TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH JULIA CHRISTENSEN, 105.7 ABC DARWIN
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 11 APRIL 2013
TOPICS: Salvation Army Red Shield Appeal Launch; US Marines; Defence cooperation with China; Anzac Day services; border protection.
JULIA CHRISTENSEN: Stephen Smith, the Defence Minister, is in town today. Stephen Smith, good morning.
STEPHEN SMITH: Good morning.
JULIA CHRISTENSEN: Although perhaps you didn't pick the weather quite so well because you've been here for a few days and it's been pretty muggy.
STEPHEN SMITH: It's been very muggy. I come from Perth where it's a dry heat so like the good folk of Darwin, I've been relieved to see the odd dragon-fly starting to flutter around. But I was in Indonesia, Jakarta and then in East Timor, Timor-Leste, in Dili last week. I got back over the weekend. So I decided given I had a commitment to do the Red Shield launch to stay in Darwin for a few days. We've got a range of assets here which are very important to us so it's been a good chance to get out and about and I'll do the Red Shield launch today and see some of our assets.
JULIA CHRISTENSEN: And I believe even the Prime Minister passed through yesterday evening.
STEPHEN SMITH: Yeah, the Prime Minister was returning from China, so she landed in Darwin last night or yesterday evening, so I turned up to RAAF Darwin and had a chat to her on the tarmac and then she headed off to the south. But her China trip was a very successful trip, very important.
JULIA CHRISTENSEN: Well, she's flagged stronger defence ties with China and she's talked about the possibility of trilateral exercises with China and the US. Could we see the Chinese joining US Marines in the Top End?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, that's certainly a potential for the future and the first person to suggest that was Indonesian President, SB Yudhoyono, and he did that in the aftermath of the Prime Minister and President Obama's announcement here in November of 2011. So - we have over the last half dozen years worked very hard to enhance our practical cooperation with the Chinese military and defence organisations with the PLA. We've actually had for 15 years now a high-level meeting every year between our Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary of our department and their equivalents. And so the sixteenth will be held in Australia later this year and we're one of a very small number of countries who do that. But we've been working very hard for enhancing our Navy visits and in Sichuan Province last year we did a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise and we're looking to do a repeat of that in here later, in Australia later this year.
JULIA CHRISTENSEN: A defence exercise with the Chinese and the Americans?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, not with the Americans.
JULIA CHRISTENSEN: But with the Chinese here in the Top End?
STEPHEN SMITH: The exer- well, we haven't determined where that will be and whether it will be a desktop or personnel out in the field, but-
JULIA CHRISTENSEN: But do you anticipate we could see some big sort of exercise involving the Chinese and the Americans in the not too distant future?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I wouldn't put it in those terms. What we're doing is that the presence of the Marines here does give us the chance to engage in bilateral exercises obviously - Australia, United States. Also gives us the chance to invite our East Asia Summit partners or our ASEAN Defence Ministers partners including Indonesia but also including China. The first one we're engaged in is an invitation to do an exercise which involves Australia, the United States and Indonesia. And that will occur later this year. That'll be a desktop study in first instance.
Secondly, in Sichuan Province in 2012 Australia, New Zealand and China engaged in a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise and we're looking to do a repeat of that in Australia this year which will also include New Zealand personnel. Now whether - we haven't determined yet whether that'll again be a desktop study or will involve personnel. In terms of Australia, US and China, we see that as being longer-term. That is certainly an ambition, that would be a very good thing to do but we're all members of the East Asia Summit and as Defence ministers it's called the ASEAN Defence Ministers plus our meeting will be held in Brunei this year and in the margins of that there will be a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise and a military medicine exercise which will involve all 18 members and that'll include United States and China. It's a very good thing generally to do these exercises, because it gets people used to each other, you start to learn about interoperability and compatibility and it also means when we are, as we often are, hit by humanitarian disasters that we can all get together and do the job quickly.
JULIA CHRISTENSEN: Be ready to go?
STEPHEN SMITH: It's a very good thing to build confidence between all of our partners.
JULIA CHRISTENSEN: Stephen Smith, it's just two weeks today until Anzac Day. The US Marines were here for Anzac Day last year, and really gave our parades an edge. Will they be here for Anzac Day this year? When are you expecting them?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, they're due to arrive in the course of this month. Whether they're here for Anzac Day, just before or just after, time will tell.
JULIA CHRISTENSEN: How many are coming?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, pretty much the same as last year. Last year when we did the exercise we had 200 of them come.
JULIA CHRISTENSEN: Wasn't it being ramped up this year?
