TRANSCRIPT: DOORSTOP – RAAF PEARCE AIRSHOW
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 18 MAY 2012
TOPICS: Pearce Airshow; air capability; NATO/ISAF Summit; RAAF hot air balloon; Afghanistan; Richard Woolcott.
STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly I just wanted to come out to Pearce today to see the preparations for the Pearce Airshow tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday. Air Force does an airshow every couple of years, and I'm very pleased as Minister for Defence, but also as Member for Perth and a West Australian that this year we're back in Pearce. It's the first airshow we've had in Pearce since 2005. And on a regular basis we go to our important and major RAAF bases: Townsville, Amberley, Williamtown, and now back to Pearce.
I think having the airshow at Pearce does a number of things. Firstly, it continues to underline and reinforce the importance of RAAF Pearce to our Indian Ocean and western-based assets. Secondly, you would have seen as you came through, the significant presence of the Singapore Air Force. They do substantial training here; that's a very important part of our relationship, our defence cooperation program and relationship with Singapore.
And thirdly, it provides an opportunity for Air Force to show to the community generally, its assets and its capability. And as a general proposition, I think there are two important parts of that capability to draw attention to. Firstly our air combat capability, and on display you'll see Classic Hornets. We have some 71 Classic Hornets in our fleet. We have 24 Super Hornets, 12 of those wired up for Growler, the electronic warfare capability, and we've taken steps in the course of the run-up to the budget and in the course of the budget to put it in the position to make a decision about the possible acquisition of Growler in the course of this year.
And then in addition to that air combat capability, you'll of course see our heavy lift. And our heavy lift can be used for military purposes to assist our troops in the front line as our C-17s and C-130s do, but also for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. And we now have six C-17s. The six will arrive before the end of the year, and that effectively doubles our fleet over the last couple of years.
And the combination of our C-17s and C-130s give us a very effective heavy air lift. And you might recall that last Thursday after the budget at the Air Power Conference in Canberra I announced the Government had decided to acquire, for Air Force, 10 C-27s, a military tactical airlift to compliment our airlift capability and to replace the Caribou, which had served us very well for a 40 year period until 2009.
Unfortunately I'm not going to be able to attend the airshow itself on Saturday or Sunday. Early tomorrow, I depart Western Australia, and tomorrow, together with the Prime Minister we depart Australia for the NATO/International Security Assistance Force Summit on Afghanistan in Chicago. And that will be a very important weigh-station along the way to transition out of Afghanistan.
In November 2010, the Prime Minister and I attended the NATO/ISAF summit in Lisbon, which set out the timetable and the process for transition. And the Chicago summit will be a very important milestone along that path to transition out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The NATO summit follows on the meeting in Brussels last month of NATO and ISAF, Defence and Foreign Ministers which I attended with Bob Carr. And also follows on from the announcement earlier this week by Afghan President Karzai of the so-called third tranche of transition, which includes Uruzgan Province, the province where you find the bulk of Australian Defence Force personnel.
We were very pleased with that decision and welcomed that. But that accorded with our own judgement that Uruzgan Province was right to commence transition. That transition process will start in the middle of this year and take some 12 to 18 months. So that sees us on track to transition to Afghan-led security responsibility in Uruzgan Province by the end of 2014, if not earlier.
And it underlines and reinforces the security gains that we've made in Uruzgan Province over the last 12 to 18 months and also underlines the progress that we've made in terms of training and mentoring the Afghan National Army in particular, the Fourth Brigade of the Afghan National Army, but also the training and mentoring that we also do on a smaller scale of the Afghan national and local Police.
And so the Prime Minister and I will attend the NATO/ISAF Chicago Summit over the weekend and return to Australia in the middle of next week.
I'm very pleased to respond to your questions.
JOURNALIST: Minister what will be Australia's key contribution to those discussions in Chicago referring to that transfer in Afghanistan?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I think we're now starting to encourage and help the international community to begin to focus on Afghanistan post 2014, to focus on Afghanistan post the transition to Afghan-led security responsibility. And there are two very important aspects of that. Firstly there is the resourcing of the Afghan National Security Forces. When the Russians left Afghanistan, for a couple of years after their withdrawal from Afghanistan they resourced the Afghan National Security Forces, and the Afghan National Security Forces generally held security in Afghanistan on a competent basis. When the Soviet Union collapsed the cheques stopped coming and we then saw the subsequent rise of the Taliban.
So it's very important that the international community continues to resource the Afghan National Security Forces after transition, and earlier this week the Prime Minister announced that Australia from 2015 would contribute $100 million a year for a three-year period to help contribute to the international community's sustainment of the Afghan National Security Forces. We announced that in the run up to Chicago to continue to make the point that Australia very strongly believes that the international community must make a fair contribution to resourcing the Afghan National Security Forces, but also to make the point that Australia continues to make a substantial contribution. We're the tenth largest contributors so far as defence personnel is concerned, the largest non-NATO contributor, and third largest Special Forces contributor.
The other aspect of Chicago will be starting the detailed conversation about what assets remain in Afghanistan post transition. And Australia has made it clear that we are in the market for a continuing presence in Afghanistan so far as military advisors are concerned, high-level training, for example officer or artillery training, but also under a proper mandate a Special Forces presence for both training and counter-terrorism purposes. And so Australia has, in very many respects, been at the forefront of seeking to bring these issues to international community deliberation, and that deliberation will formally commence at Chicago over the weekend.
