TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 10 MARCH 2011
TOPICS: Meetings with Defence Secretary Fox and BAE, upcoming NATO and ISAF meetings and the situation in Libya.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much for turning up. I’m in London today for a series of meetings before travelling to Brussels tomorrow for the NATO/ISAF Defence Ministers’ Meeting on Friday. My key meeting today will be with Defence Secretary, Liam Fox. We’ll discuss a range of things. Firstly, follow-on discussions from the very successful AUKMIN meeting that we had in Australia earlier this year. Secondly, to discuss Afghanistan as a prelude to the NATO/ISAF Defence Ministers’ Meeting and also to discuss current events in North Africa, in particular, Libya.
As well, I’ll be discussing with Defence Secretary Fox, Australia’s keen interest in acquiring either by lease or by purchase a heavy amphibious lift-ship – a Bay Class ship.
Earlier today I met with the Shadow Defence Secretary, Jim Murphy, and had a productive conversation with him. In the course of other meetings today, I’ve also visited the headquarters of BAE. BAE, of course, in Australia are a very important part of our defence industry and involved in a number of important projects: two naval projects – the Air Warfare Destroyer and the Landing Helicopter Dock project – the LHD; so, a productive conversation with officials at BAE today.
Early tomorrow, I’ll leave London for Brussels. There I’ll have a series of bilateral meetings in the run-up to the NATO/ISAF meeting, including with Secretary General Rasmussen and Afghan Defence Minister, Wardak.
On Friday will be the Ministers’ Meeting on Afghanistan where we will deal, for the first time in detail, with the transition plan to Afghan-led security responsibility for Afghanistan. And, no doubt, in the margins of that meeting with Defence Ministerial colleagues, we’ll also have discussions about Libya.
So, I’m very pleased to be back in London, looking very much forward to an important Defence Ministers’ Meeting in Brussels tomorrow and I’m happy to respond to your questions.
JOURNALIST #1: You mentioned obviously the meeting about Afghanistan. Is there any chance of any changes of deployment in Afghanistan?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, we continue to believe that our contribution of, on average 1,550, is the right allocation of resources for the mission we have in Uruzgan Province. We’re training the relevant Kandaks in the Fourth Brigade and we believe we’re on track to complete that training mission over the next one to three years. That’s consistent with the international community’s aspiration of completing a handover or a transition to Afghan-led security responsibility by the end of 2014. The meeting of Defence Ministers is the first NATO/ISAF meeting since the Lisbon Summit where the international community committed itself to that transition plan, that transitional arrangement. The detail of the transition will vary province by province, district to district – we’re not expecting that Uruzgan Province will be one of the first provinces under consideration, we’re expecting that to occur next year or subsequent years, but certainly not in the first instance.
JOURNALIST #2: You mentioned there’d been discussions about Libya, I mean, can we get some sort of insight?
STEPHEN SMITH: I’ve made public remarks previously as has the Foreign Minister, as has the Prime Minister, both in Australia and also from the United States. We support the motion of a no-fly zone, but believe that that needs to have the authority of, in the first instance, the Security Council. So, as part of international community consideration of Libya and the terrible events in Libya, our starting point is that a no-fly zone would make a helpful contribution. That requires in the first instance, a Security Council resolution and a number of regional organisations have made the same point. So, the Gulf Cooperation Council of Foreign Ministers in the last couple of days, and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference over the last couple of days have made comparable or similar remarks. And you’ve seen indications publicly of prudent planning or contingency planning so far as individual nations are concerned, or, so far as NATO itself is concerned.
In Australia’s case, we would not be envisaging or expecting to make a military contribution to such a no-fly zone, but we believe that the resolution from the Security Council to that effect would be a helpful contribution in resolving matters in Libya.
JOURNALIST #3: The international community of Australia have expressed outrage at Colonel Gaddafi’s treatment of civilians, is a no-fly zone a sufficient response to the Colonel’s actions, namely, shooting dead civilians who were protesting against his rule in that country?
STEPHEN SMITH: We condemn his actions and our starting point is that the best way to resolve matters in Libya is for Colonel Gaddafi to leave the stage. We’re not holding our breath for that to occur. And, of course, atrocities are being committed against the people of Libya, not just through the use of air assets – so, more than a no-fly zone is required as part of a resolution to the terrible and tragic events in Libya. But, Colonel Gaddafi has clearly used air assets against his own people and Australia’s view is that a no-fly zone would mitigate against that terrible use of air assets against his own people.
JOURNALIST #4: You say that you don’t envisage any military support from Australia if any action… if any collective action is taken. Would Australia be providing any other kind of support – logistics or otherwise?
STEPHEN SMITH: To date, we are of course also very conscious of the humanitarian disaster which has unfolded in Libya and on its borders. So, the Foreign Minister has previously announced a million dollar contribution to the Red Cross – the International Red Cross, and a $5 million contribution to relevant United Nations agencies. We are, as part of our prudent planning, giving consideration to what we may be able to do if required by the international community or if requested by the international community. In the main, there would be potential use of our airlift capability C17 or C130 – more likely a C17. So we are doing prudent planning on that respect for possible use of airlift capability as part of a humanitarian contribution. But, so far as use of military assets is concerned, if there were authorisation from the Security Council for a no-fly zone, Australia’s view - and I’ve expressed this before - is that in the first instance, the responsibility would fall to countries in the region to effect such a Security Council resolution.
As a consequence you have seen individual nations in the region, whether Europe or indeed members of NATO, indicate publicly that they are looking at prudent planning in their own case. But, so far as Australia is concerned, we are of course a long way away from North Africa. We are very conscious of wanting to make a contribution on the humanitarian front and I’ve outlined that. But, we very much see any possible use of military assets being from countries in the region. But, this is an issue which we need to take step by step. Very many countries have made the point - including the United States - that a Security Council resolution is the required starting point or the first step and it is an issue which requires very serious consideration and that’s why, not just prudent planning, but a discussion amongst nations is occurring.
JOURNALIST #5: How quickly do you think the no-fly zone could be put in place?
STEPHEN SMITH: As I said earlier, it would make a contribution, it would not, of itself, end the violence by Colonel Gaddafi against his own people, because we’ve seen other means – not just the use of air assets, but other means used to effect violence against his own people. But the view that Australia has is that it would make a helpful contribution, but it does require in the first instance, authority under international law and the starting point for that would be a relevant resolution of the Security Council.
Thanks very much. Good to see you.