TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH LYNDAL CURTIS, ABC24
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 13 November 2012
TOPICS: AUSMIN; Afghanistan; Military Justice Bill.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Stephen Smith, welcome to ABC News 24.
STEPHEN SMITH: A pleasure.
LYNDAL CURTIS: What is on the agenda for the AUSMIN meeting?
STEPHEN SMITH: We'll discuss the range of regional and global security issues of concern to both of us, we'll also do a stocktake of the United States Global Force Posture Review, which has seen initiatives such as 250 marines rotating through Darwin. We'll review the assessments made on that. And we'll also start a conversation about the potential for enhanced United States aerial or aviation access through our Northern Territory RAAF bases.
LYNDAL CURTIS: So that will be more US planes, visiting more often?
STEPHEN SMITH: Yes, but we haven't started that conversation yet. We'll start it in the formal AUSMIN talks tomorrow. And we'll also - because we're in Perth, which is a great thing for the capital city in which I live, but because we're in Perth our Indian Ocean capital with our Indian Ocean port HMAS Stirling - we'll also have a conversation about the potential down the track as the Indian Ocean rim grows in importance of enhanced US naval access to HMAS Stirling.
LYNDAL CURTIS: How far down the track is that- would that possibly be, are we talking months or years?
STEPHEN SMITH: We're talking years. The rise of India continues, in my view, to be under-appreciated. But everyone sees the rise of China and the rise of the ASEAN economies combined and the strength of Japan and the Republic of Korea, but India is also on the rise and in due course we'll see what some people describe as the Indo-Pacific, a strategic region that goes and covers not just Asia and the Pacific but also the Indian Ocean.
But that - the discussions about HMAS Stirling are third cab off the rank. When President Obama was here back in November 2011 and the Prime Minister and he announced the rotation of the Marines, we made it clear that the second cab off the rank would be discussions about aerial or aviation access, and down the track a look at HMAS Stirling. But one of the reasons we are in Perth is because of that Indian Ocean focus.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Now you've said before that the US has not raised concerns with Australia about defence budget cuts. Do you have any concerns about the possibility of big defence cuts in the US if it falls off the fiscal cliff because there are cuts of, I think, US$500 billion planned over a decade if there can't be a deal on the budget?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I've made the point repeatedly that- both before our May budget and after- I've had discussions with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and he entirely understands that we're facing what he describes as a new fiscal reality. And as you quite rightly say, he's currently managing half a trillion dollars worth of cuts in US defence spending over the next decade, and if the fiscal cliff problem is not solved or resolved, then he's looking at the prospect of $1.2 trillion over the next decade. So that's an issue that all of the world is now watching in terms of getting some resolution on that US fiscal issue.
But over the weekend we saw reports that somehow the United States would raise our budget position as a matter of concern, and I said that was frankly a nonsense. And when we greeted Secretary Clinton on the airport this morning in Perth, Assistant Secretary Campbell was there, he spoke to Ambassador Beazley, and the first comment he made to Ambassador Beazley was how egregiously misrepresented he'd been on his comments over the weekend. So if we have a conversation about defence spending, it will be in the context that we're all under pressure. And this is a point that Defense Secretary Panetta made very clearly at the Shangri-La Dialogue this year where he described it - the phrase I've used before - as the new fiscal reality.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Now Leon Panetta has told reporters on the plane on the way over that the review of the size and scope of the US military role in Afghanistan post the 2014 transition will be complete within weeks. Do we know yet how many troops Australia leave in Afghanistan after 2014?
STEPHEN SMITH: No. Again, in some respects, the discussion about the post-2014 international community presence in Afghanistan is only just beginning in earnest. We've made it clear, for example, that we are prepared to leave behind a training element, a particular training element for the Afghan army officer school, which we're doing in conjunction with the British and the Canadians. We've also made it clear that if there's a [indistinct] mandate, and under appropriate circumstances, we'd also leave behind some Special Forces contribution, either for training or for counter-terrorism. But everyone-
LYNDAL CURTIS: But numbers haven't been decided yet?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, no, not in our case, and not in others. I made the point at the last NATO-International Security Assistance Force Defence Ministers meeting in Brussels in October that these conversations now needed to start in earnest. I think the reality is that the detailed conversation was held in abeyance pending the outcome of the United States election. We've seen the re-election of President Obama and that continuity so these discussions will now start in earnest. There's a meeting of International Security Assistance Force Foreign Ministers in Brussels before the end of the year, and that will see effectively the start of those formal conversations.
LYNDAL CURTIS: If I could ask you about one question domestically that seems to be unfinished business in your area. The Military Court legislation to establish a new Military Court has been introduced into Parliament, it hasn't yet gone through Parliament as I understand it. Is that because it doesn't yet have the support it needs?
STEPHEN SMITH: It's in the Parliament, that's quite right. There was a Senate Committee report which reported a few weeks or a month ago. It's unlikely given the workload in the House and in the Senate with only a couple of weeks of sitting remaining that we'll get to it in the course of this year. What the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon and I want to do is to carefully consider the Senate Committee report and then have a conversation with our Opposition counterparts to see whether it's possible for a Military Justice Bill to go through the Parliament with broad based if not unanimous support.
LYNDAL CURTIS: So you don't think our current legislation will be capable of attracting that support yet?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, that's not necessarily the case, but the Senate Committee has made a range of recommendations which the Attorney-General and I want to carefully consider. But we're in this position because the High Court knocked out previous Howard Government legislation. That's not said critically, these things happen from time to time, so what I want to effect is a piece of legislation which is not only able to be constitutionally supported by the High Court but which has the broad-based support of the Parliament, so that that legislation can continue into the future. It's not the sort of legislation that we want to be disturbed by great changes as Parliament compositions change, either upper houses or lower houses.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Stephen Smith, thank you very much for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Lyndal. Thanks very much.