TRANSCRIPT: PRESS CONFERENCE – US MARINES ARRIVE IN DARWIN
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 4 APRIL 2012
TOPICS: US Marines in Darwin; Force Posture Review; Afghanistan.
PAUL HENDERSON: Okay, well, welcome everybody here to Parliament House Darwin. A big welcome to Stephen Smith, our Federal Defence Minister; Warren Snowdon, our Minister for Defence Science and Personnel; Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich, Ambassador, it's great to have you back in Darwin again; General Thiessen from the US Marines, welcome to the Northern Territory; and Major General Mike Krause. Mike, it's great to have you back here in Darwin.
Today I've just had the opportunity with these fine gentlemen here to welcome very warmly to the Northern Territory 200 US Marines.
Today is a historic day for the nation, it's a historic day for the Northern Territory where we see, as a result of discussions and negotiations that have occurred between Australia and the United States, we all remember with great fondness and great warmth the visit of the American President here in November where the President of the United States, the Australian Prime Minister made the announcement that over the next few years we're going to see rotating deployments of US Marines through Darwin.
It was fabulous today to be out at Robertson Barracks to personally, on behalf of all Territorians, welcome those Marines to Darwin. I can honestly say that they're really excited to be here, they're really looking forward to the interaction with our troops and our forces, but importantly for me as the Chief Minister they're really looking forward to getting out and about amongst our community, meeting Territorians, really getting out, exploring the wonderful nature of the Northern Territory, hooking up to a Barramundi, avoiding the crocodiles, playing some footy, drinking a few cold beers.
They're really looking forward to getting out and about our community.
As I've been talking to the Marines today there are going to be many opportunities to extend the hand of friendship, the hand of friendship from Darwin in the Northern Territory across to these Marines who are here for the first time for what I believe is going to be an enduring presence here in Darwin.
For the people of Darwin, I absolutely know, if you see one of these Marines in the streets, walk up, shake their hands, say g'day, and if you see them in a pub in Mitchell Street, shout them a beer.
I know the NT News today is talking about American beer now being on tap, and I hate to be provocative General Thiessen, but I think our Australian beer stands head and shoulders above the American beer. So shout them an Australian beer and extend the hand of friendship.
But from me as the Chief Minister I'm very proud today, I'm proud that our Territory - our great city of Darwin - is now continuing with the great tradition of welcoming our US allies here to Darwin.
We will never forget the sacrifice of 90 US sailors who lost their life on the USS Pirie defending this city, defending this nation 70 years ago today.
Their commitment and their legacy will never be forgotten. And today is a very special day for the Northern Territory.
And I'll hand over to Stephen.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, thanks very much Paul. I'm very pleased to be in Darwin today to join with Paul as Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, also my Parliamentary and Ministerial colleague, Warren Snowdon, Member for Lingiari and Minister for Defence Science and Personnel. Also very pleased to be joined by United States Ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich, and also very pleased that the Commander of the United States Marine Corp in the Pacific, General Thiessen is with us, together with Major General Michael Krause.
Well, firstly, can I thank Paul Henderson for the very close cooperation that he has given the Australian Government as we've worked our way through the announcement made by the President and the Prime Minister in Darwin in November last year.
And today I've been very pleased, together with Ambassador Bleich, both last night and today to welcome the first of 200 Marines from a marine rotating task force group to Darwin.
This is very much an historic day, it is an historic day which is wedded deeply in the United States Australian Alliance, forged over 60 years ago.
That alliance was forged in the Pacific in the course of World War Two, where United States Defense Force Personnel including Marines, and Australian Defence Force Personnel stood shoulder to shoulder, not just in the defence of Australia but in the defence of the Pacific.
And as I indicated in my welcoming remarks to the Marines today from Fox Company, there are very good reasons why Fox Company's division has the Southern Cross on its badge.
So the Marines and the United States Defense Force personnel have a very fine tradition in Australia, but also in the Northern Territory, which is accustomed to posting and dealing with Australian Defence Force personnel and also United States Defense Force personnel.
