TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH VIRGINIA TRIOLI AND MICHAEL ROWLAND, ABC NEWS BREAKFAST
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 17 APRIL 2013
TOPICS: Boston Marathon; Afghanistan.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Defence Minister Stephen Smith joins us now. Minister, good morning. Thanks for being here.
STEPHEN SMITH: Good morning. Pleasure.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: What are you hearing from the United States authorities if anything at this stage?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, no more than what you're seeing publicly. Obviously our relevant agencies are in touch with theirs but that's more for our information purposes rather than assisting with their inquiries. No one has claimed responsibility. The FBI leading the investigation will have to work very carefully through who is behind it and the like.
The first response for us is to make sure that all of our Australian citizens are out of harm's way and both DFAT advice and Defence advice is that to date no Australians have been caught up in it and that's of course good news and relief from our perspective.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Including not even any injuries that we're aware of?
STEPHEN SMITH: That's the advice we have, that no Australians have been caught up in it. In my case, of course, we've got a number of Defence Force personnel posted to the United States and by yesterday we'd made sure that all of the ones who were posted and their families had not been caught up in it and that remains the advice generally so far as DFAT is concerned for Australian citizens generally.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Are you surprised there hasn't been a claim of responsibility 24 hours down the track?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, a funny answer; in some respects yes and no. We've seen terrorist attacks by international terrorist groups in the past and they have either claimed responsibility immediately or not claimed at all. So the fact that there's been no claim does point potentially in the direction that this might be domestic terrorism, home based, potential lone wolf which is the description we give these days to a person acting by himself or herself.
But we have to - and I'm not tilting the lever either way. We've got to work our way very carefully through this to come to who is behind it, what the motivation is and the like. More generally what it does, it's a terrible and tragic reminder that in the modern world terrorist atrocities of this nature, whether they're home grown, lone wolf or by international terrorist group are a constant danger, a constant threat and all Governments, including Australia, have to do everything they can to protect their citizens both at home and offshore.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: The London Marathon is about to be run so it's a concern for that country there but in the Government's view does it ratchet up concern about major similar events to be held here in Australia yet to be held?
STEPHEN SMITH: I'm sure that the UK authorities will now be taking additional precautions and being very diligent and rigorous about the London Marathon. One feature about yesterday, of course, is that you're dealing with an iconic event which many Australians follow and many Australians go to. So I'm sure the London Marathon will now have the ruler run over it very carefully.
In terms of Australia and big events in Australia, in recent years, for example, in Perth we've had had CHOGM, the Commonwealth Heads of Government, we've also recently in Perth had AUSMIN with Secretary of State, Clinton. And so we are very careful about the precautions that we take. We've got the G20 coming up in 2014 and so already the planning for security arrangements and planning those big those events are in hand and again it's a regrettable feature of modern Australia and the modern world that we have to take these necessary precautions.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Do you expect it will be now just a matter of time given the forensic nature of this investigation right down to the nails being in these bombs being investigated and their source being found out?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the Americans from the President down have made it crystal clear they will leave no stone unturned to get to who is behind this. And these days forensic analysis, scientific work is absolutely meticulous. So at some point in the cycle I have no doubt the American authorities will track back to who is responsible. But as they themselves have said, as the FBI who lead the investigation have said there has to be an expectation that will take some considerable time.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Changing topics, you said yesterday at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute that our success in Afghanistan was being substantially undermined by the conflict in Iraq. What exactly do you mean by that?
STEPHEN SMITH: We went into Afghanistan over ten years ago, back in 2001, and then we saw the international community distracted, as I've put it in the past, by Iraq. That deflected our attention from Afghanistan, allowed the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to take hold again in Afghanistan. It deflected the international community's strategy. So when back in '05, '06 we went back into Afghanistan there have been a number of lost years and it took the international community some time to re-focus on a defined strategy in Afghanistan.
Our motivation and strategy in Afghanistan is quite clear. It's to try to prevent the Afghanistan/Pakistan border area from again becoming a breeding ground for international terrorists and yesterday's events crystallised that motivation. But I talk about Iraq as the distraction which cost us a number of years in Afghanistan.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: I just wonder why you say that now. We've been hearing from the Australian Government and from Governments of both political stripes for quite some time now that what we're doing in Afghanistan is working, that it's an important job and we're doing it well and it's succeeding when we're just about to draw down everything from Afghanistan, are you softening the ground for it being a disaster in the aftermath of that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly, I wasn't speaking about present events, I was speaking about the past, about what occurred back in 2003, '04, '05, '06. It's not the first time I've said it. I gave a speech yesterday which tried to draw upon what I regard as the lessons from Afghanistan and I think there are a number of important ones. Our motivation for intervention was to prevent international terrorism taking hold, to protect Australian citizens.
Secondly, if you do that, it helps if you've got international community support and a United Nations mandate. It also helps if you've got bipartisan domestic political support which we had and we have for Afghanistan. For the Iraq intervention there was no United Nations mandate and there was no domestic bipartisan support. And I regard Iraq as a distraction.
But the lessons that I think we're learning from Afghanistan include if you're going to make a military intervention as a country you've got to think carefully about is that intervention in your national security interests, is it in your national interest, because it's the easiest thing in the world to get into a military commitment and the hardest thing in the world to get out.
My speech yesterday essentially said we are on track to be out of Afghanistan in Australia's case in Uruzgan by the end of 2013, the international community by the end of 2014 but there will need to be ongoing assistance to Afghanistan to make sure that their institutions, including the Afghan National Security Forces, can withstand any pressure put on them because what we don't want to see in Afghanistan after all this time, which has been added to by the Iraq distraction, that after 2014 the Afghan institutions can't withstand whatever pressure goes on to them.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: On the basis that Australian troops are out by this year we've got to go through one more so-called summer fighting season. Are you worried the Taliban might use that as a last effort to inflict as many casualties on coalition forces?
STEPHEN SMITH: One of the points I made yesterday is while the risk may have changed because we're now back in our consolidated base at Tarin Kot, we're behind the wire, we continue to give advice, we're combat ready and our Special Forces are still out there, the risks have changed but they're still risks. From IED’s, roadside bombs, suicide bomb attacks and there is always a risk that, so to speak, on our way out the Taliban try and do some damage to us.
But it's very important to Australia's international reputation that we leave in good order and leave Afghanistan in the best possible position to flourish as a country which has got good security to give the Afghan people a chance to enjoy a decent lifestyle and a decent life which they haven't had for some decades.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Stephen Smith, good to talk to you. Thank you.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much.