TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH DAVID LIPSON ON SKY NEWS AM AGENDA
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
TOPICS: Newspoll; Afghanistan.
DAVID LIPSON: Defence Minister, thanks for your time. We'll get to the matters of policy shortly, but first to the newspoll. I know you don't like commenting on the polls, but these numbers have got to take you - make you sit up and take notice don't they?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I've made the point recently that we're going through a very tough political time. We've tried to get serious substantive economic reform through the parliament, reducing the amount of carbon in our economy and in the environment. Recently we had the High Court decision which effectively broke new ground in terms of the law so far as offshore processing is concerned and there's no doubt that that's reflected in today's poll. But we've just got to work our way assiduously through a range of difficult problems and challenges for the country.
DAVID LIPSON: But Labor's vote hasn't changed in the primary vote. This seems to be more personal about Julia Gillard's leadership. That's what's taken the biggest hit in this newspoll. Has anyone approached you as a possible option to become leader?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well absolutely not. I mean I've made the point again that the Prime Minister, in my view, is very determined; assiduously working through a series of issues and challenges which you can categorise as problems and difficulties for the government, but they're also challenges and issues for the country.
So she is leading us through what is the government's response to the difficulties presented to the current government and all future governments about offshore processing and so we've got to work our way carefully through that. We're presenting to the parliament a range of serious substantive economic and social reforms and that always makes life difficult for a government.
But there's also a point that people should just calmly bear in mind. We've got more than two years to go until the next election and just in recent times if you had taken a view of a government less than a year in, then people would have counted out at various times the Hawke Government, the Howard Government and people should just calmly view this in the context of two years to go, which is what we're doing.
DAVID LIPSON: Their numbers were never quite as ugly as the numbers facing Julia Gillard. And it seems that punters are-
STEPHEN SMITH: There were plenty of commentators at the time who erroneously counted people out. With two years to go-
DAVID LIPSON: It seems-
STEPHEN SMITH: -you shouldn't be counting anyone out.
DAVID LIPSON: -it seems the punters are also in your camp. Centrebet had you at $7 yesterday; this morning down to $4.90. If Julia Gillard did step down, would you ever consider leading?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well look, there's no vacancy. These things are not in contemplation. I strongly support the Prime Minister and her very determined efforts to work the government and the country through a series of difficult policy challenges that we have. The poll that we see today, and you're quite right, I don't normally get into the detail of an individual poll because I hate using the cliché, but there's only one poll that counts and that will be a poll sometime in September, October, November of 2013.
Of course today we'll see some reflection in an opinion poll about recent events and recent events have seen the government and the country essentially surprised by the High Court breaking new ground. That's the reality and so we have to respond to new legal arrangements so far as offshore processing is concerned. That's a challenge for us and it will be a challenge for the Opposition and a challenge for future governments and the government is working it's way very assiduously and carefully through that difficulty.
DAVID LIPSON: Well on matters in your portfolio, Australian soldiers have captured, we understand, 899 Afghans during the operations in that country. But along the way civilians are being killed. New claims aired last night on Four Corners. Is the cost to civilians worth it, especially when we're trying to win hearts and minds here?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well a number of things. Yes, terribly, regrettably there have been civilian casualties in Afghanistan, but over 75 per cent of those have been caused by the Taliban who don't take anywhere near the same care and attention that the International Security Assistance Force does.
Now so far as Australia is concerned, we have strict rules of engagement. We've got a longstanding well earned reputation of being careful about these matters and so far as any individual allegations so far as civilians are concerned, they are investigated. The results of that investigation are shared with Afghan authorities, shared with the International Security Assistance Force. So we're very careful about these matters.
There were a range of suggestions or allegations on Four Corners last night and they frankly need to be rebutted.
DAVID LIPSON: Well one of those allegations was one of extra judicial killings by Australian Special Forces, any evidence of that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely not. On the contrary, that is just absolutely rejected. I mean the essential allegation there is that Australian soldiers took an unarmed man to the back of a building and by implication executed him. That's rejected absolutely.
The facts of that circumstances were Australian soldiers had a warrant to search premises. They were searching premises. The insurgent concerned drew a firearm and our soldiers acted in self-defence and that matter was reviewed at the highest level in the ADF back in Australia.
It wasn't a civilian casualty, and as a consequence there was no formal investigation as would occur with a civilian casualty. Our soldiers were dealing with an insurgent.
So we don't rely upon - one of the suggestions last night - we don't rely upon single source intelligence. We are very careful about only acting upon multiple source intelligence. We're cautious about the operations that we do and we're also very cautious about the way in which we deal with and understand the various tribal rivalries.
But overall, what we do know is that our Special Forces, together with Afghan Special Forces, the United States and the United Kingdom Special Forces have made great strides against the Taliban and that has been the one important factor which has seen momentum shift away from the Taliban to the International Security Assistance Force.
DAVID LIPSON: Stephen Smith, unfortunately we're out of time. Thanks for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much.