Whilst this is an historic day because this is the start of what will see a rotation of 2500 Marines through our bases, and training areas in the Northern Territory, it is also the precursor to the other two initiatives announced during President Obama's visit, namely an increase of United States Air Force access to Australian Air Force bases in northern Australia, and also subsequently greater access to United States naval vessels in HMAS Stirling, our Indian Ocean port in my home state of Western Australia. This is occurring of course because in this century the world is moving in our direction, it is moving to the Asia-Pacific. It is not just the rise of China, it is the rise of China, the rise of India, the rise of the ASEAN economies combined, the emergence of Indonesia not just as a regional influence but as a global influence.
And as the world moves in our direction, Australia, our region, the international community has to adjust and accommodate to that.
The United States has been a force for peace and security and stability in our region since the end of World War Two, and a source of great prosperity for Australia and the Asia-Pacific region.
And we very much welcome the commitments by President Obama not just to continue the United States engagement in the Asia-Pacific but to enhance that, and that enhancement is part of what we see today.
It was a great honour for me today as Defence Minister to be at Robertson Barracks, to join with Brigadier McLachlan and 5RAR to welcome Fox Company. I am absolutely confident not only will they enjoy their training experience with our Australian Defence Force personnel, but in the future can look forward to joint exercises not just with Australian Defence Force personnel but personnel from our ASEAN colleagues.
And in recent times Bob Carr and I have had discussions with both our Indonesian and Singaporean counterparts, looking forward to the prospect of Australia, the United States, Indonesia, Singapore joint exercises, particularly on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, which is one of the advantages of what we are doing in the Northern Territory, or what we are starting in the Northern Territory today.
So I am absolutely confident that the Marines will enjoy very good training experience, they'll work well with our Defence Force personnel, and they will be particularly welcomed by the people of Australia, but in particular by the people of Darwin and the Northern Territory.
I'll hand over to Ambassador Bleich. He'll make some remarks. I'll then ask Warren Snowdon as the local member and Minister for Defence Personnel to make some remarks, and then we're happy to respond to your questions.
JEFFREY BLEICH: Well thank you, Minister, and it is a great day for our forces, for our alliance, and for the region, and this couldn't have happened without a tremendous amount of work by the people in this room, and people throughout the region.
So I especially want to thank the Chief Minister, the Defence Minister, Minister Snowdon, and of course the leadership of Generals Krause and Thiessen. But the point that was made by the Defence Minister I think is the key one which is that we are fortunate to be in the most dynamic area in the world right now.
This is the fastest growing economic area, and also the one that is enduring the greatest demographic change. And we want to make sure that it continues to be a peaceful, prosperous and stable area.
The way that we accomplish that is by ensuring that trade routes are open and that we're prepared for any issue that could come up. And so the opportunity to train here in Darwin is ideal for having the ability to do that. You have access to the Pacific Ocean, to the Indian Ocean, to the East Timor Sea, and the trade routes all around. It's an area in which we've seen already the potential dislocating effects of natural disasters. We have Fiji floods already that we're dealing with currently. There have been floods recently in Thailand, earthquakes in New Zealand, floods here in Australia particularly in Queensland. And, as we prepare for increased population, greater challenges to food, water, energy and also the effects of climate change, we have to be prepared for any eventuality. And so humanitarian assistance and disaster relief are critical.
And the other critical aspect is getting to know one another and making sure that our forces work together seamlessly. And so it's not only working with Australians but working with our ASEAN partners throughout the region, and so we look forward to that.
And the more we get to know each other, the more we get to know one another's beers the better we all work together.
And so the one thing I will do after this press conference is over is make sure that I get some Sam Adams or Sierra Nevada over to the Chief Minister, so I can stand up for American beer.
WARREN SNOWDON: I think this is obviously a very historical day and it actually points to a unique opportunity for northern Australia and deepens our long-term relationship with the Defence community across Australia, but also now internationally with our friends from the United States.
