TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH FRAN KELLY, RADIO NATIONAL
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 4 APRIL 2012
TOPICS: US Marines in Darwin; Fair Work Australia.
FRAN KELLY: Later this morning Defence Minister Stephen Smith will formally welcome the marines in a military ceremony at Robertson Barracks. The Minister's in our Darwin studios. Stephen Smith, good morning, welcome to Breakfast.
STEPHEN SMITH: Good morning, Fran, thank you.
FRAN KELLY: Is Darwin ready and willing to accept this American presence in the Territory? What feeling are you getting up there?
STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly, the Chief Minister, Paul Henderson, is very enthusiastic and I think that's shared by the vast bulk of both the Darwin and the Northern Territorian population. The Northern Territory's got a longstanding history of working closely not just with the Australian Defence Force but also with United States defence force personnel so I think the mood here is one of very strong enthusiasm. It's a good thing we're doing and we're making sure that as we stage this rotation through, that there are no adverse impacts for Darwin and the people of Darwin.
FRAN KELLY: These 200 Marines who arrived last night, they're just the start of a bigger contingent. When will that full deployment of 2500 personnel arrive in Darwin?
STEPHEN SMITH: We're staging it over essentially a five or six year period and we'll progressively increase the number of Marines on the rotation so we're starting with between 200 and 250 and each year we'll increase that but as each six-monthly rotation concludes we'll essentially do a lessons learned, make sure that there's nothing we need to improve or enhance and adopt those lessons for the future. So we're very confident.
FRAN KELLY: Once we get that 2500-strong Marine-air-ground taskforce in place, it'll involve a command element, a ground element, a logistics element, supported by armoured vehicles, artillery and aircraft. Now, the Government keeps emphasising there'll be no US military base on Australian soil but, given the size of this taskforce, is it much different to a base?
STEPHEN SMITH: I think they’re qualitatively different. Very different. We don't have United States military bases in Australia and we're not proposing to. We have joint facilities and Pine Gap is the obvious example but other than that what we have is United States defence force personnel access to our facilities and that's what's occurring in the Northern Territory.
So, for example, the current group, the 200, they were in Robertson Barracks overnight. They'll essentially stay at Robertson Barracks before they do their training and, as we get to larger numbers, what will occur in future is that you'll see US Marines essentially staying overnight or a couple of nights in Robertson Barracks and then going down to the training areas, whether that's Bradshaw or Mount Bundey or Kangaroo Flats closer to Darwin.
So we don't envisage a great impact on Darwin itself and we think it'll go very smoothly but there's logistical support which you've referred to but that's qualitatively different from having a permanent presence. We've made it very clear, as we've announced these proposals that we're looking at rotation. It's essentially an enhancement of the practical cooperation and exercises that we currently do whether that's with Army personnel or Air Force or Navy.
FRAN KELLY: Let's go to the strategic implications of this. The Darwin deployment is part of the US reorienting its global force posture. Australia is supporting US engagement throughout our region, quote, in a manner that promotes peace and stability, according to the Prime Minister.
Is there any chance US marines could be deployed from Darwin for combat duties?
STEPHEN SMITH: I'm not proposing to deal with hypotheticals but the first thing that we do need-
FRAN KELLY: It's a pretty key question, really, isn't it?
STEPHEN SMITH: Yes, but I'm not going to deal in hypotheticals. What we do know is that we're into the 61st year of our alliance with the United States. That's worked very well in terms of security for Australia but also, most importantly, the United States has been a force for peace and stability and security in the Asia Pacific region since the end of World War Two.
It is the case that with the measures that we have announced that over the period of the next five to six years we'll see a greater practical cooperation on the ground in Australia with the United States than we've seen since the end of World War Two.
Now, the United States presence, indeed enhanced presence in the Asia Pacific is an unambiguously good thing as strategically influence and economic and military power moves to the Asia Pacific, whether it's the rise of China, the rise of India or the rise of the ASEAN economies combined.
But what we do envisage very much in the first instance, which Bob Carr and I have spoken publicly about with our Indonesian counterparts, and I've spoken publicly recently with my counterpart from Singapore is the potential of Australia, the United States doing joint humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercises with our ASEAN colleagues and colleagues in the region including the suggestion that we've seen from Indonesian President Yudhoyono that in due course we don't discount the possibility of doing such exercises with China.
