TRANSCRIPT: TRANSCRIPT OF JOINT DOORSTOP, BRISBANE
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 10 JULY 2012
TOPICS: Helicopter maintenance contract; DCP; DLA Piper Volume 1 release; carbon pricing; Greens political party; asylum seekers; turning back the boats
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much for turning up. I'm very pleased to be here at Sikorsky Helitech with Jason Clare, the Minister for Defence Materiel, also Minister for Home Affairs. And we're announcing today, the signature between Sikorsky and the Commonwealth for $124 million worth of maintenance for our Black Hawks and our Seahawks - two of our very important workhorses so far as our helicopter fleet is concerned. The Black Hawk, of course, is now a famous platform and in very many respects iconic not just for the work that it does assisting our troops in combat circumstances but also for the work that it does during humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
And that particularly applied in the aftermath of Cyclone Yasi, where we saw the Black Hawks doing tremendous work in very difficult and dangerous conditions often, in the aftermath of that disaster in Queensland last year. So, a $124 million contract. That'll ensure local jobs, investment into Brisbane and Queensland, and that's a very good thing, with Brisbane and Queensland now becoming very much a centre of helicopter maintenance and aviation maintenance. So, Jason and I are very pleased to have witnessed the signing of that contract just a few moments ago. Jason and I are also announcing today that we are releasing the Public Defence Capability Plan. As we announced recently, this Defence Capability Plan will be over a four-year period covering the forward estimate years, so it reflects the detail which we outlined in the course of the Budget.
And, as we announced recently, this will shortly be followed by a six-year Defence Capability Guide. That'll provide greater certainty to industry. Producing the Defence Capability Plan over a four-year period, matching the forward estimates and also containing a guide for work over the following six years, is a result of our consultations with industry earlier this year. And those details will be placed, as we speak, on the Defence website so that industry will now have the 2012 online Defence Capability Plan. Since the White Paper in 2009, we've now seen four revisions of the capability plan, two revisions in 2010 and a revision last year. The plan itself covers some 111 projects and if you calculate the value of all of those projects through the project life it's over $153 billion. So, a substantial amount of work so far as industry is concerned.
There are also a number of other capability announcements that Jason and I are making but they're produced in the materials for you and you've got those to read. Finally today, I'm also releasing, consistent with provisions of the Freedom of Information legislation, releasing all of the first part of the DLA Piper report, and an updated section provided to me in April by DLA Piper. We've seen in recent times the release of an Executive Summary of the first part of DLA Piper's work into sexual and other serious abuses in Defence. Last month we saw the release through Freedom of Information legislation of the entire Executive Summary of the first volume of DLA Piper's work, and I indicated at that time that people should expect or anticipate that more materials would be published. And today, other than some redactions which are, on legal advice, consistent with Freedom of Information legislation and consistent with personal privacy arrangements, those materials will be placed on the Defence website.
I've done that because the Government is now focusing on the second volume - the final volume of DLA Piper's work which I received in late April and, as I've indicated in recent days, the Government is not too far away from coming to final conclusions on the work of DLA Piper. And all of those options I've previously spoken about- from existing processes to a Royal Commission-remain on the table. The Attorney-General and I, as I've said in recent times, are not too far away from making final conclusions in this area. So, those further materials which underline the seriousness and the sensitivity and the complexity of what we're dealing with will be placed on the Defence website in the course of the morning.
I'll ask Jason to make some remarks on those capability matters and then we're happy to respond to your questions. Jason?
JASON CLARE: Thanks very much Stephen. Queensland plays a very important role for the Australian Defence Force. Most of our troops are based here in Queensland – in Townsville and in Brisbane. Our frontline fighters, the Super Hornets, are based here in Brisbane, along with our C-17s and our new multi-role refuelling aircraft. We train for our Black Hawk helicopters here in Queensland as well. They're just a couple of examples. Queensland also plays a very important role for the defence industry. We maintain a lot of military equipment here and it creates a lot of jobs for Queenslanders. This contract is just one example of that. It's a four-year contract worth $124 million, employs around about 130 people here at Sikorsky, maintaining, doing the deep level maintenance for our Black Hawk and our Seahawk helicopters. It's good news for the workers here in Brisbane. It's also good news for the people of Queensland.
