Australian Parliamentary Delegation to the 65th Annual Session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, London Delegation Reports

(By leave)— I present the report of the Australian delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in London, which took place from 12 to 14 October 2019, and I seek leave to move a motion to take note of the report.

(Leave granted).

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

Along with my colleague Senator Carr, who I notice is in the chamber, I had the honour of representing Australia at the 65th annual session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, which, as I said, was held in London between 12 and 14 October 2019, in that time long ago when people could still travel. Much has changed since then, but one of the constants is the ability of nations to come together where we share values and have common objectives to work together at an executive level, a parliamentary level and, indeed, at the level of agencies within governments—in this case predominantly the defence alliance represented by NATO.

The parliamentary assembly is a forum that facilitates this sort of cooperation between the parliaments of member nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Whilst Australia is not one of the 29 members of NATO, we are one of several global partners that cooperate and engage in dialogue with NATO. In fact, we’re one of five countries called ‘enhanced opportunities partners’, with significant dialogue and cooperation with the alliance. That’s in recognition of the significant contribution that Australia makes and has made to a number of activities of NATO. Probably the best known of these in recent times is our contribution in Afghanistan. At this point, I note and thank the 26,000 Australian service men and women who have served in Afghanistan. I note and would ask Australians to remember the 41 who’ve been killed in action and the 261 who have been wounded in action through their service in Afghanistan and, more broadly, the numbers of service men and women and their families who still feel impacts to this day because of service in Afghanistan.

Australia is represented at the annual session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly every second year. Generally we attend with observer status and we don’t have a formal role in proceedings. This year, though, I was pleased to be given the opportunity to represent Australia by presenting to the assembly’s Defence and Security Committee on developments in Australia and matters of interest to NATO. This invitation came because they have noted and appreciated the steps that Australia has taken in recent years around the defence of our nation and the values that we share with the NATO members.

In particular, they were interested to understand what Australia has done to respond to the threat of non-linear warfare. Traditionally people have thought of warfare as a shooting war, where two countries have declared war and militaries engage, but increasingly what we see is that there is a spectrum of activity, from foreign influence to interference, particularly in cyberspace. There is theft of IP. There is disruption of systems. There is fake news and campaigns to disrupt. We’ve seen some of that in the COVID environment with campaigns to create panic and cause disturbance and distrust within democratic countries by others who don’t support that system of government. At the other end of that spectrum, they were interested to understand what Australia is doing with the $200 billion investment in our defence capability which we are making over the next 10 years. Central to that, clearly, is the reinvestment in our air, land and sea capability, as well as a number of capabilities in the cyberdomain.

The questions asked demonstrated particular interest in what’s occurring in our region, but one of the points I noted was that, while NATO has traditionally been concerned with, originally, the Soviet Union and now with Russia and its activities, it is becoming increasingly aware of developments in Asia and the reach of developing powers in the Asian region into both North America and Europe. That was a topic of discussion through a number of the presentations that occurred during that time.

There were a number of committee meetings, and there was the plenary session. In addition to the Defence and Security Committee, which I attended, the four other committees examined contemporary issues, including the civil dimensions of security; economics and security; the political dimensions; and science and technology. Because Australia did not have a large delegation—in fact, we are limited to two, so it was Senator Carr and me—we clearly couldn’t attend all of the committee meetings, but we did attempt to get to as many as possible, particularly those that were of interest to Australia. My predominant involvement was with the Defence and Security Committee as well as the plenary session. The way these run is that there are a number of bodies that work throughout the year to take topics of interest to nations who develop—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Brockman): Sorry, Senator Fawcett. Your time has actually expired. I know you do like talking on this topic.

You were clearly so interested, Mr Acting Deputy President.