TRANSCRIPT: PRESS CONFERENCE – VISIT TO INDIA
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 6 DECEMBER 2011
TOPICS: Minister’s departure for India; Uranium; Ballistic Missile Defence; Australia Network; ALP Review; Force Posture Review; Pakistan; Afghanistan.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well thanks very much for coming, later this morning I'll depart Perth for India, I'll visit New Delhi, and Mumbai. This is my first visit to India as Defence Minister, but it's my fourth visit to India as a Minister in the Australian Government.
My visit to New Delhi will see me meeting formally with my Indian Defence Minister counterpart, A K Antony. There we will conduct the Defence Ministers' dialogue, and work towards building and strengthening the Defence to Defence and the military to military relationship which Australia and India have.
We'll build on the Declaration on Security Cooperation, which our respective Prime Ministers struck in 2009.
We have a very good working relationship with India so far as Defence and military matters are concerned.
This is particularly the case so far as our respective Navies are concerned, and Australia is a member the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), an initiative of the Indian Navy. Australia will host the IONS Conclave of Chiefs in Perth in 2014.
India is the current Chair and Australia the Vice Chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC). We are jointly leading efforts to further develop the regional security architecture of the Indian Ocean, with a particular focus on maritime security.
My visit to Mumbai will see me visit the Western Naval Command, and also the Victoria Dockland, emphasising and underlining the closeness of our Indian Ocean and Naval cooperation.
My visit to India will of course be the first visit by an Australian Minister since the decision over the weekend to reverse the ban on export of uranium to India. This decision is one which I strongly supported at the conference, and one which I expect India will very warmly welcome.
This is a deeply significant decision, reflecting as it does not just the fact that India has brought itself under the international nuclear regulators, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, but also reflects the fact that India is one of the great rising powers of this century, the world's largest democracy, and in the course of this century, together with the United States and China, will be one of the world's three great powers.
And so I'm looking very much forward to my formal meeting with Defence Minister A K Antony, we last met in the margins of the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Plus meeting in Hanoi, in October of last year, the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Plus meeting of course is the Defence Ministers' meeting in the East Asia Summit expanded format.
So I'm very much looking forward to my visit, I'm happy to respond to your questions on our relationship with India, and my visit to India, and other matters you may wish to raise.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it won't be a matter for me to negotiate, as you know the change that the conference made to the platform was to allow the exporting of uranium to India, subject to the striking of a Bilateral Safeguards Agreement.
Australia has struck very many of these Bilateral Safeguards Agreements since our basic uranium platform was resolved in 1984. The carriage of that is the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and as the Acting Foreign Minister and Trade Minister, Craig Emerson has made clear overnight, those discussions will occur in the course of the beginning of next year.
My message to India will simply be that the bilateral relationship between Australia and India is very important, we regard it as one of our most important bilateral relationships, and the potential for that relationship to grow, is great, and that particularly applies, so far as Defence to Defence contacts are concerned, as you know, Perth is Australia's Indian Ocean capital, and so Perth looks west to India, and the Indian Ocean rim, and I'm looking very much forward to encouraging greater Naval contact between Australia and India.
On a regular basis we do Naval exercises with India, on a regular basis we see Indian Naval visits to Australia, I want to encourage that, and see that grow. That will of course naturally grow, as India's rise occurs, but my message so far as uranium exports are concerned, is that we have changed our platform, it no longer requires in the case of India that India be a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it does require we strike a Bilateral Safeguards Agreement with India, and the work on that will commence next year.
JOURNALIST: Will the Government allow for the export of uranium to Pakistan?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, the circumstances of India in this respect are unique. What has changed circumstances so far as India is concerned is India seeking and getting the approval of the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, to what is described as the India United States Civil Nuclear Arrangement.
In doing that, India, which since 1967 has said that it would not enter into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, undertook to the International Atomic Energy Agency that it would enter into the Additional Protocol of the International Atomic Energy Agency arrangements, that effectively sees the capacity of the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, to examine India's civil nuclear arrangements, it gave an undertaking to keep separate its civil nuclear technology from military, it gave an undertaking to not engage in any nuclear testing.
So the effect of that, which had to support an international community, was to effectively bring for the first time, India under the governance of the civil nuclear international regulators, that's what has changed there.
