Grant Shapps and Richard Marles
Australia and the UK's defence forces will now have easier access to each other's territories. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

Australia pads UK defence ties, joins drone alliance


March 21, 2024

Australia has joined the “drone coalition” that aims to help Ukraine in its defence against Russia’s invasion by signing a military pact with the United Kingdom. 

Defence Minister Richard Marles and his UK counterpart Grant Shapps signed a status of forces defence agreement when they met in Canberra on Thursday.

Australia and the UK’s defence forces will be given easier access to each other’s territories under the pact.

Signing up to the drone coalition would help bolster Australia’s defences, not just Ukraine, Mr Shapps said. 

Grant Shapps (left) and Richard Marles
 Grant Shapps (left) and Richard Marles hailed the defence treaty between the two countries. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS 

“Drones are a new factor in that war that two years ago played a very small part and now are playing an increasingly significant, increasingly sophisticated part,” he told reporters in Canberra after their meeting. 

“It stands as a potential to bring huge technological improvements and advances in drone technology to our home markets as well, for defence and for civilian purposes.”

Mr Marles pointed to Ukraine as an example of the pressure the “global rules-based system” faced and said Australia was proud to be supporting the country directly and the UK’s efforts in Ukraine.

Russia’s invasion signalled a global shift which countries that value freedom must prepare for, Mr Shapps added.

“We are living in a world which has moved from a post-war world … to a pre-war world,” he said.

“Particularly for those of you who live in the Indo-Pacific region … any dictator is looking at what happens in Ukraine and deciding whether all you need to do is outwait the West.”

Mr Marles flagged further announcements related to Australia joining the coalition in coming weeks and months.

The status of forces agreement cut red tape as London stepped up its military presence in the region, Mr Marles said.

“Whenever our personnel are in the UK, whenever their personnel are here, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to authorise and regulate that,” he said. 

“What this agreement does is provide an architecture by which that happens on an ongoing basis, you don’t have to repeat it each and every time.”

It includes activities such as the joint training of Ukrainian troops in the UK and the presence of British forces in Western Australia’s naval base.

The ministers have also agreed to a commitment to develop a joint climate action plan, closer collaboration on undersea warfare and a UK contribution to further defence exercises.

Opposition defence spokesman Andrew Hastie welcomed the agreement and increased co-operation with Britain.

David Cameron and Penny Wong.
 David Cameron and Penny Wong also met in Canberra to discuss foreign affairs. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS 

“The UK has long been one of our closest allies and this will only deepen our partnership in an increasingly uncertain world,” he said. 

Foreign Minister Penny Wong also met with her UK equivalent David Cameron in Canberra on Thursday.

The foreign and defence ministers will hold a joint meeting in Adelaide on Friday.

The British ministers are in Australia as part of annual AUKMIN talks as the two nations, alongside the United States, prepare to advance the AUKUS alliance under which Canberra will acquire nuclear-propelled submarines.