TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH DAVID SPEERS, PM AGENDA
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 23 JANUARY 2013
TOPICS: National Security Strategy; Defence Budget; Defence White Paper; Nova Peris.
DAVID SPEERS: Stephen Smith, thank you for your time. Can I start by asking- what does this National Security Strategy tell us that we didn't already know?
STEPHEN SMITH: It puts our national security risks and national security challenges and opportunities into a framework. There's a seamless body of work here. Firstly, the Asian Century White Paper, which puts Australia generally into the Asia Century, all of the movement of economic growth to our part of the world. The National Security Strategy puts out in strategic terms a framework which says here are our national security challenges. They're much wider than the traditional, conventional nation-state to nation-state conflict challenges. They traverse non-state actors, such as international terrorism and also new and emerging issues, in particular cyber security. And so it puts those into a framework and later in the first half of this year, those bodies of work will culminate with the Defence White Paper which will deal with those same strategic issues but also deal in depth with defence and capability issues.
DAVID SPEERS: Well I want to ask you a bit about that because there have been a number of leaks on that. But firstly just on today's strategy, let's look at the top three key national security risks. They're called; the first one espionage and foreign interference. Where is the threat of espionage and foreign interference coming from?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we never identify individual or particular nation-states, but under that umbrella, of course, you also have international terrorism, which continues as a risk and that will continue, I think, almost in perpetuity. But Australia's national security information is always potentially the subject of attack by other nation-states and also non-state actors. That also incorporates cyber security.
DAVID SPEERS: Well indeed, the other key national security risks identified are instability in developing in fragile states and then the third, malicious cyber activity. The governments of the United States, Canada, and India have all accused China of being the one that's behind a lot of this online espionage, online activity, targeting their government and defence computer systems. Does Australia believe that China is involved in cyber espionage?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well again, our policy is not to identify a nation or individual nations. What we do know-
DAVID SPEERS: Is that just publicly? I mean, privately, surely you must-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well publicly we don't identify individual nations or nation-states. What we do make clear is that whether it's national security information, whether it's government information, whether it's individual personal information, or importantly intellectual property or industry sensitive information, all of that is at risk and it's at risk not just from nation-states in the traditional sense, it's at risk from criminal hackers, from individuals, from individual organisations or non-state actors. And one of the purposes and points of the National Security Strategy has been to bring all of our efforts in this area essentially into one umbrella. And tomorrow the Prime Minister will make further announcements, which will essentially show a one-stop shop for industry but also again make the point this is not just a risk for governments or Defence, it's a risk for everyone, including and in particular business, and we all need to take the necessary precautions.
DAVID SPEERS: Okay, you're clearly reluctant to pin any of this on China but the document released today does name other states for other issues, Iran and North Korea, when it comes to weapons of mass destruction. Other countries have referred to China and its involvement in cyber attacks. The US Officer of National Counter-Intelligence in particular said that Chinese entities are the world's most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage.
Why won't you say that China is behind this?
STEPHEN SMITH: Other countries have their foreign and international relations policy and approach and we have our.
DAVID SPEERS: Is it because there is a concern about upsetting an important trading partner?
STEPHEN SMITH: It's because we have our policy and other nation-states have theirs. Iran and North Korea are obviously mentioned and named because they are both international proliferation- nuclear proliferation risks. They've both been the subject of intense international community pressure seeking to have both of them stop and desist from their nuclear programs.
DAVID SPEERS: Isn't China a security risk when it comes to cyber attacks?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well as I say, we don't identify in the modern world any individual nation or nation-states and one of the reasons we don't do that is because we keep making the point this is not just a traditional nation-state to nation-state issue. There are individuals out there who are a risk to people's internet or online information, whether that's an officer in Defence, whether it's a Member of Parliament, or whether it's an individual at home or a company officer trying to make commercial decisions on behalf of his or her company.
DAVID SPEERS: The paper today says - the strategy announced today says China's military growth is a natural, legitimate outcome of its growing economy and broadening interests. Are you completely comfortable that the Chinese’ rapid military expansion is natural and legitimate?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I've made the point for as long as I've been a Minister, some five years, as has the government, that it's entirely open to a country which- whichever that country is as its economy grows, as its economy expands, entirely open to that country to modernise it's military capability and China is not unique in this respect. All we say to China is that we want China to be transparent about its strategic intentions, to be open about its strategic intentions.
