TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH JIM MIDDLETON, NEWSLINE, AUSTRALIA NETWORK
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 5 MAY 2011
TOPICS: Pakistan Defence Chief General Khalid Shameem Wynne visit to Australia; Death of Osama bin Laden; ADF Afghanistan commitment; PNG processing centre.
JIM MIDDLETON: Minister, thanks very much for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: My pleasure Jim.
JIM MIDDLETON: Your meeting with the chairman of Pakistan's Joint Chiefs of Staff, that must have been some discussion, very interesting discussion given the increasingly tense row that there is now between the US and Pakistan over Osama bin Laden.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well Wynne was here as part of the regular dialogue that takes place between Australia's military and Defence Force and Pakistan's military and Defence Force and he and I had a courtesy call arranged. We met in the aftermath of President Obama's address to the nation so we were both aware of, firstly what President Obama had said but also importantly what the President relayed so far as his conversation with President Zardari was concerned.
General Wynne, like President Zardari, was pleased that bin Laden had been captured and killed and made the point, as President Zardari has and Prime Minister Gilani has, that bin Laden had declared himself [indistinct]. His comments to me were consistent with the comments reported to the world's media by President Obama so far as President Zardari was concerned.
JIM MIDDLETON: Did you or any of the Defence people - Australia's top brass Angus Houston - raise the possibility or the concern that the United States has and others as well that some of Pakistan's military may be in contact and actually helping the Taliban?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well the conversation that I had with General Wynne was one in which I indicated that I was pleased that President Obama had indicate that part of the reason that bin Laden was tracked down and killed was a result of assistance the general counter-terrorism cooperation between the United States and Pakistan. That's a good thing.
I also indicated to General Wynne as I have previously to Pakistan officials and also publicly that Australia very much supports Pakistan in its counter-terrorism and counter-extremism efforts and that's reflected by the good cooperation that we have and the enhanced counter-terrorism assistance that we've given to Pakistan in recent years.
We know it's complex, we know it's complicated; we know it's tough and we also know that Pakistan needs to do more to counter extremism and terrorism, particularly on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border front.
So, I made that point to General Wynne. He had discussions with Angus Houston, the Chief of the Defence Force and other Australian Defence Force personnel. He also had a round table with one of our think tanks where these issues were also canvassed. So that's a good thing.
More generally I think we have to be careful not to leap to conclusions about state sponsorship or the efforts made in Pakistan to trace down bin Laden. I think that's best left for the exhaustive assessment which is underway, not just in the United States but also an investigation in Pakistan. It's also clearly the case that the United States wants to have an intense dialogue with Pakistan on this front and that's a good thing.
JIM MIDDLETON: Defence Force Chief Angus Houston is quoted as saying after his talks with General Shameem that he had quote; ‘underlined the importance of Pakistan playing a productive and responsible role in achieving a political settlement in Afghanistan,’ quote-unquote. That sounds like Australia thinks Pakistan needs to be clearly reminded of its responsibilities in this matter.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I made the point to General Wynne myself and I'll use my own expression that we need to see in Afghanistan an enduring settlement. That requires very intense combat and military efforts in Afghanistan which are ongoing. It also requires a political outcome and a political settlement which has regional support and that is true particularly of Pakistan but it's also true of the region in which Afghanistan finds itself and the central Asian states and also Iran.
So, regional support for an enduring settlement in Afghanistan, particularly from Pakistan, is absolutely crucial and I welcome the fact that very recently we saw the high-level delegation from Pakistan go to Kabul and meet with President Karzai.
The significance of that delegation was that it wasn't just Prime Minister Gilani, it was also the Chief of Army Kayani and also the Director of the Intelligence Service General Pasha. The fact that such a high-level delegation went as one to Kabul to start discussions with President Karzai and to establish a joint commission in the aftermath of that is something that I welcome.
But Pakistan's support of an enduring settlement in Afghanistan is absolutely crucial and I've made that point to Pakistan officials before and I made it to General Wynne and I've also made the point publicly, which I'm happy to do again tonight.
