TRANSCRIPT: DOORSTOP INTERVIEW DEPARTURE FOR THE UNITED STATES
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 14 SEPTEMBER 2011
TOPICS: AE1 Submarine Memorial; Australian Peacekeepers Day; Amphibious Ships; AUSMIN; Afghanistan; MP’s Travel; Parliamentary Privilege.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks for turning up. I'm very pleased to be here at Garden Island, together with the Chief of Navy. I've got a number of announcements and then I'll make some remarks about AUSMIN and also overnight events in Kabul.
Firstly, I'm very pleased to be here on a day which coincides with the unveiling of the plaque for AE1, our first Australian Submarine, an E-Class Submarine called AE because it was Australia's first Submarine Fleet.
Today the 14th of September, is the 97th anniversary of the disappearance of the AE1 and later today, later this morning, the Chief of Navy and the Governor-General will unveil the Memorial Plaque to the officers and men who were lost, the 35 who were lost when AE1 disappeared.
AE2 was also lost off the coast of Turkey, off Gallipoli. It was scuttled after it was damaged and the wreck of AE2 was found in the late 1990s and confirmed in the early 2000s.
Efforts have been made over the years to try and find AE1 which was lost off the coast ofPapua New Guineain 1914 and AE1 Incorporated is a voluntary organisation which has for years dedicated itself to that search. Today I'm announcing that the Government will provide tax-deductibility status for contributions to AE1 for the purpose of contributions to find the wreck of the AE1.
That will last initially for a period of three years. We are very hopeful of trying to discover the AE1 before the centenary in 2014 and it's a modest contribution which the Government can make to assist the search.
Over the years Navy has assisted with its own efforts and Navy will continue to cooperate with AE1 to try and find the wreck of the Submarine in time for the centenary.
Of course, our first submarine fleet back in the 1910s reflects that for a long period of time Submarines have been very important toAustraliaas part of our defence capability.
Today is also Australian Peacekeepers Day, the 64th Anniversary of Australian Peacekeepers. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, was here last week and he said privately to me, when I met with him, and also publicly, that he very much appreciated the longstanding contribution which Australia has made to United Nations and other peacekeeping missions.
We were part of the first United Nations-sponsored peacekeeping mission in 1947, the first country to have troops on the ground in a peacekeeping mission, and over the years we've had some 30,000 Australian Defence Force personnel and Police Officers involved in peacekeeping exercises. Tragically we've also lost over that period of time, some 13 personnel, lost in the course of peacekeeping duties.
I'm also announcing today with the Chief of Navy that Navy today will formally enter into a lease with P&O for the lease of the Windermere. We'll use the Windermere effectively as a heavy amphibious lift ship to complement HMAS Tobruk and also to complement HMAS Choules when it arrives from theUnited Kingdomand is available for service in January.
We are doing this - and the lease will be effective from 14 October through to the end of January with a capacity to extend the lease until the end of February, to ensure that we have got sufficient capability in our heavy amphibious lift area for the coming cyclone season. The cyclone season we generally regard as starting in November and we're often called upon for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, not just so far as Australia is concerned but also our region is concerned, the Pacific.
So those three announcements today. Later this morning I'll be on a plane to theUnited Statesfor the AUSMIN meeting. In the first instance I'll be travelling to Los Angeles and in Los AngelesI will formally take delivery, take receipt ofAustralia's fifth C-17 Airplane and I'll do that at Boeing's Long Beach facility.
The C-17 has been a very important heavy aircraft lift capability for us and we've seen it perform magnificently in recent times, not just inAustraliain the face of floods and cyclones but also in Christchurch in the aftermath of the earthquake there and also in Japan. So I’m very pleased to take delivery of that C-17 in Los Angeles tomorrow,United Statestime.
I'll then travel toSan Franciscoand join with the Foreign Minister to formally take part in the AUSMIN meetings, starting with an official dinner on Wednesday night,United Statestime.
It's the 60th Anniversary of our Alliance with the United States. The US Alliance continues to be the pillar and the bedrock of our strategic, security and defence arrangements so San Francisco, of course, in September 60 years ago, saw the signing of the ANZUS Treaty.
We will obviously have discussions about the key defence, security and strategic arrangements including Afghanistan but we’ll also include some of the new challenges like cyber threats. We'll also discuss further the United States Global Force Posture Review.
In the aftermath of September 11, of course Afghanistan will be subject of very serious consideration. Can I make some remarks about events in Kabul overnight?