DAVID SPEERS: Is it being open and transparent?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we've made the point that to certain extent, yes, because China publishes what is effectively a Defence White Paper on an annual basis but I've made the point myself that we would prefer that document to be more open and more transparent. But the paper also makes the point which successive Ministers of the government and both Prime Ministers of the government have made the point, the important point, which is that we are optimistic and confident that China will emerge as a responsible stakeholder, that China will emerge as a responsible and very important member of the international community.
The paper also makes the point that the most important bilateral relationship in the modern era is not the relationship between Australia and China, it's the relationships between China and the United States. And that's the bilateral relationship that in very many respects everything else hinges on. And again I've made this point; so far as Australia is concerned, it's not a zero sum game. We can continue to have our longstanding relationship including our reliance with the United States and continue to grow our economic and comprehensive relationship with China. It's not a matter of choosing one or the other, although I've seen some commentators say that that's the choice we should be making, we don't need to make that choice.
DAVID SPEERS: Well, China is rapidly expanding its military. We know that Japan just a couple of weeks ago has announced a- albeit fairly small- increase in their defence spending, as well as a direct response to the tensions with China over those uninhabited islands in the South China Sea. Australia meanwhile, and a number of other countries, are cutting our defence spending in the last budget, cuts that have taken our defence spending as a proportion of GDP down to the lowest level since 1938. Is now the right time to be doing that given the increased spending we are seeing in the region?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it's never in my view a good time to be cutting expenditure in defence or the national security environment but you have to cut your cloth to suit the fiscal reality. Japan and its Self-Defence force spends less than one per cent of its GDP on defence and so they've made some modest announcements about increasing their expenditure. But it won't be either Japan or China's military expenditure which will solve tensions in the South or East China Sea. That'll be done as a result of diplomatic arrangements and all nations abiding by the rule of law and the law of international sea, including the Convention on the Law of the Sea.
DAVID SPEERS: But the bottom line is their defence spending is going up, ours is going down.
STEPHEN SMITH: And ours is going down in the same manner that the United States is going down. The United States is taking nearly half a trillion dollars out of its defence expenditure over the next decade. The United Kingdom is taking-
DAVID SPEERS: From a very, very high level, though. From a much higher level than us.
STEPHEN SMITH: From a higher level, but-
DAVID SPEERS: As a proportion of GDP.
STEPHEN SMITH: From a higher level that's right, but if you're taking nearly half a trillion dollars out of your defence expenditure, then you've got to make choices about priorities, and you've got to get effective value for money. The United Kingdom are taking nearly $80 billion out over the next ten years and overnight we see from the United Kingdom announcements about very serious reductions in their military numbers.
Now, we're going-
DAVID SPEERS: But they're not getting below the two per cent of GDP that we're at now.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I would love to be closer to two per cent than to one per cent, but even the Opposition who are out there on a daily basis criticising the cuts won't give a commitment to reinstate because they know that that is the reality, and that's before you get to the fact they've already made more promises than they can afford to make. But let me make this point. You make the point about the percentage of GDP. It's not the only measure. Both before the last budget and after the last budget we're in the top 15 defence spenders. Together with the United States we're the top two per capita defence spenders and we have important-
DAVID SPEERS: We have a very small population though, to be fair, if you're going to use that measurement.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well then, rely upon the one I've just given you, which is we are in the top 15 spenders, defence spenders, in the world, we remain in the top 15. We compete for 13 and 14 with Canada. But most importantly we have ring-fenced those things which are important to us and this is where you get down to value for money, efficiency, and priority.
DAVID SPEERS: Well let's talk about the Defence White Paper. As you say, that's coming out sometime before the middle of the year. There have been a series of leaks in recent days about what this is going to involve, they haven't revealed anything too dramatic, I don't think, but are you worried about the leaking itself?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, there's been one leak, and that occurred at the end of December. And the newspapers are starting to recycle it, but let's just clearly understand what was leaked. There is currently no such as thing as the draft White Paper. What was leaked was an early working document that never came to me. It was so immature in consideration that it didn't come to me. Literally on Christmas Eve I got from the Secretary of the Department a rough draft. He said to me, this is the most recent incarnation that we're looking at. It's probably worth you having a look at it. Have a look over the break if you get the chance. The first thing he said to me when I came back in the middle of January was, ignore that draft, we've already made so many changes, there's no point looking at it.
