TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH ALISON CARABINE, RADIO NATIONAL BREAKFAST
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 5 SEPTEMBER 2012
TOPICS: Indonesian relationship; US Force Posture.
ALISON CARABINE: A very early good morning, Stephen Smith.
STEPHEN SMITH: Yeah, good morning, Alison. How are you?
ALISON CARABINE: Very well, thank you.
Minister, more than 350 asylum seekers have died in recent months on the journey to Australia. Will this deal mean fewer people drown at sea?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, there are two things. We've seen a number of terrible incidences recently, and when President Yudhoyono was in Darwin, the Prime Minister and the President asked relevant ministers to see if there was more that we could do to make the search and rescue operations more effective, more efficient and quicker, and Anthony Albanese, the Transport Minister responsible for maritime safety issues, announced a range of improvements yesterday that was a result of discussions that we had had, and we hope that, giving greater capacity and capability to BASARNAS, the Indonesian Search and Rescue Authority by giving access to where the maritime civilian naval vessels are, who can also assist on search and rescue, instantaneous communication and, also, the prospect of our aerial assets having speedy access to Indonesian airspace and, also, the potential to land and refuel and then return to a rescue area.
ALISON CARABINE: And-
STEPHEN SMITH: I think all of this will help.
ALISON CARABINE: Minister, does that-
STEPHEN SMITH: I think all of this will help.
ALISON CARABINE: Yeah, that should, hopefully, all help. But the increased or the speedy access to Indonesian airspace, including refuelling at Indonesian airfields, does that mean Australian planes won't require Indonesian clearance to enter territorial airspace. And, if so, are there any strategic implications of that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well no, that's the whole point. We've agreed, in principle, to do this, but there are about 11 agencies all up who've got to get all of their authorities in a row. So, what we're aiming to do is to effect a hotline or a speedy clearance, so that the approvals will still be required to be given. What we need to do is to give those [indistinct] access approvals in a speedy way, and that's what we've agreed to seek to implement.
So far as the landing at Indonesian airports is concerned, or relevant airfields is concerned, what that will seek to prevent is search and rescue planes flying to the north, then having to return to Christmas Island or further south. And if we can land in Indonesia, with their requisite speedy approvals and refuel, then that'll save hours.
But in addition to all of those arrangements, what we want to do is to persuade people to stop getting on boats and putting themselves at risk, and that's why the Government's announced offshore processing in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, because we don't want people putting themselves at risk in the first instance.
ALISON CARABINE: Last week, Minister, 55 asylum seekers rescued by HMAS Maitland off Java were transferred to an Indonesian vessel and taken to an Indonesian port. Did these people not claim asylum before the decision was made to remove them from the Maitland?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I've seen people trying to make a great deal of this case. From my perspective and from my observations, and the observations of Minister Clare, who also has responsibility in this area, [indistinct] a search and rescue operation where people on the high seas having to do two things. To, firstly, rescue people who are in grave distress and then seek to get them urgent medical attention made a judgement that the best way to give them the urgent medical and other humanitarian assistance required was to see them returned to Indonesia.
That's a search and rescue decision made by people on the ground. It's not made by people from afar. So, I regard that as a very good example of people coming to the aid and support of people in distress and then making judgements on the ground at the operational level to give them much-needed medical and other assistance as soon as humanly possible.
ALISON CARABINE: But if they had claimed asylum, shouldn't they have been taken to Australia?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, if they'd been taken to Australia, they wouldn't have received the urgent medical assistance that they were requesting. This was not a decision that was made by an Immigration official in Australia or a Member of Parliament or a Minister in Australia.
You had a rescue on the high seas, you know, people in distress. You had people asking and crying out to be helped and you had people who were in urgent need of medical attention. And people on board the boats at the time, people who were on the ground making judgements and doing life-saving things made the decision that the best way of rendering the urgent medical assistance was to take them to Indonesia.