It's now the middle of the morning in Kabul, four to five o'clock. The last advice I had from the Chief of the Defence Force in the last hour or so was that fighting continues. We will need to wait a few more hours today as light emerges in Kabul, to make firm judgments and assessments about loss of life and casualties. We know that there have been reports to date of a small number of Afghan Defence Force personnel who have lost their lives and also a small number of civilians.
Importantly, the advice I have from the CDF and from the Australian Ambassador in Kabulis that no Australians, whether civilians or Defence Force personnel, have been caught up in the attacks which have occurred.
Civilians have been killed. I absolutely condemn the actions of the Taliban in this terrorist attack in Kabul overnight.
We know, and I've been saying for some time, that in the course of this fighting season the Taliban would resort to high profile propaganda-style attacks and that's because they are under security pressure. We've made considerable ground up against the Taliban in the last 18 months to two years, and we have been saying for some time we expected them to resort to high profile attacks such as these suicide attacks and the like, which are seeking to have an impact on people's television screens and not necessarily a security impact.
But we condemn absolutely the attacks overnight. We are of course very pleased that no Australians have been caught up in it because we have Australian Defence Force personnel embedded into the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul and our Embassy is down the road from where some of the attacks have occurred.
So thanks for allowing me that introduction on a range of subjects and I'm happy to respond to your questions.
JOURNALIST: Minister, as a former Foreign Minister yourself, do you think that $1 million for a travel bill over nine months is excessive?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, let me make a number of points. Firstly, my understanding is that the calculation which has been effected has been calculated on the basis of estimates of cost not actual cost. As a matter of standard procedure actual costs of overseas travel are tabled in the Parliament on a regular basis so people should wait for the actual cost rather than an estimate. That's the first thing.
Secondly, Foreign Ministers travel. Foreign Ministers travel and so let's just be sensible about this. One has to expect that the Foreign Minister of any country will travel. Foreign Ministers' travel demands and requirements go in cycles. So I make the very obvious comment, a Foreign Minister of any country is not doing his or her job if they're not travelling.
JOURNALIST: Does Australia have a view about these calls that have been going on for some time about whether or not it's time to start negotiating with the Taliban?
STEPHEN SMITH: I've been saying for some time, and when the London conference on Kabul occurred in January of 2009, Australia strongly supported the sentiment of that International Conference which was Afghanistan won't be won just by a military strategy, we need to have a political strategy as well.
And, as a consequence of that, we do need to encourage and support efforts at reconciliation, efforts at political rapprochement and you may have seen overnight or yesterday reports of support for the Taliban establishing a political office in Qatar. We welcome that. We support that.
We've seen in recent months the very initial signs of political outreach with the Taliban and the Afghan Government, the initial contact for discussions. That says two things. It reinforces Australia's analysis which we've supported for a considerable period, that there has to be a political settlement in Afghanistan but, secondly, the Taliban would only think about coming to the table if they were under combat or security pressure and I welcome very much those initial signs of outreach and we welcome the proposed establishment of a Taliban office in Qatar to see negotiations or the early start of negotiations commence.
JOURNALIST: You talk about outreach but how does such prolonged violence in such a major city of Afghanistan change the dynamics of this war?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, as I say, I've been saying for a number of months that in the course of what we describe as this summer fighting season, because we have degraded the Taliban, not just in Uruzgan Province but in Afghanistan generally, that they would resort to high profile propaganda-style political attacks.
Obviously Kabul, Afghanistan, is at a very heightened security level but Kabul is not the only city in the world where we have seen, regrettably, successful terrorist attacks. It is an obvious tactic, it is aimed at undermining political will so far as the international community is concerned. Our single biggest problem so far as Afghanistan is concerned - and I've made this point to the Parliament and publicly - is that we have been there for a long period of time.
The Iraq distraction and the failure when we came back into Afghanistan - and when I talk about the failure, I talk about the failure of the international community - the failure when we came back into Afghanistan to have a proper military, political, strategic focus has cost us a number of years and when the history of Afghanistan is written that will be a very significant factor.
But we are absolutely committed to continuing the transition and the response to the events in Kabul overnight have effectively been handled by the Afghan National Security Forces. We are on track to transition to Afghan National Security Force responsibility in Uruzgan by 2014. That's the international community's commitment and we believe that'll occur Afghanistan-wide, not just in Uruzgan Province where we are.
JOURNALIST: Minister, there's a study showing in Norway that the pre-commitment system there had, in fact, led to an increase in serious problem gambling and now Australia's going down that path. Do you have concerns about the pre-commitment in light of this Norwegian study?
