TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH NAOMI WOODLEY ON RADIO AUSTRALIA
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 15 APRIL 2011
TOPICS: ADF role in East Timor.
NAOMI WOODLEY: Stephen Smith, this is your first visit to East Timor as Defence Minister. Australian troops there are due to start withdrawing by 2012. What role do you see for the Australian Defence Force in East Timor beyond that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly, we need to take it step by step. It's unquestionably the case that the good work that Australia and New Zealand have done through the International Stabilisation Force and the good work that the United Nations has done through its policing effort, we have seen stability and security return to East Timor.
But we need to wait until we see the outcome of the elections in 2012 next year, but everyone I've spoken to, from the President down, is optimistic that if the current circumstances prevail then after the election we will be in a position to transition away from an International Stabilisation Force and a UN mission to East Timor taking responsibility for all of its security arrangements.
So, I think that's the starting point. After that Australia would want to have with East Timor a fully fledged modern defence, military and security cooperation arrangement, as we do with other friends in the region and do that on the basis of two independent sovereign nations working closely together.
NAOMI WOODLEY: The Australian Strategic Policy Institute report released earlier this week recommends a small team of ADF personnel staying on for training and those sorts of purposes. Is that something that you'd consider?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, not necessarily in that particular form but certainly I've made it clear to the President and to the Secretary of State for Defence and to the Chief of the East Timorese Defence Force that if we move through and transition to security arrangements being conducted by East Timorese military and security forces then, as part of a modern, mature defence relationship or arrangements between Australia and East Timor, we would continue to want to do things like train and mentor and provide every assistance.
We've also had discussions about Australia and East Timor and Indonesia working more closely together on the defence and security front in a trilateral format. Currently there are already trilateral discussions between Australia, Indonesia and East Timor on the general front.
So we would want to continue to train, to mentor, to have a very close relationship with a country that is a very firm friend in our region and a country for whom Australia has a great deal of warmth for the country and its people given that our modern relationship goes back to the people of East Timor helping Australians during World War Two.
NAOMI WOODLEY: Do you think East Timor's defence forces are ready or will be ready by next year to take responsibility for their own security? Is part of this trip satisfying yourself on that question?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, certainly we've seen substantial progress in recent times and on the police front, for example, that's been reflected by the fact that last month the United Nations essentially transferred lead responsibility for policing matters to East Timorese police on the ground.
The relationship between Australia and East Timor on the military or defence cooperation front has been going for 10 years, indeed, the formal reason I'm here is to mark the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the East Timorese military and defence force and the 10th anniversary of that defence relationship between Australia and East Timor.
NAOMI WOODLEY: Will you be having any discussions about the Government's proposal for a regional processing centre for asylum-seekers there during this trip?
STEPHEN SMITH: I've finished my round of meetings. In addition to the President and the Vice Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence I also met with Opposition Leader Alkatiri and that matter wasn't raised in any of my discussions and I wouldn't expect it to. It wasn't either a purpose or object of my visit and the Minister for Immigration as well as President Ramos-Horta has recently made it clear that those discussions are ongoing but they're ongoing between relevant officials and relevant ministers.