So, what was leaked was not a draft White Paper, what was leaked was a document which wasn't even in an appropriate position or state to come to the Minister. Now, in the near future, I'll get a document, which I will consider, I will make changes to that document as you would expect. And over the next weeks and months, we'll see a document which will emerge which will be subject to inter-agency consideration, the consideration of other ministers on the National Security Committee. And some time towards the end of the second quarter of this year, April, May, June, a White Paper will be published. People should judge the Government on the quality of the white paper, just as they can judge the Government on the quality of the national security strategy and the Asia century white paper.
DAVID SPEERS: It many not be the most up to date draft but-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well no, it's a draft that didn't even come to the Minister because it wasn't regarded as being worthy enough.
DAVID SPEERS: Nonetheless, have you asked the Department boss to have a look at where the leak’s coming from?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the Secretary came to me and said do you want me to have an Australian Federal Police inquiry into this, and I said no, because generally Australian Federal Police inquiries into leaks don't go anywhere. And it's not a document which came to me. So, whilst I don't like leaks, and whilst it is a bad thing that an officer in Defence thought it was a good thing to hand over a document, and whilst the Defence Department itself will be having a look at it, I don't think there's any point in chasing those rabbits down their burrows.
DAVID SPEERS: Now, I'm glad you've admitted there's no point in an AFP leak investigations, because they don't go anywhere do they?
STEPHEN SMITH: No. And, in the end, I'm not so much worried about the process as the outcome.
DAVID SPEERS: Okay.
STEPHEN SMITH: In the end, some day in April, May or June-
DAVID SPEERS: We'll see the White Paper.
STEPHEN SMITH: -you and I will be having a discussion about the published White Paper, that's the only reference point you need.
DAVID SPEERS: I look forward to that. The final question, away from Defence and national security. The Prime Minister's move to bring Nova Peris into the Parliament and push Trish Crossin out. Labor's National Executive has today endorsed Nova Peris' membership of the Labor Party, and also reopened the pre-selection, or the nominations for the Senate position. They'll close on Monday, but she may well be the only one contesting it, given that the National Executive will decide who wins the spot. No one seems to dispute that having Nova Peris in Parliament isn't a good thing, but have you ever seen a Prime Minister tell a sitting member of Parliament to go?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, pre-selections in the Labor Party are tough, and I've got nothing but-
DAVID SPEERS: This isn't a pre-selection though.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well it is. You've just told me that the National Executive, which is our key body, the National Executive has just determined that Nova Peris is entitled to nominate-
DAVID SPEERS: And not the branch members.
STEPHEN SMITH: -they've opened nominations and the nominations will be determined by the National Executive.
DAVID SPEERS: Not the branch members?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I happen to be pre-selected for the seat of Perth for the 2013 election, and I was endorsed by the National Executive. Over my time I've been endorsed by-
DAVID SPEERS: But was a sitting MP pushed out of that seat to get you in?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, in the Labor Party when-
DAVID SPEERS: They weren't.
STEPHEN SMITH: In the Labor Party when there are pre-selections, it's rarely the case that someone is elected unopposed, there are invariably contests. And under our rules, it's perfectly appropriate for the National Executive to determine, in the party's overall general interest, that the National Executive should determine the pre-selection. Now for why-
DAVID SPEERS: Yeah sure, but has a sitting MP ever been told to go for no apparent reason?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I know plenty of MPs, former, state and federal, who were defeated in their pre-selections.
DAVID SPEERS: Yeah defeated in pre-selection, but told by the leader to go?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I know a number of MPs who went to the leader, state or federal, saying I want your support, and the leader said it's a matter for the National Executive.
DAVID SPEERS: Yeah, and they stayed out of it. Did the leader ever go public and say-
STEPHEN SMITH: The leader, the leader - well, I know plenty of leaders who've come out saying here is a good candidate, I'd like this candidate, he or she endorsed. It's entirely open to the leader to put a point of view, and the party can do one of two things in those circumstances: it can say, actually the leader's had a very good idea here. We're going to get into the Parliament, potentially, the first female indigenous candidate that we've had. That's a very good thing to do in the Northern Territory and generally, so the party will do one of two things. It will either back the leader and support the leader, or there'll be a different outcome. Now, I'm not a member of the National Executive, I used to be, but I'm reasonably confident that in the end the National Executive will think that Nova Peris’ candidature is a very good idea.
DAVID SPEERS: I think that's a pretty safe bet, with the Prime Minister's support for it. Stephen Smith, thank you very much for joining us.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks David, thanks very much, and happy New Year.
DAVID SPEERS: And to you.
STEPHEN SMITH: Cheers.