Minister for Defence – Interview with David Lipson, Lunchtime Agenda

TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH DAVID LIPSON, LUNCHTIME AGENDA

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE:  9 NOVEMBER 2012

TOPICS: China; United States Presidential campaign; SPS Cantabria.

 

DAVID LIPSON:        I spoke with the Defence Minister Stephen Smith, about this a little earlier.

STEPHEN SMITH:     It’s neither a surprise nor a concern. We understand that as China’s economy grows, as any country’s economy grows, it’s entitled to modernise its military. The most important thing that we say to China, both publicly and privately, is that as you modernise your military we simply want to see transparency of strategic intention. But we remain optimistic that China will emerge as a responsible stakeholder in the international community.

DAVID LIPSON:        Could it spark an arms race with Japan though?

STEPHEN SMITH:     No, I don’t see it in that context at all. China’s economy is growing and growing strongly, and any country, as its economy grows, is entitled to modernise its military. We do need to ensure that relations between Japan and China are positive and productive, and we know that the China Japan relationship has gone through a period of tension over disputed maritime and territorial issues in the South China Sea, so we do need to ensure that maritime or territorial dispute is resolved amicably and peacefully in accordance with international law including the convention on the law of the sea. It’s not the only maritime or territorial dispute that we see and they all need to be resolved in that way.

DAVID LIPSON:        The President in waiting, Xi Jinping, what do you know of him and what direction do you expect him to take China?

STEPHEN SMITH:     We confidently expect that he’ll become the President in a week’s time. He’s well known to Australia, he has over his formative years spent time in Australia. He’s met our leadership on a number of occasions, I’ve met him myself on a number of occasions. When I last met him in Beijing he made the point to me that he’d been to every Australian state and territory with the exception of Tasmania. 

So once he becomes the President I’m sure our Tasmanian colleagues will be very keen to effect a visit.

But he is well known to us, and that’s a good thing. I don’t overstate that China will make its national decisions in accordance with how it sees its national interests, its national security interests, its national economic interests, but we continue to grow our relationship with China, we now have a comprehensive bilateral relationship with China, a very important economic relationship but also a growing relationship on the security, military and defence side.

DAVID LIPSON:        Another leadership change in the United States, reports also today that Labor is planning to take a leaf out of the Obama campaign playbook. The Obama campaign of course was a huge success but it was also very very negative historically. Can we expect to see a negative campaign run by Labor next year?

STEPHEN SMITH:     I think any campaign is a mix of positive and negative. People will make their positive policy plans for the future as they’re required to do, but will also make critical comments of the other side’s policy approach.

I think you have to be careful about transplanting or transporting campaign strategies or campaign approaches from one country to another. Of course Labor’s campaign professionals will learn whatever they can from the most recent United States Presidential election campaign. But there are a range of differences between their system and ours. A lot of good work was done by President Obama and his team on getting out the vote because they have a voluntary franchise, it’s not an issue for us here.

But we will go to the next election both on a record of managing the economy, of substantial reform, but also with a positive plan for the future. And that’s something that we haven’t yet seen from Tony Abbott and his Liberals, and I expect that to be the case right up to election day.

DAVID LIPSON:        And just in your portfolio the Navy is, you could say, borrowing a ship from Spain, it’s a supply ship, why is it needed?

STEPHEN SMITH:     This is a very good development. We’ve got a growing defence and defence materiel relationship with Spain. They are of course very closely involved in the building of our Landing Helicopter Docks, our LHDs and also our Air Warfare Destroyers. And the Chief of Navy on his last visit to Spain started discussions with his Spanish counterpart to see whether Cantabria, which is a Spanish supply ship, could come to Australia effectively for joint exercises, to see Australia in part crewing that ship to gain experience, and also have that ship potentially available for Australian purposes.

So it’s a very good development, it does add in the short term to our capability, but it also helps to grow an important relationship that we have with Spain on the maritime and shipbuilding front.

DAVID LIPSON:        Stephen Smith thanks for your time.

STEPHEN SMITH:     Thanks, David. Thanks very much.

DAVID LIPSON:        Stephen Smith speaking to us a little earlier today.


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