would’. Nevertheless, it’s a small insight into the new government’s thinking.