TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH LYNDAL CURTIS ON ABC 24
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
TOPICS: DMP; Amphibious Ships; Manufacturing.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Stephen Smith, welcome to ABC News 24.
STEPHEN SMITH: Pleasure.
LYNDAL CURTIS: The Director of Military Prosecutions yesterday formally dropped the last of the charges against the remaining Commando who was being charged. Were those charges ill-advised?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well the whole process is a matter of course for the independent judgement of the Director of Military Prosecutions. It’s very important that our justice system, including our military justice system is independent. Yesterday, at a previously scheduled pre-directions hearing, the Military Advocate allowed the Director of Military Prosecutions to withdraw the final charges against the Lieutenant Colonel; ordered that his name be suppressed and that no conviction be recorded.
What I’m proposing to do now is to ask the Director of Military Prosecutions to provide me with a comprehensive assessment of these matters, so that we can have an analysis as to the events which led up to these matters being finalised yesterday.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Why do you want that comprehensive assessment? There was a great deal of concern when the charges were announced, particularly from some in the military who were warned that the application of these charges might have an impact on the way operations were conducted. Are those the things you want to have a look at?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well these were the first charges for manslaughter literally in the theatre or the fog of war, in living memory. And while the dust has settled – in other words, while there are no charges pending, or before a Court Martial – I think an assessment of the circumstances that led to the proffering of the charges and an assessment of the circumstances which saw both previously the Sergeant and the Corporal also having their charges effectively dismissed, it’s worthwhile doing such an assessment after the event.
It, of course, would be entirely inappropriate to do such a thing in the midst of, or in the course of such proceedings.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Will that assessment be made public?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I’ll make a judgement about that. In the first instance I asked the Director of Military Prosecutions to give to me her comprehensive assessment. As you’d expect I’ll then seek the advice of the Secretary of the Department of Defence and the Chief of the Defence Force, and make judgements after that about the extent to which I make such matters public.
But it is important, I think, given the opportunity just to run the ruler over the system, given that this is the first time we’ve experienced such matters in living memory.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Onto another issue. You’ve decommissioned two amphibious landing ships. The third that had problems, HMAS Tobruk has been in for maintenance. About a fortnight ago you expected that the Tobruk would be available in the next couple of weeks, in between periods of maintenance. Is that still the case?
STEPHEN SMITH: I received advice last week that in the course of Tobruk undergoing maintenance, we’ve discovered a problem with the fire suppressant system. I previously indicated that we expected Tobruk would go out at the end of August for a short period of time, for some sea trials. That won’t now occur. It will remain in maintenance.
Our expectation is that Tobruk will be ready for the cyclone season which commences the beginning of November. In the meantime, of course, we have our heavy amphibious back-up or cover, the Ocean Protector, which is there if required.
So the Tobruk will stay in; it won’t come out for sea trials, but we expect it to be ready for the cyclone season. I’ve previously indicated that I’ll announce, in due course, what our additional, or reserve, or back-up capability is, because we’ve made it clear we want to make sure there’s back-up for the Tobruk until such time as the Largs Bay or the HMAS Choules arrives, which we expect – and we expect it to be ready for service in January of next year.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Finally, you’ve announced more than half a billion dollars worth of spending on capability, on equipment. Some of that will be made in Australia, but not all military spending is done in Australia. Should Defence be directed; should it look more closely at options in Australia, to help the manufacturing industry?
STEPHEN SMITH: Whilst it’s important that when it comes to Defence capability that we run a national security capability policy, not a local industry policy. Having said that, in any given year you’ll have $6 Billion or more that goes into the Australian economy on acquisition, of capability, on maintenance, on sustainment. Some big ticket items that people would be familiar with, the Bushmaster. And we’ve recently ordered additional submarine maintenance; our heavy amphibious lift maintenance and our Navy maintenance in Sydney.
The projects that I’ve announced today; one is for the acquisition of nearly a thousand Land Rovers. There will be some work that will arise as a result of that in Newcastle and in Queensland.
All Defence procurement in Australia has been a combination of local industry and military-off-the-shelf from overseas and that will continue. It is important, very important though, that we understand that an important national security factor is the capacity to have a local industrial capability and that -
LYNDAL CURTIS: Because Tony Abbott talked about that yesterday, about having a national security element to manufacturing policy. Is that something on which both sides of politics effectively agree?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I don’t want to appear churlish, but I had a bit of difficulty understanding precisely what Mr Abbott was saying yesterday. What I say is straightforward.
From the Defence perspective, we run a national security policy. It is part of our national security make-up that we do have to have local industry capability in a range of areas. Navy maintenance is one. Currently Bushmaster is another, given the importance of that personnel carrier to Afghanistan. And our ship building capacity, reflected by the building here of Air Warfare Destroyers is another.
So it will always be a mix, but we’re always very conscious of trying to ensure that we continue to have a local industry capability. And in terms of the economy, as I say some $6 Billion per annum goes into the Australian economy, each year, as a result of Defence acquisitions and maintenance and sustainment.
LYNDAL CURTIS: The Prime Minister’s ruled out a wide ranging inquiry into manufacturing, but could it be the case that departments such as Defence can have a look at what more, if any, can be done to spend money in Australia?
STEPHEN SMITH: We are in regular consultation and regular discussion with the defence industry – with the Australian defence industry. That’s done almost on a daily basis by the Minister for Defence Materiel Jason Clare. But he and I would be only too willing to, again, sit down with the Australian defence industry to see what more can be done.
Generally, the request of Australian industry is to try and get the scheduling or the programming right, so that there’s not an end to production, a lay down of capability, a loss of skills and then further work. That’s always very hard to do, but Minister Clare and I would be only too happy, in the current circumstances to, again, sit down with the defence industry to see whether some improvements can be made.
But I again underline the point from a Defence Minister’s perspective, here we’re running a national security policy; a local industry strategic capability is important in that context, but we have to make decisions on the basis of national security interests, not necessarily on local production interests.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Stephen Smith, thank you very much for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much.