Download the above photograph of the Minister.

Today, 4 September, I visited the Australian War Memorial (AWM) and attended the Last Post Ceremony, my last official function as Minister for Defence.

I was accompanied by the Director of the AWM, Dr Brendan Nelson.

Dr Nelson has served the AWM admirably, and his respect and compassion for Australia’s service personnel and their families makes him especially suited for his role.

Today marks the Battle for Australia Day, which commemorates all who served and died in the defence of Australia in 1942 and 1943.

The Last Post also reminds us of the sacrifices of all Australian men and women who have served and the more than 102,000 Australian service men and women who have died in all wars and conflicts, on peacekeeping duties, in disaster relief and on humanitarian assistance missions.

Each Last Post remembers a specific Australian killed in a past conflict. Today’s Last Post remembered Flight Lieutenant John William Yarra DFM, a Second World War fighter pilot. Flight Lieutenant Yarra, No 453 Squadron, RAAF, was killed in action on 10 December 1942 on flying operations over Malta in the Mediterranean.

With the Last Post Ceremony, we also recognise the contribution of the men and women of the Australian Defence Force who are currently serving in Afghanistan, and in peacekeeping and security operations around the world.

Their service makes them a standard bearer for those who follow.

We particularly remember the 40 young Australians who have fallen in Afghanistan.

We honour their memory. Our thoughts are with their families, friends and mates.

The traditions forged at Gallipoli, Kokoda, in the defence of Australia, and in Afghanistan, have become an indelible part of our history.

The sacrifice that we honour today helped forge our national identity, helped forge our natural characteristics and helped set our national values and virtues.

It has been an honour to serve as Australia’s Minister for Defence over the past three years.

Irrespective of the outcome of Saturday’s election, I wish my successor every success.

 

Media contacts:

Mr Smith’s Office: Sacha Fenton (02) 6277 7800 or 0467 784 528

Department (02) 6127 1999

On 31 August I laid a wreath at the Commemorative Service at State War Memorial Flame of Remembrance, Kings Park honouring the 53rd anniversary of the cessation of the Malayan Emergency with the Malaya Borneo Veterans, Western Australia. 

I was honoured to be here this year as I was last year.

Malaysia also celebrated the 56th Anniversary of Independence. 

Australia’s involvement in the Malayan Emergency began in 1950 with the arrival of RAAF aircraft and personnel in Singapore. 

Dakotas from 38 Squadron were deployed on cargo runs, troop movements, and paratroop and leaflet drops in Malaya, while six Lincoln bombers of 1 Squadron provided the backbone of air operations. 

By October 1955, when the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (2RAR), arrived in Penang, the outcome of the Emergency was no longer in doubt, although a lengthy “mopping up” stage followed, largely undertaken by Australian troops. 

2RAR left Malaya in October 1957 and was replaced by 3RAR in the same month. After six weeks of training in jungle warfare 3RAR began driving the insurgents into the jungle. 

Early successes for the Battalion confirmed the growing ascendancy of the security forces over the insurgents and by late 1959 operations were in their final phase. 

3RAR left Malaya in October 1959 and were replaced by 1RAR. 

As the threat continued to dissipate, the Malayan Government officially declared the Emergency over on 31 July 1960, although Australian forces would remain in Malaya for a further three years. 

Lasting 13 years, the Malayan Emergency was the longest continuous military commitment in Australia’s history. 

Thirty-nine Australian servicemen were killed in Malaya, including 15 on operations, and 27 servicemen were wounded. 

Media contact:

Minister Smith’s Office: Sacha Fenton (02) 6277 7800 or 0467 784 528

TRANSCRIPT: EXCERPTS FROM INTERVIEW WITH JIM MIDDLETON, NEWSLINE

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: 28 August 2013

TOPICS: Syria; US rebalance. ADMM+.

JIM MIDDLETON: Minister, welcome to the program. 

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Jim, pleasure. 

JIM MIDDLETON: Syria first: the United States has an awful lot of balls in the air at the moment. Can it manage yet another military entanglement, or the prospect of it in the Middle East, especially all the other strategic imperatives? Especially those of rebalancing its Forces towards the Indo-Pacific. 

STEPHEN SMITH: The United States, Australia, the rest of the international community, can’t turn a blind eye to what’s occurred in Syria. There’s clearly now a preponderance of evidence that chemical weapons have been used. There’s a preponderance of evidence pointing to the regime, there’s still a bit more work and evidence that needs to be effected. But Australia, the United States, other members of international community have made the point that if chemical weapons have been used, and their use has been authorised by the regime, then the international community can’t turn a blind eye. 