And from my own electorate's point of view, clearly the significant assets of Kangaroo Flats, Bradshaw and Mount Bundey training areas, and Delamere are going to be crucial to the experiences that the Marines will have here in the Top End.
We have unique attributes which can now be shared in a more formal way with our comrades from the United States, and it's a very important part that we are playing as a community in that relationship and we should be very proud of it.
We've heard about the beers. This morning I had the great pleasure to see a couple of Marines munching on scones, jam and cream for the first time, and even trying sausage rolls with tomato sauce. And they were delighted by what they actually tasted.
I think we need to be very thankful here in northern Australia. This actually reinforces and deepens our role as very strong strategic place for the Defence community and for our relationship with our near neighbours and with the United States. And it's a great pleasure for us to have welcomed the Marines here today.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much Warren. I'll just briefly mention two other matters, and then we're happy to respond to your questions.
Firstly, in the course of the last few days I have received the final Australian Defence Force, Force Posture Review from Allan Hawke and Rick Smith, two former Secretaries of the Department of Defence. You might recall earlier this year, in March of this year, I released their progress report. I've now received their final report on our Force Posture Review which is aimed at ensuring that Australian Defence Force personnel are postured appropriately for the great challenges of the future.
The Government will consider that report and deal with that report in the course of the 2014 White Paper processes. Just wanted to let people know that I've received that report in the last few days.
Secondly, can I just take the opportunity of acknowledging the great work done in Afghanistan, in Uruzgan Province by Uruzgan Province Governor Sherzad. In the last 36 hours President Karzai has announced a number of provincial governor changes. Governor Sherzad has been replaced with Governor Akhundzada. We welcome Governor Akhundzada's appointment. He's a former Deputy Governor from Helmand Province. We look very much forward to working closely with him. We look very much forward to him continuing the very good work that Governor Sherzad has done.
Governor Sherzad has worked very closely, not just with Australian Defence Force personnel but with our contingent generally in Uruzgan Province and with Combined Team Uruzgan.
I first met Governor Sherzad when he was a Senator in the Afghan parliament a number of years ago, in Australia. And he has been a very good friend of Australia. We wish him well and we look forward to working closely with the new governor in Uruzgan.
We're happy to respond to your questions on the United States Global Force Posture Review and the events of the day. If you have separate questions on domestic matters for Paul or I, if we can deal with those at the end rather than detaining our international guests.
So, over to you.
JOURNALIST: Minister, you've indicated that this is largely because of the shift, the world shift to our region. Can Australia have it both ways, in relying on the rise of China and India for our economic strength while also signalling to that region that they are seen as a rising threat?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we don't see either China or India as a threat. We have a comprehensive bilateral relationship with China, a very strong economic relationship with China. But less than two weeks after President Obama and the Prime Minister made the announcements in Darwin in November last year, Australian Defence Force personnel were in Sichuan Province with members of the PLA engaged in an on-the-ground humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise.
There is nothing inconsistent with our relationship with China and our longstanding successful alliance with the United States.
Yes, this region and the world is in a state of flux and the international community needs to respond to that, and to seek to try and manage that changing strategic flux. And that's why, for example, the bilateral relationship between the United States and China is, I believe, the most important bilateral relationship that we'll see in the course of this century, followed very closely by the bilateral relationship between the United States and India, and the bilateral relationship between India and China.
Over the sweep of history there are always changes in economic influence, strategic influence, political influence and indeed military influence and the world needs to adjust to that. But we are absolutely confident that we can emerge through this changing period in a stable state, in a state where peace and security continues in the Asia-Pacific region, but also in a state where prosperity continues to be seen very vividly through our region.
When the Chief Minister and I and the Ambassador were discussing matters earlier, I made the point that over the last recent period in the decade from 1996 to 2006 Australia's trade with ASEAN countries had increased by 115 per cent.
So, whilst a lot of people focus on China, it is not just China. It's the rise of China, the rise of India, the rise of the ASEAN economies combined, the emergence of Indonesia.
