Stephen Smith MP
Minister for Defence
TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH LYNDAL CURTIS, ABC24
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 17 MARCH 2011
TOPICS: Update on the earthquake and tsunami crisis in Japan, ADF efforts in disaster relief in Japan, situation in Libya, Afghanistan, bid for Bay Class vessel, acquisition of an additional C-17 Globemaster.
LYNDAL CURTIS: [indistinct]
STEPHEN SMITH: We're now down to 55 unaccounted for which means that there are 55 Australians we believe were in the adversely affected area at the time of the quake and the tsunami whom we haven't been able to make contact with and our officials will continue to work very assiduously on that, and the number's been coming down over the last 24, 48 hours.
Secondly, on the exclusion zone for radiation arising from the Fukushima power plant, yes, the Japanese have an exclusion zone of 20-30 kilometres either to remove oneself from the area, or to in the 20-30 kilometre zone shelter or voluntarily remove.
Overnight the US Ambassador has advised United States citizens to contemplate or consider a 80 kilometre exclusion zone, and as the Foreign Minister has made clear this morning our officials as we speak are making assessments and judgements about that and whether our own advice needs to change, but for the present we're very strongly advising Australians obviously to not travel to the localised area where the reactors are - where the facility is - and to follow strictly the exclusion zone set by local authorities.
But all of our agencies, ARPANSA, the Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency and the other nuclear-related agencies are all giving us their own assessments effectively on an ongoing basis, and we're crossing that advice or they're crossing their own advice with the advice from the United States authorities, and also the international regulator, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
But for the present it's localised and we urge Australians to follow the advice which is reflected in our travel advice but also to follow the advice of the Japanese authorities in terms of an exclusion zone away from the reactor itself.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Now Australia has one C-17 in Japan. What's that plane doing?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we've used the C-17 to firstly transport Australian emergency rescue workers to Japan itself. Since then we've been using the C-17 which is a large, heavy and - heavy-lift plane to, in conjunction with the Japanese authorities to transport both equipment, fresh water for example, but also Japanese emergency workers themselves and their equipment and vehicles, and we'll be doing that for the rest of the week until at least the weekend.
And then we'll make a judgment about whether that is of continuing assistance to Japan. But other than the United States we're the only country with a military or Defence asset in Japan at the moment, and the only country other than United States who's got access to such a heavy-haulage airlift plane, so it's proving invaluable at the moment.
LYNDAL CURTIS: It was used, a C-17 was used in Christchurch as well. Is there a case for Australia buying another one to, not only for military uses, but for use in civilian emergencies such as this.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I - absolutely, and I've indicated publicly in recent times that I was giving consideration to that and I can indicate today that in the course of this week the government has formally decided that we will acquire another C-17 heavy airlift plane, and we'll do that as quickly as we can.
LYNDAL CURTIS: On to Libya, the Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd says there should be a no-fly zone in place now. That's not happened. There were reports overnight that the Libyan military aircraft have bombed the airport at Benghazi, which is the rebel stronghold. Is it too late now to impose a no-fly zone if there is in fact agreement for one?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well it's never too late, and Australia, through the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and myself as Defence Minister have been urging the international community to adopt a no-fly zone for precisely that reason. The Security Council is currently seized of a resolution which includes a no-fly zone.
LYNDAL CURTIS: But there is quite a deal of caution from some countries on the Security Council.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we continue to urge the Security Council to adopt it. We know realistically that some countries on the Security Council have reservations. And we know for example from the G8 foreign ministers meeting in the last 48 hours that G8 countries - some G8 countries - also have reservations, so we're disappointed that there wasn't a unanimous resolution out of the G8 foreign ministers.
When I was in Brussels last week for NATO and ISAF Defence Ministers' Meeting on Afghanistan, obviously took the opportunity of discussing with my colleagues in NATO the no-fly zone issue, and I was pleased when NATO defence ministers essentially adopted a resolution which was that if there was a Security Council resolution - and there was support from the region, in particular the African Union and the Arab League, then NATO would implement such a no-fly zone, and [indistinct] the scoping or the pre-planning to that effect, but we continue to urge the Security Council to adopt a no-fly zone as part of its resolutions against Colonel Qaddafi which already include an arms embargo, and in our own case, financial and travel sanctions.
LYNDAL CURTIS: The news seems a little better out of Afghanistan. General Petraeus gave evidence to a Senate committee overnight where he suggested there's probably fewer than 100 Al Qaeda fighters left in Afghanistan. Does that mean countries like Australia could look at pulling out earlier?
STEPHEN SMITH: No no. Absolutely not. We can't in any way rest on our laurels or take anything for granted.
Yes, we have made ground in recent times in the last nine to 12 months. But it is tenuous. And we need to consolidate. And we have to steel ourselves when this year's fighting season commences next month in April or in May, we have to steel ourself for a very tough season. The meeting of the International Security Assistance Force Defence Ministers in Brussels last week formally approved the start of the transition arrangements. President Karzai will announce later this month the first wave of provinces or districts where we believe that the Afghan security forces can take responsibility. So we're –
LYNDAL CURTIS: So we're looking more and more to consolidation?
STEPHEN SMITH: We're - firstly, we're making progress on training and mentoring the Afghan national security forces to take responsibility themselves. Secondly we have made up ground in terms of security gains, but we need to consolidate that and make further progress not just in Oruzgan Province but in Afghanistan generally, and we also need to make political progress in terms of strengthening the Afghan institutions.
LYNDAL CURTIS: And finally you spoke about purchasing another C-17 aircraft. Have any decisions been made about purchasing amphibious ships to make up for the ones that had so much trouble?
STEPHEN SMITH: Yes. We have a gap which I've spoken about extensively in recent times, and I've indicated in the past that we were looking to either seeking to buy or lease an amphibious ship from the United Kingdom. I spoke with my UK counterpart, Defence Secretary Fox in a b... about that matter, both in London and in Brussels when I was there last week, and I can indicate today that today, London time, we will formally put forward a bid, formally enter a bid for the purchase of a Bay class, a large amphibious heavy-lift ship. We're very keen to pick it up. We think that will go a long way to meeting the gap that we have until the arrival of our new landing helicopter docks in 2014 through to 2016.
So we'll put in a formal bid today and very keen to pick it up.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Stephen Smith, thank you very much for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much.
Printer Friendly Version