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Australia could host US drone base -

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Australia could host US drone base

Broadcast: 27/03/2012

Reporter: Tom Iggulden

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has not ruled out the prospect of hosting a permanent US drone base on
the Cocos Islands.

Transcript

EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: The Prime Minister has downplayed American news reports that the Pentagon
is looking to base military drones on Australian territory.

Julia Gillard hasn't completely ruled out the prospect, as officials continue to bed-down details
of the new defence strategy agreed with president Obama last year.

Political correspondent, Tom Iggulden, reports from Canberra.

TOM IGGULDEN, REPORTER: A US media report says defence officials are eyeing the pristine and remote
Australian territory of the Cocos Islands for their military potential. The islands are reportedly
being looked at as an expansion for the overcrowded Diego Garcia airbase, closer to military
trouble spots in the Middle East.

The Washington Post says "US and Australian officials said the atoll could be an ideal site not
only for manned US surveillance aircraft but for Global Hawks, an unarmed, high-altitude
surveillance drone."

The report follows an agreement for closer military ties struck during president Obama's visit to
Canberra last year when the Defence Minister acknowledged a potential greater utilisation of the
islands.

JULIA GILLARD, PRIME MINISTER: In terms of progress on many of those matters since Minister Smith
outlined them last November, there has not been any substantial progress.

TIM IGGULDEN: But the Prime Minister isn't denying the Washington Post story.

JULIA GILLARD: Look I'm not going to play a rule-in, rule-out game about something that's been
discussed at officials level.

TOM IGGULDEN: Defence matters of a different sort were on the Prime Minister's mind earlier in the
day. Following on from the Queensland election defeat Newspoll's found Labor's primary federal vote
continuing to drag at or under 30 per cent, while the Coalition continues to surge. The two-party
preferred measure confirmed the Coalition's election winning position.

Now about halfway through a full term the Prime Minister says her policies need more time to cut it
with voters.

JULIA GILLARD: Now I understand that they are complicated policies and that they are not the kind
of thing that is instantaneously popular.

TOM IGGULDEN: And she says she'll stay the course even in the face of that disastrous Queensland
election result.

JULIA GILLARD: But my job is to both listen and to lead, and that is what I will be doing as Prime
Minister.

TOM IGGULDEN: The Government says Tony Abbott's already acting like he's at the control's in
Canberra.

TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER: This is the famous joystick.

PILOT: That's the one.

TOM IGGULDEN: But he says he's taking nothing for granted.

TONY ABBOTT: I think that I'm the Opposition Leader.

TOM IGGULDEN: Mr Abbot offered as proof the arduous regime of exercise he's keeping up while the
Prime Minister rubs shoulders with world leaders.

TONY ABBOTT: Do you think I'd be getting on my bike and peddling 100km every day for nine days if I
thought that this thing was somehow in the bag?

TOM IGGULDEN: Meanwhile the United Nations High Commission For Refugees today confirmed what the
Immigration Department's been saying for months, that asylum claims in Australia are falling,
mostly due to lower boat arrivals.

TOM IGGULDEN: The UNHCR says there was a 9 per cent drop last year compared to 2010, while in 44
other countries it surveyed it was a 20 per cent surge. The Government says its failed Malaysia
solution was a deterrent, the Opposition says the Government's delusional and the Greens say
they're both wrong.

SARAH HANSON-YOUNG, GREENS SENATOR: Anyone who's suggesting that we're being flooded, that we need
to start turning boats around, that we need to dump vulnerable people - men, women and children -
in foreign countries; there is just no facts to back up those policies.

TOM IGGULDEN: Julia Gillard returns to Canberra tomorrow.

Tom Iggulden, Lateline.