I'd also make this very important point. Some people seem to somehow assume that because we see the rise of China and the rise of India, the United States is somehow going away. It is not. The United States will continue to be a singular seminal influence in the Asia-Pacific, and President Obama has made it absolutely clear that that is the policy intention of the administration and of the United States. We welcome that very much because the ongoing presence of the United States in our very strong view will continue to be a force for peace, stability and security, and a force for investment and prosperity as it has been in the 60 years that have elapsed since World War Two.
JOURNALIST: Minister, can you explain the community engagement program the US Marines will be involved in and how that particularly relates to Indigenous communities across the Top End.
STEPHEN SMITH: I'll make a couple of general remarks then I might throw to Paul.
The discussions about the [indistinct] priority issues I've referred to the Marine task force, the greater access by US Air Force and greater access by Navy to HMAS Stirling commenced with discussions between me and then Secretary of Defense Gates in Melbourne at the AUSMIN meeting in 2010, and came to a conclusion in the announcement made by the President and the Prime Minister a year later.
In the course of that year I sat down with Paul. In fact, I visited Darwin on a couple of occasions, from memory. And one of the things that Paul and the Australian Government were very conscious of was making sure that as the Marines rotated through Darwin that we didn't put the Darwin community, the facilities under pressure. And so, at Paul's suggestion, we've established essentially a social impact review and study. That's just about to start.
There will be minimal to no impact by the visit of 200 Marines to Darwin in this first rotation. They're at Robertson Barracks, there'll be no additional pressure on any of the services or facilities of Darwin, dare I say other than possibly the Mitchell Street activity which the Chief Minister is encouraging.
But, as we grow over a period of five or six years to 2500, there may be an impact on Darwin and that's why we're doing the impact study. Paul is actively encouraging not just Mitchell Street engagement but a wholesale community engagement which is very important. That's both an opportunity for, if you like, the personal development of the individual Marines but also a great opportunity for people-to-people exchanges between Australia and the United States.
But I'll throw to Paul, and Warren may want to make some remarks as well, as the local member but also with portfolio responsibility and a keen interest in Indigenous matters.
PAUL HENDERSON: Thank you Stephen. And look, this is a very important issue because obviously the Marines are here primarily obviously to engage with and participate in joint exercises with our Defence Force personnel.
But I think it's a great opportunity in terms of building the friendship between the people of Australia, the people of Darwin, the people of the United States to really encourage some genuine community engagement.
And I have to say, Ambassador, I didn't have to encourage too hard this morning. Those Marines love Australia. Australia's a place, I think, Ambassador, where most Americans would like to visit and I think most Australians would like to visit the United States at some point.
So, in terms of our Indigenous communities, one of the opportunities I've said should be explored is for those Marines to engage with our Clontarf football academies. You know, Americans love their sport, Australians, we love our sport. And Australian Rules is a pretty foreign concept to Americans and they're really looking forward to that. You know, I've suggested as well that they might want to teach us how to play gridiron and we might end up with some sort of joint trophy that we play for.
I'm told this morning, Warren, the good people out at Timber Creek have already challenged the Marines to a game of Australian Rules Football. So you know, the word is getting out there.
I think it's really important as well for the marines to get into the schools and actually talk to our high school kids and other kids about, you know, our shared history and where we're travelling together as friends in a global community today. And also, sort of getting out and about as tourists; you know, getting out, catching a barramundi.
There's a few boys talking today. They're looking forward to getting into the cage of death at Crocosaurus Cove. So there's lots of opportunities for engagements, and I really think that we'll get used to seeing people out and about amongst our community. I really encourage that.
WARREN SNOWDON: Can I just say already, General Thiessen has shown their intent of the Marines to respect traditional owners across the Northern Territory. Together with General Krause, they've met with traditional owners from Bradshaw, had a long meeting and a very fruitful meeting. And I think that'll be an ongoing relationship. So it's very clear that there is an understanding about the rights and responsibilities of our defence forces when they're using these facilities. And it's also abundantly clear to me that there is a real respect being shown to the traditional owners by the US Marines through their leadership.
