TRANSCRIPT: DOORSTOP INTERVIEW - RAAF BASE AMBERLEY
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 23 SEPTEMBER 2011
TOPICS: Acceptance of fifth C-17; Sixth C-17 request.
STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly, thanks very much for coming. I'm very pleased to be here with the Chief of Air Force and also with the Mayor of Ipswich, Paul Pisasale. This is a great day for Amberley, a great day for Ipswich, a great day for Air Force and a great day for Australia.
Today we see the formal arrival of our fifth C-17 heavy airlift aircraft and I've also announced today that yesterday United States time, we've started the process of purchasing a sixth C-17.
Our original fleet of C-17s of course was four and we saw with the use of our four C-17s the great work that that heavy airlift capability can provide firstly doing effective work in a military sense and in a combat sense in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
Secondly, providing much needed disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, whether that is in Australia itself and we saw in the aftermath of the floods and Cyclone Yasi a C-17 from this base, the men and women of this base, evacuating from two hospitals in Cairns literally in less than 12 hours; Getting sick people from hospitals to hospitals out of harm's way.
We also saw a C-17 arrive in Christchurch after the earthquake in less than 24 hours delivering a search and rescue team and in Japan in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. In Japan at one stage we had three of our C-17s either ferrying Japanese personnel and equipment or delivering much needed water cooling gear and equipment for the nuclear reactor.
This does great things for Australia's reputation in the region. It shows that we are a good international citizen and we want to help people who need a helping hand.
The fifth C-17 which I formally received on Australia's behalf in Los Angeles last week at Boeing's factory, adds to our capability and that's the plane that you see here today. What I've announced today is that yesterday United States time, we formally presented to United States officials a letter of request, starting the process under the United States Foreign Military Sales Program to acquire a sixth C-17.
Having six rather than four effectively increases by 100 per cent our day to day operational capacity. So this is a tremendous thing that the Air Force is doing.
The work that the men and women from 36th Squadron have done in the course of this year does them tremendous credit. It adds to our capability, both militarily and in humanitarian assistance and it adds to our reputation both in Australia and offshore.
So it's a great day for Air Force, a great day for Australia. Very pleased to be here with the Mayor and with the Chief of Air Force to formally take receipt of and hand over the fifth C-17 and to announce that we've started the process to acquire a sixth C-17.
JOURNALIST: Minister, the wheels of this one have hardly touched the ground in Australia and you've decided to get another one. What's so impressive with it?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well this is a tremendous aircraft. It can take five Bushmasters, it can take a Chinook helicopter, it can take three Black Hawks. It's not really geared to take people but at times of crisis like evacuating a hospital you can take a couple of hundred people.
So it's a very effective mover of equipment, either for military purposes or for humanitarian purposes and it has a much greater range and a much greater capacity than the C-130s which we have traditionally used. Acquiring six of these means that on a day to day basis we increase by 100 per cent our capability and capacity and that's a terrific thing.
It's a very well known plane to us in terms of getting something we are used to, that we are comfortable with and works well. There are a low risks associated with it and it just adds significantly to our capability in a military sense but also in a humanitarian assistance and disaster sense.
JOURNALIST: How many businesses in Ipswich will benefit by having an extra C-17?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I'm very happy to let the mayor answer that but one of the great economic benefits that come to the local region is having a defence force facility in the midst of it.
And I don't think there's a closer relationship in any local community than Amberley Air Base with Ipswich. So, I'll ask the Mayor to make some remarks about that but another plane means more gear coming into the base, potentially means some additional personnel to make sure that we can service the five and then six aircraft.
But the presence of Amberley within the Ipswich community not just adds socially to Ipswich it also adds economically; Paul do you want to add to that?
PAUL PISASALE: Yeah look I just want to say that RAAF Base Amberley is part of our community, it is part of our economic benefits but also during the natural disasters, the floods, it was RAAF Base Amberley that was here; 36th Squadron were there.
Look, we just love the plane, it's not just the money they inject in our community, the jobs they create, but it's the families and the fellowship because every time we hear a plane in Ipswich it's the sound of freedom.
JOURNALIST: Minister, when you talk about where the money's going to come from for the aeroplane
STEPHEN SMITH: Yeah well this will come from the [indistinct] resources, in terms of our '11/'12 budget. Rule of thumb a C-17 costs in the order of around $200 million. Most of that on the basis that it proceeds smoothly through both the United States and the Australian systems, will be paid out of our '11/'12 budget so it's within our finances, within our resources, within our interest in capacity to acquire a sixth and that's a good thing.
JOURNALIST: So where will you carve the money from then? Obviously you don't just have a pool of money sitting there.
STEPHEN SMITH: It's from within our existing resources, within our '11/'12 financial year resources. We've got the space to do it and it makes sense to do it.
JOURNALIST: You got this plane very rapidly off the production line, are you hoping the sixth will be just as quick?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we're not expecting to break the 142 day record. We wanted to get the fifth C-17 very quickly and with the cooperation with the United States Air Force we were able to do that. We actually got a spot in their production line. I expect this one will take a bit longer time.
The most important thing though is we've sent a very strong signal that we'd like to buy another one by formally handing over to United States officials that letter of request under their Foreign Military Sales Program. So we got the fifth one here in record time, the sixth one will probably take a bit longer than that but that will be done in an orderly fashion.
JOURNALIST: Chief, can you just talk about what resources will be required to support the sixth aircraft?
GEOFF BROWN: Well fundamentally it's just additional crew so each aeroplane will run with three crews. We can work the majority of the additional running costs [indistinct]-
JOURNALIST: Chief, are you like a kid with a new toy? You just got told you got one landed and you're getting another one in a box?
GEOFF BROWN: Yeah well you've got to be pleased but I think in terms of the ADF and the joint operations it gives them much more flexibility than they've had, because with just four aeroplanes we could really only ever guarantee two were available, now we can guarantee that there'll be four available all the time and we've just sent our first - we've had them for about four years - we've just sent our first one [indistinct] maintenance.
They're out of action for about six months when they go into that process. So the fifth one arriving right now is a loss of no capability whatsoever.
JOURNALIST: Mums and dads of kids that are serving overseas, getting an extra one, what does that mean to them?
GEOFF BROWN: Well I think, you know, if you're looking at Afghanistan we're actually flying them direct into Tarin Kot these days, so it's a lot better logistic service in the Middle East and a lot more flexibility in the service we provide.
STEPHEN SMITH: Okay, everyone happy? Thanks very much. Thanks a lot.