TRANSCRIPT: Interview with Lyndal Curtis
TRANSCRIPTION: Proof copy and E & OE
DATE: 14 May 2012
TOPICS: Afghanistan; Craig Thomson.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Stephen Smith, welcome to News 24.
STEPHEN SMITH: A pleasure, Lyndal.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Well the transition to Afghan-led security in the Uruzgan Province, what will that mean in practice?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, what it means in practice is that we've been included as all of Uruzgan, the entire province, in the third tranche. That will start about the middle of this year. Our assessment- and the International Security Assistance Force assessment- is, as a rule of thumb, it takes you 12, 18 months to effect a complete transition.
So we continue to be on track to transition to Afghan-led security responsibility in Uruzgan by 2014, and as the Prime Minister and I have been saying for some time now, possibly earlier. But we need to take that as it comes, we need to go step by step, and we need to make sure that the outcome is, to use the jargon, conditions-based, and not timetable based.
But we are pleased the Uruzgan is in as a province. That was our assessment. And we are confident we're on track to effect that transition in Uruzgan.
LYNDAL CURTIS: As things stand now, do you believe the Afghan-led security, or the Afghan-security forces, are in a position to begin stepping up to taking responsibility in the province?
STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely. That's been our judgment. We of course - as you'd expect - were consulted both by the Afghan Government and by the International Security Assistance Force.
Our analysis, both to General Allen and to the Afghan authorities is that we believe that we've made up significant security ground in Uruzgan over the last 12 to 18 months, the Taliban had not been able to make up any ground in the field.
And so we were confident that Uruzgan could be appropriately placed in the third tranche. Our judgment was also that it was better for all of the province to be in the third tranche.
But we accepted - as had occurred in other provinces - that that could be either in whole or in part, that was entirely a matter for President Karzai, and his officials. But we're pleased that all of Uruzgan will now proceed to transition in the third tranche.
That coincides, or is the same as our own analysis, the same as ISAF's analysis. So that's a good thing. And we look forward to effecting it.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Do you think it will take the 12 to 18 months that's outlined in the timetable, or is there a possibility Australian troops could end up coming home even earlier than you expect?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well again we've got to take it step by step. Our judgment is that transition in Uruzgan can take place during that 12 to 18 month timetable. That's also the International Security Assistance Force judgment that, as a general proposition, it takes 12 to 18 months to transition in a province or a district. But as I say, we'll take that step by step.
We want to make sure that we do it properly, we want to make sure that it's conditions based, we want to make sure that we get the appropriate outcome so far as the capacity of the fourth brigade of the Afghan national army is to take the lead responsibly but we are very confident we're on track.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Will it make things less risky for the Australian troops?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well again, as we proceed through transition, we will continue to do that which we're doing now. So our mentoring and training taskforce members will be out there, as will our special forces, but as we effect a complete transition, then what will naturally occur will be the Afghan's fourth brigade, the Afghan national army fourth brigade will take lead responsibility.
We will of course continue to be there. We will be to use the International Security Assistance Force team, we'll continue to be combat ready if we are needed to assist from behind. But we've got to take that step by step. But it's a logical consequence of making the transition that our training and mentoring taskforce will, over a period of time, no longer be required.
But we're not being definitive about that, because we do need to take it step by step. And we do need to make sure it is conditions and outcomes based, but the bulk of our 1550 on average contribution to Afghanistan, the bulk of our presence in Uruzgan is some seven to 800 trainers and mentors, and over a period of time they'll no longer be required.
But we will continue, obviously, to have personnel in Afghanistan both to the end of 2014, but also we've indicated that we are prepared to take part in a post-2014 presence as well - and that will be one of the key discussions at Chicago next weekend.
LYNDAL CURTIS: If I could ask you about another issue, MPs are discussing having a code of conduct for politicians. The Prime Minister says she's happy to discuss it. But why is one needed? Aren't the standards expected of politicians clear, the same for the public - don't break the law?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well as a general proposition that's right, and we've proceeded to date essentially on a common sense basis that members of Parliament have to set high standards, and the community make judgements about that. But in the course of this type-
LYNDAL CURTIS: Don't politicians, though, know what those standards are - and whether they've met them or not?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well there's - there are community standards, and there is a high standard that members of Parliament have to meet, but in the course of this Parliament there have been discussions, whether it's been before the relevant house committee, or the Senate committee, discussions about whether the time has come for the drafting of a code of conduct. I'm not opposed to that.
As I say, historically of course it's been done on the common sense test, the community standards test, the community judgements test, but I'm not opposed in principle to seeking to articulate that or to distill that in a code of conduct. And, as well, we've also made it clear that we don't have any objections to the notion of a, effectively, a Parliamentary ombudsman or an integrity commissioner.
And these sorts of developments we've seen in other parliaments around the world. We've also seen codes of conduct emerge for the conduct of others in the community.
So I'm happy to see the conversation progress.
LYNDAL CURTIS: You've said today it's not up to you to say whether Craig Thomson's explanations so far of his actions is believable, but in the end won't the Parliament, won't the public make a judgment on whether his explanation is plausible - even before any court processes have been gone through?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, two things I think- Firstly, he's made it clear last week that he wants to make a response in the Parliament, he wants to outline his position in the Parliament.
I think he obviously has an entitlement to do that, but he also has an obligation to do that, so I'm much more interested in that presentation to the Parliament than I am to - than I am in what interviews he might do. That's the first point. And the Parliament will make I expect a judgment about his response.
Secondly, there are very serious findings, very serious matters for concern in the findings of Fair Work Australia report, but if those matters are to be taken any further, then it's really a matter for the appropriate authority - and not so much a matter for the Parliament. The Parliament is neither an investigative body, nor a prosecuting body, so the Parliament-
LYNDAL CURTIS: But it does have the ability and does not it have the entitlement, as you said, to make a judgment on what Craig Thomson tells it next week.
STEPHEN SMITH: And it won't surprise me if after Mr Thomson has made his contribution to the Parliament next week, or the following week, that the Parliament will make a judgment of sorts.
But it won't be an investigative judgment, nor can it be a prosecutorial judgment. So they are rightly matters for relevant authorities. And that's why people, Members of Parliament, Ministers have strongly made the point that he's entitled to the presumption of innocence, but equally he does have an obligation - and he has made clear he wants to discharge that obligation - to set out to the Parliament what his side of the story is, or what his version of events are.
And for myself, I'm happy to patiently wait for that when it occurs over the next Parliamentary sitting fortnight.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Stephen Smith, thank you very much for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Lyndal, thanks very much.