Stephen Smith MP
Minister for Defence
TOPICS: Security cooperation with the United Kingdom, Defence investment in South Australia
QUESTION: Mr Smith, can you just tell us a little bit about this amphibious capability that you're looking at? What sort of cost would be involved and what would it be used for?
STEPHEN SMITH: We are transitioning to a number of large amphibious landing dock vessels. They're being built in Spain and our timetable for putting those amphibious landing and helicopter dock vessels into operation is the middle of this decade, so 2015.
In the meantime, we have to transition to that and so there is a requirement to look at our existing capability, which we have, and decide whether we need to add to that capability as we make the transition to the new landing dock vessels.
In the course of coming to office, the Cameron Government effected, and Dr Fox effected, a United Kingdomdefence security review. As a consequence of that, some naval assets are available for disposal by the United Kingdom.
We want to have a very close look at whether it's appropriate for us to either lease or buy one of the so-called Bay class landing vessels. And I'm not proposing to put a cost on that, we just want to explore whether it is a sensible thing for Australia to do to acquire one of those assets.
It is, I think, reflecting the fact that both governments and both nations are enthusiastic about trying to do more together in the capability space.
As a result of the United Kingdom security review, Dr Fox is subject, and the United Kingdom is subject, to a range of fiscal restraints. Australia in the Defence area has been subject to fiscal restraints since the introduction of our white paper in 2009 and our Force 2020 posture and our Strategic Reform Program.
In the old days the anecdotal analysis used to be that there was perhaps a limitless cheque or an ongoing large cheque for defence assets. This is no longer the case in Australia, no longer the case in the United Kingdom, no longer the case in the United States as you would have seen from some of the reforms that Secretary of Defense Gates has effected in the United States recently.
So this is the modern era of Defence acquisition, of Defence capability, of Defence procurement. We think we can do more, together with the United Kingdom, on that front. As our visit to the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, DSTO, earlier today shows, we can do more on the Defence science research and technology front as well. There is already very good collaboration, and we think we can take it to a higher level.
QUESTION: What areas of procurement do you think us and the United Kingdom could work together on, in particular what sorts of projects?
STEPHEN SMITH: Naval or maritime assets is one particular area, but for example here at BAE there is work that occurring in South Australia on the new Joint Strike Fighter.
Both Australia and the United Kingdom have a part of that new Joint Strike Fighter. We're both contracted to theUnited States to receive some of those planes so it is all of those assets, in a sense, that are on the table. I think in the first instance the most obvious upfront potential is in the maritime or naval asset area.
QUESTION: Are there any other ships you would look leasing or purchasing?
STEPHEN SMITH: The only suggestion I've made to Dr Fox is that we get our officials together to see whether it might be appropriate for us to lease or buy one of the Bay-class amphibious landing vessels.
QUESTION: Given China's growing military spending and their desire to enlarge both their armed forces in terms of terrestrial army and the navy as well. Do you have any concern in light of the reduction in British spending on defence and the impact it might have on that area?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I think there are three things in that. Firstly - Australia's defence posture is reflected by the 2009 white paper and our force 2030 document which is associated with that, that's the first point.
Secondly, we don't determine our asset capability or our defence posture as a result of any one particular nation. We do it by taking a regional and a global view. China is a rising power, China's economy is growing exponentially and we understand and accept that when any nation's economy grows there will also be a growth in its defence or military assets. And as we say to China publicly and privately we believe that China should be transparent about its strategic intentions so far as its military assets are concerned.
So far as the United Kingdom is concerned the security aspect of the defence posture review effected when the Cameron government came to office does not in any way reduce the United Kingdom's commitment to taking a substantial and serious interest in international community's security as reflected by a most substantial contribution in Afghanistan.
Indeed part of Dr Fox's and Foreign Secretary Hague's visit to Australia was to make a point on the part of theUnited Kingdom that the United Kingdom sees a world which is beyond Europe and wants to make contact and establish good working relations with country in the Asia-Pacific, that's an unambiguously good thing.
Dr Fox, for example has come to Australia from Malaysia and is off to New Zealand. So we have every confidence, absolute confidence, that firstly the close working relationship between Australia and the United Kingdom on defence and security and strategic and intelligence matters will continue to be at a very high level. Indeed our aspiration and our intention and expectations are that it'll become even higher. But secondly the United Kingdom will continue to play a very strong role in the international security space so far as the international community is concerned.
QUESTION: Minister, if we were to buy or lease one of these vessels from the UK would that have an impact on the Air Warfare Destroyer program?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, no it's entirely separate. I'm very much looking forward to going with Premier Rann and Dr Fox to the ASC facility to see the work that's being done. Premier Rann referred to the submarines. We have as a government given a commitment that the new submarines, the 12 submarines will be assembled in South Australia.
We are a very long way from concluding all of the details of that project, indeed we are very much at the initial stages. But the point that Premier Rann made about the investment the South Australian Government and the South Australia State has made into testing facilities and defence industry facilities in South Australia does make South Australia a very important part of our defence industry in Australia.
QUESTION: Okay. On a different one, what are your thoughts on companies like ASC applying for exemptions to be able to, I guess, racially profile their current employees and prospective employees?
STEPHEN SMITH: I don't know the basis on which that question is predicated but any company operating inAustralia needs to conduct its affairs in accordance with Australian law and in accordance with our employment and industrial relations arrangements, and in accordance with our non-discriminatory policies.
QUESTION: Couple of years ago BAE though did win an exemption [indistinct] to deny employment for Sudanese, Chinese, Vietnamese workers, and now ASC is trying to do a similar thing.
STEPHEN SMITH: As I say, Australian companies need to conduct themselves in accordance with Australian law. In the defence industry space there are exemptions to which you have referred. And provided the legal processes and the appropriate processes are gone through, that is an application of Australian law in the defence industry space.
QUESTION: Dr Fox, could I quickly ask you something? Yesterday you mentioned that you'd like other countries to follow the example and commitment of Australia in Afghanistan. What specifically were you [indistinct]. What types of things would you like to see them do?
STEPHEN SMITH: Okay, thanks very much everyone. Thank you.
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