TRANSCRIPT: ASPI - Q & A
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 1 AUGUST 2012
QUESTION: Minister, Anna Henderson from ABC News.
You spoke in your address about the possibility down the track of increased US naval access through HMAS Stirling, and this afternoon there have been reports about a US Defense Department commissioned report on the possibility of basing a nuclear aircraft carrier in Perth.
Is this a serious possibility considering the Premier Colin Barnett has already ruled it out?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well as you know the arrangements that we entered into with the United States administration and announced when President Obama was in Australia in November last year, have three priority areas.
Firstly, the rotation of a marine task force group through Darwin that started with an initial contribution of 250 and over a period of time will grow to 2500, and that’s gone very well.
It’s gone very well, not just in an exercise in itself reflecting the cooperation between the United States and Australia, but also because we have already seen expressions of interest from the region, not just Indonesia, which I referred to, but to tease out the possibility of enhanced cooperation between partners in the region particularly in the area of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
The second area which was agreed was the potential for enhanced aerial access to our air bases in northern Australia. And as I have said in the past and indicated in my paper tonight, we have focused to date with the rotation of marines through Darwin. We’ve not yet had a detailed discussion about the enhanced aviation or aerial access to our northern bases – that is the next cab off the rank.
The third cab off the rank, and I’ve said in the past that I consider this further down the track, if only because, as I indicate in my paper it will take some time before we see the growth of India and the growth of the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean rim – but as sure as night follows day, that will occur.
What you have referred to, I think, is the release today of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the CSIS report, which is commissioned by the Department of Defense on a, from memory, on an annual basis. It’s being released overnight; it is being accompanied by a letter from the Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, and a comment from him.
He makes it clear as I do that the report is an independent report to the United States government – it is not a United States government document – and Leon Panetta’s covering letter and comment makes it clear that whilst there is much in the report which is consistent with United States policy, particularly so far as rebalancing is concerned, that the suggestions contained in it are from an independent report – not United States policy.
So far as the possibility of enhanced access to HMAS Stirling is concerned, as I have said previously that is very much the third cab off the rank.
We have not had a conversation with the United States administration about that or any of that detail. I do make this point very clear – we don’t have United States military bases in Australia and we are not proposing to. What we have talked about in terms of increase aerial access or naval access is to have greater access to our facilities.
I haven’t read the full CSIS report; I have read parts of it. Some of that creates the impression that the independent think tank is talking in terms of home porting or a US base. That is not the basis on which we would proceed. What we are looking at down the track is further or enhanced naval access to HMAS Stirling. The strategic rationale for that is the growing importance of India and the growing importance of the Indian Ocean rim, particularly in a naval maritime sense.
QUESTION: (Neil James) Minister, I know what you said, and I hesitate to sound like a Greens Senator at Senate Estimates. The CSIS report on page 8 and 9 is quite interesting.
Everyone seems to be fixing on the idea that the Americans would go to base and carry a task force in Perth, but it’s the discussion of the [indistinct] task force which would be more interesting to many Australians. The report seems to assume, and I quote from the report “moving select US marine corps units might [indistinct] marine task force to be located in Okinawa, Hawaii, Australia” so at least some parts of the American hierarchy are thinking of rotations but also of a more permanent nature of the move, and it’s interesting to note that they comment on the following page “include involvement of government and decision making e.g. Australia Guam, Hawaii” so perhaps some of them are thinking that the Australian government is some level of authority similar to local governments in Guam and Hawaii.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I think the more important part so far as government to government connection, relationship and contact is concerned, the more important part of the report is not what the independent think tank says but what the United States Secretary of State for Defense says in his covering letter and in his comment. And on my quick read of that this afternoon that falls into the category of one of those suggestions that the Secretary of State for Defense is at pains to make clear – is not something which is adopted as US policy.
The entire basis of the agreement between the Aust Government and the United Stated administration, announced in the course of the Presidents visit in November last year, was predicated on the following approach. There are not United States military bases in Australia, and there is no proposal to and the government would not countenance such bases.
Secondly we have joint facilities, the most obvious and important of which is Pine Gap.
Thirdly, we have had for a long period of time United States access to our facilities, whether those facilities are Army, Navy or Air Force, and what we have agreed with the United States administration is a logical extension of access which has been provided over a long period of time. There is no suggestion being made to us that Australia should receive such a large number of marines transferred from Okinawa or Guam.
We are proceeding on the agreement between the Australian government and the United States administration of a six month rotation out of Darwin. It is actually difficult to have a lengthier rotation in Darwin, given that the wet season and the dry season – not much gets done in the wet season as you would know. And in terms of that rotation, we are in a staged way, proceeding over the next five or six years to increase the number from 250 to 2500.
As a general proposition I see a lot of suggestions made everywhere, either from commentators or from journalists or from think tanks, here or elsewhere. I often see those views ascribed to the views of the United States government, Australian Government, the Australian Defence Force organisation, or the United States Defense Force; invariably that’s not the case. They are views of commentators, journalists, think tanks or academics.
QUESTION: Thank you Minister. It’s Graham [indistinct] from the Australian Industry Defence Network. Thank you for your presentation.
My question, earlier you talked about state actors and non state actors, I’d like to hear your opinion on the development of defences in cyber warfare and obviously if we had defences in cyber warfare the vital role that Australian industry would play in any cyber warfare defences?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I think in my prepared remarks I refer to the 2009 White Paper referring to cyber security or cyber warfare as a priority, firstly.
Secondly, that’s a view shared by me and shared by the Australian government and you might recall that when General Hurley became Chief of the Defence Force he put that out there as one of the areas that he thought was of increasing priority and in need of increasing attention.
I think that the two significant touchstones so far as I’m concerned about our work on cyber security has been firstly the AUSMIN meeting that we held with the Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of State for Defense, Gates, in Melbourne in 2009, where we agreed that the United States and Australia would work closer together on Cyber Security matters. That was followed pretty quickly by a meeting of AUKMIN, the 2 + 2 arrangement between Australia and the United Kingdom, where we agreed the same thing, and that I think did a couple of things.
It firstly focused our mind on not just the need to have this as a priority of our own, but make sure it was a priority of the work that we did with our allies, but also with other partners.
There are three points I’d make. Firstly, as you correctly identify, cyber security is not just an issue for nation states, it’s an issue for industry, it’s an issue for government, it’s an issue for individuals, and we’ve been at pains to urge industry and business to be taking necessary precautions themselves. And the dangers here come from not just nation states but also from non-state actors.
Secondly, we need to ensure, given the fact that we are dealing with cyber security, that it is not something Australia is seeking to act alone on, but acting in concert with its friends and partners and thirdly, in addition to taking individual and also bilateral and multi-lateral action, we need to start now establishing some of the rules of the road.
What we don’t have are international norms which are accepted by nation states as being appropriate or inappropriate conduct and that’s one of the issues that we have put out there as being of significant importance.
Agreeing at some stage of international norms would be of some significance to state actors but would be ignored by non-state actors, but there is a very close collaboration on the matters by the Australian Defence Organisation and other security agencies and the Australian Defence industry with expertise in this area. That also occurs in comparable nation states including the United States and the United Kingdom, so that collaboration with expertise and industry is of deep significance, and that will – in my view – only grow because this danger will not abate, it will but enhance and increase and we need to take the necessary steps to protect the confidentiality of information which is relevant to national security. But, business and industry and local commerce also need to take steps to protect and defend their information which is relevant to their own and the nation’s economic security.