TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH ASHLEIGH GILLON, SKY PM AGENDA
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 17 JANUARY 2013
TOPICS: AUKMIN; Afghanistan transition; Mali; Cyber security
ASHLEIGH GILLON: The government says Australia's transition from Afghanistan will be complete by the end of this year, but that doesn't mean we won't continue to have a presence there and beyond this year the nature of our contribution in Afghanistan is still very unclear. It's something that's likely to dominate discussions at the AUKMIN talks tomorrow. Earlier I spoke with the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith. He began by outlining the focus of those talks.
STEPHEN SMITH: The formal AUKMIN talks are tomorrow, the annual ministerial consultations, it's the fourth AUKMIN I've been involved in, the first in Perth. That's very good news for our capital city, and it shows the Indian Ocean focus. But we will traverse the range of strategic issues that are of mutual interest between Australia and the United Kingdom. The move of economic and strategic weight to our part of the world, transition out of Afghanistan, some of the modern threats, cyber security in particular, but also some of the current threats to international security, whether that's Iran, North Korea, Syria, and some of the emerging developments in Africa, for example, and in particular Mali.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Let's look at Afghanistan first. You announced this week the transition will be complete by the end of this year. Does this mean the next ADF adviser taskforce about to undergo pre-deployment training, is that going to be the last substantive force element we send to Afghanistan?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we're taking this step by step. I've made it clear as has the Prime Minister and the Chief of the Defence Force that we're on track for transition. We've been saying until the end of last year we thought that we would be able to effect transition in Uruzgan province either by the end of this year, or the first quarter of next year, you know, and our end of year and early year assessment is that we are now very confident that transition in Uruzgan itself will occur by the end of this year.
So we're now going through a phase of continuing the advisory role. The four Afghan kandaks became capable of independent operation by the end of last year, and that saw us withdraw from the forward operating bases, and now establishing the adviser taskforce in our multi-national base at Tarin Kot.
The logistical exercise is now the challenge. So how we continue that advisory role, how we look forward to what we do in 2014 and then what presence, if any, we have post-2014 after the formal end of the International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan. They are now the key logistical issues that we are working through. And as I say, we'll take that step by step and make appropriate announcements as we go.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: So, throughout the transition and afterwards, will Australia's special forces continue to assist in training those Afghan special forces, and is that going to require a relocation from Uruzgan to Kabul?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, two things. Firstly, our special forces continue to operate. There's been no change in their operational arrangements. They do operational work in Uruzgan and in surrounding provinces and that will continue. There's been no change to that. One of the things we have to work through is if there is going to be a post-2014 transition special forces presence, and we've made it clear that under an appropriate mandate and in the right circumstances we would make a contribution to that, we have to work through what's the transition, if you like, for special forces from now through 2014 and post 2014. So, that's an issue, one of the issues that we're discussing with NATO, with the International Security Assistance Force, and with the United States, and those sort of logistic arrangements will also be part of our conversation with our United Kingdom ministerial colleagues at AUKMIN tomorrow.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: It sounds like there is still a lot to be worked out- quite a bit up in the air still?
STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely. No. That's why I'm not being coy about these matters. There is a very big logistical task now which covers the swathe from transition in Uruzgan by the end of this year, what then is our mode of operation during the course of 2014 where there will be transition completed in Uruzgan, but transition still occurring in Afghanistan, per se, and then what will be, if any, the post-2014 contribution by Australia and the international community.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: At this point it's too early, you're saying, to really tell us how many Australians are really still going to be on the ground?
STEPHEN SMITH: That's right. It's too early to get into that fine detail. When the Prime Minister and I and the Chief of the Defence Force are in a position to do that, we'll obviously be open and transparent about that, but I expect that at various stages in the course of this year we'll be able to make those arrangements clear, but we don't want to be speculative, we don't want to anticipate. And very much of this transition from our perspective has been done in an orderly way, letting the Australian public know precisely what has or is about to occur rather than being speculative about it. And it's been, as we all know in Afghanistan, a difficult and dangerous process, but as transition exercises go, this is a much more mature and orderly transition that the last transition we had, which was out of Vietnam after the Indo-China wars.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: You alluded earlier to the situation in Mali, which is rapidly deteriorating. Will withdrawal from Afghanistan see any new appetite within government to engage in any of these other conflicts ranging around the world?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, certainly not in a military sense in Mali for Australia. The Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, and I have made that clear. We strongly support the French intervention done at the request of the transitional authorities in Mali. There's already a United Nations Security Council resolution calling upon the African Union to send a mission to Mali. As a member of the Security Council we've made it clear we strongly support the French intervention. We strongly support the early arrival of that African peacekeeping and stabilisation mission. Whether at some stage it becomes appropriate for us to provide some humanitarian assistance or disaster relieve, time will tell, and also whether at some stage in the future it becomes appropriate for us to make some form of contribution to the resourcing of the African Union mission, again time will tell.
And that resourcing could be a financial contribution or some material in kind, but certainly as a - are we contemplating a military contribution, per se, to Mali? No, absolutely not. Just as in the case, for example, of Libya and Syria we made it clear that whilst we were prepared to contribute humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, it's really out of our operational orbit. And there are other countries on the ground with the primary responsibility. In Mali's case it's the African Union and its constituent members and in Libya, for example, it was NATO, European countries and around the Mediterranean.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: There are also reports you are going to agree with your British counterparts to cooperate more closely on cyber attacks. Mr Hague has said that government and businesses in the UK are attacked every hour. We know the losses can be huge. Is it a similar case in Australia and specifically what are you looking at doing to tackle that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Cyber security is a challenge not just for governments, not just for defence, or national security but for everyday individuals in Australia and throughout the world, for companies, for intellectual property and the like. So, this is a key challenge and that will be one a focus of our cooperation. But, across the board we cooperate historically very well with the UK, whether it's defence science, whether it's emerging challenges, whether it's intervention in peacekeeping or stabilisation missions, whether it's working together in the UN, and we have a range of agreements with them. All of these things will continue. I just - my own expectation is that into the future it'll be in a more focused way and enhanced way and that reflects the fact that Australia is part of the Indo-Pacific, part of the Asia-Pacific, and Britain, the United Kingdom, like Europe, sees the world moving in our direction.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: When it comes to those cyber attacks are you willing to acknowledge it - an enemy, per se? Are you willing to point to certain countries housing the main culprits?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we never isolate or identify a particular country or countries.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: It is mainly China and Russia, though, that the focus has been on?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, some people draw attention to that. What I draw attention to is this is not just an issue for nations, states, and individual countries. This is also an area where non-state actors and individuals are highly active. So this is not just a security threat or a commerce and industry threat which comes from nation states, it comes from individuals, it comes from criminal organisations, it comes from terrorist groups, it comes from non-state actors. So, the key in my view is to make sure that people take all of the necessary precautions because the risk is there not just from particular or individual countries but from individuals and organisations with criminal or adverse intent.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Minister Smith, we appreciate your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much.