Stephen Smith MP
Minister for Defence
COLIN BARNETT: In just under 12 months' time the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting will be held in Perth as the host city. The Australian Government is, of course, the host for the overall event.
The role of the West Australian Government is to support the Commonwealth in that and, in particular, to help arrange all of the venues, the events, the parts of CHOGM.
It's a major event, probably the most significant international event for Western Australia since the 1962 Commonwealth Games. In terms of numbers of people, perhaps 4000 official delegates, maybe 1000 media. And bear in mind this state and Perth will be hosting over 50 Presidents and Prime Ministers from various Commonwealth nations, so an extraordinary event.
We also anticipate that there will be a royal visit as part of CHOGM.
There's a great deal to do in the remaining 12 months and while planning is well under way and a number of a decisions have been made, there is still much that will have to happen over the next 12 months.
The main CHOGM event will be held in the Convention Centre. Use will also be made of Government House and most likely of Kings Park and all of those issues are at the moment being finalised.
One particular issue that has arisen already, and I shall provide some details now, is that the dates of CHOGM are Friday 28 October 2011 and then the Saturday and the Sunday.
Friday being the main day will mean that much of the Perth city area will be closed to traffic, not to the public but closed to traffic. There'll be some very important security issues that will need to be in place and also there will be a significant number of motorcades travelling through the city.
To deal with that and to allow the city to function normally, the State Government has made the decision to move the Queen's Birthday holiday for next year. It would have been on 3 October. It will now be on Friday 28 October.
So the main day of CHOGM will be a public holiday which will take a lot of the pressure in terms of the operation of the city. Being a non working day it will allow CHOGM to proceed and won't disrupt business activities.
That will have implications for many events, many other organisations in the state. and the Task Force has spent a lot of time over recent weeks in negotiating how we can deal with that.
For example, the 3 October date would have been in the week of the Royal Show so obviously if that's no longer a public holiday it will affect the Show. As part of that, children will be admitted to the Show for free on those days.
There will be other implications relating to public transport and the like and decisions will be made on that over the coming months. So that's an important aspect.
CHOGM's also a wider event, too. It will involve a business forum, there'll be a peoples or community forum, there'll be a youth forum, there'll be arts activities and the like. So it'll be a very special week and particularly culminating in those three days around it.
So something I'm looking forward to. I think West Australians will become very involved in CHOGM as it develops and it should be a wonderful event for Australia and particularly for Western Australia and Perth.
I'd now like to ask Stephen Smith who, of course as Foreign Minister, negotiated CHOGM coming toAustralia and to Perth and as Defence Minister now representing the Commonwealth on this issue.
STEPHEN SMITH: Premier, thanks very much. I'm very pleased to join with Colin on what is effectively a 12 month run down to CHOGM.
CHOGM is a very important event for Australia, for Western Australia and for Perth and so the Australian Government is very pleased that the Commonwealth Heads of Government will meet here in October next year.
After the General Assembly and the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Union, CHOGM is the largest gathering of leaders and Foreign Ministers. So we'll have over 50 Presidents and Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers from the Commonwealth member countries seeing not just the delights of Australiabut the delights of Western Australia and Perth.
So we're looking very much forward to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting being a tremendous success and, as Colin has said, it is probably the most significant event we've had in Perthitself since the Commonwealth Games back in the '60s.
The Commonwealth Government and the Western Australian Government have been working very closely together on arrangements. There is a long way to go and a lot more to do but we are very pleased with the cooperative way in which we're working to ensure the success of CHOGM.
Foreign Minister Rudd will be here next week, on Friday, on his way back from the APEC meeting inJapan to sit down formally with the Premier to go through some of those arrangements. So the logistical effort is well and truly in hand.
This will be a tremendous opportunity for Perth and Western Australia to showcase itself.
The Premier referred to the Commonwealth Business Forum. This will see some 800 to 1000 delegates from the Commonwealth's business community, the Commonwealth's industry community coming toPerth.
The Business Forum itself will be conducted at Burswood so that will be one of any number of opportunities for Western Australia and for Perth.
So far as Defence formally is concerned, of course, we have a whole of Government effort with coordination not just between the Commonwealth and the State but also with the relevant local authority, the City of Perth.
Defence formally sits on the Commonwealth Task Force dealing with these matters, obviously giving logistic and security advice. What Defence's formal role will be on the actual event time will tell.
Finally, can I just say how pleased I am as the local Federal Member for Perth to be hosting, as the local Federal Member, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. I take some particular delight in that.
I think Colin and I are happy to respond to your questions.
QUESTION: Is it likely, in respect of this - likely that the efforts will mirror those of APEC in Sydney, the G4 in Melbourne, where they had the anti-terrorist force available?
