TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH VIRGINIA TRIOLI, ABC1 NEWS BREAKFAST
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY AND E & OE
DATE: 22 May 2013
TOPICS: Australia-US Alliance; Oklahoma tornado; Defence White Paper; Afghanistan
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Now, the Defence Minister Stephen Smith is in the United States for high-level talks with his counterpart Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Australia's Defence White Paper and the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan were on the agenda. The Defence Minister has been in the US for the past week and has described the Oklahoma tornado as a terrible tragedy.
He told News Breakfast a short time ago he says that there's Australian military personnel on the ground there.
STEPHEN SMITH: Yes, we've got a couple of Defence Force personnel at a place called Fort Sill which is an artillery training institution. We've got two Defence Force personnel there. They're both safe and their families are safe, so we're very pleased and relieved about that. The ongoing advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and is that no Australians have been caught up in it.
Certainly, all Defence personnel are safe, but it's a terrible tragedy and really, from an Australian point of view, the ferocity of it just takes you aback, and the first thing I did in my meeting with Defense Secretary Hagel was to relay our condolences and that our thoughts are with them on what is a terrible tragedy.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: You've been over there in the United States having some high-level briefings there and of course talking about the newly-released White Paper. What queries did the Secretary of Defence have about that White Paper?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, he was pleased. He thought it was a good strategic document. It underpinned some of United States' thinking. It also reflected the importance of the alliance that we have, a military alliance that's served us well for more than 60 years, and I also indicated to him that in the Budget following the White Paper we had a modest increase in defence spending. So in some respects he was quite envious of that because the United States is facing huge fiscal difficulties with the sequestration issue, so he was pleased we were able to get a small respite from our own financial circumstances.
But in the end we both agreed that defence spending at a time of fiscal restraint is about priorities and both of us are making the work that we do together, particularly from the United States' perspective, the so-called rebalance into the Indo-Pacific, they're making that a priority and we welcome that very much.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Minister, in discussing Australia's draw-down from Afghanistan with the United States, is there anything that the two countries can look at together with a critical eye and have faith and confidence that the Afghanistan forces, security forces there, are in any fit state to be able to take that responsibility over and keep some sort of stability?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we're both of the view that the Afghan National Security Forces are improving every day in terms of their capacity. The Afghan Security Forces, both army and local and national police, will be some 300,000 strong. We believe that they will be in a position to command and effect security over the vast bulk of Afghanistan, particularly the population centres, whether that's Kabul or the other population centres in the provinces. Afghanistan has been a country where, since inception, there has been limited central or provincial authority in the sparsely-populated outlying districts or areas, but we believe that as we go to transition at the end of 2014 that the Afghan National Security Forces will be in a position to maintain security.
But we want to continue to see the international community give them support, both the Security Forces and the other institutions of state, give them support, and that's why Australia has said that we will make a financial contribution to the ongoing resources of the Afghan National Army, but also continue to play a role in training, officer training, for example, and we've also said that if there's an appropriate mandate for a special forces contribution, whether that's counter-terrorism or training, then we would be open to that as well.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Stephen Smith speaking to us a short time ago.