TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH KIERAN GILBERT, AM AGENDA SKY NEWS
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 5 DECEMBER 2011
TOPICS: Labor Party; Newspoll; Strategic Reform Program; Uranium.
KIERAN GILBERT: I spoke to the Defence Minster, Stephen Smith, a short time ago. I began by asking him for his reaction to that report.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, firstly, I haven't seen the so-called closed edition of the election review. That's the first point.
Secondly, I've seen previous media references to it so there's been speculation about its contents in the past.
What we do know is that we had a tough time during the run-up to that election campaign and in the course of that election campaign and leaks about what had supposedly occurred in the course of our first term were a most unhelpful contribution to that but I've never seen it, I've never asked to see it, I'm not proposing to ask to see it.
For myself, I've always thought we were best off just moving on. It was a very tough campaign for us, it was a bad campaign in many respects, no one's disputing that, but our job now is to get down to the job of government.
We've worked through a series of tough issues in the course of the first year in this, our second term, and we've got nearly two years to go.
KIERAN GILBERT: It does imply that the former Prime Minister or his supporters were behind the damaging leaks of last year's election. That will be seen as a shot across the bows, won't it, to Kevin Rudd and his backers?
STEPHEN SMITH: That's what the newspaper says. As I say, I haven't seen the report. I'm not proposing to ask to see it. It was done, as you would expect, in the aftermath of a very tough and difficult campaign for us, where we ended up forming a minority government. To me it's part of history and I treat-
KIERAN GILBERT: But it's not all history because it's been leaked now. Shouldn't it be seen in terms of trying to put Mr Rudd back in his box?
STEPHEN SMITH: As I say, that's what the newspaper asserts and I don't pay it any more weight than a whole range of assertions I've seen in a newspaper. For myself it's part of history, let's move on. Our challenge now is to govern and govern well.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, let's move on. If I can ask you about the Newspoll today, a little bit of a bright spot to finish the year. The primary vote's still very low but do you take some comfort from that number today?
STEPHEN SMITH: Again, I don't get into the fortnightly dissection. I think you've got to look at these things on the long run but, you know, we're now into December.
What's my analysis of this year? I think if you had said that in the course of this year that at the end of the year published polls were showing Labor two or three points behind two-party preferred, the Opposition leader with a disapproval rating of 55 to 60 points, the Prime Minister comfortably ahead on preferred Prime Minister, that we've got our Minerals Resources Rent Tax legislation through the House of Representatives, we've got the Carbon Pollution legislation through the Parliament, and I think commentators now starting to say, well, Labor's ended the year in a much better position than we could have possibly expected, the weight does now go on the leader of the Opposition who has earned a reputation of being more negative than any opposition leader we've ever seen before.
KIERAN GILBERT: And did you feel that this poll is vindication of a strategy that the Government's clearly undertaken to try and portray Mr Abbott that way?
STEPHEN SMITH: Our strategy has been simply this: we want to govern and govern well for a three-year period. I've said before on your program that people need to take a long term view. The next election will be in September, October, November of 2013. We're about to finish our first year of a second term in office and it's the unwise commentator, the most unwise commentator who knocks out a government after 12 months of a three-year term.
If you were doing that variously in the last 20 years you would have knocked out the Howard, Keating and Hawke Governments who, from a comparable position, were all successfully re-elected. So this is a long-haul race.
Now, I would say this, wouldn't I, but I'd much rather be us than them.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay. I want to ask a couple of questions on your portfolio specifically. The Chief of Navy this morning, a memo reported in the Australian newspaper suggesting that he's attacked a culture of entitlement within the navy, accusing sailors of essentially wasting taxpayers' money. What do you make of this memo? Do you agree with the Vice Admiral, Ray Griggs?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I'm with the Chief of Navy on this point. The Chief of Navy, a week or so ago, sent out a message to all members of Navy, essentially saying we're going through a big strategic reform program. We have to be more efficient with what we do, we have to get value for money with what we do and there are a range of areas where we have to essentially not just rein in spending but make sure that taxpayers' money are used appropriately.
KIERAN GILBERT: So do you think there's a culture of entitlement among sailors?
STEPHEN SMITH: That's the terminology that the Chief of Navy has used and I simply say on this matter I very strongly support the Chief of Navy.
The Chief of Navy has been in the job now for six months or so. He's doing a very good job and whether it's on the strategic reform program, whether it's on working very closely with me and the Secretary and the Chief of the Defence Force on making sure we've got a heavy amphibious lift capability for the coming disaster relief season, whether it's working very hard with me on Submarines, he's doing a first class job and I fully support what he has said to all members of Navy, which is the strategic reform program, getting value for money, making sure we're effective and efficient with what we do is a very sensible and good thing to do.
KIERAN GILBERT: One last question on the uranium vote at the weekend at the conference, the ALP conference, lifting the ban on uranium exports.
Now, there was one suggestion - I think it was in your speech and a couple of others as well, about boosting the strategic partnership with India. What are the prospects on that front for greater engagement?
STEPHEN SMITH: I think two things. Firstly, I'm very pleased with the decision. What changed our view in this area was India coming under the authority of the two civil nuclear regulators, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group and that's what has allowed us to move forward in this area.
But, from a strategic point of view, everyone sees the rise of China, not enough people see the rise of India.
By the middle of this century, the United States, China and India will be the three great superpowers and India, as the largest democracy, is entitled to be accorded respect in that regard.
This has been what people describe as a grain of sand or an irritant in the relationship. I think some people have overstated that but this will be a deeply significant decision so far as our strategic relationship with India is concerned.
We've worked very hard over the last three or four years to build that relationship, whether it's on the trade and investment front or whether it's on the Defence to Defence relationship and arrangements.
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, appreciate your time. Thanks.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much.