STEPHEN SMITH: It's certainly the case, as the Premier alluded to or referred to, that we do need to be very conscious of the security arrangements. What the precise detail of those are time will tell. I wouldn't be proposing to be commenting on those this far out.
What we do know is that it is a regrettable fact of the modern day that we need to be very conscious of security arrangements. What we are confident of is that there will be very close coordination between the Commonwealth and the State authorities, and we're very pleased with the initial planning that has been done. In terms of detailed arrangements, we are a fair way from finalising those.
QUESTION: Will there be [indistinct] police?
COLIN BARNETT: Look, my understanding is there'll be several hundred police officers from elsewhere in Australia and, of course, the Federal Police will have a significant presence. So all of that work is being done between the Western Australia Police, the Federal Police, but yeah, there will be a lot of people required from elsewhere in Australia to be part of this.
QUESTION: Are you going to have any corridors, like we saw in Sydney, where the motorcades drive behind barricades of steel and concrete?
COLIN BARNETT: Look, I don’t expect that. But certainly, streets will be closed off and much ofPerth will be in almost a shutdown in terms of traffic. And that's why we've made that Friday a public holiday.
QUESTION: How many people are we expecting to come for CHOGM in total, including the heads of state…
COLIN BARNETT: Well, the number that's been talked about is around 4000 in total, across all the different events, and perhaps up to 1000 media representatives. So Perth will be very much at the centre of world attention during that week.
QUESTION: Can Perth's hotels accommodate them, Premier? Is there enough vacant rooms?
COLIN BARNETT: Yes, that's being looked at and I've got to say that the hotels have been extraordinarily cooperative, as have a number of major businesses in Western Australia that, for example, may have permanent bookings, have given those bookings up for that period of time. That was one of the first issues tackled and I know was one of the first things that Stephen raised with me, was would we be able to physically accommodate the delegates in the appropriate accommodation. And that has been solved.
STEPHEN SMITH: Just to add to that - I mean, the Premier has referred to the cooperation - we've been very pleased with the cooperation that both the Commonwealth and the State has received from all parts of the Perth community who will be touched by the events. So whether it's hospitality and accommodation or more generally, we're very pleased with the response.
From Perth's perspective, it's a very, very good thing that we will see thousands of people come to Perthfrom international community. That's a good thing. It's one of the reasons why we're all working very hard to make sure the event is a tremendous success, a tremendous success for Perth, tremendous success for Western Australia and a tremendous success for Australia.
QUESTION: Premier, can you just clarify, you said that the admission for the Royal Show would be free for children on 3 October?
COLIN BARNETT: On that day, yes.
QUESTION: So on the Monday there wouldn't ordinarily be a public holiday but admission is free for children?
COLIN BARNETT: Yeah, because it will mean a loss of revenue to the show and attendance, so to compensate, through CHOGM, the attendance of children will be subsidised, it will be free.
QUESTION: So the State Government will be paying…
COLIN BARNETT: State and the Commonwealth are coming to some arrangement. We just made it clear to the Royal Agricultural Society, we realise CHOGM will have an impact, or particularly moving the public holiday will have an impact. So the compensation I guess, or the quid pro quo, is to allow children to go free now.
It will be free for the families but someone will pay their attendance and that will be between the Commonwealth and the State.
QUESTION: So free to the families, you mean?
COLIN BARNETT: Well, the children, yeah, children, yeah…
STEPHEN SMITH: Sorry, just on the public holidays, of course it's been entirely a matter for the Premier and for the State Government but from the Commonwealth's perspective we regard it as a very sensible initiative. And the Premier has outlined the way in which compensation will effectively be provided for the Royal Show and Royal Show goers.
But the point the Premier made earlier is a very important one, is that on the Friday there will be the security arrangements at their peak, and that will see closure of streets in the inner city. So a public holiday on that day is a very sensible initiative by the Premier and the State Government and we welcome it.
QUESTION: And Minister Smith, how confident are you that the Queen will be…
STEPHEN SMITH: It's a matter for the Queen to publish her diary, not the Commonwealth or the State. But she's visited every Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that people can remember. She was at Trinidad and Tobago, the Port of Spain, for the most recent one.
So both the Commonwealth and the state is doing everything that you would expect us to do in anticipation of a royal visit.
QUESTION: Premier, the public holiday Friday, with CHOGM, is that just for Perth or for the entire state?
COLIN BARNETT: It will be the state holiday, yeah, right across the state. And if we do have a royal visit that may be - provide an opportunity for people to be part of that as well.
QUESTION: Mr Smith, I have a non-CHOGM question.
COLIN BARNETT: Can we finish on - finished on CHOGM? Okay. I'll let Steve do that non-CHOGM.
