Minister for Defence – 7:30 interview with Leigh Sales

7:30 interview with Leigh Sales
Thursday, 25 February 2016

Subjects: 2016 Defence White Paper

E&OE.

PRESENTER:

China says it’s dissatisfied with the negative comments Australia has made about its territorial ambitions and behaviour in the South China Sea in the context of the release of Australia’s latest Defence White Paper today. The paper reveals that Australia’s expanding its maritime capability and that it’s concerned by China’s activities in the South China Sea. To discuss Australia’s latest Defence thinking I was joined a short time ago by the Defence Minister, Senator Marise Payne. Minister, thank you for your time.

MINISTER PAYNE:

Pleasure, Leigh.

PRESENTER:

Can I the start by asking you to make the case to Australians as to why Defence should get should more money instead of health or education?

MINISTER PAYNE:

Well, I have to say I don’t regard it as an either-or proposition. This is pretty much a threshold issue for a nation like Australia. The capacity that we need to ensure that we’re able to protect ourselves, to ensure that we are able to protect our way of life, that we can continue to be a strong trading nation, an island nation at the bottom of the globe, all of those things are wrapped up in the sorts of decisions that we’ve announced today in presenting our White Paper, the Integrated Defence Investment Program, and even our Defence Industry Policy Statement. So in some ways this is, for us, for a Government, the obligation to protect our citizens is the first threshold you have to cross.

PRESENTER:

But, say for example when you say it’s not an either-or but Governments do of course have to make decisions about where they are going to send a limited pool of money. If you take, say, the $50 billion budgeted for 12 new submarines, submarines would traditionally be associated with conventional Defence, why not just six submarines, because then you could use the remaining $25 billion to cover, say, easily five years of the Gonski education funding or take care of a year of the NDIS?

MINISTER PAYNE:

I understand the point you are making. If you are going to put together a Defence White Paper like this, then you obviously do that with the considered advice from your Defence Force and in this case it was manifested by, for example, a Force Structure Review, a Future Force Structure Review, that was undertaken in 2014 over an 11 month period to really sit down and analyse in all the different components of capability and activity that we are looking at, what we needed to achieve the sort of Defence Force and Defence capability that we want as a nation.

We backed that up with the Integrated Investment Program and some very considered strategic Defence interests and strategic Defence objectives. When you do all of that and put that together, you make a decision that the fleet of submarines that you need, and in this case you have referenced six or 12, is a submarine fleet that takes account of the fact that in the 2030s, 50 per cent of the world’s submarine fleets will be located in our region.

PRESENTER:

So does that suggest we are looking at more potential maritime conflict in our region in the future and what role does China and China’s territorial ambitions in the South China Sea play in that?

MINISTER PAYNE:

Well, it certainly suggests that, in taking account of the conditions that we may have to meet in coming decades, that Australia begins first and foremost by being an island nation. Maritime strategy has consistently, in fact you could probably say since the First Fleet in terms of naval activity, been a core of what we do in our defence of Australia.

PRESENTER:

But who in the Twenty-First Century is going to potentially attack us in that sort of a geographic sense that it matters that we are an island nation?

MINISTER PAYNE:

Well, submarines are used for very many things. They are extremely versatile pieces of capability, and to have regionally superior submarines that can go the long distances that we need to go by virtue of exactly where we are located in the world, those are very important aspects of what we need to do.

You mentioned what that says in relation to our local region, I think you mentioned the South China Sea. The South China Sea at the moment is clearly an area of difference between the claimants of various parts of the South China Sea on which they are either building or not building or claiming or not claiming. We’ve encouraged those claimants to cease that sort of behaviour and certainly to cease their growth of these elements and to make sure that, as far as possible, we manage any differences and conflicts in those areas in accordance with international law. That’s something which we’ve been very careful in saying and we are consistent in saying that.

PRESENTER:

One of your predecessors, Kevin Andrews has said this afternoon that the approach Australia has taken so far and the US has been too timid. Is he right?

MINISTER PAYNE:

Well, I think that perfectly entitled to his view, of course, but I think the approach we have taken is to make our position very clear. The Foreign Minister in her meetings in China with her counterpart last week was diplomatic but emphatic about the view that Australia takes. That is that we reserve the right to exercise freedom of navigation and freedom of over flight in accordance with international law and we support the right of other nations to do that as well.

PRESENTER:

Nothing would make that clearer than running some freedom of navigation exercises.

MINISTER PAYNE:

Well, I’ve said very clearly that I’m not going to make public comments on future ADF operations of that nature and I don’t think I should.

PRESENTER:

The Chinese Government has issued the ABC with a statement this evening saying that the comments about the South China Sea today are negative and that it is dissatisfied. What’s your response to that?

MINISTER PAYNE:

Well, I think as I just said, we know that this is a point of difference between us and China. We obviously have very significant relationships with China across a range of areas and not least of which is our trading relationship. But importantly, as part of our Defence relationship, we work with the PLA Navy, with the PLA itself. We have ships, Chinese ships who visit our ports. We visit their ports. We have a strong defence relationship but we do have a point of difference in this regard and we’re certainly not going to take a backward step in articulating our position.

PRESENTER:

I don’t mean to sound obsessed by the $50 billion for the submarines, but the submarine builders themselves have estimated the cost of building those submarines at about $20 billion. How has the Defence Department come up with a figure that is more than double that?

MINISTER PAYNE:

Well, I’m not actually engaged in the process of quoting different figures like the $20 billion one you used. I saw that referred to in a story late last year or early this year. In fact we are engaged in a very significant Competitive Evaluation Process in relation to the submarine acquisition. We have three international participants in that process. All three of them made their submissions at the end of November last year and they are currently being evaluated.

The $50 billion amount is part of that Integrated Investment Program, externally cost assured by eminent services providers who are very skilled in these areas and something which we are using as the basis for this work.

Now, over a period of development of 12 submarines – and as you know these are long builds, not short builds – those costs will reduce as we move further through the fleet. The fleet itself will be subject, I am absolutely sure, to changes in technology when we get to that point, and we are trying to take account of that. That’s part of the Competitive Evaluation Process, as I said earlier.

PRESENTER:

Minister, thank you for your time this evening.

MINISTER PAYNE:

Thank you Leigh.

ENDS


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