JIM MIDDLETON: Well, as you say, you are saying that Pakistan still needs to do more on the counter-terrorism front. Australia's second only to the United States in the provision of military - or provision of training to Pakistan's military. What's the point of spending all that money when there's the suspicion - or it seems - that some of these people are likely to be going back and giving comfort to the enemy?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, there's certainly no point in walking away from Pakistan when Pakistan faces very considerable security and economic challenges and difficulties. Our support and assistance to Pakistan is not just on the counter-terrorism front - which we regard as being very important, indeed essential - it's also on the economic front.
Pakistan is not going to overcome its extremism and terrorism and security problems without also making progress on its economic front. And that's why, for example, we have in addition to effectively doubling the number of Pakistan military officers that we train in counter-terrorism, we've also effectively doubled our development assistance and we were one of the strongest contributors in the aftermath of the terrible floods in Pakistan at the end of last year.
So there's no point in walking away. That, in my view, would be firstly wrong; secondly, it wouldn't assist Pakistan.
I've made the point and you've used the form that I have used in the past - we believe that Pakistan has improved its efforts on the counter-terrorism and extremism front, but it does need to do more and I have - I made that point again to General Wynne.
But if we want Pakistan to do more on that front, there's no point in Australia, there's no point in the United States, there's no point in the international community walking away. Pakistan needs to have all the assistance that it can be provided with by the international community.
Now, no-one is saying that the task is not difficult. No-one's saying that it's not complex and complicated, no-one is saying that there's not a history there which presents great challenges to Pakistan and the international community; but there's no point walking away.
JIM MIDDLETON: Turning to Afghanistan specifically, how much of a setback in the struggle to win over the hearts and minds of ordinary Afghans is the finding of that Human Rights Commission that a man killed by Australian Special Forces was a civilian, not an insurgent, as the Australian military insist?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, two things. Firstly, we take any such - or any suggestion that our forces have engaged in activity which has had adverse consequences for civilians very seriously, and we've - we investigate each and every one of them.
On this particular incident, when it became clear that the deaths on the day and as a result of Australian Defence Force personnel actions had also seen the death of a young child - now, let me just make this point absolutely clear; we don't know at this stage whether the death of the child was caused by ADF action or by Taliban or insurgent action; but as soon as we became aware that the death of a child had occurred, we instituted immediately a formal investigation which we always do.
We will forensically and diligently continue that investigation and we won't be coming to any judgements or make any response to the Afghan Human Rights Commission in advance of doing our own rigorous and forensic due diligence, which is what we always do whenever suggestions like this are made. That's the first point.
Secondly, we are held very, very much in high regard for the way in which our personnel on the ground interact with the Afghan community, with the Afghan people. And from time to time, there are serious allegations or suggestions made and we respond in the manner in which I have outlined because it's absolutely essential to our reputation.
JIM MIDDLETON: Another matter, Minister; Defence has significant responsibility for protecting Australia's borders. When did Cabinet decide to enter discussions with Papua New Guinea and about establishing a processing centre for asylum seekers in PNG?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, firstly, you know me well enough, Jim, to know that I would never comment on Cabinet discussions, real or asserted; that's the first point. Secondly, I'm certainly not going to become involved or engage in commenting on speculation in an area outside of my own portfolio.
Whilst it is the case, of course, that some Defence assets are used for surveillance and other activity on the border protection front, those matters are the matters for the Minister for Immigration; so I wouldn't be proposed to be drawn either on any suggested Cabinet conversation or any speculation in my colleague’s area of portfolio responsibility.
JIM MIDDLETON: Isn't this another example though of your government mirroring John Howard's Pacific Solution for managing asylum seekers, a policy your party condemned during the 2007 election?
STEPHEN SMITH: You're making a series of assumptions which I'm not proposing to be drawn on. If you want to get a response to that, then the appropriate person from whom to get a response is my colleague, the Minister for Immigration. I certainly won't be drawn on suggestions or conclusions made on the basis of alleged Cabinet decisions or speculation. So I'll leave that to my colleague, the Minister for Immigration.
JIM MIDDLETON: Minister, thank you very much.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks, Jim; thanks very much.