Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters, Defence Minister Judith Collins to meet Australian counterparts


The foreign affairs minister and defence minister will hold a joint meeting with their Australian counterparts, as had been indicated by the prime minister on his trip there last year.

Winston Peters and Judith Collins will travel to Melbourne on Wednesday for the inaugural Australia and New Zealand Foreign and Defence Ministers' Meeting (ANZMIN).

Although defence and foreign affairs ministers regularly met their counterparts, the government said this type of joint meeting was the first of its kind.

It would allow them to "develop shared objectives and approaches to the interconnected areas of foreign policy, security and defence".

They plan to discuss global issues, including AUKUS, the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas conflicts, and the Houthi attacks on the Red Sea.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon had indicated on his visit to Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in December that the two leaders were keen for their defence and foreign affairs ministers to hold a joint meeting to ensure "responses are aligned and coordinated and mutually supported".

"We will defend and advance the international rules based order," Luxon said at the time.

In a statement on Wednesday, Collins said the meetings were a chance to align and strengthen responses to international developments, particularly those in the Pacific, and wider Indo-Pacific region.

"Australia is our only formal ally and it is in our mutual interest to work together to support a stable and secure region. We are stronger and more effective together."

Peters said they would be identifying "avenues through which to deepen our cooperation".

"In these increasingly complex and challenging times, we need to prioritise our relationships with partners who know us and share our values. In that respect, there is no country more important to New Zealand than Australia."

It will be the first face-to-face meeting between Peters and his Australian counterpart, Penny Wong, and the second between Collins and her counterpart, Richard Marles, who is also the Australian Deputy Prime Minister.

Peters and Collins will also hold separate bilateral discussions with their Australian counterparts.

They are set to return to New Zealand on 1 February.

Where do the trans-Tasman countries stand on issues raised?

Luxon expressed interest for New Zealand to potentially join Pillar Two of AUKUS - a security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States for the Indo-Pacific region.

New Zealand's non-nuclear status is non-negotiable, but Pillar Two is about sharing technology, and Luxon said in December he was exploring it.

"It's really about new technologies that we may be wanting to build capability on, or bring or offer capability to in the alliance. At this stage for us, it's about exploring what's in Pillar Two, how it can be shaped, and when there's opportunities for New Zealand to participate in." Previous language around AUKUS had been about being 'willing to' or 'open to' exploring the agreement.

Peters told reporters the first step was understanding how it could benefit New Zealand's national interest.

Collins added it could offer better interoperability in technological way.

"But also the other thing is that AUKUS partners are themselves working through now what Pillar Two might mean for them as well so that's why it's very important that we're at least open to listening to what they have to say and whether or not we can be part of that."

On Wednesday, Parliament opened with debate over the deployment of New Zealand's Defence Force personnel to the Red Sea in response to Houthi attacks on ships in the region.

The Iran-backed Houthis have been attacking ships in the Red Sea, which they say are linked to Israel, since the start of the Israel-Gaza conflict. In response, US and British forces have been carrying out strikes at different locations in Yemen, with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands, according to a joint statement signed by the six countries.

The NZDF personnel will "provide support to coalition forces to carry out precision attacks on identified Houthi military targets" and will not enter Yemen.

An Israeli navy missile boat patrols in the Red Sea off the coast of Israel's southern port city of Eliat on 26 December, 2023.
An Israeli navy missile boat patrols in the Red Sea off the coast of Israel's southern port city of Eliat on 26 December, 2023. Photo credit: Getty Images

Both Labour and the Greens have criticised the decision.

Making a ministerial statement to the House, Collins said the deployment was in New Zealand's national interest.

Peters has said the deployment should not be conflated with New Zealand's position on the Israel-Gaza conflict. But Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said denial that this conflict was connected to the war in Gaza was "naive and dangerous, at best, wilfully ignorant."

On Wednesday, the government also confirmed New Zealand would not make further payments to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), until the foreign minister is satisfied over accusations about its staff's involvement in Hamas' attacks.

More than 10 donor countries suspended their funding for UNRWA, the UN's largest agency operating in Gaza, over the weekend.

UN officials have urged countries to reconsider a pause in funding for the agency, vowing that any staff found to be involved in Hamas' attack on Israel would be punished and warning that aid for some two million people in Gaza was at stake.

Meanwhile, President Volodymyr Zelensky last week said that he expected a number of new Western defence packages for Ukraine to be signed this and next month, as the fight against Russia's 2022 invasion continues.