ALISON CARABINE: Minister, later today, Australia and Indonesia will be co-signing the defence cooperation arrangement. How will this change the bilateral defence relationship?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it won't so much change it, as to give a formal structure to it. The most important document we've signed in recent times with Indonesia, which reflects the modern relationship, is the Lombok Treaty which Hassan Wirayuda, then Foreign Minister and I signed in Perth in 2008 and brought it into effect. And under the Lombok Treaty, there is provision for security and defence arrangements.
We've got a very well developed, practical cooperation arrangement with Indonesia, but the Defence Cooperation Agreement which Defence Minister Purnomo and I will sign today sets and establishes the framework for - the formal framework for all of that practical cooperation. Whether it's English language training by Australians in Indonesia, whether it's Indonesian military personnel coming to Australia for education and training purposes, whether it's the work we do together on peacekeeping, or, indeed, whether it's, for example, as occurred recently, Indonesian aerial assets, Sukhoi fighter planes coming to Darwin for Exercise Pitch Black.
So, it sets the framework for the very extensive practical cooperation that we have with Indonesia. It's at its highest level for some considerable time, and that's a very good thing. It reflects the strength of the defence relationship, but also the relationship generally.
ALISON CARABINE: And how much of this is about calming some Indonesian nerves about the marine rotation through northern Australia? There was some unease in Jakarta about this venture when it was first announced.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, when it was first announced, there were some suggestions publicly of worry about the rotation, but President Yudhoyono in very quick order came out saying that he saw this as being good, because he could see United States-Australian marines engaged in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercises, and he would very much like to see Indonesia being a part of that.
That was a very good suggestion. We've agreed to that. And later this year we'll see a desktop exercise of Australia, US and Indonesian Defence Force personnel engaged in a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise and that'll be replicated in Indonesia next year.
And we've also encouraged our ASEAN-associated partners, our East Asia Summit partners to also in the future take part, either practical involvement or by way of observer status.
So, it's hardly rated a mention in our talks here. Indeed, last night, over dinner, Defence Minister Purnomo said that he saw that as a good thing. There were no longer concerns about it. And that's a very good thing from Australia's perspective.
ALISON CARABINE: It's 16 minutes past eight on Radio National Breakfast. Our guest this morning is Defence Minister Stephen Smith who's on the line from Jakarta.
Minister, ramp ceremonies will be held today for the five Australian soldiers killed last week in Afghanistan. Has there been any progress in the hunt for the ANA soldier who turned his rifle on three of our five dead?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, you're quite right, the ramp ceremonies will take place today in Amberley in Brisbane and Richmond in New South Wales. That'll be, you know, a very tough moment for the families concerned. It'll be the single largest ramp ceremony we've had for - well, since the Vietnam War. So, this is a terrible moment for the families and it'll be a tough moment for Defence and the nation.
We continue to trace Hek Matullah. We're doing that in cooperation with International Security Assistance Force, and, also, Afghan National Security Forces.
But I'm not in a position to indicate that we've made any further progress on that, which I and the Chief of the Defence Force have previously put on record. And, as you will be aware, in an operation over the weekend, we detained a person who we believe had either actually assisted in his escape or was intending to assist in his escape, and he continues to be in detention.
ALISON CARABINE: The reward on offer for information about Hek Matullah is just $5000. Surely, we can do better than that.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, that's a significant amount of money in Afghan terms. Rewards have been posted in the past; they'll no doubt be posted in the future. The amount of the award is essentially done in conjunction - operationally on the ground by International Security Assistance Forces. So, I'm not proposing to comment or disturb that, but that is a significant amount of money in Afghan terms. It makes the point that if there's any information out there that can be handed over to Australian, Afghan or international forces, then that will be of assistance.
But we are pursuing every avenue available to us in our efforts to capture Hek Matullah who on - whilst we describe him as the alleged perpetrator on the preponderance of evidence is the person responsible for this terrible atrocity.
ALISON CARABINE: Yeah, let's hope that we capture him pretty soon. Stephen Smith, thanks very much for joining Radio National Breakfast.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Alison; thanks very much.