Now, what the response is, time will tell. In an ideal world, any response would be authorised by the United Nations. But the world’s not ideal, but whatever response is effected does have to have broad base support within and throughout the international community, and that’s why you’ve seen President Obama and other leaders throughout the world engaged in discussions as to what an appropriate response might be. 

JIM MIDDLETON: What about the pressures, though, on the US Defense Budget and its assets? President Obama is serious when he says he wants to move more US Forces into the Indo-Pacific to meet the strategic challenges there, and yet once again we see another flare-up in the Middle East which is intended, if what we hear publicly is the case, to be a precision strike, but the history of these things is that they had to be creeping involvements involving the US, both Iraq notably, also Afghanistan, for example. 

STEPHEN SMITH: We need to take it step by step. We need to see what is proposed by way of intervention. I think there’s a starting point which is a reluctance to put troops on the ground, a very firm reluctance on the part of the international community and the United States for that to occur. Secretary Hagel has made clear that he has presented to the President an array of options- 

JIM MIDDLETON: But this is not going to be the end of the matter. This might give President Assad a bloody nose, but it’s not going to lead to the toppling of his regime, and that means there are many further problems down the track that will have to be dealt with now you’ve gone this far. 

STEPHEN SMITH: Australia has made it clear that we think the sooner that President Assad leaves the stage, then the better chance there is for stability, peace and security in Syria because we are seeing terrible atrocities occur in Syria, which we condemn, and that’s apart from the horrific use of chemical weapons. We see a flow of refugees from Syria to other adjoining countries – Jordan, Lebanon and the like. So we want to see a stable Syria, but we can’t turn a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons. 

In terms of your earlier question about the United States rebalance, President Obama, Secretary Hagel and his predecessor have made it clear that whatever occurs in terms of the pressure the United States is under for Defence expenditure, just as Australia and comparable countries are, that won’t affect the rebalancing to the Asia Pacific. But any response in Syria, my instinct is that will be targeted, it will be proportionate and will send a signal that not just the United States but the international community condemn the use of chemical weapons and that can’t go unnoticed. We can’t turn a blind eye to that. 

JIM MIDDLETON: There is pressure, too, on the Australian Defence budget. In that context, I wonder what you make of comments like those in key US opinion leaders, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage in particular effectively accusing Australia of taking a free ride, quote unquote, under the US defence umbrella. 

STEPHEN SMITH: I reject that analysis. From time to time I see former US officials, former Australian officials, make their remarks. Invariably, they don’t mirror or replicate or coincide with the discussions and commentary and remarks I get from current officials, whether it’s Secretary Hagel, Secretary Panetta or Secretary Gates. And each of those have said that they value very much the contribution that Australia makes. Nothing we have done in defence expenditure has had an adverse impact on our Alliance relationship or, for example, our overseas contributions, whether it’s Afghanistan, East Timor or the Solomon Islands. 

JIM MIDDLETON: You’re off to Brunei for a pretty significant meeting with the ASEAN Defence Ministers, also the US and Russia will be there, Chuck Hagel from the United States obviously. Does it disappoint you that in your time, not only as Defence Minister but also as Australia’s Foreign Minister, there’s been so little movement, such little movement on the key strategic question of the South China Sea, a most important and increasingly important trade route for the world? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, on the contrary, I am going to the ASEAN Defence Ministers Plus meeting, which is essentially a Defence Ministers meeting in the expanded East Asia Summit format. Our second meeting. First meeting was in Hanoi three years ago, and that is-

JIM MIDDLETON: That was dominated by the South China Sea. There’s been little movement since then. 

STEPHEN SMITH: There hasn’t been a solution but it’s not as if there hasn’t been attention, either by ASEAN or by China or by the East Asia Summit. But what I am pleased about is we’ve seen, since our time in office, Australia work very hard to see the United States and Russia join the East Asia Summit. We continue to urge China and ASEAN to agree on so-called code of conduct to resolve these disputes, and we will put those views to a meeting in Brunei as we have at other international and regional forums. 