Secondly of course, there has never been any suggestion, any serious suggestion, that from India we have seen a proliferation of either uranium or nuclear technology.
Those circumstances don't apply to Pakistan, and our platform makes an exception for India, and only India, so far as entry into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is concerned.
JOURNALIST: Do you have any feedback by Perth or West Australian uranium companies who have interest in uranium mining, have you had any feedback in relation to their support for the export of uranium-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, you'd expect that that feedback would go to my colleague, Martin Ferguson, the Minister for Resources and Energy.
The only feedback I've had has either been from conference delegates, or from individuals I've had contact with over the last 24 to 48 hours, and that has been that this is a very good decision, a deeply significant one in terms of our strategic engagement with India, and that's of course a view I share.
But any response by the resources industry, the minerals resources industry or the uranium industry, I'd expect that to go to my colleague, Martin Ferguson. But I'd also be expecting, hopeful and confident, that it would be warmly welcomed.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well that's a separate question, I mean I've made it clear to my state colleagues over a long period of time that I believe that the State Labor Party's judgement about uranium mining, and the State Labor Party's policy both in Government and in Opposition, to not allow the mining of uranium in Western Australia, is wrong.
I've said the same thing to my Queensland state colleagues, because the Queensland State Government has precisely the same policy approach.
But of course under our constitution, it is a matter for states to authorise the mining of mineral resources, it is for the Commonwealth to set out the public policy parameters for exporting, and the state of Western Australia, under Labor, and the state of Queensland under Labor, have made it clear they don't see a capacity in their minds for the mining of uranium in those two states.
I've made it clear to my state colleagues I don't think that is a correct policy position, but it's entirely a matter for the state parties, both in WA and Queensland.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we currently have four or five operating uranium mines, including when its current expansion is complete, the largest uranium mine in the world, Olympic Dam, or Roxby Downs in South Australia
And one of the points that I've always made is that in 1984 when the National Conference authorised the exporting of uranium from Olympic Dam and allowed exporting under the conditions that I have outlined, once the platform and the party and successive Labor Governments had adopted that position, frankly, everything else was academic.
It's a bit hard to say that you authorise export of uranium from the largest uranium mine in the world and then be churlish about other mines. So it's entirely a matter for the state colleagues both here and in Queensland. But I'm sure that's a policy decision which is very warmly welcomed by successive State Governments of South Australia.
But there is of course another point which is this. I have made it clear, Martin Ferguson as the Minister for Minerals Resources has made it clear, that we're not expecting to see a requirement or a need for India to receive uranium from Australia for a number of years. India currently has no shortage of uranium supply, so I'm expecting that this process will occur over the next few years. In the course of that period, respective state governments either in WA or Queensland or elsewhere may make different judgments about the mining of uranium within their state borders.
JOURNALIST: Is Australia [indistinct] part of a regional [indistinct].
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I had a very good meeting yesterday with Michèle Flournoy. We spoke about all of the issues that you would expect Australia and the United States to speak about: the success of the President's visit, the changes we've made so far as access to Australian facilities are concerned in the Northern Territory. We also spoke about Afghanistan. We also spoke about some of the emerging challenges that we find, whether it's Ballistic Missile Defence, whether it is space or whether it is cyber.
On Ballistic Missile Defence, the policy of the Australian Government is reflected by the 2009 White Paper; it's also reflected by the Australian Labor Party's National Platform and it was reaffirmed in this respect over the weekend - is that we are very happy to have consultations and discussions and explore Ballistic Missile Defence so far as that relates to in-theatre or relates to our strategic interests, for example, population centres.
But we've made it clear over a long period of time that we're not proposing to engage in Ballistic Missile Defence which might be intercontinental or which might shift the deterrent balance so far as nuclear weapons is concerned.
We currently don't have Ballistic Missile Defence capability but we are continuing to have discussions with the United States in particular but other countries as well on Ballistic Missile Defence issues develop and unfold. But our policy starting point is made clear by the White Paper that's reflected by the Australian Labor Party's National Platform which, as I say, was reaffirmed over the weekend.
