TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH LYNDAL CURTIS, ABC24
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 18 AUGUST 2011
TOPICS: HMAS Kanimbla; Joint Strike Fighter.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Stephen Smith, welcome to ABC News 24.
STEPHEN SMITH: Pleasure.
LYNDAL CURTIS: You've taken the decision to decommission HMAS Kanimbla. Why is that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we don't think it is value for money, or value for effort to try and get it back into the water. It was put out of operational service last year, on the instruction of the Chief of Navy, for seaworthiness reasons. We've given it an exhaustive assessment and come to the conclusion that it won't give the taxpayer value for money, or Navy value for effort to try and get it back into the water.
LYNDAL CURTIS: You say it would cost up to $35 million to be repaired. The Manoora, which was also decommissioned, was going to cost $20 million to be repaired. Was the Kanimbla in worse shape?
STEPHEN SMITH: I haven't done that qualitative assessment. What you do know is that neither of them were seaworthy at the time they were taken out of operational service and it wasn't worth the risk, or worth the money trying to get them back into the water.
It's clearly been the case that HMAS Tobruk has been in better shape than both of them, and that is why we have focused our maintenance efforts on Tobruk. We expect Tobruk will come out of maintenance towards the end of this month, for a short period of time only and then go back into previously scheduled and announced maintenance to prepare it for the cyclone season which generally starts in November.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Now you've bought a ship from the UK. That won't be in service, I understand, until the end of the year. The Defence Department had been borrowing a ship from the Antarctic Division, but that's gone back. You've got the potential of using a New Zealand ship, but is there a gap in the capabilities - is there a gap?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, no, there's no gap and I've seen the Opposition running off today, making that mistake. We always wanted to make sure that there was capability cover for HMAS Tobruk when it was undergoing maintenance, so for the period that Tobruk has been undergoing maintenance we've had, as you say firstly, the Aurora Australis from the Antarctic Division providing cover. That arrangement finished a week or so ago, the 12 August.
Since the 12 August, we've had the customs vessel Ocean Protector providing cover and that will occur until the middle of October. Between the middle of October and beginning of November we're expecting HMAS Tobruk to be back into operational service. What we're also doing is looking at our options to provide cover as well, or additional assistance for Tobruk from that October, November period, until such time as the Largs Bay, or the HMAS Choules as it will now be known, arrives from the United Kingdom, and is ready for service in January.
LYNDAL CURTIS: So where are the options for providing that cover? Is it looking to another Navy or looking to a place like the Antarctic Division again?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we're looking at all options and as I have in the past, I haven't speculated as to what those options might be. We wait until we effect an arrangement and then announce that at an appropriate time. So we're looking at the array of options. In the past I've generally said that we're looking at all of the available options in our area - Australia. Whether they're commercial, or whether they're assets that Customs might have or the Antarctic Division might have. But commercial options are also on the table.
And, as well, we've had since the beginning of this exercise the cooperation of New Zealand with HMNZS Canterbury and that is also available on a cooperative basis. But I've always wanted to ensure that we've had additional options to that and that's what we've made sure has occurred to-date and that's what we are aiming to do in the aftermath of Tobruk going back into the water and the lease of the Ocean Protector expiring in the middle of October.
LYNDAL CURTIS: You told parliament yesterday you were effectively bringing forward the review of the Strike Fighter program, bringing it forward a year to next year. How serious are the concerns about the cost over runs and delays we've seen in the program in the United States.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well not so much bringing forward the review. When I was in the United States the Joint Strike Fighter Program Office, the Assistant Secretary of State for Capability Matters, Ash Carter and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, all made it clear that they were proposing to effect, before the end of this year, an exhaustive risk assessment on schedule. We will also do our own assessment parallel with that.
The point I made to the parliament yesterday is that we have always padded into our arrangements, both on cost and on schedule, sufficient buffer to do our best to make sure there would be no capability gap. The advice I have, and I've made it clear both in the United States publicly and privately and also here, is that we're now starting to rub up against that schedule - rub up against the risk of a capability gap. And what I said yesterday was the advice I have from Defence is that we could wait until 2013 to make that decision about whether we need to acquire other options to avoid a capability gap.