JIM MIDDLETON: Australia has proposed splitting the political from the resource issues as far as the South China Sea is concerned. Have you raised that with your ASEAN and Chinese counterparts and will it be something that you will be putting forward at this meeting in Brunei? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Both Bob Carr and I have made the point to various interlocutors on this issue over the years that one way through, one way to seek to resolve a maritime or territory dispute, particularly where there are resource implications, mineral or petroleum resource implications to contemplate joint developments. And we want these disputes resolved peacefully, in accordance with international law, and if you can resolve them in a way in which there is mutual and joint development, that is one way of not just resolving the matter from a security point of view, it’s also resolving the matter with benefits so far as prosperity, trade and investment are concerned. 

JIM MIDDLETON: Minister, you have been very generous to this program over the years. We thank you very much, and happy travels. 

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Jim. Thanks very much.

 

TRANSCRIPT: EXCERPTS FROM INTERVIEW WITH RUSSELL WOOLF, ABC 720

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: 30 August 2013

TOPICS: Afghanistan allegations of misconduct.

RUSSELL WOOLF: I wonder, if I can, to get your response to the investigation that is underway into an incident in which we believe Australian troops have mutilated the body of an Afghan insurgent. What can you tell us?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well pretty much what the Chief of the Defence Force issued today. Back in April/May, he and I became aware of this suggestion. He put out a release at the time saying that we were investigating a possible incident of misconduct by Australian soldiers, Special Forces soldiers. We didn’t provide any details at that time, and I subsequently alluded to it in the Parliament, but we didn’t provide any details because the suggestion being made was unusual, puzzling, but also very concerning. And so in some respects it’s regrettable that the issue has come out today, but nonetheless we instituted an inquiry, we want to see the outcome of that official inquiry before we come to any conclusions.

The essential allegation is that after a very fierce fight, our Special Forces Task Group was partnered with Afghan National Security Forces, a very fierce fight, four insurgents were killed. The suggestion or the allegation or the incident is that in order to take identification, the hands of one of the dead were removed to provide what’s described technically as biometric evidence. So that’s the suggestion, there’s no suggestion of mutilation of people who were alive. But nonetheless, that’s highly concerning and we’ve been dealing with that at that level ever since. And as the Chief of the Defence Force General Hurley made clear today, once we’ve got the outcome of that the inquiry will be able to take it further.

RUSSELL WOOLF: Has it taken a long time, if this was [indistinct]

STEPHEN SMITH: In the fog of war, you’ve got to be very careful to make sure that you’ve got all of the evidence and all of your best assessments. So in my experience as Defence Minister over the last three years, when we institute an official inquiry under the Defence Act, they always take time. So we’ve been dealing with this one for a few months now, and we want to get it right, and we have to deal with it very carefully.

We have of course, as soon as we became aware of it, and it did come up the chain of command, when we became aware of it General Hurley immediately made sure the commander of the International Security Assistance Force, General Dunford, was made aware of it. We made sure that Afghan officials at the highest level were aware of it, so we’ve done all of the right things in that respect. And now we just have to await the outcome of the inquiry.

RUSSELL WOOLF: Is there any doubt Minister that it was done?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I don’t, it’s difficult for me to prejudge, but the available evidence suggests that what is essentially asserted occurred. We now have to try and work out what were the facts and circumstances associated with that. When General Hurley and I were together overseas when we were informed, we both found it puzzling, unusual and concerning, so it’s not the ordinary course of event that we would expect from the Australian Defence Force or Special Forces. But this was a fierce fight, circumstances in extremis, and we don’t want to rush to judgment.

RUSSELL WOOLF: Okay, and if it is found that it did happen in the way that we believe that it’s happened, is that then against the rules of law [indistinct]

STEPHEN SMITH: We have clearly said both at the time in April and May when we announced that we were having an inquiry that it’s potential misconduct. But again, one wants to and needs to take it step by step. If the facts are, as generally asserted, are correct, then we also want to know and need to know what was the motivation, what was the reason for proceeding along that path which, in our experience, is unusual, if not from an Australian perspective, unique.

RUSSELL WOOLF: Defence Minister Stephen Smith.

Yesterday and today, Wednesday and Thursday 28-29 August, I visited Brunei Darussalam to attend the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) and to conduct bilateral discussions with regional partners.

The ADMM-Plus brings together Defence Ministers from the ten members of the Association of South East Asian Nations and the eight ‘Plus’ countries of the East Asia Summit, namely Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Russia, and the United States.

By involving all members of the East Asia Summit, the ADMM-Plus strengthens and deepens trust and cooperation on defence and security matters throughout the Indo-Pacific.