I've seen a reference in some reporting today about our Air Warfare Destroyers. Our Air Warfare Destroyers, which will come on-stream from the middle of this decade, are precisely what they are described as - Air Warfare Destroyers, and the Aegis that they will have, the Aegis Combat System, is an Air Warfare Destroyers, not a Ballistic Missile Defence system.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the Australian Network should always remain in the hands of the ABC?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, that's a decision that the Cabinet made last night. I see that the Minister for Communications, Senator Conroy, and the Prime Minister were out there this morning explaining that decision and going into the detail. I'm not proposing to add to their remarks, particularly when it's someone else's portfolio.
But there's no doubt that that's been a difficult issue for the Government as a result of the leaks which occurred in the tender process. The tender process was stopped recently, as Senator Conroy announced, and last night the Cabinet made a decision which Senator Conroy has announced and he and the Prime Minister have detailed this morning.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that the secret part of the ALP Review should be made public?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it was a confidential part of the election review, and the authors of that review and the national secretary at the time, and the national secretary of the time believed that it should remain confidential. I've never seen that part of the examination of the 2010 election, and I don't have an interest now in seeing it.
My own view is that these are essentially matters of history. We had a difficult and tough election campaign in 2010. The only way that we can proceed as we've been doing over the last 12 months is to seek to govern well and deal with the difficult policy issues that our nation faces.
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] -to be made public?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, that's entirely a matter for them. What I do know is that at the time it was confidential, it was treated as confidential, successive national secretaries have treated it as confidential. I've never inquired as to its content and I don't see, frankly, the interest in doing that now.
We had a difficult campaign. In some respects it was a bad campaign. All of that is on the public record. I'm much more focused on the three-year obligation we have. We're into the final weeks of our first year of this parliamentary term, the end of the first year of our second term in office. The next election will be September-October-November of 2013 so we have effectively just short of two years to go.
The judgment the Australian community will make in two years' time won't be about a confidential report about a difficult campaign for the Labor Party nationally in the 2010 election, it'll be how we have governed and how we have addressed the issues that confront the nation. And at the appropriate time they'll also start making a comparison between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and Labor's performance and promise for the future and the Coalition's stance on a range of issues.
JOURNALIST: You keep mentioning public interest [indistinct].
STEPHEN SMITH: I made the point yesterday, I'll make it again. I regard those matters as matters of history. You can never win the next campaign by rerunning the last one. You can only win the next campaign if you are an incumbent Government by governing well and persuading the Australian people that you have faced up to the difficult issues facing the nation, whether they are in the national security space or whether they are in the economic security space.
JOURNALIST: The recent announcement of the US troop presence in Darwin, will that be on the agenda when you talked with your counterpart from India? Do you expect them to be concerned or are you expecting a backlash?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I'm sure that they will come up in discussions. Minister Antony and I will traverse, as we always do when we meet in the India-Australia Defence Ministers' Dialogue, traverse all of the strategic and bilateral issues and regional issues that we find.
So I will brief my Indian counterpart on the announcement that we've made and the details of those. I'm not expecting that India will in any way be concerned by the arrangement we've entered into.
And just to reinforce some of the points I made at the time, we don't have United States bases in Australia; we have joint facilities. But we also have access to our facilities by United States Defence Force personnel - Navy, Army and Air Force. And this is a rotation of United States Marines, which will start with 250 by the end of the first quarter of next year and grow over a period of five years to 2500, effectively a six-month rotation on exercises and training.
That is a very good thing for a number of reasons. Firstly, it shows an intention on the part of the United States to remain engaged in the Asia-Pacific. That's an unambiguously good thing as economic and strategic and political influence moves to our part of the world - the rise of China, the rise of India, the rise of the ASEAN economies combined. The ongoing influence and importance of the United States is essential and best reflected by not just an ongoing engagement by the United States in the Asia-Pacific but an enhanced one.
But secondly, from our perspective, from Australia's Defence perspective, it's a Marine taskforce group. They are very experienced at amphibious capability and ship-to-shore manoeuvres, whether that's for stabilisation and security reasons or whether it's for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
Again, in the middle of this decade we receive our Landing Helicopter Docks which will essentially give us a much bigger ship-to-shore amphibious capability than we've had in the past.
So the prospect for us to be doing joint exercises and joint training with a Marine taskforce in the Northern Territory over the forthcoming years is a very good thing from that perspective.
