TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH ASHLEIGH GILLON ON SKY NEWS LUNCHTIME AGENDA
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
TOPICS: Live Exports; HMAS Kanimbla.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Defence Minister, thank you for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Pleasure.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: You've no doubt seen the latest disturbing footage of animals being mistreated overseas, this time inTurkey. Will the Government now investigate the treatment of animals inTurkeyand perhaps even have a temporary ban of live exports toTurkey?
STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly I haven't seen the footage myself. That's the first point.
Secondly I'm sure the Minister for Agriculture will make a response - a formal response about the matter today. My understanding is that the footage has been available for the last few days and that it's already been referred by the Minister to the Farmer Review and that's appropriate.
What the Government is seeking to achieve here is a continuation of a live export trade but to raise the standards so far as the treatment of Australian cattle is concerned. That's the effect of the commissioning of the Farmer Review and that's the work that the Minister has been doing since the issue first came to very [indistinct] very much public forefront in the light of the Four Corners footage of treatment of cattle inIndonesia.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Why would the response to this footage be different to the Four Corners vision we saw? Why wouldn't the Government implement-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well in the first instance, as I say-
ASHLEIGH GILLON: -a ban?
STEPHEN SMITH: -I haven't seen the footage. I understand it's been made available in the last week or so. I also understand that the people who've provided it are not even in a position to certify or attest that the cattle or the animals concerned are Australian cattle or Australian animals.
So I think we should just take this step by step. Yes it's been handed over to the Minister. It's appropriate that be properly investigated. There's a vehicle there that the Minister and the Government have already established, the Farmer Review. That's due to report by the end of this month and we are hopeful and expecting that that will provide a framework for not just a continuation of a live cattle trade which is very important, particularly where I come from in Western Australia, in the Northern Territory and Queensland.
But we want to do that in a way in which essentially the standards are improved and increased and obviously we're doing that in consultation with our trading partners.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: And as you know several of your Labor colleagues, some backbenchers have been speaking out against live exports in recent weeks. They've been expressing their concerns but today none of them crossed the floor in the parliament when bills were put forward to try to ban live exports permanently. Is that a case of these Labor MPs being zombies as Doug Cameron described them recently as?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well it's a matter of the party making a decision. The party dealt with those two private members bill at its caucus meeting on Monday afternoon of this week and that was our parliamentary party decision. But look we understand very clearly that this is an area where there are strong views and they're firmly held.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: On a very different matter, do you think it was appropriate for the Labor Party to pay Craig Thomson's legal bills?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well firstly Craig is a Member of Parliament from New South Wales. And as he has made clear through his return to his declaration of interest, he received a benefit from the New South Wales branch of the party.
Now that benefit was indirect. As I understand it that the money went from the New South Wales branch to his lawyers. So there's no conflict of interest in this circumstance.
It would be no surprise that a Labor Member of Parliament was assisted by the state branch of the party. These things would occur in all political parties.
The mistake here which Craig has also acknowledged is not putting in that return to his disclosure in sufficient time. Now it's not the first time a member of parliament has made that mistake. It's regrettable. But the substance of this is theNew South Walesbranch supporting indirectly or directly upon your point of view a New South Wales Member of Parliament from the Labor Party.
So there's no conflict of interest in that sense and that is the purpose of the disclosure register to make sure that conflicts of interest are on the public record.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: There are calls for Craig Thomson to resign. Of course a by-election could bring down the Government. How confident are you that your Government's going to go full term?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well the people who are pursing this are Liberal Members of Parliament; Generally Liberal Party Senators. They're doing that for political motivation. There have been a series of suggestions or allegations or accusation made about Craig. He has strongly denied those publicly and in the parliament and people should allow those matters to work their way through the system.
I'm very confident that this parliament will run its full term. I'm proceeding on the basis that we will have an election in the third or fourth quarter of 2013. Tony Abbott is very keen to have an election, because he sees that as presenting him with his best chance of retaining the Liberal Party leadership and his best chance of winning an election. The problem for Tony Abbott is we had an election less than a year ago. The next election is due in September, October, November, of 2013.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: So you can't imagine the incident to do with Craig Thomson bringing down the Government? That's not it?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, as I say, a series of suggestions, accusations and allegations have been made about him, before he became a Member of Parliament. He has strongly denied those, both in the parliament and outside the parliament. You would expect, opportunistically, the Liberal Party to seek to try and take advantage of that. But people should see that in its context. There is more chance of a by-election being caused by an unexpected illness, in my view, than there is by these matters.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Looking at your portfolio, you're announcing today that HMAS Kanimbla will be decommissioned. It follows the decommissioning of HMAS Manoora. We've seen HMAS Tobruk getting maintenance at the moment. You've also handed back control of the Aurora Australis. Does that meanAustralia has no amphibious capability at all for the next few months?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, that's absolutely not the case and I see the Liberal Party making that suggestion today and it's wrong, because it's based on a complete lack of understanding of the facts.
Yes, we have had grave difficulties with our heavy amphibious lift and I've made my view about that crystal clear from the outset. We decommissioned the Manoora. We've been doing a very careful assessment of HMAS Kanimbla and come to the conclusion that it's not value for money for more work to be done on that. We've-
ASHLEIGH GILLON: So it would be more expensive to fix it than-
STEPHEN SMITH: That's right. The estimates are at least $35 million to get it back in the water. We don't see that as being value for money.
But HMAS Tobruk is currently undergoing maintenance. We expect that it will come out of maintenance towards the end of this month for a short period of time and then go back in early September for previously scheduled and previously announced preparation for the cyclone season which commences in November. So we're expecting HMAS Tobruk to emerge, ready for action so to speak, towards the end of the November.
In the meantime, we have had cover for the lack of capability thrown up by Tobruk being in maintenance and Manoora and Kanimbla now both being decommissioned. In the first instance that was through the Aurora Australis, which was available to Defence until the 12 August. What the Opposition haven't referred to, and may not know because they haven't studied the facts, is that the Ocean Protector, a large Customs vessel, has been available to Defence since the 12 August. That will carry through until the 14 October, when we expect the Tobruk to re-emerge and we're looking at the options that we'll have from the middle of October on, to give the Tobruk further assistance if required.
So we have been very careful, through all of this process, to make sure that we've got the heavy amphibious lift capability available to us. And, in the meantime, of course, we've purchased the Largs Bay from the United Kingdom. We're proposing to commission that and name that HMAS Choules, after Claude Choules the last World War I veteran, with links to Australia and the United Kingdom. We expect that to be arriving in Australia in December and available for service early next year.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Defence Minister, thank you for your time.