JOURNALIST: Chief Minister, where would 2000-odd marines be housed in Darwin? Could they be housed in Robertson barracks? Or would you possibly use the RAAF base houses?
STEPHEN SMITH: I'll have this one.
The Brigadier at Robertson has previously advised me that he could essentially overnight, absorb between 1000 and 2000 extra personnel at Robertson, whether they were US or Australians. But once we build to the numbers we're referring to, a couple of points need to be made.
Firstly, they won't all arrive at the same time. So it won't be 2500 arriving on the same night or the same day. Secondly, what we will get into will essentially be accommodation in Robertson and then off to the relevant training areas and grounds; might be Bradshaw, it might be Mount Bundey.
The first rotation, the one that we're experiencing now, will spend some time at Kangaroo Flats which is essentially just down the road. But what we're building to is accommodation, essentially overnight or a couple of nights in Robertson and then moving to the training grounds and the training areas.
And so other than periods of leave there'll be, in our view, no great pressure on Darwin housing. There may be a small number of extra units that we require to get but, again, we don't envisage that occurring in the short term. We won't build to the 2500 for five to six years.
JOURNALIST: General Thiessen, can you give us an indication of what your Marines will be doing in terms of training while they're here on deployment?
DUANE THIESSEN: Sure. It's been stated here very generally several times, and well established. For us it's a fantastic opportunity to do the kind of training that Marines and soldiers do everywhere, except that your ranges and doing it with an ally are unprecedented. This is just a fantastic place to come and enhance our skills, enhance our professional relationship with both allies and our professional capabilities internal to the unit.
JOURNALIST: And what specific training will you be doing?
DUANE THIESSEN: Well, they're basic manoeuvre sort of training that you would expect any unit, in this case Fox Company, to do. And that is they will do the individual training, They will do the small unit training and then they'll do the full company-sized training. And then they'll also do it with our Australian soldiers.
JOURNALIST: In the-
STEPHEN SMITH: Can I just add, one of the additional benefits and advantages to Australia as a result of the joint training will be as we, the United States and the international community draws down from the Middle East, from Afghanistan, on the 2014 transition of arrangements, at the same time in the middle of this decade - 2015, 2016 - we'll see a significant enhancement of Australia's amphibious capability with the arrival of two landing helicopter docks, which give us a ship to shore capability.
Marines of course are the world's experts in ship to shore capabilities. So as we move to that amphibious ship to shore capability, the experience that the Marines have in that respect will be invaluable to the training as the nature of that capacity so far as Australia changes. And that is going to be a significant capacity for the Asia-Pacific region, not just in terms of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief but also the potential for peacekeeping or stabilisation missions into the future, along the lines of the Solomon Islands and East Timor.
JOURNALIST: Minister, there's some confusion in terms of the actual amount of Marines that are here at the moment. Is it 200 or 250?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well the original announcement was 250. We've got just over 200 here, but they'll be joined subsequently by a further 50. So in the course of this six month rotation, the additional 50 will arrive making the initial complement 250. General Thiessen will correct me if I'm wrong, but at some point over the next few months, this 200 will go off to the Asia-Pacific and do an exercise and they'll be joined there by their 50 colleagues. So it's 200 out of 250, but that will be the eventual first rotation.
JOURNALIST: Minister, you've talked a lot about the Marines enjoying a quiet beer on Mitchell Street. Any resident in Darwin knows things can turn pretty ugly there very quickly. Can you tell us about the legal arrangements that are in place for this deployment, whether if US Marines do commit any crimes, will they face Australian courts?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we have had a what's called a Status of Forces Agreement with the United States since 1963. And the effect of that Status of Forces Agreement is that if there is any conduct which falls underneath the criminal law, then that is a matter for the Australian criminal legal process. At the same time, the Status of Forces Agreement makes it clear that if what has occurred is a breach of US military law, then the capacity is there for US military corps to deal with that matter.
Where there is an overlap of that jurisdiction, it's a matter for the Australian Attorney-General to make a judgement about which jurisdiction the matter will be tried in. And over the years, from 1963 to now, there have been a handful of examples I think, between 15 and 20 examples where the Attorney-General of the day has been called on to make that judgement.
