TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH HELEN BROWN, NEWSLINE, ABC
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY AND E & OE
DATE: 4 SEPTEMBER 2012
TOPICS: Indonesia; Search and Rescue.
HELEN BROWN: Defence Minister Stephen Smith, welcome to the program.
STEPHEN SMITH: Pleasure.
HELEN BROWN: You're here for some significant, quite high level talks and also the signing of some agreements. Now, in any of those agreements, will it include an ability for Australian resources, planes, ships, to move into Indonesia's search and rescue zone more quickly and more efficiently in case there is a boat in distress?
STEPHEN SMITH: A range of things there. The primary objective so far as I'm concerned, as Defence Minister, is to have the first of the annual defence ministers' dialogue. So far this year we've seen, if you like, the new trappings of our relationship with Indonesia, the first leaders' dialogue, the first annual leaders' dialogue, the first so-called two-plus-two. So, that takes us into a realm, which is in a sense, reserved for a very small number of our partner countries.
So, I'll be doing that as Defence Minister, with my Transport Minister colleague and our Home Affairs Minister colleague, will also be sitting down, making sure that there's no more that we can do in terms of cooperation between Australia and Indonesia on search and rescue matters.
HELEN BROWN: Specifically, though, Minister, this has been raised as an issue about the time it takes to get permission to move into Indonesian waters, it is something that needs to be looked at. Is it something that you will sign off on or talk about while you're here?
STEPHEN SMITH: This was one of the issues that was raised in the margins of the President's visit to Darwin, the fact of needing to make sure that if there was a need for Australia to go into, in an aviation sense, Indonesia's search and rescue area, that that was done as quickly as possible.
So, there are some issues there that we will discuss but as a general proposition, whether it's naval access, whether it's aviation access, the cooperation and the coordination between Australia and Indonesia is very good but dealing with life-threatening circumstances you have to make sure as best you can that if there are any hiccups that you clear the path and make sure that you can respond as quickly as possible. So, that's one of the issues that I'll be discussing, not just with Minister Purnomo, my counterpart, but also with the Transport Minister and the Home Affairs Minister and their respective counterparts.
HELEN BROWN: But you have three senior people in Indonesia. Is now the time to sign off on something like that?
STEPHEN SMITH: We hope to be signing off on a range of things, in my own case signing with Minister Purnomo a defence cooperation agreement. In Mr Albanese's case, it's his third annual dialogue with his transport minister counterpart and he's been working very closely with him on search and rescue and transport matters.
So, we expect to be in a position to make a range of announcements but it would be at its very least impolite to seek to announce those in advance of the discussions tomorrow.
HELEN BROWN: Staying with search and rescue, we had a very stark and sad example last week of where Indonesia's resources were weak, were unable to deal with what was required. They said themselves, in one instance, their helicopter that they sent out was simply too small and that they didn't have the capability to sustain the search and rescue initially in the first place.
Given that, I know that Australia's cooperating with Indonesia on its defence capability but should it perhaps also be looking at providing resources to Indonesia's specific search and rescue unit, for instance, giving them a boat or a plane or a helicopter, something that is up to the task?
STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly in terms of the transport to transport cooperation or the search and rescue authorities' cooperation, one to the other, AMSA in Australia's case and BARSANAS in Indonesia's case, there is very good cooperation. There's also the allocation of resources.
We're not looking on this occasion to seeking to provide more assets. What we want to do is to make sure that the coordination is first class, that there is a sharing of experience.
We're also looking at exchange, for example, of officers so that Indonesian search and rescue officers have experience directly in our system and vice versa. So it's not so much the exchange or the provision of assets, it's getting the coordination right.
In any search and rescue effort, assets of the civilian maritime can be called upon, assets of adjoining countries can be called upon so in most cases it's a matter of making sure that whoever is closest to the scene gets there in a speedy way.
HELEN BROWN: But the problem is, of course, that a lot of the defence assets, for instance, the large ships, aren't stationed near the waters, that open sea, when people are trying to get to Australia and that search and rescue, sure, it can perhaps ask the Defence ministry for some assets but that takes time and if they had something of their own they would be able to respond quicker. So is it worth considering at all, handling it that way?
STEPHEN SMITH: We're not proposing to go down that road on this occasion. We want to get the coordination right, we want to make sure that whatever experience we have we can transmit to our Indonesian colleagues but there's also a more fundamental lesson there in your question, which is we don't want people getting on the high seas, engaging in risky journeys to Christmas Island or to Ashmore Reef or to Australia and that's why we've been working very hard, together with Indonesia, to break the people-smugglers' model so that people don't put themselves at risk. That's why we've said we want to substantially increase the humanitarian program, to provide people with the incentive to go through our onshore program and not to put themselves at risk on the high seas.
HELEN BROWN: Defence Minister Stephen Smith, thanks for sharing some of your time while here in Indonesia.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much.