TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH DAVID SPEERS, PM AGENDA
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 4 APRIL 2012
TOPICS: US Marines in Darwin.
DAVID SPEERS: Well, Stephen Smith, thank you for your time. The troops are finally there on the ground now in Darwin. It looks like a fairly warm welcome so far. Do you expect that to continue?
STEPHEN SMITH: Yeah, absolutely. All of the feedback I've had from Darwin and the Northern Territory, from the Chief Minister down, is very pleased to see the Marines here. The red carpet is out to give them a very warm welcome and absolutely expect that to continue. So in addition to the very good work that they'll do - training and exercises by themselves and with the Australian Defence Force - they'll also get, I think, some very good exposure to Australia's friendliness and a good personal experience in terms of enjoying Australia.
DAVID SPEERS: Can I just clear up one aspect. There have been some concerns about the legal status of these troops, these Marines while they are in Australia. Do they fall under Australian law entirely?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the presence of United States Defense Force personnel here is governed by a Status of Forces Agreement and an Act of Parliament that was established and passed in 1963. And the effect of that is so far as, for example, criminal conduct is concerned is that United States Defense Force personnel here, if they're out and about, they are subject to Australian law. They are subject to Australian criminal law.
It's also the case under that Status of Forces Agreement that if they breach United States military law, they are also subject to United States military law.
And over the years, over the decades that have past since the 1960s, there have been about 15 to 20 cases where a choice of jurisdiction has to be made, and that choice is made by the Australian Attorney-General. But as a general proposition, since the 1960s United States Defence Force personnel here are subject to Australian law and subject to Australian criminal law.
But I am confident that, just as we encourage Australian Defence Force personnel, that United States officials will be encouraging, if not demanding, that the Marines conduct themselves appropriately when they're out and about. I'm certainly very confident about that.
DAVID SPEERS: Well, let's hope that's the case.
The images today, Minister, are pretty powerful images of American Marines arriving on a plane, now to be stationed in Australia on this rotational basis.
We did see some initial concern from China about this announcement. Have things been completely smoothed out there?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we briefed, as you might recall, a range of countries in our region in advance before the announcement was made by the President and the Prime Minister.
China was one of those countries. I must say that I have not in any way been concerned by any of the feedback we've received, publicly or privately, from any of our neighbours. And that's largely because we've been very transparent about what we've been doing.
As you know, the Marine rotational arrangement is one of three things that we've announced. We're looking at greater access by United States Air Force to our northern Australian bases, and further down the track greater access to Navy to our Indian Ocean port, HMAS Stirling, from my own state in Western Australia.
We've been open about it, transparent about it, and we see this as adding to peace and security and stability in our region, not detracting from it.
DAVID SPEERS: And just finally, Minister, you referred earlier today to the fact that this is the first step of closer military cooperation with the United States. There are still plans for greater use of air bases in the north of Australia by the Air Force, US Air Force, and then a greater Naval access as well.
How far down the track are you on both of those fronts, in particular the use of HMAS Stirling south of Perth?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, our priority has been the Marine rotational arrangements and we're effectively in the first of a five or six year phase in that; building over five or six years to 2500, and we take that year-by-year and step-by-step.
So, really, since the announcement in November our priority has been to bed down those arrangements and we'll review those and learn lessons as we go. The truth is that we haven't advanced all that much further the Air Force access and the Navy access.
We're talking here in terms of years rather than months. The Air Force arrangements will be the next cab off the rank, and HMAS Stirling down the track. Over the next two or three years would be my initial judgement but we will be transparent about that. We'll make announcements as we go.
And of course the rationale or the reason for HMAS Stirling in the west is the growing importance of India, the Indian Ocean Rim, and the Indian Ocean as a strategic area of the world. And it just reflects the fact that Australia is a two ocean continent, not just the Pacific but also the Indian Ocean, and Darwin is very reflective of that, touching both of those oceans.
DAVID SPEERS: Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, thanks for joining us from Darwin this afternoon.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks David. Thanks very much.