TRANSCRIPT: DOORSTOP INTERVIEW – VISIT TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 23 JULY 2011
TOPICS: CHOGM; Visit to USA; Collins Class Submarines; Attacks in Norway.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well thanks very much for turning up. Two things this morning, firstly can I say how pleased I am to have just spoken to the advance teams for the CHOGM, for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. This is the second in a series of advanced briefing for Commonwealth delegations. Last weekend, the CHOGM taskforce briefed 17 delegations from the Commonwealth and this weekend 19. So all up 36 delegations who've sent advanced teams to see the preparations for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth.
CHOGM will be a terrific event for Perth, a terrific event for Western Australia, but also a terrific event for Australia. This will be the third CHOGM, the third Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that Australia has hosted. And so we're very pleased of that fact and very pleased that it's occurring in Perth in October. This will be the largest gathering of international leaders in Perth.
In terms of arrangements, on the briefings that I've had, I'm very pleased with the progress that's being made. We're cooperating and working very closely with the Western Australian government on every front. As Minister for Defence of course defence will have a role in the security arrangements. These of course will primarily be led by the Western Australian police force in consultation, in cooperation with the Commonwealth Attorney-General's department. But Defence will play a role as required. But we're very pleased with the arrangements that are in place.
Secondly, tonight I'll be leaving Australia to travel to the United States. This will be my first visit to the United States as Minister for Defence, but my sixth visit to the United States as a minister. The primary purpose of my visit to the United States is to meet formally for the first occasion with new United States Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta. I've of course met Mr Panetta in the past. As foreign minister I met with him in Washington in his capacity as Director of the CIA a couple of years ago. And so we will sit down in the course of next week and have our first formal bilateral meeting as defence ministers.
Of course top of the list will be our engagement in Afghanistan. Secretary Panetta was recently in Afghanistan so I'll get his observations and his analysis of his most recent visit to Afghanistan but we will share our assessments on progress in Afghanistan.
We'll also speak about the United States Global Force Posture review. Australia and the United States have a joint working party looking at the options and the possibilities emerging from the United States Global Force Posture Review. There are also two very important procurement issues, or capability issues that I'll discuss in the United States with the United States officials, the joint strike fighter and also submarines. Our proposal, contained in the 2009 White Paper, for a new submarine fleet, 12 new submarines, will be the largest single defence capability project that the Commonwealth has embarked upon.
And so having a strategic conversation with the United States about our submarine project is very important and this is part of the very intense preliminary planning, which is underway so far as our submarines are concerned.
I note today some commentary that Australia should adopt a nuclear submarine fleet. The government is not proposing to go down that road, indeed the only option that I have ruled out so far as our new submarine fleet is the nuclear powered option. Australia does not have sufficient expertise or experience in the nuclear power industry or in nuclear generation to make that the basis of our submarine fleet. So that option I have ruled out and other than a commitment that the new submarine fleet will be assembled in Adelaide, as I've said in the past, all options are on the table as we work very carefully through our preliminary planning so far as new submarines are concerned.
As well, in the United States, I will meet with the United Nations Secretary-General in New York to discuss Australia's contribution to United Nations peacekeeping and stabilisation forces, in particular East Timor, but also Australia's contribution to the new United Nations peacekeeping arrangements in the new country, the new independent South Sudan. With the Secretary-General I'll also of course speak about Afghanistan.
So I'm happy to respond to your questions.
JOURNALIST: Just a bit more on the CHOGM preparations with these weekend meetings. Are you able to share a bit more detail about what's being discussed and what they're being briefed on for the event in October.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well the CHOGM taskforce, headed up by Terry Crane, giving the visiting delegations a full briefing on all aspects of arrangements, from accommodation to security to the itinerary so far as the leaders are concerned. They'll be inspecting Frasers Restaurant and Kings Park, where the Leaders Retreat will be held, the Convention Centre itself and other areas where side events or side functions will be held.
So it's a comprehensive briefing, preparing the delegations for the arrival of their prime ministers and their presidents and also their foreign ministers so that they are fully aware of all of the arrangements and can accordingly brief their leaders when they return to home.
JOURNALIST: Does that mean that everything is pretty much finalised at this stage? Surely it must be pretty [indistinct]. The security must be sorted if you can bring people in to brief them on what will happen.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I wouldn't say that arrangements are finalised but certainly we're very pleased with the progress of our preparations. Indeed the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth was recently in Australia; he met with the CHOGM taskforce; he also met with the Prime Minister. His own assessment was that he'd never seen a better prepared CHOGM at this stage. So certainly we're very pleased with the preparations that are in hand. But as is the nature these days with any large public event, the arrangements will go down to the wire and that will apply in particular to the security arrangements. It's a regrettable fact of the modern day that we have to be most conscious of security arrangements when there's a gathering of 50 or more international leaders.