JOURNALIST: Minister what do you know about a RAAF hot air balloon landing in [indistinct] yesterday? Do you know what happened and did they have, I suppose, approval to land there?
STEPHEN SMITH: A RAAF hot air balloon, and we've got a couple of those, land in circumstances where the pilot of the balloon regards it as being safe. The advice I've got and the story I heard him tell on radio this morning was light was starting to fade and he wanted to land safely. He chose a suburban street and that was effected safely, and I think the only repercussion of that was that the residents of the suburban street were pretty pleased to see it. So from time to time we see balloons land in unscheduled or unplanned locations, I think that was one of a number of possible landing sites that the pilot of the balloon had. He chose that because he came to the conclusion that was the safest thing to do and I think the local residents greeted it warmly.
JOURNALIST: Minister what do you think of Bob Carr's assertion that more moderate elements of the Taliban could perhaps have a role in the governance of Afghanistan when that transfer does happen?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well Australia's been saying for some time, indeed since the conference on Afghanistan in London, we've been saying for some time that an enduring settlement in Afghanistan requires not just a combat or security solution, it also requires a political solution, and so the process of reconciliation is very important, we strongly support those efforts at reconciliation and those members of the Taliban who are prepared to lay down their arms, who are prepared to abide by the Afghan constitution are perfectly entitled to seek to play a role in Afghan society. But they are the preconditions, they have to lay down their arms, they have to abide by the Afghan constitution. That reconciliation process, whilst it's supported by the International Security Assistance Force, while it's supported by Australia and the United Kingdom and the United States and other individual countries, has to be led and managed by the Afghan Government, by the Afghan authorities, and we continue to encourage that to occur.
There will, no doubt, be some members of the Taliban who will refuse to abide by the Afghan constitution, who will refuse to lay down their arms, and that is why a solution to Afghanistan is a solution which sees not just a political solution along those lines but also requires a combat or a security solution, which is why all of our efforts are towards giving the Afghan National Security Forces, the Army and the Police the capacity to maintain security in Afghanistan after 2014.
JOURNALIST: I'm also interested to get your thoughts on Richard Woolcott, the former Secretary of DFAT, article he wrote for Fairfax. He’s called your plans for the Cocos Islands undesirable and says it will undermine our international standing and it even has colonial overtones. Do you agree with that? What are your thoughts?
STEPHEN SMITH: No I don’t. Firstly because as I’ve made clear, we have no such plans for Cocos Island. I’ve made it clear that whilst, for example there is an air field at Cocos Island and it’s mentioned in the Force Posture Review report which I released with the Prime Minister a couple of weeks ago, we’ve not had discussions at the Ministerial level with the United States about possible future uses of Cocos Island.
People have gotten very much ahead of themselves and I made that point very strongly earlier this year. Secondly-
JOURNALIST: But you do plan to have those discussions?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, in terms of the Force Posture Review work that we’re doing with the United States we have three priorities. Firstly, the rotation of Marines through the Northern Territory; secondly, greater access to our northern air bases for US planes; and thirdly, our third priority and further down the track is greater access to US naval vessels both surface and submarine to our Indian Ocean Port, HMAS Stirling south of Rockingham here in Western Australia.
They’re our three priorities and all of those were announced in the course of President Obama’s visit to Australia in November last year. I haven’t had and I’m not proposing to have in the near future with my Ministerial counterpart whether it’s Leon Panetta or Bob Gates before him, discussions about Cocos Island, so people shouldn’t get ahead of themselves.
Secondly, the second point which Ambassador Woolcott makes is that he’s suggesting at the time that Australia took responsibility for Cocos Island an undertaking was given by Australia to the United Nations that it would not be used as a military base.
Firstly that my understanding is that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are carefully checking to see whether that is the case but secondly in any event we don’t have United States military basis in Australia or in Australian territory, so we are not proposing to have a US military base on Cocos Island. There is an air field there that requires substantial remediation if it is to be used to any greater extent but that is not a priority for us at this stage.
JOURNALIST: Minister, just back on the Airshow, you’ve been close and personal with the Air Force aircraft a number of times, do you still get the buzz?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I have to say that I have a weakness for the C-17s. When I became Minister we had a fleet of four by the end of this year we’ll have a fleet of six which effectively doubles our capability and they are such good planes and they have performed so very well, whether it was the Queensland floods or whether it was the tsunami in Japan.
At one point in the cycle we had two C-17s operating out of Pearce taking robot operated water cooling equipment to Japan for use on the reactor. So I’ve got a weakness for the C-17s.
In terms of our air combat capability I’ve also got a weakness for the Super Hornets. The Classic Hornet has done very well for us, the Super Hornet is a much newer plane and the fact that we’ve got 24 and 12 of those wired up for the potential acquisition of Growler, is very important to us.
So if I had to make my entry into favourites, it would be C-17 for airlift and the Super Hornet for air combat capability. I think the local Perth crowd are going to be mightily impressed by the B-52 fly over which will occur sometime tomorrow in the early afternoon. So the B-52 with its enormous wing span I think will impress the crowd mightily.
Thanks very much.