TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH PAUL MURRAY, 6PR
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 18 MAY 2012
TOPICS: Pearce Airshow; Defence Capability.
PAUL MURRAY: I have Defence Minister, Stephen Smith in the studio with us, good morning, Stephen.
STEPHEN SMITH: Good morning, Paul.
PAUL MURRAY: Stephen, what are the benefits of an Airshow like this?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, a couple of things. Firstly it reinforces the importance of Pearce Airbase itself as our western, most important airbase. You would have seen when you came in, we've got a very strong component here of Singaporean aircraft here training, that's very important to Singapore, so that's a very important feature of our relationship with Singapore. But secondly, it enables us to show our capability to the public of Western Australia, we do airshows every couple of years around the countries, it's good that it's back in Perth, so people can come along and see our heavy lift capability, whether it's C-130s, or C-17s, which are the much larger ones, but also can see our combat capabilities, so the Hornets, the Super Hornets, and also some of the training planes as well.
PAUL MURRAY: So is it as simple as letting people know where their Defence dollars are going?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well there's a bit of that, but there'll be a couple of areas of interest, there'll be people who have always been interested in air capability, so the aficionados will be out here, you know, looking at every-
PAUL MURRAY: Yep.
JANE MARWICK: Yes, they will, tragics-
STEPHEN SMITH: So the tragics will be here, but it's of attraction to the general public, so they'll come out as well, but having a superior air combat capability for Australia and our region is very important, and we're doing everything we can to continue that.
But also with the heavy lift, particularly the C-17s, which we've bought two extra ones since I've been Defence Minister, we'll have a fleet of six by the end of the year, that enables us to do a lot of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, whether it's Queensland floods, or whether it's a tsunami in Japan.
PAUL MURRAY: Your mate Bomber, Kim Beazley, used to love being Minister for Defence, because I think it was a childhood dream, you don't seem to address the portfolio in the same aficionado way that he did.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we all come to it in different ways, I often say that Defence is foreign policy with assets, so I had the benefit of being Foreign Minister before Defence Minister, which was very good grounding. But unlike Kim, who had a lifetime love of it, I've had to learn the capabilities and the assets side of it, and tried to focus a lot on the reforms that we need to do to get that more effective and more efficient, get value for money, and continue, in difficult financial and fiscal times, to get that capability.
So there's been a big reform program that I've instituted, together with Jason Clare, who's our Defence Materiel Minister, where we want to try and avoid what we've seen in the past, which is bad scheduled delays, the cost over-runs, and failed projects, so in the course of our time as Government, we've cancelled the Sea Sprite program, which was about a $1.4 billion helicopter program, which was in those days a debacle, and when I became Minister, I cancelled a $50 million program for some naval assets.
We're doing much better, I think, in terms of being efficient and effective, in getting the taxpayer value for money as well as getting Defence value for money, but there will be a lag effect of some problems or difficulties in programs.
PAUL MURRAY: You had to make cuts in this latest budget, and you had to put off a new fighter by a year, do you need to wear a flak jacket when you come out here?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, no, what we did was essentially put ourselves on the same timetable as the United States for the Joint Strike Fighter, which is what they call a fifth generation fighter. Leon Panetta, my US counterpart, deferred about 169, earlier this year, and we've essentially put our first squadron, so we're getting two in 2015, we're getting those in the United States for testing and training purposes, and we've put back for two years the ordering and the receiving of-
PAUL MURRAY: But it did allow you to book a fairly substantial amount in the budget?
STEPHEN SMITH: Oh yes, overall it pushed out of the forward estimate years nearly $2 billion, so that helped, but it would have occurred anyway, it was a help to our financial arrangements, but it was a responsible thing to do, because that program has had difficulties, and as a consequence, we've seen schedule delays.
In the meantime we've got our classic Hornets, some of which people will see out here, we've got 71 of those, and also 24 Super Hornets, 12 of which we've got wired up for Growler, so we still have the potential to purchase an electronic warfare capability for those as well.
LARRY GRAHAM: Stephen, a question in two parts, the first part is, why is it so difficult for the Defence Department to actually purchase things that meet the needs? It seems to me there's these huge lead times, and then we seem to get caught up in bureaucracy. Why is that so?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I think there are a number of things. Firstly, Defence is a great organisation, and everywhere you go, at every level, you meet great Australians, doing terrific work.
LARRY GRAHAM: Yes.
STEPHEN SMITH: And then when you try and put them altogether, that's when the cogs start to not necessarily run smoothly, so you've got the civilian side, the military side, you've got three different services, and different aspects of that, and so our biggest problem is seamless integration, so that's a difficulty.
But when it comes to a project, you can have a project where you buy a capability off the shelf, and that runs very smoothly, and the C-17's a very good example of that, as I say, we'll have six by the end of the year, that's been a very good program, and that's worked very well.
On the other hand, a Joint Strike Fighter, which is a new generation plane, to keep you ahead of the pace so far as capability is concerned, is a developmental project, and so immediately you start to run the risk of scientific, technical, developmental issues, and particularly with air fighters these days, it's all electronic, and so you're trying to get the electronics, trying to get the development right, and that maximises and adds to the risk.
So off the shelf is generally much easier, when you get to a developmental stage, that's when you start to have challenges.
But we've historically, we've made blues, we've made mistakes, and that's why our reform program is aimed at smoothing those out. You can accept that you can have high risk in a developmental project, but we should be able to get the more basic ones done-
LARRY GRAHAM: Yeah, I would have thought the rudimentaries were pretty simple.
STEPHEN SMITH: I think we are getting better, but there will be a lag effect, but in future years we'll see that improvement.
PAUL MURRAY: Stephen, good to get a chance to talk to you, thanks very much, I hope everything goes well over the weekend.
STEPHEN SMITH: Paul, thanks very much.