TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH LYNDAL CURTIS, ABC24
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
TOPICS: Afghanistan; Report by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner; FPDA: Labor Party.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Stephen Smith welcome to ABC News 24.
STEPHEN SMITH: Pleasure.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Former Ambassador Richard Woolcott says Australia should pull its troops out of Afghanistan, and that it's effectively a civil war and while we might not like the Taliban or the war lords we shouldn't be involved in what is now an internal conflict. Is that a good argument for going?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well what we don't like is international terrorism and what we don't want to do is to leave a vacuum in Afghanistan, particularly the Afghanistan/Pakistan border area where we'll again see if we're not careful breeding grounds, training grounds for international terrorism and we have been on the receiving end of that, terribly in Indonesia, in Europe and also in the United States.
We are not going to be in Afghanistan forever but we need to stay there to transition to Afghan-led security responsibility. We believe that we're on-track to do that by 2014.
LYNDAL CURTIS: He also says that the Government's using the rhetoric of the Howard Government about finishing the job and that if the job is to create a democratic stable and peaceful Afghanistan, we'd be there for 50 years, is that not the job to make sure Afghanistan has a stable democracy, is that effectively up to the Afghans themselves?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we do need to ensure that there is international community support for the Afghan institutions of state. But this Government has been very clear about what it sees as its mission in Afghanistan and that is train in Uruzgan the 6th Kandak (battalion) of the 4th Brigade of the ANA so that they can take responsibility for security matters in Uruzgan and that's the job and role and mission of the International Security Assistance Force with its United Nations mandate across Afghanistan.
Every discussion I've had with my colleagues, with the Defence Ministers in Brussels or indeed in Malaysia and Singapore in the last couple of days with the Five Powers Defence Arrangement, the analysis is that we are on-track to affect that.
We also need to ensure there is a post-2014 presence of the international community by the international community to give support to the Afghan institutions of state but we don't want to be there forever and we've made it very clear what our role, what our view, what our mission is and I can't recall the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister or I using language other than that.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Today the report by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick in the wake of what's been called the Skype scandal into the treatment of women at the Defence Force Academy will be tabled, it has not been tabled yet, but does that report find there's ongoing and systemic problems?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well firstly I was very pleased and grateful that the Sex Discrimination Commissioner and her team agreed to do this review and to make this report but it is a report formerly to the Attorney-General under the relevant legislation. The Attorney-General will table it later today and the Sex Discrimination Commissioner will then make public remarks about it. So I'll leave appropriately for that formal process but there are a number of things I think I can say.
Firstly I'm very pleased that she has agreed to do the job. I think it will be a most helpful contribution. Secondly, on the basis of the conversations that I've had with her and the conversations she's had with the Secretary of the Department and the Chief of the Defence Force, the three of us, the Secretary, the Chief and I as Minister, are very positive and optimistic about picking up the report and essentially running with it.
As a general proposition we've got six or seven reports that go to culture, conduct and the like. What we want to do is not to implement them piecemeal but to essentially implement the various recommendations as a job lot so there's some coherence to it.
LYNDAL CURTIS: So even if there are difficult findings for the Defence in this report, you believe yourself and the leadership of Defence is committed to making the changes that are recommended?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well the Chief of the Defence Force and the Service Chiefs, the Secretary of the Department and I as Minister are absolutely committed to making sure that the culture, the attitude, the conduct in the Defence organisation generally, the ADF and the Defence organisation generally is one which reflects modern day Australian values and virtues and sees appropriate conduct.
So I suspect that the tenor or the weight of the report will be that in ADFA progress has been made but there remain ongoing issues but I'll leave that for the report and for the Commissioner. But as a general proposition I'm very favourably disposed to picking up the recommendations and running with them.
LYNDAL CURTIS: You've just returned from the Five Power Defence talks in Singapore, there's also a large military exercise that goes along with that, with this sort of grouping are you looking at purely military matters or are there other things that these countries can do together in the region?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well it's the 40th Anniversary of the start of the so-called Five Powers Defence Arrangement, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Malaysia and Singapore historically to look after the security interest of Malaysia and Singapore. We did a stock-take for the 40th Anniversary and come to the conclusion that it is a very valuable thing that we do, it's a very good regional arrangement. But we do believe that we can now do things which transcend the original notion of the arrangement. Particularly in counter-terrorism, anti-piracy but most importantly I think and in the first instance, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
The exercise that you refer to, the BERSAMA LIMA, is a very large exercise, over 4000 personnel, five countries across the three services. It's essentially a maritime exercise. But I can envisage in the coming years where in response to disaster relief and humanitarian assistance but it's not beyond the possibility that we would formally see a role and engagement by the Five Powers as an organisation, not just bilaterally as individual countries.
LYNDAL CURTIS: And finally Minister, the Labor leadership is in the headlines of at least one paper today but the former Labor leader Mark Latham's also written in the Financial Review that you're the one in the box seat in the leadership if there is an early move. Are you well positioned?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I think you've chosen your words carefully which is in one newspaper and that's frankly about the long and the short of it and the Foreign Minister and I have made our views crystal clear about these matters. I'm constrained in terms of Mark’s contribution to saying respect of what he's got to say about me as I've said about other articles that he's written which is I don't frankly read them too carefully or take them too seriously.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Stephen Smith thank you very much for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much.