STEPHEN SMITH: I'll leave the detail of those matters to Jenny Macklin.
JOURNALIST: Minister, do you think Kevin Rudd has been travelling to the right countries? He hasn't been to Malaysia or East Timor.
STEPHEN SMITH: I'll just make the same points I made earlier. A Foreign Minister has to travel. It's a matter for the judgment of the Foreign Minister as to where he goes but people should also bear in mind that there is, in this Parliament, as there was in the previous Parliament, a Parliamentary Secretary for the Pacific dedicated for that special purpose and Parliamentary Secretary, Richard Marles has been travelling widely in the Pacific and doing a very good job supporting the Foreign Minister on Pacific matters.
JOURNALIST: When you were Minister for Foreign Affairs, you travelled less than Rudd has been. Do you think he's travelling too much?
STEPHEN SMITH: Any Foreign Minister has to travel. You can't do your job as Foreign Minister if you don't travel and the demands will come in peaks and troughs. The requirements and the demands will come in cycles.
JOURNALIST: Do yourself and Kevin Rudd have pairs for the carbon debate?
STEPHEN SMITH: I've got a pair from the Parliament for today, Wednesday, and Thursday. I'll be back in the Parliament when it reconvenes on Monday. I was in the Parliament last night. I had a pair but I remained in the Parliament just in case pairs weren't honoured when the procedural matters associated with the Government's Clean Energy Legislation were dealt with. In the event the Coalition honoured the pair arrangements. That's a good thing and I hope it continues.
JOURNALIST: As a Member of Parliament are you concerned about Nick Xenophon using privilege to air allegations about a Catholic priest being guilty of rape?
STEPHEN SMITH: I think if you are a Member of Parliament and have the benefit of parliamentary privilege you need to use that very carefully and when you name an individual or individuals in the Parliament you have to firstly be very sure and clear of your ground and you have to have made a very considered and deliberative judgment as to why that is necessary.
I don't know enough about the details of this particular case to know whether in the circumstances that was warranted. In the event, that is a matter for the Senator concerned to justify why he has taken what is very much a last resort measure.
As a general proposition, it is of course very important that any institution or organisation where there are instances of inappropriate behaviour, whether it's the Defence Force or whether it's a Church, the institution itself, the organisation itself has to take responsibility and have a zero tolerance for inappropriate behaviour. That is what we aspire to in the Defence Force, that is what the Chief of Navy and Navy aspire to and that is the same obligation which is placed on other institutions in Australian society.
JOURNALIST: Just in regard to AUSMIN, how will you be canvassing the Joint Strike Fighter projects when you're in discussions with American officials?
STEPHEN SMITH: I'll have a separate conversation with Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta about a couple of our very important capability projects, the Joint Strike Fighter is one. Our Submarine, future Submarine project is another. It may or may not come up in the formal AUSMIN discussions themselves but I'll certainly have a conversation with him when we have a one-on-one meeting.
The key thrust of our AUSMIN deliberations will be the broader strategic, security and defence and foreign policy matters, the rise of our region, the Asia Pacific, the Asia Pacific Century, so the rise of China, the rise of India, deliberations about Afghanistan. We'll also no doubt hear from both Secretary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Panetta about the Libya engagement so far as NATO is concerned but I'll certainly have a conversation with the Defense Secretary about the Joint Strike Fighter and our Submarine program.
JOURNALIST: And just in regards to commemorating this Submarine today, why is it so important to try to find it up there near New Guinea, hopefully before the 100th anniversary?
STEPHEN SMITH: We know this is the 100th year of Navy and this is one of Navy's unsolved mysteries.
In earlier years, as a Member of Parliament from Western Australia I was closely involved with the HMAS Sydney Foundation Trust and one of the things which struck me when a Ship or a Submarine is lost, is that families very much want closure and so the descendants of the personnel concerned, the children and the grandchildren and sometimes the great-grandchildren, just want to have closure so they know where their father or grandfather or great-grandfather is lying or is entombed.
So it's very important to the Navy, very important to submariners but also most important to the descendants of the families to try and find the final resting place and we now commemorate the finding of the HMAS Sydney and we hope that the search efforts for the AE1 will be successful to enable comparable commemorations to occur in time for the centenary on this day in September 2014.
JOURNALIST: The rise of China, if there was a military conflict between China and Taiwan, which side would Australia take?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we're not expecting there to be a military conflict between China and Taiwan. We have urged both China and Taiwan to resolve their issues and their difficulties in a peaceful way and we hope that continues. Okay, thanks.