FRAN KELLY: Have you allayed Indonesia's fears? Because at the time when this was announced Indonesia questioned the wisdom of basing US Marines in northern Australia. There were claims the deployment creates, quote, a circle of tensions and mistrust.
STEPHEN SMITH: That wasn't the view expressed by Indonesian President Yudhoyono. He came out saying he thought it was a good thing and he also said that he saw the prospect of not just Australia, the United States and potentially Indonesia engaging in exercises but also the wider region including China and when that suggestion was made both US Ambassador Bleich and I publicly welcomed that suggestion and said in due course we thought that would be something which could work towards.
So we see this very much as responding and reflecting the fact that the world is moving into our part of the world. The world is moving to the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean. We need to respond to that. The world needs to essentially come to grips with the rise of China, the rise of India, the move of strategic and political and economic influence to our part of the world and we need to ensure that we do that in a way in which the international community responds to that change, manages that change and we believe very strongly that what we're doing will enhance that rather than detract from it.
FRAN KELLY: It's eight minutes to eight on Breakfast, our guest this morning is Defence Minister Stephen Smith who's in our Darwin studios.
Minister, on another matter, the Craig Thomson affair. We spoke to Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis earlier this morning. He says this report from the HSU should be released. He also says this. Let's have a listen.
GEORGE BRANDIS: There is something morally objectionable about a government including within its number a person who is subject to such suspicion.
FRAN KELLY: What's your reaction to that? Do you feel uneasy about having to rely on the vote of Craig Thomson given that he could be facing serious charges?
STEPHEN SMITH: I didn't hear all of George's interview, I've just heard that extract but George is a lawyer who holds himself out as being a potential Attorney-General of the Commonwealth. I would have thought that George actually believed in the presumption of innocence.
We've had an investigation here by Fair Work Australia. That investigation has been handed over to the relevant authorities and consideration is now being given as to whether further action needs to be taken. Like George-
FRAN KELLY: Presumption-
STEPHEN SMITH: Like George, I'm a lapsed lawyer but I believe in the presumption of innocence and it sounds as though more strongly than George does.
FRAN KELLY: Presumption of innocence has not bearing on whether this report is made public or kept secret and the Opposition is calling on the Government to release this report or calling on Fair Work Australia to release this report. Do you support this report being made public?
STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly, whether that report is released is entirely a matter for the responsible authorities, whether that is Fair Work Australia or, indeed, the other investigative or prosecutorial authorities so it's entirely a matter for them.
FRAN KELLY: Would you support the Government calling for it to be made public?
STEPHEN SMITH: Let me just finish with George. The Opposition can't have this both ways. As I recall it, for the last few months, even longer, they've been asserting publicly that the Government has been interfering in the processes. Now they're calling on us to interfere even more.
Now, there are two points to be made about that. Firstly there was no interference. These are the actions and the work and the conduct of independent statutory authorities, whether it's Fair Work Australia or others, and we simply need to allow them to get on with their work. Now, whether-
FRAN KELLY: Would it help everybody, including the public and the 70,000 members of the HSU, if this was all made public though, after such a long process, three and a half years?
STEPHEN SMITH: I don't believe that's a matter for me or a matter for the Government. It's a matter for Fair Work Australia and the relevant investigating and prosecuting authorities to make that judgment. So we have left this to the relevant authorities to do their work. They're doing that and there should not be, in my view, interference by the Government of the day.
Now, George Brandis, the Liberal Party can go off and make all the points they like but those points to my mind run counter to the presumption of innocence and run counter to the independence of statutory authorities doing their work.
FRAN KELLY: Is it an imperative and a matter of public interest that we get confirmation one way or another if a Member of Parliament has been referred to the DPP for possible recommendation of criminal charges?
STEPHEN SMITH: Again, that's a matter for the DPP or a matter for the independent authority which has made that reference if, indeed, that has occurred. There's always two sides to such matters. I mean, the DPP, for example, Fair Work Australia for, example, may not want that report put into the public arena because it may well prejudice their further work so it's they who need to make the judgment not people from outside whether it's members of parliament or journalists.
FRAN KELLY: Stephen Smith, thank you very much for joining us.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks, Fran, thanks very much.