STEPHEN SMITH: Two - well, it'll be between 200 and 250 but the first couple of years we're looking at the 250 mark. We've done a social and economic impact assessment of that. So later this month, we'll see 200 to 250 arrive. So, essentially the same as last year.
JULIA CHRISTENSEN: What sort of equipment will they be bringing?
STEPHEN SMITH: They'll be bringing themselves and their kit. So it's just a small team. As we grow to a larger number and our ambition is to grow to 2500 over the next five or six-year period. The next step up we're looking at is 1100 and we're in the process of our social impact assessment of that. We're due to release that assessment shortly. But we're doing it in a staggered way. The study showed that there were no deleterious impacts of the 250 or the 200 to 250 here last year. We expect that to be repeated. I think we had one speeding fine and two parking fines was the worst. But it's very important and when we made the decision to have the Marines here on a rotational basis, we worked very closely with the Northern Territory government to make sure there were no adverse impacts on Darwin or the people of Darwin. So the next step up will be 1100 and we expect in the next few weeks to be able to release that impact assessment.
JULIA CHRISTENSEN: Sixteen minutes past 7, 105.7 ABC Darwin. Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, my guest this morning. Stephen Smith, an illegal boat arrival made it within 100 kilometres of the Darwin coast just a few weeks ago. This week they made it all the way to Geraldton. That's - that really took everybody by surprise, didn't it? How are you going to stop that happening again?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, in terms of boats that've made it to mainland Australia, they've been two since we've been in office so we came to office back at the end of 2007 and there's been two. Under our predecessors there were 19 over a 10- or 11-year period. So they are small in numbers and infrequent but every time they occur we obviously do a review to see how they've managed to get through our very intense surveillance arrangements.
JULIA CHRISTENSEN: Will we see out patrol boats for instance head further south?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, as Jason Clare, the Home Affairs Minister, made clear yesterday, all of our surveillance, all of our intelligence points to the fact that most of these boats come much further north. They go - they're aiming for Cocos, Keeling Islands or for Ashmore Reef or for Christmas Island. So-
JULIA CHRISTENSEN: If they think they can almost get through to the mainland by going to Geraldton you've got to prepare for that, haven't you?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the people on the boat are apparently saying they were aiming for New Zealand. It may have well have been the case that they turned left a bit too early. But we will in accordance with all of our usual procedures do a review of that to try and track where the boat came from, how it got through our surveillance activities. But we've had boat arrivals over a number of decades to Australia. Our patrol boat system and our surveillance aircraft pick up the vast bulk of these boats.
They're concentrated in the north and so it doesn't make sense from an intelligence or surveillance point of view to have a focus anywhere other than in the north and the north-west. And there are a very small number over a period of two decades that have made it to mainland Australia. This one's come much further south and we'll do an orderly review of that to see how that got through. But they are indicating they're from Sri Lanka, they wanted to get to New Zealand so their trajectory was a much more southerly trajectory. But we need to do the review to see how they got through the surveillance net. But there's no strategic or tactical logic in taking our focus anywhere from the north-west in particular, Christmas Island, Ashmore Reef and Cocos and Keeling Islands.
JULIA CHRISTENSEN: Back to Anzac Day. We're very fond of Anzac Day in the Top End as I'm sure you are. Rick has called in from Humpty Doo, wanting to know why the armed services are not allowed to attend some Anzac services in regional areas. The Humpty Doo golf club always has a very moving and popular dawn service which is attended by soldiers from Robertson Barracks who put on the catafalque party and just attend, you know, and give that a real military feel. This year they've been told the solders can't attend due to Defence cutbacks. They say they've written to you but have no answer.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I'll very happily chase that up. Army and the Australian Defence Force as resources allow, make people available for Anzac Day. I've had letters to me as - for the time that I've been Defence Minister from local RSLs or local organisations who want an ADF presence at their Anzac Day ceremony. Often the ADF is able to oblige, often they can't.
JULIA CHRISTENSEN: Have there been cutbacks though?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I've had the assertion made to me on a number of occasions that people can't turn up because of cuts, and when I do the examination and find out what the true story is, the answer is people weren't available to do it. But I'll follow up this one in particular. I'll be spending some time today out at Robertson Barracks and then up to Larrakeyah and Coonawarra. So I'll chase that one up. I'm not aware of the correspondence but I'll pursue it while I'm here.
JULIA CHRISTENSEN: We'd better let you go to launch the Salvation Army's Red Shield appeal at the breakfast this morning. Thanks for joining us.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much.