Stephen mentioned the natural disasters of last year, the cyclone but also the floods, and everybody will remember the work that the Black Hawks did to rescue people, to save lives over the course of that terrible summer last year. And that work was able to happen because of the work done by Army, because of the work done by the Boeing maintenance crew, and because of the work that was done here by the Sikorsky deep level maintenance group. It's that work that gets the Black Hawks and the Seahawks up in the air that ultimately saves Australian lives. So, I'd like to thank the team for all the work they did last year and this contract, this new contract, is a credit to the great work that they're doing.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks, Jason. We're happy to respond to your questions.
JOURNALIST: Minister, the Treasurer said that 1 July would be a game-changer. Why haven't the latest polls [indistinct] that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, just as the world didn't end on 1 July, as Tony Abbott was predicting, so no one was proceeding on the basis that the Government's political fortunes would change overnight. This is going to be a long, hard race, and I've made that point before- and I know it's a cliché- but in the end, there's only one poll that counts. I've always believed this Parliament would go its full term, to September, October, November of next year, and the closer we get to that poll the more people will stop looking at the Government in isolation and start to make judgements about Tony Abbott. And what Mr Abbott has said, so far as carbon pricing is concerned, really does call into question his judgment.
The world didn't end on 1 July. There is too much carbon in our environment and too much carbon in our economy and we have to reduce that and that's what the carbon pricing arrangements are all about. And there is adequate compensation, whether it's for pensioners, self-funded retirees or business and industry to compensate for any price increases and Greg Combet's been making that point crystal clear in recent days. So, we know that when you introduce big and substantial economic and social change, there's always political controversy, there's always political difficulty. We're going through that period but in the run-up to between now and the next election the community will make a judgment about the sense of that long term economic change and Mr Abbott's judgment.
JOURNALIST: Have you been shocked by the findings of the DLA Piper review?
STEPHEN SMITH: As I've made the point previously, in the aftermath of the ADFA Skype issue, my office and Defence and the media were inundated with past allegations of previous abuse and the allegations that DLA Piper have considered go back as early as 1951. So, we're dealing now with what are described as over 700 plausible cases over a five or six decade period and that's why we've got to work through them very carefully and very clearly. But they do raise very serious allegations, and they do raise matters which are deeply sensitive. And they will shock some people- and that's why we've been dealing, not just myself and DLA Piper, but also in more recent times the Attorney-General, dealing with these matters very thoughtfully as we work through the best judgements we can make dealing, as we are, with firstly over 700 so-called plausible allegations over a five or six-decade period, and then trying to deal with what this says systemically about Defence and how we should respond to that.
JOURNALIST: And just to clarify, what will happen after the [indistinct]
STEPHEN SMITH: Sorry?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well as I say, the Government's not too far away from making final conclusions or decisions in this area so we expect, in the near future, to be able to make an announcement about how we are proposing to proceed from here. And the review itself - DLA Piper's recommendations itself canvas all of the possibilities. These include an apology to people who have been adversely affected by abuse, relying upon existing processes or procedures, including criminal processes and procedures, the introduction of a capped compensation scheme, but also further legal or judicial inquiry including a Royal Commission. So, we're working our way carefully through those options.
JOURNALIST: Minister, what do you make of Tony Abbott formally declining an invitation to be a part of the asylum seeker committee?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well look, I very strongly believe - very strongly believe that in the last few days we have seen, on the issue of people smuggling and asylum seekers and boats, a series of judgements by Tony Abbott and a series of comments by Tony Abbott which really very much call into question his fitness for office and his judgement. Firstly, he has been saying in Australia for some time that he will introduce a policy of towing boats back to Indonesia. We now know, as a result of what Mr Abbott said over the weekend and what the Indonesian officials have said, that he did not raise that with the President of Indonesia. He had a formal meeting with the President of Indonesia, he passed up the opportunity of looking the Indonesian President in the eye and saying Mr President, I will introduce a policy of turning boats back to Indonesia.
So, so much for Tony Abbott saying to people that he is straight forward and up front. Nothing could have been more disingenuous than not looking the Indonesian President in the eye and saying I will tow back the boats to your country. That's the first point. Secondly, we know from previous experience that towing back the boats will not work in this era. In 2001-2003 we saw a small number of boats towed back. Since then, circumstances have changed, and all you need to do is to look at the evidence given by the current Chief of Navy at Senate Estimates- who was personally involved in the towing of boats back in 2001. And the evidence he gave the Senate Estimates - he said he was involved both in a successful towing back and an unsuccessful towing back, because what we now know is that boats are disabled, and you effectively turn immediately into a rescue at sea operation.