QUESTION: We've had a report today about military cooperation with China. I'm wondering what form do you see that taking and how does that sit with what the White Paper says?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, if I can say very respectfully there's a bit of a lag effect here. General Guo, who is the Vice Chair of the Chinese Military Commission, was in Australia earlier this year. My predecessor, Defence Minister Faulkner, met formally with him, as did I, as the then Foreign Minister.
As part of those discussions we agreed that we would enhance our defence and military cooperation and we would see a modest start to some exercises. That recently included some naval exercise, an exchange of personnel, and also a live firing exercise from HMAS Warramunga, in which Chinese naval personnel were involved.
That was all made public at the time and all made public by Defence. I see there's some interest overnight, some excited or excitable interest overnight, in the live firing exercise. Defence, quite appropriately, put out a release about that when it occurred, from memory, 24 September.
But we have a growing relationship with China. We have what we describe as a strategic dialogue and a strategic approach to our relationship with China. Most people see our economic relationship but we also have growing defence and military cooperation and that is a good thing.
QUESTION: With your Defence Minister cap on, a woman by the name of Judy Ann Gardiner rang Neil Mitchell this morning saying that their son who is serving in Afghanistan complained he was cold. She sent him a mattress cover, a doona and a blanket because the Army said they didn't have any. Is that right?
STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly, the advice I have this morning is that Defence told me that all of that necessary equipment is available. I've asked Defence to very quickly investigate. If there are any shortages, they are to be made up immediately.
It is of course open to our Defence Force personnel, in addition to the kit that they are provided with, to supplement that or complement that with their own. But the advice I have this morning is that in terms of blankets and the like that they are in sufficient supply. But I've asked for an urgent report to ensure there are no shortages and if there are shortages those shortages are to be made up immediately.
QUESTION: She sent the $240 bill to Julia Gillard. Now if it turns out there are shortages, will Ms Gillard pick up the bill?
STEPHEN SMITH: In these matters I think it's always sensible to take things step by step. As I say, the advice I have from Defence this morning is that there are no such shortages. I've asked Defence to very urgently and quickly investigate this particular matter and made the point that if there are shortages they are to be filled or replenished immediately.
QUESTION: You talk about a time lag though. He would have to complain to his mother. If you follow the sequence of events, he says he's cold, he asks for a blanket, told there's no blanket, he would then have to complain to his mother and his mother would then have to post this stuff off to him. Surely he can't be, it's just inconceivable that it would last days going cold in Afghanistan?
STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly, the basis on which I am proceeding is the advice I have from Defence this morning, that there are no such shortages. That's the first point. Secondly the advice I have is in terms of this kit, it is in available supply. I've also made the point to Defence that if there are shortages they need to be filled immediately. The advice I have is that there are no such shortages.
Our soldiers are provided with the kit that they need. The advice I have is that the kit that we're referring to, blankets and like, is in sufficient supply. It's also the case and I experienced this myself when I was in Afghanistan recently, that we are moving to Afghanistan's winter which can be bitterly cold, not just in Kabul but also in Tarin Kowt and in Uruzgan Province where our soldiers are.
QUESTION: Are you concerned with the reports of large cost blowout with the F35 Joint Strike Fighter project?
STEPHEN SMITH: Again this is an issue that we need to take step by step. Firstly I have seen some media speculation out of the United States. This is not an area where it is sensible to respond on the run to media speculation. Firstly, Defence Secretary Gates earlier this year requested effectively a ground-up review of the Joint Strike Fighter project. He has not yet received that review and my advice is he is expected to receive the results of that review some time before the end of this year.
Australia has committed itself to date to receiving 14 Joint Strike Fighters. The White Paper and our 2030 Force posture talks, in terms of around ultimately 100 Joint Strike Fighters. We have committed ourselves to 14. The particular variant of the Joint Strike Fighters that we have committed ourselves to purchasing 14 of, I'm advised today by Defence that that is well advanced, that trials are already occurring in that variant.
We expect that the Australian Joint Strike Fighters will be produced off the assembly line in 2014. There'll then be a period of training and operational readiness in the United States and we expect that the the first compliment of the Joint Strike Fighters will arrive in Australia in 2017/2018. So to date we have had no information or advice from the United States which would cause us to believe that that is anything other than on track.
Having said that, Defence Secretary Gates, who of course is in Australia over the weekend and on Monday for our formal AUSMIN discussions - this matter is not a matter formally on the AUSMIN agenda but of course I'll have a conversation with Secretary Gates about how he sees the progress of the project.
In the first instance, what we will wait patiently for is the results of Secretary Gates' so-called bottom up or basement up review. But to date we have nothing to indicate that the 14 that we have committed to won't be met on the schedule that I've outlined or it won't be met on the budget we've previously allocated.
