TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH LAURA JAYES, LUNCHTIME AGENDA
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 30 MAY 2013
TOPICS: Electoral Reform; US Marines; Shangri-La Dialogue; Cyber Security.
LAURA JAYES: A short time ago I spoke to the Defence Minister Stephen Smith, and started by asking him whether it was Labor who'd misjudged the electorate in this case.
STEPHEN SMITH: I can understand the community having some reservations about taxpayers' funds being used for political parties. But it's much better that public funding occurs and political parties, whether it's the Labor Party, the Liberal Party, the Nationals or the Greens, being dependent upon large, secret donations from private sources.
Now we got a Bill through the House of Representatives which would require disclosure for anything over $1,000. And it's a great regret that the Liberal Party didn't support that. So years of tortuous negotiations have brought us to a point where less than a week ago Tony Abbott said that he would support disclosure of donations about $5,000. What we have misjudged is that Tony Abbott used to say to us don't believe what I say, but you can believe what I write down. He wrote to us less than a week ago saying that he supported it, and now, less than a week later, he is walking away from it. So what we've misjudged is the capacity for Tony Abbott to be disingenuous, duplicitous and misleading. That's what we've misjudged, what we've misjudged here is the capacity for Tony Abbott to walk away from something that he has agreed to and signed up for and written to us about. Not only can you not believe what Tony Abbott says, you can't believe what he writes down.
LAURA JAYES: We'll get to Tony Abbott in a moment. But this funding comes after a Budget where we see a near $20 billion deficit. And this is $60 million going into political parties, and the public are angry about this. Isn't this at the very least bad timing?
STEPHEN SMITH: We would've much preferred to have done this in 2010, when we got a piece of legislation through the House to require disclosure, but which the Liberal Party wouldn't support. We believe it's very important to change for the better the system that we operate under, which gives political parties support, so they're not dependent upon private donations, but which requires disclosure. That transparency is very important. Now for years, for decades, we've had public funding at State and Federal level for campaigning purposes. We want to, and Tony Abbott agreed with us less than a week ago, to extend that to administrative purposes so that parties aren't dependent for their day to day existence or for campaigning on secret, private donations. The problem with secret private donations is that the perception emerges that that sees changes to policy.
Now that is an evil which we have to avoid in Australia. We've seen that in other countries, we want to make sure it doesn't occur here. Yes, we would have preferred to have done this earlier. We've got two to three weeks of the Parliament left, and it's a matter of great regret to us that Tony Abbott has walked away from something he agreed to in writing less than a week ago.
LAURA JAYES: You say Tony Abbott is duplicitous, but he says he's listened to the electorate. So instead of following politics, he may have broken his agreement with the Government, but he says his priority is with the people. How can you-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well the problem is this; he's holding himself out as being the next Prime Minister of the country. He signs a letter of the 24th of May which says without reservation I support this matter. If he was Prime Minister this could be a letter to the Prime Minister or the President of another country, to the Premier of a State or the Chief Minister of a Territory, and less than a week after he signs it, for whatever reason, he walks away from it. He presumably put his mind to what the public response to this might have been. If he was worried about these matters, why did he sign the letter? So you've got a bloke who says I want to be Prime Minister of the country, who signs a letter as potentially the next Prime Minister of the country, who less than a week after he signs it walks away from it. How would the President or the Prime Minister of another country respond to that? How would the Premier of a State respond to that?
LAURA JAYES: Alright Minister, on to some portfolio areas finally. Now you've received a report on social and economic impact of the Marine rotation in Darwin. Now most of it is positive, but there is a potential for negative impacts into the future. Are you concerned about those negative impacts and what are they?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we committed ourselves to doing social and economic assessment studies of the various phases or proposed phases of the rotation. We've seen a study of the 250 Marines, which essentially set a modest positive economic contribution. We've seen no adverse social consequences from the presence of 250 Marines effectively at Robertson Barracks. I think the most we saw was a couple of speeding fines and a parking ticket. We're now moving to the next phase, and I've released today the assessment, social and economic assessment of 1,100 Marines in Darwin at Robertson Barracks. It says essentially a modest economic benefit to Darwin and the Northern Territory, some $5 to $7 million. But not much if any adverse social consequences. Some small number of people are worried about additional aircraft noise or social behaviour. But we think that the assessments essentially give a very positive tick, and over the next few weeks I expect to be able to announce to Government having made a formal decision here for the size of the rotation in 2014.
LAURA JAYES: And you're off to Singapore tomorrow for the Shangri-La Dialogue. Now has the world well and truly pivoted towards Asia, and are we well placed for that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely. The Defence White Paper that I released recently essentially says we're now looking at a strategic arc which we call the Indo-Pacific, or, tongue in cheek, from Hollywood to Bollywood. And all of the key Defence Ministers and players from our part of the world are there. I'll meet up again with Chuck Hagel, the US Secretary of State for Defense who I saw in Washington a week or so ago. But also the ASEAN Defence Ministers. It's a very important part of what Defence Ministers do, good chance to catch up on the strategic challenges and opportunities that we have.
LAURA JAYES: Chinese cyber-crime has been at the forefront of political debate this week. Is this something that you have pursued, or has the Government pursued through diplomatic channels, and does it need to be pursued in that way?
STEPHEN SMITH: We never identify a particular nation or country when it comes to cyber. We make the point generally that cyber-security is an absolutely essential issue, not just for countries but for individuals. It's not just national security matters that need to be protected; it's also companies' intellectual property and their commercial confidentiality. So we've done a lot over the last half dozen years to have our particular agencies working very closely with other Government Departments to take the necessary precautions, but also dealing with industry to alert them to the dangers. There is as much risk for a company being lax about the security of their online and email networks as there is for a Government Department.
LAURA JAYES: There must be particular concern about China though, because on one of your trips you now famously left your laptops and mobile phones behind in Hong Kong, taking extraordinary measures to counter espionage. So China must be one of the biggest concerns here?
STEPHEN SMITH: They're not extraordinary measures, I think you'll find that a lot of officials and a lot of companies do precisely the same. We don't identify particular countries, other countries do. But there is plenty of what technically is described as open-source reporting which would suggest that there are a range of individuals, a range of organisations, some of them terrorist, some of them criminal, some of them engaged in trying to simply make money. There are a range of players out there who will attack the online and digital networks of Governments, of Government Departments, but also of companies and individuals. So everyone needs to take sensible precautions, that's what the Australian Government does, and that's what we encourage Australian companies and Australian individuals to do.
LAURA JAYES: Defence Minister Stephen Smith thanks so much for talking to us.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you, thanks very much.