TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH VIRGINIA TRIOLI & MICHAEL ROWLAND, ABC 24 BREAKFAST
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 20 JULY 2011
TOPICS: Afghanistan; Collins Class Submarines.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Professor Leahy says the Government should be focusing on nation-building inAfghanistan. The Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith, joins us now in the studio. Minister, good morning. Good to see you again.
STEPHEN SMITH: Good morning, pleasure.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Your response to those criticisms, first of all, from Peter Leahy?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, Peter Leahy was Chief of Army from 2002 until the beginning of 2008. His analysis may well have been and was probably correct for that period but it's not correct for now.
I mean, I've made the point to the Parliament and publicly, that it's only been in the last couple of years where the international community has got the correct strategy in place. Indeed, you can refer to some of those years - 2002 to 2008 - as the lost years inAfghanistanwhere there wasn't a comprehensive military and political strategy.
We now have that in place, the resources and the personnel on the ground to meet it and we are making progress and I've seen this morning the comments from a former Secretary of the Department of Defence, Ric Smith, who's currently our special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan and he comprehensively debunks what Mr Leahy has had to say.
So it's an analysis which has some correctness historically but it's not correct now.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: What he had to say in particular was that he believed Australian troops are being used too heavily in nation-building, doing the civilian stuff that civilian people should be doing and that's distracting them from what he says should be their real task of hunting down the bad guys.
STEPHEN SMITH: We're the 10th largest contributor in terms of military component inAfghanistan, we're the third largest Special Forces contributor and our special forces are making real progress.
But the point that our envoy Ric Smith has made overnight is that during Mr Leahy's period as Chief of Army the ADF quite rightly said to the civilian component of the Australian Government you have to be very careful about the security arrangements in Afghanistan.
Now, because we have made security progress we're in a position to put more civilians, more diplomats, and more AusAID personnel on the ground and since the time we came to office at the end of 2007 we have substantially increased our civilian component, our capacity building component.
It is the case that to win the hearts and minds of the local Afghan people in Uruzgan and elsewhere you do have to give support to the provision of services and one of the things we've found over the last 18 months is as we've made up security ground and brought areas under control, that the local people's life can return to some normality.
And the two things which have struck me when I've been in Afghanistan, both Kabul and elsewhere, as the Defence Minister, has been Kabul itself is taking on the trappings of a more normal south Asian city, more economic and productive activity on the streets. And the last time I was in Tarin Kot, a couple of our young diggers said to me the difference between when we arrived and now six months later is the locals are friendlier. That means you're making security progress but there's also a capacity to improve the services on the ground and we have a new governor in Uruzgan, Governor Shirzad, and he's very conscious of trying to deliver basic services to his people on the ground and we are supporting that.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Our counter-insurgency strategy has also been a crucial part of what we're doing under people like David Kilcullen. Can you say that there's been measurable improvement in terms of what we've achieved with counter-insurgency?
STEPHEN SMITH: There's certainly been measurable improvement in what we've achieved in terms of the security component. We've made up substantial ground against the Taliban. They're fighting back, both on the ground but also with the high profile propaganda attacks and assassinations which I've been flagging for some time.
We do need to make much more progress, as does the Afghan government, President Karzai's government, and the provincial and district governments for the provision of basic services on the ground and we do need to continue to support the capacity building but we - our analysis is we're making progress and that's best reflected by the fact that recently we've seen the very early stages of outreach talks so far as a political rapprochement is concerned.
I've been making the point for the time that I've been a minister that we won't achieve our mission inAfghanistanby a military solution alone. We have to have political solution and that's why from really the London Conference on in 2009 which is after the period of time that Peter Leahy was Chief of Army, we've had the basis of a political and a military strategy and the fact that sections of the Taliban are now in a position to talk to the United States and the Afghanistan government about a political settlement, albeit at a very early stage, does to me make the point that that's the best evidence that we are making progress.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: And in the just a couple of minutes before we have left, the Collins Class submarine's under review. How concerned are you about the cost blowouts and delays with this project?
STEPHEN SMITH: This week I released the Rizzo Report about the treatment of our amphibious fleet and that gives us a very clear-sighted path for the future to repair the damage in our amphibious fleet. We've got long term difficulties with availability of the Collins Class submarine and the Government has asked Mr Coles, who is an expert from theUnited Kingdom, to do a review into the sustainment of the Collins Class submarines.
I want the Coles review to do for submarines what the Rizzo review did for our amphibious fleet, to give us a snapshot of the historical analysis for the difficulties but a clear pathway for the future. We've got to get more subs into the water and we're committed to a future submarine program, 12 new submarines, but I don't want to start the fully fledged planning for that until I'm absolutely confident that we've got the sustainment issues of the Collins Class right.
If we're going to start a program for new submarines which will be the largest defence project the Commonwealth has seen, we've got to be very conscious of the sustainment and the maintenance issues as well as the actual build and capability.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Sorry to ask you to answer this very, very briefly but we have so little time left. Why is it that Defence Minister after Defence Minister is always caught up on this problem of those submarines?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well-
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: I feel like we've been talking about this for years.
STEPHEN SMITH: There are longstanding maintenance and sustainment difficulties with our Collins Class submarines.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: They were a bad buy in the first place.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, that's - well, when they're in the water they are a very effective conventional submarine capability. Our challenge has always been getting more submarines in the water and I'm hoping that the Coles review I've instituted will be for submarines what the Rizzo review has been for our amphibious fleet, but we have to do better.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Sorry to cut it short. Always good to see you, Defence Minister.
STEPHEN SMITH: Pleasure. Thanks very much.