QUESTION: What do you hope will come out of that AUSMIN Meeting?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well it, of course, is the annual Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations. We will traverse the array of strategic and other interests that Australia and the United States have; obviously Afghanistan, obviously cyber-security. There is also the need to have discussions and do further work on space security. So we will traverse the array of strategic issues and it's also of course the 25thanniversary of the AUSMIN, the Australia-US Ministerial Meetings. Ambassador Beazley will be in attendance and I'm sure he'll join with the rest of us and celebrate the 25th anniversary.
QUESTION: [Indistinct]… this is Australia's larges military acquisition. In a Department that is committed to cost-cutting, are you prepared for cost blowouts?
STEPHEN SMITH: As I say, in these large projects, they're always challenging, there are always technical and other risks, but you do need just to take them step by step. The White Paper and our Force 2030 proposals associated with the White Paper see us purchasing up to 100 Joint Strike Fighters. We have committed ourselves to 14. The variant, the standard variant, of the Joint Strike Fighters that we have committed ourselves to purchasing 14 of, has already come off the assembly line in the United Statesand is already the subject of trials and testing.
So we have nothing which would cause us at this stage to be of the view that either the scheduling we have put in place or the budget and cost arrangements we have put in place will be extended. Having said that we, of course, are very interested in the ground-up review that Secretary Gates has requested. Once that review is out there of course we'll have a detailed conversation with the United States about it.
But we have built into our project a sensible scheduling timetable and a sensible cost arrangement which seeks to cater for the difficulties that one always has in a big project such as this.
QUESTION: Michael Keenan has criticised the Government for failing to attend a meeting last night in Northam and there were some quite fiery scenes. Do you think the Government's failed in this policy area?
STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly in detail, it's clearly a matter for my colleague, the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, so I'm happy to respond in general terms but I'll leave the detail to him. Firstly, the Government chose Northam as one of the sites for a detention facility. From my perspective it is of course a Defence facility. From my perspective the key thing is that any such use of the facility would not adversely impact on Defence's operational readiness. In the case of Northam, that is right.
The consultation process which has been followed is precisely the same consultation process that has occurred over the years in respect of the use of Defence facilities, including and in particular by the Howard Government. Mr Bowen was in Northam himself earlier in the week on Monday or Tuesday and he's been in discussions with the local, State and Federal Member and the local Mayor.
QUESTION: Was it cowardly that no MP from the Federal Government showed up to that meeting?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I wasn't invited to go so I can only speak for myself. I'm not aware of who…
QUESTION: But [indistinct] anyone there but no-one went.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, you can either listen to the answer, I wasn't invited myself that I'm aware of, firstly, and secondly obviously I didn't attend. My understanding is that Senator Glenn Sterle, the Labor WA Senator, attended. That was my understanding. That might be right, it might be wrong, but Minister Bowen made it clear to the organisers that he was not in a position to attend.
But the experience of these matters is generally there is community concern and when the consultation process is gone through, very many of the issues raised by the community are dealt with in a positive and productive way. And I'm hopeful that that will be the case so far as Northam is concerned. As well, of course, there are also some people in the local Northam community who regard it as a good thing because they see additional potential for economic activity as a result of the detention centre being at the army base.
QUESTION: On East Timor Mr Smith, have you got a date for the withdrawal of Australian troops?
STEPHEN SMITH: No. That's a matter which of course we would in due course be in detailed discussions with the East Timorese Government, but also with our partner in the International Security Force, New Zealand. But also with the United Nations because we have the United Nations Mission inEast Timor there.
We recently, in the course of the last six months, reduced our presence there by some 65 Defence personnel. But we remain committed to the International Stabilisation Force and to the United Nations Mission in East Timor. What will be the timetable for ultimate withdrawal will be a matter of detailed discussion with the East Timorese Government and other interested parties in due course.
But I make this very simple historical point, we do not want to make a mistake in respect of East Timor which Australia and the international community has made in the past, which is to leave too soon.
QUESTION: What about the timetable for a decision, would it be before the end of the year?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, not on that timetable at all. This is something that will occur in a very orderly fashion. There's no expectation that these discussions or decisions will be made quickly. It's not something that we regard as a priority to deal with. We want to continue to discharge our obligation to East Timor and our obligation to the United Nations Mission in East Timor.
QUESTION: And just on the Burma elections, what's the best outcome anyone can hope for on this?
STEPHEN SMITH: I'll leave Burma to the Prime Minister and to Foreign Minister Rudd. My general response is that which is long-standing Australian policy, which is we would want to see a free and fair election in Burma. We would want to see Aung San Suu Kyi being able to take part in that but, as to assessment of the last few days, I'll leave to Mr Rudd.
Okay, thanks. Thanks very much everyone. Cheers.
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