TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH DAVID SPEERS, SKY NEWS, PM AGENDA
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 30 AUGUST 2011
TOPICS: Manufacturing; Amphibious Ships; DMP; Libya.
DAVID SPEERS: Stephen Smith thanks for your time. Unions are worried about what they say is the crisis in manufacturing at the moment. One thing they're looking at is for the Government to spend a bit more on defence projects here in Australia.
What can you say to them about what is being spent, what's planned to be spent on local manufacturing?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well one illustration is today. Today Jason Clare and I have announced four capability projects which the Government has announced. The main one is the purchase of nearly 1000 four-wheel drives, training vehicles for Army. That will see work done both in Queensland, in Brisbane, and also in Newcastle in New South Wales. That's a $400 million project, so that's one illustration of what we do, essentially on an annual basis there's nearly $6 billion goes into Australian economy from Defence procurement capability, maintenance, sustainment.
DAVID SPEERS: Has that increased or decreased?
STEPHEN SMITH: It increases over time.
Since the Government - since the White Paper in 2009 we've seen the Government adopt an additional $7 billion worth of projects.
Now it's always been the case, it will always be the case that some of that is military off the shelf from overseas and some is produced here.
There are some very good illustrations of what occurs here.
Recently I announced 101 additional Bushmasters so that's very important for local industry, in particular for regional Victoria.
Submarine maintenance and sustainment, even though we have some very serious challenges so far as submarines is concerned, that's very important for South Australia in particular but also for Western Australia. And building ships, the Air Warfare Destroyers, we're currently building those in shipyards in Newcastle, in Melbourne and also in South Australia.
And the maintenance and sustainment of our fleet, our amphibious fleet, also brings a lot of work to Sydney. So on a regular ongoing basis there is plenty of Defence work for local industry to do.
DAVID SPEERS: Speaking of shipbuilding, a couple of weeks ago or just less than a couple of weeks you announced HMAS Kanimbla was being retired and your expectation was that HMAS Tobruk, the only remaining amphibious landing ship would come out of maintenance, which it's in at the moment, in time for the cyclone season in Queensland. What's the latest on that though?
STEPHEN SMITH: It will still come out of maintenance for the cyclone season which commences end of October, early November. There was an expectation, which I indicated previously that it might come out or would come out for a short period of time for sea trials at the end of this month. That won't now occur. As part of its maintenance program we've discovered a difficulty with the fire suppressant system so there's no point putting it out for sea trials, but we remain on track for it to come out of its previously scheduled maintenance ready for the cyclone season-
DAVID SPEERS: But in the next couple of months until that happens what do we have in the way of-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well very importantly as the Government has addressed this issue, very importantly at every step in the process we've made sure that we've had additional heavy amphibious lift capability. Currently we have the Ocean Protector which is there providing the heavy amphibious lift capability if we require it. I've previously indicated that from the middle of October, beginning of November I'll announce additional capability to make sure that we're covered until the HMAS Choules or the Largs Bay arrives and is ready for service in January.
So we've been meticulous about making sure that every step in the process we've got some back up which is additional to the back up that we've agreed with New Zealand with effective joint use of the HMNZ Canterbury.
DAVID SPEERS: On another matter are you able to confirm the reports that the director of military prosecutions has now dropped - decided not to proceed with a court martial against the Lieutenant Colonel who commanded that raid on the compound in Afghanistan in which five children and one adult were killed?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I was asked about this last week and I indicated that yesterday there would be a directions hearing before the Advocate General, and I also indicated I'd received advice from the independent Director of Military Prosecutions that she wasn't proposing to proffer evidence.
Yesterday the directions hearing occurred, the Advocate General gave leave for the charges against the Lieutenant Colonel to be withdrawn, so there's effectively no conviction against him. The Advocate General also awarded that his name, quite appropriately, be suppressed. And so those three matters, there were two previous charges against two soldiers, a Sergeant and a Corporal, which were not proceeded with as well.
DAVID SPEERS: This charging of the three of them in relation to a wartime incident drew a lot of criticism from within the military. Do you still have confidence in the military prosecutor Brigadier Lyn McDade who recommended those charges?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well two things; firstly yes I do have confidence in her. These have been matters which she has dealt with in accordance with the independent exercise of her discretion. But given these were the first manslaughter charges brought in the fog of war, in the theatre of war in living memory what I flagged last week I'm now proposing to indicate and do formally, given the importance of these matters both to military justice and to our own experience, I'm proposing to ask the Director of Military Prosecutions to now provide to me a comprehensive assessment of these three matters and the circumstances that led to the outcomes that we've seen.
Now that's not to judge or tilt the lever one way or the other. This has been the first occasion where three of our soldiers have been charged effectively with manslaughter during actual combat-
DAVID SPEERS: And you want some clarity about how that happened?
STEPHEN SMITH: I just want now, while the dust has settled, for us to have the opportunity of a comprehensive assessment of that. So I'll ask that initially of the Director of Military Prosecutions and subsequently, as you would expect, I'll get the advice of the Secretary of the Department and the Chief of the Defence Force.
I of course didn't want to do that while these matters were on foot because they needed to be dealt with independently by the military prosecutor but also by the court martial itself.
DAVID SPEERS: A final question on Libya. Algeria has now taken in members of Colonel Qaddafi's family, he remains at large. Are you comfortable with Algeria taking in his family members?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well that's a matter for Algeria. Australia's view remains that Colonel Qaddafi should walk off the stage; he should instruct his troops to lay down their arms. We have seen a lessening of fighting around Tripoli itself, but of course we've also heard very serious and terrible tales about torture and also increasing humanitarian concerns, access to food and access to water. We welcome the fact that NATO has made it clear that its operation will continue under the United Nations Security Council resolution. We're the third largest humanitarian contributor to Libya and we stand ready, willing and able to contribute more if that's required.
The Acting Foreign Minister, Craig Emerson, I understand will be involved in the Libyan contact group talks towards the end of this week. I've previously made it clear that if a C17 or a C130 is required to move civilians in distress then that's open to us, but for the present we welcome the fact that fighting around Tripoli has receded, but we do want Gaddafi to instruct his troops to cease firing so that Libya can go into a transition phase post Qaddafi.
DAVID SPEERS: Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, thank you.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you.