TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH LYNDAL CURTIS ABC 24
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 31 OCTOBER 2011
TOPICS: Afghanistan; CHOGM; Qantas; FPDA.
LYNDAL CURTIS: You've released the names - Defence has released the names of the three Australian soldiers who died. They were all based in Townsville in Brisbane?
STEPHEN SMITH: Two in Townsville and one in Brisbane, at Enoggera, but yes, all up in Queensland-based. So it's a terrible tragedy for army but also a terrible tragedy for the bases and the personnel we have in Queensland. It will hit the Queensland community as well.
LYNDAL CURTIS: The seven Australian soldiers who were injured are being flown to Germany. You've said that in some senses that's a good thing because they're all well enough to fly but on the other hand does it - is it actually an indication of the seriousness of their injuries that they're being - having to be treated outside Afghanistan?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well for very minor injuries. In the main they can be treated on the ground in Afghanistan either at Tarin Kot or at Kandahar. For more serious injuries or more serious woundings such as these the traditional route is to Kandahar and then to Germany. They'll all go to Germany. One remains very seriously injured so obviously we're concerned about that but we're monitoring that very carefully.
LYNDAL CURTIS: The 6th Kandak of the Afghan National Army was confined to barracks after this incident. They're now not. Why has that decision been taken?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well the decision's been made by Brigadier Khan that after the initial response to disarm and confine to barracks that overnight in the initial aftermath that it was appropriate for administrative and some non-weapons training activities and duties to recommence.
I think that's sensible because we just need to try and get back as sensibly and quickly as we can to a business as usual operating arrangement. But we've got to balance carefully the shock of the terrible even that occurred and that's been of course a shock not just to Australia and Australians but also to Brigadier Khan and the fourth brigade and they've expressed their shock and their condolences and Brigadier Kahn himself has been appalled at what has occurred.
So it's not as if we're alone in this but we need to just slowly resume business as usually to build confidence and so resuming non-weapons-based activities is the sensible thing to do and Brigadier Khan will make a judgement about weapons in due course.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Defence is enquiring - investigating what happened. The Prime Minister's also asked you to have a look at it. Will those be two separate investigations?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well no, it's essentially the same thing. Obviously in any fatality that occurs in Afghanistan I speak directly to the Chief of Defence Force, I speak directly to the Prime Minister and more often than not I'm the bearer of bad news for her.
And in the course of our initial discussion, the Prime Minister and I, but also my initial discussion with the Chief of the Defence Force all three of us believed it was the sensible thing to do to run the ruler again over everything that we do in the face of what together with the helicopter crash that took three of our personnel last year this is the largest single incident.
The fact that it's a multiple fatality, the fact that it's an ANA member turning on ISAF and turning on his own people - because bear in mind an Afghan National Army interpreter was also killed in the attack - because of those special circumstances it's just a sensible and commonsense thing to do to look at everything that we do whether it's our own arrangements or the International Security Assistance Force arrangements.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Do you suspect there are problems in the screening procedures of ISAF?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we want ISAF to run the ruler over them yet again. The truth is that the Afghan National Security Forces have gone to now just over 300,000 with an ambition of getting to nearly 350,000 by 2014.
That's a large force and there are two aspects to it. One is to ensure that the vetting procedures are such that no Taliban or other insurgent infiltrators get into the system but secondly to do everything one can to ensure that it is suitable personnel who are engaged in the Afghan National Security Forces.
On the one hand for example you've got - of the 300,000 you've got over 280,000 biometric identifications so that betting procedure whilst not exhaustive is at a very high level. But we just want to make sure that everything that can be done on the vetting and recruitment front is being done.
LYNDAL CURTIS: If we could turn now to the actions of Qantas suspension - or grounded its fleet while there were 40-odd leaders here for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. There was also particularly - at this CHOGM a focus on business, people doing business with Australia and Western Australia in particular. How much damage did it do to Australia's international standing?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well CHOGM, for Perth, for Western Australia and for Australia was a tremendous success. The business forum was very significantly successful. I think the scales fell from people's eyes whether they came from the eastern seaboard or came from overseas that Perth is a modern, vibrant capital city. It's an Indian Ocean capital city, a great place for investment.
And I think the penny has dropped that the extensive links between Perth and Asia and Perth and the Indian subcontinent, in particular India and Perth and Africa on an economic front is far in advance of the uninitiated appreciation.
LYNDAL CURTIS: But did Qantas - Qantas' decision undo some of that good work?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I think any reputational damage that was done as a result of that was reputational damage to Qantas rather than being reputational damage to Perth, Western Australia, or the CHOGM.
LYNDAL CURTIS: What do you think of the timing of Qantas' decision?
STEPHEN SMITH:` Well you'd have to ask Qantas why Qantas thought it was a good idea on a Saturday afternoon with no notice to the Australian travelling public either in Australia or overseas with no effective notice to the Australian Government, a couple of phone calls with a couple of hours to go and no notice to over 50 international delegations in Perth on a Saturday afternoon, why Qantas thought it was a such a terrific idea to disrupt the Australian travelling public whether in Australia or overseas.
Fortunately from the CHOGM delegation's point of view, the advice I have is that none of the delegations have been put in a position where they can't make other arrangements or haven't made other arrangements. There's a suggestion that we've flown Prime Minister Cameron, United Kingdom, Prime Minister Cameron, that's not the case.
And I've had it raised with me by any number of people as you'd expect and I've told them if you have any concerns about this you should focus immediately and directly on Qantas. If this has any lasting repercussion my own judgement is that it will be a lasting repercussion for Qantas, not a lasting repercussion for CHOGM in Perth which was just a first class success despite the fact that at the end of CHOGM we had bad news out of Qantas but also terrible news out of Afghanistan.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Is there a chance though that the unions bear some of the blame for the negotiations which led up to Qantas' decision and Qantas' hand may have been forced?
STEPHEN SMITH: I'm not proposing to go up hill and down dale on who said what to whom. I'll leave that as I should to the Transport Minister, Mr Albanese and the Industrial Relations Minister Senator Evans and also do the Prime Minister what we now have is an outcome where Fair Work Australia has said industrial action and lock out ceases, business resumes as usual and people sensibly get down and resolve these matters.
LYNDAL CURTIS: You're heading off to Singapore to the 40th anniversary of the Five Power Defence Arrangement. What value is that arrangement in these days?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I think the value of the arrangement is you've got Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Singapore and Malaysia, engaged in a regional defence or military arrangement. If we tried to create that now it wouldn't occur.
So what it does is it puts Australia in regular ongoing contact with two important ASEAN friends and neighbours; Singapore and Malaysia. We of course work closely with New Zealand, with the United Kingdom. It gives the United Kingdom a chance to continue to have an entre into areas which were of historical significance to it.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Is the United Kingdom though something of a historical anomaly in this arrangement.
STEPHEN SMITH: I wouldn't put it in that way. I mean the arrangement grew out of the Malaya insurgency where the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and other countries in the region assisted the then-Malaysia - the then-Malaya, the now-Malaysia and Singapore. So it grew out of history and in the longer term grew out of a historical British presence in the Singapore and Malaya.