TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH DAVID LIPSON, SKY NEWS.
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 23 JANUARY 2011
TOPICS:AUKMIN; Afghanistan; Australian Defence Association; Asylum Seekers; Mandatory Pre-commitment.
DAVID LIPSON: Stephen Smith, thanks for your time. You're engaging in these AUKMIN talks; the Australia-United Kingdom Ministerial Consultations, with Asia Pacific at the centre of these talks you could say.
What reason does Britain and the UK have for focusing more on the Asia Pacific region? I mean geographically they're quite far away. They could hardly be further away.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well the United Kingdom understands, as Europe understands, that this is the century of the Asia Pacific economic growth where military, political, strategic significance is moving to our part of the world. The rise of China, the rise of India, the rise of the ASEAN economies combined.
So with our longstanding historical relationship with the United Kingdom we have a lot to offer in terms of our strategic view, and one of the things that we'll be discussing will be precisely that; the rise of the Asia Pacific, but touching upon, as your introduction said the transition in Afghanistan but also some of those areas where the United Kingdom itself has got some longstanding historical expertise.
The Middle East; it's recent experience in Libya and also some of the difficulties that Europe is now facing itself; in particular adverse implications that budget circumstances might have for ongoing military capabilities. So we're looking forward to it.
The United Kingdom is one of our closest partners and this reciprocates the visit to Australia last year of the United Kingdom's Defence and Foreign Secretaries.
DAVID LIPSON: Is there any possibility that we could see more British troops on Australian soil in the future, as a result of talks like this?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I'm not envisaging that and don't anticipate that. The United Kingdom, of course, has, for 40 years, been a member of the Five Powers Defence Arrangement, together with Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia.
So we engage in extensive exercises with the United Kingdom on that basis. Whilst everyone sees the longstanding historical, cultural, and people to people and economic links, not enough people see the breadth of our strategic, defence and security cooperation, including and in particular on the intelligence fronts.
So we do a lot together, we see the world in very, very many respects in the same way but we have different experiences and we share that and we regard the exchange we have with the United Kingdom as one of the most important that we do and-
DAVID LIPSON: You touched on Afghanistan there before but what will you tell the UK about Australia's ongoing role there and what do you want to hear from them?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we will share our experiences at the end of the most recent northern summer fighting season. We'll tell the United Kingdom that we continue to believe that we're on track for transition in Uruzgan Province by 2014 and perhaps earlier.
We'll say that we believe that the focus in the first half of this year is a very important one for Afghanistan, leading up to the Chicago NATO Summit in May where we expect the international community will set out the framework for transition but also the post-transition presence by the international community in Afghanistan. It's important that Afghanistan and the region knows that the international community will not desert Afghanistan after 2014.
So there needs to be some ongoing support so far as Afghanistan is concerned and the planning for that has to start now. So a very important first six months of this year for long-term planning so far as Afghanistan is concerned, but we continue to believe that whilst circumstances are difficult and dangerous that we are on track to hand over responsibility to the Afghanistan National Security Forces by 2014 and in the case of Uruzgan where we are, potentially earlier than that.
DAVID LIPSON: A few other issues I want to grab you on - time is limited - firstly the so-called Skype sex scandal and the release of the hot issues brief as it's known last week.
We've heard some criticism of your role after that Skype sex scandal from the Australian Defence Association Executive Director Neil James who said unless there's some peculiar explanation, the obvious one is you chose deliberately to inflame and exploit public hysteria for your own political leadership ambitions in taking almost two weeks to refute claims that were made about members of defence.
What's your response to that first of all?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well my response to that is that I stand by everything that I did and said at the time. It was a very difficult issue. I made it clear that I didn't believe that dealing with disciplinary charges against the young cadet concerned while at the same time there were suggestions of a serious sexual assault. I made it crystal clear that I didn't believe that was appropriate.
But what I did do was establish, together with the then-Chief of the Defence Force, the so-called Kirkham inquiry to look at all aspects of the handling of that matter. The Chief of the-
DAVID LIPSON: When is that going to be made public? That was handed to you in mid-December. When are we going to see that report?
STEPHEN SMITH: It will be made public or parts thereof made public when all of the necessary work has been done and when appropriate, methodical consideration has been given to the rights of all concerned. I received a copy of it in mid-December but it was made clear to me at the time by the Vice Chief of the Defence Force and the Chief of the Air Force that a considerable amount of work needed to be done to put ourselves in the position of making judgements and releasing the report or part thereof.
I've received further advice from the Vice Chief of the Defence Force last week and I expect to get further advice from him and the Chief of the Defence Force in the very near future so decisions will be made and matters will be made public when we are in a position to do so. And people can make all the criticisms that they like but it's very important that this be dealt with in a sensible and careful and methodical way.
DAVID LIPSON: Okay. Tony Abbott has hardened his stance on turning back asylum seeker boats. He wants the Navy involved. What have you heard from Defence top brass? How do they view that idea?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well this shows Tony Abbott's very much [indistinct] with a one-line throwaway and doesn't have the necessary judgement to become Prime Minister of the country. You don't need to worry about what Service Chiefs might be saying now you simply need to look at the evidence of the Chief of Navy at the last Senate Estimates. He said that it was not an appropriate course of conduct.
He made the point that there'd been a very small number of turn-backs, or towing the boats back in the early part of this decade but since that time the people smugglers had encouraged occupants of the boats to disable the boats, leading immediately to a rescue situation.
The only thing that the modern experience of attempting to turn back the boats will do will be to put the lives of asylum seekers at risk and also to put the lives of Australian sailors at risk because you will immediately turn it into a rescue at sea operation. And that's why-
DAVID LIPSON: Okay I need to-
STEPHEN SMITH: -if Tony-
DAVID LIPSON: I need to just - sorry to cut you off there-
STEPHEN SMITH: If Tony Abbott goes down that road you're sending the Navy-
DAVID LIPSON: Sorry to cut you off there Stephen Smith. I just want to ask you one question about pokies as well. We've heard the Prime Minister saying that really the reason that these reforms haven't gone through, the reason she broke the deal with Andrew Wilkie, is that the policy was sound but she didn't have the numbers to get it through Parliament.
Today we've heard from Craig Thompson who has painted a picture saying that anything other than a trial would have flown in the face of good policy so which one is it?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well Craig's entitled to his view but the Prime Minister and the Government committed itself to a policy approach of mandatory pre-commitment. In recent times it's become crystal clear that the support is simply not there in the Parliament to affect that and rather than end up with no reform at all, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet made what I regard as a very sensible decision to effect some change to make some incremental reform and hence you see the trial.
I mean Craig's entitled to his view but it's very much academic. It's become crystal clear in recent times that if we continue to pursue the commitment given by the Prime Minister we would end up with nothing. I think the Prime Minister has explained over the weekend that we'd much rather end up with some reform in a very difficult social area than to have no reform at all.
And the trial at least pushes this matter forward. We know that gambling is a very social problem for a number of Australians and we simply can't walk away. Or as I've put it elsewhere, go down in a screaming heap and get nothing. We will get some reform here. It's incremental and it's much better than getting nothing.
DAVID LIPSON: Stephen Smith thank you.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks David. Thanks very much.