TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH TAMARA OUDYN AND MICHAEL ROWLAND, ABC NEWS BREAKFAST
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
TOPICS: Amphibious Ships.
TAMARA OUDYN: And joining us on the couch this morning is the Federal Defence Minister Stephen Smith. Thanks for coming in.
STEPHEN SMITH: Morning Tamara; Morning.
TAMARA OUDYN: You've probably noticed the fog of upset in the studio this morning.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well it's a tough day for the ABC, a very sad day. So can I just take the opportunity of expressing condolences to the families and the loved ones of the three concerned.
Particularly as a Western Australian, Paul Lockyer of course was a WA boy, born in Corrigin, just down the road from where I was born in Narrogin. He started his career in the west and a few years back fronted up for the ABC News for a year or so.
So, sad in the west as well; of course you know, we all knew him. Very well liked but most importantly very, very well respected. So it's a terrible loss for the families and a terrible loss for the ABC and a tough day for you.
So our condolences and our thoughts are with the ABC and the families today.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: We appreciate those comments Minister. Now moving onto some of the issues in your portfolio, those amphibious ships are still haunting you aren't they?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we're working our way through to the Landing Helicopter Docks from Spain which will arrive in a few years time. We've had trouble and I've made my disappointment about that clear, but we're working our way through to making sure that we've got heavy amphibious lift cover until the Landing Helicopter Docks arrive.
I announced yesterday we would decommission HMAS Kanimbla. It's not value for money. It's not worth the effort. It's not a good decision to spend more money on it so far as taxpayers are concerned.
We've got the Largs Bay arriving in December from the United Kingdom. We're naming that HMAS Choules after our last World War One veteran and in the mean time we've had cover from the Aurora Australis and the Ocean Protector.
We're expecting that the HMAS Tobruk will be out of maintenance at the end of this month for a short period and then go back in for special work for the cyclone season, re-emerging October-November and we're looking at what cover we want for the Tobruk between the October to the period when the HMAS Choules is in service which we expect to be in January.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Can that cover be reliably provided? Are you worried about a capability gap here?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I've always been worried about a capability gap which is why we've been assiduous about doing a couple of things, firstly making sure that we've got a replacement for Manoora and now Kanimbla, and that's HMAS Choules.
But in the meantime we believe that it's worth persevering with HMAS Tobruk but I've always wanted; as I put it, cover for the Tobruk. We've got an arrangement with New Zealand where we have access to HMNZS Canterbury for regional missions if required. But we've always had cover in two respects.
Firstly, in Aurora Australis which is an Antarctic division heavy ship and from 12 August until the middle of October Ocean Protector which is a large customs vessel.
So I'm satisfied that we've got what we need. It's not the first time that we've had to use different vessels for example, a decade or so ago when we had to, at short notice, take troops to East Timor. We used a commercial catamaran. And we're looking at what further options we'll need from middle of October-November to take us through to the end of the year.
TAMARA OUDYN: The decommissioning of the HMAS Kanimbla though is a severe knock. It does leave out capabilities depleted. It must be maddening for you to have reached this point?
STEPHEN SMITH: We had, when we came to office or when I became Minister, we had three heavy lift amphibious vessels; Manoora, Kanimbla, and Tobruk. They're all 20 to 30 years old and the regrettable truth is that the transition was mis-timed.
There was a - what's of - you often hear the phrase a conspiracy of optimism, that they would last until the arrival of the Landing Helicopter Docks.
The bad news that I got last year was that clearly that was not going to be the case so we had to put in a real effort to get cover. Getting the Largs Bay from the United Kingdom is a significant benefit for us. That's got a very large capacity. So its arrival will be a significant boom to us and in the meantime we've had to use a phrase that I adopt.
We've had to make sure that we've had not just the HMAS Tobruk but also cover for it. To date nothing has occurred which has seen us fall short but this is an area where you've got to be prepared for-
TAMARA OUDYN: Yeah nothing's occurred yet-
STEPHEN SMITH: That's right.
TAMARA OUDYN: You want to be keeping your fingers crossed.
STEPHEN SMITH: That's - well I'm doing more than keeping my fingers crossed. I'm making sure that we've got access to that heavy lift capability if we need it for disaster relief and humanitarian issues or for security issues if they arise at short notice.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: And just - we haven't got much time left Minister - just a broader political question. It's not looking good for Craig Thompson, Labor MP. Fairfax newspapers again reporting this morning about some of these alleged activities on the union party's pay, the union's payroll.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I think two things. There have been two suggestions made; one about his lack of timeliness in declaring support from the New South Wales branch of the ALP to his lawyers for legal fees. He's not the first person who's been late in a return. It happens. It's regrettable. Tony Abbott himself has been the subject of a late return.
In any event it was a contribution from the New South Wales branch of the ALP to the lawyers of an ALP member. Though not much of a conflict of interest there but he shouldn't have been late in that return.
Secondly we've seen a series of allegations in the papers today and two responses to that. Craig, in the parliament and outside the parliament strongly denies the allegations and any wrongdoing so we should let the processes take their course. There's a - as I understand it - a Fair Work investigation going on. We should await the outcome of that investigation and yesterday I saw a reference from Craig that he had not yet been contacted by Fair Work Australia. So he's entitled to put his view to that investigation.
But we have an allegation, or a series of allegations, we should let them run through to the [indistinct]. The Liberal Party will be out there making all sorts of suggestions. I just simply make this point in passing. We should all just calm down about these matters and let the proper processes take their past.
One of the Liberal Party senators is actually the subject of criminal charges and we have been respectfully silent about that as we let the processes take their course.
TAMARA OUDYN: Stephen Smith, thank you very much for joining us this morning.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much.