But on that front can I say how pleased we are with the cooperative way in which arrangements between Australia, the government of Australia and the government of Western Australia are proceeding.
JOURNALIST: How massive a logistical exercise-
STEPHEN SMITH: This will be - well this will be the biggest gathering, the biggest meeting of international leaders in Western Australiain our history. So this is a very big logistical exercise, which is why we've been planning on this for a considerable period of time. The effective run up for CHOGM has been 18 months to two years. So we - we've been working very hard at it and it's been a credit to not just Commonwealth officials but also West Australian officials.
JOURNALIST: Minister, the wall around Sydney for the APEC meeting upset a lot of Sydneysiders. How visual will the security presence be for CHOGM?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we know that we have to find the balance, we have to find the balance between the highest level of security arrangements to ensure that nothing adverse occurs, but at the same time we want the presidents and the prime ministers and the foreign ministers and their delegations to enjoy the delights of Perth, just as we want the people of Perth to to be inconvenienced as little as possible.
It will be, and will require, the striking of a balance. And that's one of the reasons why the premier and the Western Australian government have changed the public holiday arrangements to ensure that the public holiday occurs in the CHOGM weekend to minimise the number of people needing to go into the city.
So we're very conscious of that, but there is no point, other than fronting up to the fact that there will be - there will be some disruption, there will be some inconvenience. But the overall benefit which will come to Perth will far outweigh that. One of the side events so far as CHOGM is concerned is the Commonwealth business - business leaders gathering and it's a significant opportunity to showcase Western Australia's considerable economic attractions and the attractions of Western Australia and Perth as a place for capital investment.
JOURNALIST: Minister, in relation to your visit to America, is it important for you to spend time and to carefully make this decision about the submarine fleet, given what's happened with the Collins Class -
STEPHEN SMITH: Well absolutely. I've made it clear since I became Defence Minister that we have a very significant challenge with the sustainment and maintenance of our Collins Class submarines and last - during the week I announced a review of our sustainment and maintenance arrangements to be affected by a United Kingdom expert, John Coles. And I see the Coles review doing for our submarine maintenance and sustainment that which I saw the Rizzo review do for our amphibious fleet, in other words an analysis of the past but also a very clear pathway for better performance and improvement into the future.
I've made a point about the need to very carefully consider sustainment issues as we do our planning and preparation for the new submarines. Some people have overstated this and some people have misunderstood it, but as we know from the Collins Class submarines it's not just the building of the submarines, it's also the maintenance and the sustainment and there we have very considerable challenges, which are deeply entrenched and of long standing.
So we want to have a very clear sighted view about the maintenance and sustainment issues of our new submarine fleet before we kick off the project per se. That doesn't mean we're not doing the necessary planning; we're doing a lot of planning, a lot of thinking and that includes me having conversations in the United States, not just strategic conversations with my counterpart, Defence Secretary Panetta, but also conversations with officials and industry about the very significant challenges we have in what will be the largest defence capability program that the Commonwealth of Australia has ever seen.
JOURNALIST: Also in relation to the bombings that we've seen overnight, does that bring back to home just how important security is, not only for CHOGM, but for you to be aware of all the time?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well can I just add to the remarks that the Prime Minister and the foreign minister have made, our thoughts and our condolences and our sympathy are with the government and the people of Norway at this time. It's a terrible atrocity; we condemn it absolutely. We are very, very, very strong and warm friends with Norway. As Foreign Minister I travelled to Norway. I signed on Australia's behalf the Custom Munitions Convention in Oslo itself and I'm personally familiar with the areas where these atrocities have occurred.
So it is - it's a terrible blow to the people of Norway, the advice that I've seen is that we're not concerned at this stage that any Australians have been caught up in the terrible events. But it is a constant reminder - I often make the point that our effort in Afghanistan is to help ensure that Afghanistan, in particular the Afghanistan Pakistan border area does not again become a breeding ground for international terrorism because we don't want to see the adverse consequences of international terrorism. Australians have been on the receiving end of that, whether it's been in South East Asia, in Bali orJakarta, in Europe or in the United States itself. But it is a terrible reminder and our thoughts and our sympathy are with the people of Norway this morning.
JOURNALIST: Does that event though put extra pressure on an event like CHOGM?
STEPHEN SMITH: We have to be constantly vigilant. As I said, it's a regrettable feature of modern life that whenever there is a meeting or a gathering of international leaders, we have to absolutely conscious of the security arrangements. That is, as I put it, it's a regrettable feature that will lead to some inconvenience and disruption, but being vigilant about our security arrangements is a much better approach than having to deal with the terrible consequence of an adverse incident.
Okay. Thanks very much everyone. Thank you