During today’s formal ADMM-Plus Meeting, Defence Ministers exchanged views on regional and international security challenges and reaffirmed the importance of building trust in the Indo-Pacific region through practical military-to-military and defence-to-defence cooperation.

My intervention during today’s Meeting is available here: http://www.minister.defence.gov.au/2013/08/29/minister-for-defence-intervention-at-the-asean-plus-defence-ministers-meeting-admm-plus/

Practical cooperation under the ADMM-Plus occurs through Experts’ Working Groups (EWGs) on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, maritime security, military medicine, counter-terrorism and peacekeeping operations.

Australia is an active participant in the EWGs and currently co-chairs the Maritime Security EWG with Malaysia.

Next year, Australia will co-chair the Counter-Terrorism EWG with Singapore.

Three significant military exercises occur under the ADMM-Plus framework during this year.

A Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief and Military Medicine Exercise was held in Brunei Darussalam in June, and a Counter-Terrorism Exercise will be held in Indonesia on 9-13 September.

On 29 September – 1 October, Australia will host a Maritime Security Field Training Exercise in the vicinity of Jervis Bay and the East Australian Exercise Area. This will involve representatives and ships from 14 of the 18 ADMM-Plus member states. This is a significant demonstration of the practical military cooperation that occurs under the auspices of ADMM-Plus.

During today’s Meeting, Defence Ministers welcomed the establishment of a new ADMM-Plus EWG on Humanitarian Mine Action, which will promote practical and effective cooperation among member states in dealing with the remnants of war in the region.

Australia has been at the forefront of efforts to rid our region of explosive remnants of war and looks forward to working with the EWG’s inaugural co-chairs, Vietnam and India, and ADMM-Plus partners to further strengthen regional cooperation on this important issue. Australia supported Vietnam’s suggestion for this new EWG.

At the conclusion of today’s ADMM-Plus, Defence Ministers released a Joint Declaration which is available here.

With my ADMM-Plus counterparts, I then participated in an audience with His Majesty, the Sultan of Brunei.

While in Brunei Darussalam, I conducted discussions with a range of regional counterparts.

Yesterday evening I discussed the situation in Syria with the United States Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel. Secretary Hagel and I also continued our discussions on greater US involvement in the region and reaffirmed our commitment to enlarged US Marine rotations in northern Australia.

In June this year, Australia and the United States agreed to progress to a larger six month rotation of around 1150 US Marines to northern Australia from 2014. The intention over coming years is to establish a six month rotational presence (not before 2016) of an up to 2500 person Marine Air Ground Task Force, rotating into northern Australia in the six month northern dry season.

Following the successful completion of Exercise Talisman Saber 2013, around 1000 Australian Army and United States Marine Corps personnel are currently participating in Exercise Koolendong 2013, which is being conducted at the Bradshaw Field Training Area south-west of Darwin.

Around 700 Marine Corps personnel are involved in the Exercise and have been drawn from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit based in Okinawa, Japan and around 150 from the Marines currently on a six month rotation in Darwin. Australia’s contribution comprises 150 Australian Army personnel from the 5th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment based at Robertson Barracks in Darwin.

I met with Singaporean Defence Minister Ng. We discussed our ongoing bilateral cooperation and welcomed Australia and Singapore’s appointment from next year as co-chairs of the ADMM-Plus Counter-Terrorism Experts’ Working Group.

I also met with Malaysian Defence Minister Hishamuddin to discuss the important collaboration between our two countries as the inaugural co-chairs of the ADMM-Plus EWG on Maritime Security. As members of the Five Powers Defence Arrangements, we reaffirmed our commitment to supporting peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

As well, I met with New Zealand’s Minister of Defence, Dr Jonathan Coleman, Vietnam’s Minister of National Defense, General Thanh and Myanmar’s Minister for Defence, Lieutenant General Wai Lwin.

During the course of today, I also had discussions with China’s Minister of National Defence, General Chang, Indonesian Defence Minister Purnomo, Japanese Defense Minister Onodera, Republic of Korea’s Defence Minister Kim, Indian Minister of State for Defence Singh and Thailand’s Deputy Defence Minister Yathasak.

This afternoon I laid a wreath at the Pantai Muara Memorial which commemorates the Australian-led liberation of Brunei from Japanese occupation by Allied forces and the local population in June 1945.

Media contact:

Minister Smith’s Office: Sacha Fenton (02) 6277 7800 or 0467 784 528