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Transcript of press conference: Perth: 15 January 2013: ADF contribution to disaster relief; Afghanistan; 2013 White Paper; Force Posture Review; Newspoll; Defence Budget; Mali



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Minister for Defence

Stephen Smith

Press Conference - Perth

15 January 2013

TRANSCRIPT: PRESS CONFERENCE - PERTH

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: 15 JANUARY 2013

TOPICS: ADF contribution to disaster relief; AUKMIN; Afghanistan; 2013 White Paper; Force

Posture Review; Newspoll; Defence Budget; Mali.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, thanks very much for turning up. It’s my first press conference of

the year, so can I take the opportunity of wishing you a Happy New Year. I look forward to

again working with you in the course of 2013, which will be a big year in defence and a big

year generally.

Can I start by thanking members of the Australian Defence Force and the Defence

Organisation generally for their terrific work over the holiday season in applying humanitarian

assistance and disaster relief, both offshore and onshore. Offshore, in Fiji and Samoa in the

aftermath of Cyclone Evan, and onshore of course helping in the terrible bushfires,

particularly in Tasmania and New South Wales. Part of the great work of the Australian

Defence Force is in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. It complements the great

work that the Defence Force does in peacekeeping and of course in combat and in military

exercises and activity. So again, a very fine contribution by the ADF over the Christmas New

Year period. And of course, our thoughts are with those people, particularly in New South

Wales and Tasmania, who lost property in the face of bush fires and also the tragic death of

the Victorian fire-fighter.

I wanted to announce today the arrangements for AUKMIN and then make some general

remarks about some of the challenges for Defence this year. AUKMIN of course is the

Australia United Kingdom Ministerial consultations. This will be the first occasion that the

AUKMIN consultations have been conducted in Perth. This will be the fifth AUKMIN. Last

year’s AUKMIN was in London, and the 2011 AUKMIN was in Sydney. So I look forward to

hosting my Foreign Ministerial colleague Bob Carr, but also Foreign Secretary of the United

Kingdom William Hague, and Defence Secretary of the United Kingdom Philip Hammond.

Mr Hague will arrive in Sydney on Wednesday, and he’ll have some engagements with Bob

Carr and some activity in Sydney on Wednesday, and arrive in Perth on Thursday. Defence

Secretary Hammond will arrive in Perth on Wednesday night, and on Thursday we will engage

in a tour of some relevant Defence and military facilities, including HMAS Stirling and

Swanbourne Barracks with the SAS. The formal AUKMIN consultations, the two plus two, will

take place on Friday, and that will take place at the State Reception Centre in Kings Park, and

the detailed program arrangement will be published later this week. So I look very much

forward to those very important discussions.

Perth, of course, is a very appropriate centre to conduct AUKMIN 2013. It follows on from

CHOGM in 2011, and it again underlines the fact that Perth is Australia’s Indian Ocean

capital, with our Indian Ocean port, HMAS Stirling. The rise of India and the growing

importance of the Indian Ocean and Indian Ocean Rim will be one of the topics of discussion

at AUKMIN, and you may have noticed the UK Prime Minister Cameron’s visit to India

underlining the importance that both the United Kingdom and Australia place on India and

the growing importance of the Indian Ocean region.

In addition to Indian Ocean matters, we will of course discuss transition in Afghanistan, also

some of the threats to international peace and security, including and in particular Syria, Iran

and also North Korea, the DPRK.

We will as well have further conversations on some of the modern challenges that we find to

our national security environment, in particular cyber security, which was an issue we first

touched upon formally at AUKMIN in Sydney in 2011. So we look forward to welcoming

Foreign Secretary Hague and Defence Secretary Hammond. AUKMIN will conclude on Friday

afternoon and Ministers Hague and Hammond will return to the United Kingdom at the

conclusion of AUKMIN.

Can I just draw attention to some of the challenges that I see for Defence in the course of

2013, then I’m happy to respond to your questions on AUKMIN and other matters.

Firstly, transition in Afghanistan. Over the break we’ve seen some important developments,

so far as transition in Afghanistan generally is concerned. In the run-up to Christmas Eve,

President Karzai announced the fourth tranche of transition. This sees some 85 to 87 per cent

of Afghanistan’s population now under lead security responsibility by Afghan National Security

Forces. You might recall that Uruzgan Province, where we have responsibility, was

transitioned in the third tranche in the middle of last year to Afghan-lead responsibility. By

the end of last year, by November-December of last year, all four of the Afghan National

Security Force 4th Kandaks in Uruzgan were operating independently, and that saw the

return of Australian forces from mentoring and training in forward operating bases and on

patrol to our main multi-national base in Tarin Kot. Our status or our modus operandi in

Uruzgan has now changed from mentoring and training to advising and our first advisory task

force left Australia and arrived in Tarin Kot in the course of November-December.

As well, over the break, you would’ve seen the visit by President Karzai to Washington and

the agreement by President Karzai and President Obama that the fifth tranche will be brought

forward from the middle of 2013 to the Afghan or the northern spring. So we’ll then see, a

few months earlier than anticipated at the Chicago conference, the full transition of security

responsibility to Afghan National Security Forces by the Afghanistan spring, March-April-May

of next year. And so all of Afghanistan will then be in the same position as we are in Uruzgan

Province.

For some time the Prime Minister and I have been saying that our advice and our expectation

was a transition in Uruzgan Province itself would occur, either by the end of 2013 or by the

first quarter of 2014. All of our advice and assessment and analysis and view is now that

transition will be complete in Uruzgan Province by the end of this year, by 2013. So we are

now proceeding on the basis that the formal transition in Uruzgan Province will occur by the

end of 2013.