I think there are two essential starting points. Firstly, so far as conduct is concerned, US Marines, like Australian citizens, walking down Mitchell Street are subject to Australian law. But I'm also very confident, as a result of my discussions with Leon Panetta, the Secretary of State for Defense, Bob Gates his predecessor, and General Thiessen, and also Captain Richardellar, the Commander of Fox Company, that the Marines know that they have two jobs to do here. One is to enhance their professional capabilities and to do that in conjunction with their own people. But the second is to be good ambassadors for the United States. And I am absolutely confident that they will be good ambassadors for the United States.
JOURNALIST: Minister, in all this talk of fishing and beer and football, are you not sort of deliberately downplaying the military influence of this arrangement with the United States?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I don't think actually I've spoken too much about beer, football or fishing. I am constrained though, given that the Chief Minister has referred to the Clontarf Foundation, to put absolutely on the record that I'm a member and strong supporter of the Fremantle Dockers, and I have a memory of encouraging a couple of the Marines to think about the Dockers rather than the Richmond Tigers when they saw the first brigade tiger emblem and mascot at the base.
My points have been serious strategic points about the way in which the world and our region is changing, the need for Australia to enhance the productive cooperative arrangements that we have with the Unites States through our alliance. This is a deeply significant and historic day, but at the same time, whether it's Australian Defence Force personnel or Unites States Defense Force personnel, when they're not doing their demanding job, they do, like the rest of us, get the capacity for leave, and they are entitled to enjoy themselves provided they behave themselves.
And that message goes from the United States officials to United States Defense Force personnel, just as it goes from Australian officials, including me, to Australian Defence Force personnel.
JOURNALIST: Where do you see the greatest threats in the Asia-Pacific region?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the greatest threat in the Asia-Pacific region is our region and the world not sensibly adjusting to the changing strategic circumstances.
Now, Australia and the United States are absolutely positive and optimistic and confident that that will be done in a way which continues to see peace and stability and security in our region and investment and prosperity.
The time that you have the danger for miscalculations, misjudgement or conflict is when you don't spend enough time working with people; working with people both in the general bilateral and multilateral engagement sense, but also military-to-military and defence to defence. And that is what this is about; not just enhancing the engagement between Australia and the United States but potentially enhancing the engagement between Australia and the United States and our ASEAN colleagues.
In the immediate aftermath of the President and the Prime Minister's announcement in November, Indonesian President Yudhoyono said that he thought that it would be a good idea if in due course Indonesia was doing joint exercises with Australia and the United States, and also China. And Ambassador Bleich and I both responded positively to that suggestion. We don't discount that in the long-term. That would be a very good development and we would welcome that, but we will obviously take that step-by-step.
JOURNALIST: And can you envisage that happening on Australian soil?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we've had in the last two to three years, two joint exercises members of the PLA. First was a live firing exercise over 12 months ago, with HMAS Warramunga; the first live fire exercise we've had with Chinese defence force personnel. And then the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise that I referred to, which came less than two weeks after the announcement about these matters. And we look forward to continuing to enhance our military-to-military and defence-to-defence engagement and relationship with China and the PLA.
JOURNALIST: Minister, in the past Australia has been described as America's deputy sheriff in this region. Is that the way you would see our role here?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I don't see our role in that manner whatsoever. I know that was an analysis or critique given to the previous Australian Government. It's not how we see ourselves, it's not how we see our relationship with the United States.
I have often seen the suggestion that maybe Australia can act as a bridge between the United States and China. China and the United States don't need any bridge to have a positive, constructive and optimistic bilateral relationship. But Australia has a role to play in our region. I know we are only a country of less than 25 million people but we're in the G20, we are in the top 15 economies, we are in the top defence and peacekeeping countries by expenditure, top 15 by expenditure. We are a significant and considerable country and we need to conduct ourselves accordingly, and that's what we're doing here, both in terms of o