JOURNALIST: Can you give us your reason [indistinct] Pakistan, do you think that Pakistan is going to understand those reasons, and more to the point, do you think this could not add instability to an already [indistinct] region?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well firstly our, the rationale, the public policy rationale for our decision is quite clear. India brought itself under the governance of the international nuclear regulators, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. That has not occurred with respect to Pakistan. Secondly, there's never been a suggestion of proliferation of nuclear materials from India.
Regrettably over preceding years there have been serious concerns about proliferation from Pakistan.
I regard the circumstances that attach to India as being unique, and as a consequence saw my strong view, and my argument at the conference that we should make a change here which reflected the modern reality of India being under the international civil nuclear regulators.
Those circumstances don't attend to Pakistan. I made the point earlier, India does not need Australia's uranium at this point in time. That will occur in years to come and I don't see this decision as having any adverse outcomes so far as the Australia Pakistan relationship is concerned, nor do I see it in any way being relevant to stability in south Asia.
JOURNALIST: So you don't think it's going to make your job really more difficult [indistinct] considering we need their support in the region.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we have a very good military to military, and Defence to Defence relationship with Pakistan. Since we came to office we have done a number of things to enhance that engagement, we have doubled the number of Pakistan military officers who come to Australia for counter-terrorism training. We've doubled our development assistance to Pakistan. And we are one of the countries who has responded quickest and in large amounts of assistance, when disaster has struck Pakistan particularly the floods that occurred at the end of last year.
So we've made a decision with respect to India, Pakistan will understand that decision.
I don't see that decision as having any adverse consequences for our relationship with Pakistan. And I don't see it as being relevant for stability or security in south Asia.
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct], do you support [indistinct] have your support when he said that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well Ben's perfectly entitled to use his own form of words. I use my form of words and I have on any number of occasions. We are in Afghanistan with an International Security Assistance Force under a United Nations mandate, and we're there to stare down international terrorism.
We don't want Afghanistan, in particular the Afghanistan Pakistan border area to again become a breeding ground or a hot bed of training for international terrorists. We believe very strongly that we are on track in Uruzgan Province to make the transition to Afghan security-led responsibility by 2014.
I've made the point in recent times, as had the Prime Minister, both to the Parliament and publicly, that such is the progress of our training and mentoring that we may make that transition in Uruzgan earlier than 2014. So we regard ourselves as on track to make that transition.
The international community overnight at the Bonn Conference has reaffirmed the same essential commitment of the international community - we don't want to be in Afghanistan forever, we can't be in Afghanistan forever, there is a period in our time in Afghanistan that I regard as the lost years - four or five or six lost years as a result of the distraction of Iraq.
And then when returning from Iraq, the international community was not focused enough on an appropriate military and political strategy.
But we believe we're on track to hand over responsibility, and we've also made the point again echoed by the Bonn Conference overnight, that once the transition is made in 2014, there will need to be an international community presence in Afghanistan. There will need to be a post-transition presence, both to provide resources to the Afghan National Security Forces, but also to provide expertise.
Now that might be special forces for counter-terrorism. It'll certainly be training. It may well be advisers. And it'll certainly be a development assistance and capacity building.
But we're on track to effect the transition to Afghan-led security in Uruzgan, and the International Security Assistance Force colleagues believe - and I share this view - that we're on track to do that Afghanistan-wide by 2014.
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] play a role post 2014.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I'm not going to personalise it, but I have made it clear, when I've returned from NATO/ISAF Defence Ministers' Meeting on- [indistinct] meetings on two previous occasions this year, we do need to look at what the post-transition contribution will be by the international community. In Australia's case, one of the options, one of the possibilities is an ongoing Special Forces contribution.
Whether that's from the SAS here in Swanbourne, or from 2 Commando in Holsworthy in New South Wales.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I think Stephen Jones from New South Wales has indicated publicly that he's proposing to get support to introduce a Private Members Bill. I made my view clear in the course of the National Conference, I very strongly believed that this was an appropriate area for a conscience vote - strong views, personally held, deep convictions based either on religious views, or cultural views, or personal or family views, or personal family experience. And so I certainly strongly support the conscience vote.
I also made it clear in the course of conscience that if a Private Members Bill was presented to the Parliament to bring marriage equality then I would support that, and subject to seeing the detail of the legislation - and I'm sure that if it's Stephen Jones or any number of colleagues, They'll get the detail right, I would support such a Private Members Bill.
Thanks very much everyone, thank you.