TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH ASHLEIGH GILLON, SKY PM AGENDA
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 2 JULY 2012
TOPICS: US Global Force Posture Review.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: I'm joined by the Defence Minister and fellow West Australian Stephen Smith.
Thank you for your time, Minister. How much weight does this report actually carry? How likely is it that the US Government would take up those recommendations?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it's a report by the independent think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies. It was requested by Congress. It's gone today, our time, before a Senate Armed Services Committee. And the Congress itself wanted to be better informed about theUnited Statesre-balance. But, as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has made clear, proposals in it aren't proposals of or from the United States Government. And indeed, US officials today have made clear, as I have, that this is not a US Government proposal and there are no proposals for aUnited Statesmilitary base inAustralia, whether it's a naval base or any other sort of base.
So, the starting point suggestion, namely a naval base or the home porting of naval assets at HMAS Stirling, south of Perth, is not Australian Government policy, it's not United States Administration policy, and it's not going to happen. What is on the table for consideration, which I've made clear, is greater US naval access in due course to HMAS Stirling.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Minister, it isn't a proposal now but if one comes down the track what isAustralia's position? WouldAustraliacomply with the request from theUSto do so?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well,Australia's position is the same as the position of theUnited Stateswhich is there are noUnited Statesmilitary bases inAustralia, and there's no proposal or suggestion from either theUnited StatesorAustraliafor such a base. The discussions we've been having pursuant to our longstanding alliance with the United States in recent times have been to enhance the practical cooperation that we engage in, and that's a very sensible thing to do as the United States re-balances to the Asia-Pacific as it draws down from Afghanistan in the Middle East.
And that's seen in the first instance an agreement for 250 Marines to rotate on a six monthly basis out of Darwin. That will grow to 2500 over a five year period. And the second priority for us is enhanced aerial access or aviation access to our northern RAAF bases. We haven't started the detail of that conversation but that will occur in due course. And I've made it clear for some time that down the track, as India rises in significance, as Indian Ocean itself rises in significance, then HMAS Stirling is well placed to receive a greater number of US naval visits. Now, visits we've seen in the past but we're expecting that would become more significant.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Minister, can I just clarify, is that a concrete policy then that you're opposed to having actual bases in Australia, even down the track, if that's something that the US comes to you and proposes as a result of the review going on there at the moment? That's a concrete policy thatAustraliawill not have US bases inAustralia?
STEPHEN SMITH: This has been longstanding Labor Government position and approach-
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Right, you don't see that changing at all, Minister?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it's been longstanding Labor Government policy position and approach. That's been shared by Governments of Coalition political persuasion. We have a joint facility - Pine Gap - and other than our joint facility at Pine Gap, we haveUnited Statespersonnel having access to our facilities. It's not proposed that that would change. There's no need for that to change, and the longstanding position ofAustraliahas been that we don't have military bases of theUnited Statesor any other country inAustralia.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: What about theCocos Islands? Have the Americans expressed their interest to you to use those for their purposes?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, again, as I've made clear in the past, there have been suggestions from officials to journalists thatCocosIslandcould be used for enhanced operations so far as eitherAustraliaor theUnited Statesis concerned. And I've made it clear that-
ASHLEIGH GILLON: So why are they saying that to journalists instead of to the Australian Government?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, if you read the Australian Defence Force Posture Review you will see thatCocosIslandis mentioned. Australian Defence Force assets useCocosIsland. There's a runway there. That runway is in need and it's currently occurring of some maintenance. But to enhance activity inCocosIslandwould require a substantial investment which we're currently not proposing to make. In the past Cocos Island has also had some access to United States Air Force but we are not proposing, nor is it proposed, to discuss in the near future additional or enhanced use of Cocos Island.
My point about officials speaking to journalists is that occasionally you see, as you've seen today, an independent report which is not a Government report being interpreted as if it somehow reflects the attitude of Government. In the past we've seen officials speaking to journalists and officials' views being interpreted as the views of either the Australian Government or the United States Administration. Neither of those two things are the case in respect of the independent think tank suggestion or with respect to suggestions aboutCocosIsland.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Defence Minister Stephen Smith, thank you for clearing that up for us today. Appreciate your time on PM Agenda as always. Thanks for that.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Ashleigh. Thanks very much.