Thirdly, we have Tony Abbott himself, for the first time, saying over the weekend and yesterday that his policy, his deliberate policy, a policy that he has thought through, a policy that he has attached himself to for weeks and months, openly acknowledging that that policy will put Australian Defence Force personnel at risk. He will put their lives in danger. He openly acknowledged that. So, we firstly have Tony Abbott refusing to look the Indonesian President in the eye and saying, I will tow boats back to Indonesia. We have Tony Abbott refusing to take the sensible advice, whether it's the current Chief of Navy or the former Chief of the Defence Force, Admiral Barrie, that this is an impractical policy which can't and won't work. Thirdly, we have Tony Abbott saying, I acknowledge that this will put the lives of Australian Defence Force personnel at risk. And finally, we have Tony Abbott refusing to provide members of his own party to play a liaison role with the committee - the expert committee chaired by the former Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Houston, who himself knows a bit about asylum seeker and people smuggling and boat issues. All of these issues call into question Tony Abbott's judgement, his fitness for office, and his capacity to occupy the office of Prime Minister of this country.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the Greens have too much power in the Federal Parliament; that they're a bit loopy? You know, that's the kind of comments some of your colleagues are coming up with.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the Greens are their own political party. They are not an activist movement, they're a political party. They run for office. They've got one member in the House of Reps, and because no major political party formed a majority in its own right, the Greens and the Independents help us form a minority government. In the Senate they have considerable numbers. I think the Australian community understand that the Greens are a political party. They have their own policies, they have their own approach to matters and in very many fundamental respects they differ very much from the Labor Party. They're entitled to go out and put their policies to the Australian people just as the Liberal Party is and just as Labor is. And in terms of allocation of preferences, these matters are always done by the party administration in the run up - the immediate run up to the election. But I think it's becoming more apparent each day that the Greens are a political party, like Labor and like the Liberals and the Nationals. They're not an activist or a political movement and some of their policies we strongly disagree with. For example, in my area, in Jason's area, the Greens are very strongly opposed to the alliance with the United States which has been the bedrock of our security and defence arrangements for over 60 years.
JOURNALIST: You're up here for a Community Cabinet this afternoon, is that right?
STEPHEN SMITH: Yes.
JOURNALIST: Are you looking forward to that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely. Yeah, I'm heading off to the Community Cabinet which is up Ipswich way, and between now and then I'm heading off to Enoggera to have a chat to our Defence Force personnel at the barracks there. And before I go to the Community Cabinet I'll drop into Amberley and see some of the Air Force personnel there.
JOURNALIST: Quick question for Minister Clare if that's okay?
JASON CLARE: Sure.
JOURNALIST: Why did we even bother to invite the Opposition to this [indistinct]…?
JASON CLARE: Well, I think the people of Australia expected Tony Abbott for once to say yes. The people of Australia have had a gutful of this. They're sick of politicians fighting; they're sick of politicians yelling at each other. They expect politicians to sit down together and work this issue through. This is a reference panel to advise and support Angus Houston, the former Chief of the Defence Force, and Tony Abbott has refused to even sit on that reference panel. And I think that the people of Australia will view that very poorly. Two weeks ago the Liberal Party and the Greens voted together to stop offshore processing and now the Liberal Party refuses to even sit on a panel to advise the expert group led by Angus Houston.
Can I also just use the opportunity here just to make a few other points about this idea of towing back boats. What Mr Abbott is doing here is effectively playing Russian roulette with the lives of Australian sailors. He has admitted this is dangerous, the former Chief of the Defence Force has said this is dangerous, the Chief of the Navy has said this is dangerous, and we've had members of the Australian Navy saying this is dangerous. Just in January you had a senior Naval officer say this about towing back boats: “they'll disable their boats when they see us coming; they will burn their boats. The policy will encourage them to do so and it will place lives - Navy lives, refugee lives - at risk.” And this is the crux of it. This is the crux of it, because if you try and tow a boat back, the boat will be sabotaged, the boat will start to sink, people will jump into the water and Australian Navy personnel will have to go in and save them. That's what puts their lives at risk, and that's why this Government is opposed to it. We won't have it and nor should the Australian people.
STEPHEN SMITH: Okay. Thanks very much everyone. Cheers.