So the big challenge for Defence in the course of this year, so far as Afghanistan is

concerned, is the transition arrangements, but also looking to what will the situation be on

the ground in Uruzgan, so far as the Australian Defence Force personnel and assets are

concerned, in the course of 2014, and what the post-2014 arrangements for contribution,

international contribution, will be. Australia has made it clear for the last 12 months that we

believe it’s important that the international community make a long-term contribution to

Afghanistan. We have made it clear that we are prepared to continue high-level training,

including officer training, but also under an appropriate mandate and in appropriate

circumstances, a Special Forces contribution, whether that’s for training or counter-terrorism

operations. And these discussions and these details will now become a priority for not just

Australia, for the international community.

The second challenge for Defence this year, and for the Government, will be the publication

of the 2013 Defence White Paper, which will occur in the first half of this year. We expect that

to occur in the second quarter of this year. That will follow on from the 2009 White Paper. We

brought the White Paper forward from a five-year timetable to a four-year timetable. The

2009 White Paper was the first Defence White Paper since 2000. That was far too long a

period of time, and since 2009 we have seen substantial developments, the continuing

growth of economic and strategic importance of our part of the world. But we’ve also seen

the third challenge that Defence has. We’ve seen, in the aftermath of the global financial

crisis, the difficulty of facing the new fiscal reality, so described by United States Defence

Secretary Leon Panetta, and we saw on literally New Year’s Eve the United States grappling

with its own financial difficulties, the so-called fiscal cliff and the deferment of that issue. But

all comparable countries, whether it’s the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New

Zealand, Canada, are facing these challenges.

The final challenge for Defence will be the ongoing reform program, whether that is personal

accountability, as reflected, for example, by the referral of the DLA Piper review to the Len

Roberts-Smith Defence Abuse Taskforce, or general accountability, the ongoing

implementation of the Black Review. But also, further enhancements of the procurement and

making sense of statement reforms that the Government has put in place over the last 12

months.

So they are some of the issues which face Defence as we return to working capacity and

effort in the course of the first half of January of 2013. Our first formal activity will, as I’ve

said, be AUKMIN. That will be a most important strategic conversation. Australia has a

Foreign Ministers and Defence Ministers dialogue with a small number of countries - the

United States, we saw AUSMIN here at the end of last year, but also Japan, Indonesia, and

the United Kingdom, and a proposed two plus two with the Republic of Korea in the course of

this year.

After the United States, the United Kingdom is one of our most important partners when it

comes to national security and strategic issues, so we look forward to welcoming Foreign

Secretary Hague and Defence Secretary Hammond to Perth later this week.

I’m happy to respond to your questions on those matters and other issues.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct]

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I saw that media commentary rather than White House

commentary over the break. The United States, NATO, Australia, India, a whole range of

members of the international community have made a long term commitment to Afghanistan.

It’s very important that after the end of formal transition at the end of 2014 that the

international community continues to give Afghanistan support, to ensure that in the long

term Afghanistan does not return to being a breeding ground for international terrorism. And

NATO, the US, Australia, in the run-up to the Chicago conference all made it clear that we

would strike up a long-term partnership with Afghanistan. And that goes to a whole range on

issues, whether it’s development assistance, economic issues, trade generally.

So far as the international community’s potential military contribution to Afghanistan after

2014, the current International Security Assistance Force mandate will end at the end of

2014, in December 2014. One of the things that we are currently discussing is what, if

anything, will be the international community’s contribution to Afghanistan in the military

sense after that. Australia has made it clear that we see the need for an ongoing international

community presence, both in high-level or niche training we have undertaken to join with

United Kingdom and Canada for Afghanistan officer training. We’ve also made it clear that we

propose, under an appropriate mandate, to continue to make a Special Forces contribution,

whether that is training or whether that is counter-terrorism activity.

My own view is that the United States and the international community, through NATO, will

continue to make some form of contribution. In discussions with Afghanistan and with NATO

and the international community, we need to come to some decisions in the course of this

year and 2014 about the nature and extent of that contribution. Part of that discussion we

saw in Washington, the beginning of a discussion between Afghanistan and the United States,

about a so-called Status of Forces Agreement. If the international community is to remain in

Afghanistan after 2014, there needs to be a mandate. Currently there’s a United Nations

mandate, what people are looking at is a Status of Forces agreement where Afghanistan

would authorise the United States and potentially other countries, or indeed organisations like

NATO, to continue to have a presence. I’m proceeding on the basis that there will continue to

be an agreed United States presence in Afghanistan after 2014, and Australia is prepared to

play its part in that. I’m certainly not envisaging that Australia will be there by ourselves or

on our lonesome.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct]

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, part of our conversation about the Indian Ocean Rim will include my

briefing to Defence Secretary Hammond and Foreign Secretary Hague about our Force

Posture Review, which looks in the longer term at the utility and the use of HMAS Stirling, but

also the need to ensure that our northern and western approaches become more of a priority

into the future. Obviously that includes the North West, but it also includes the energy belt

and the need for energy security. We now find a growing energy belt, not just in the North

West of Western Australia, but also to the north of Darwin. I commissioned former Defence

Secretaries Allan Hawke and Rick Smith to prepare a Force Posture Review for the

Government, which was published last year, and I’ve made it clear that the Government’s

decisions on the Force Posture Review will be made as part of the White Paper process.

So yes, briefing our United Kingdom colleagues on the Force Posture Review, as that relates

to the growing importance of the Indian Ocean Rim and the need for Australia, after a decade

effectively of being in Afghanistan and Iraq, nearly a decade of an East Timor stabilisation

contribution which is now formally concluded, and a wind-down of our Solomon Islands

peacekeeping and stabilisation mission, the opportunity is there through the White Paper to

focus on matters closer to home, including our own force posture and the work we do in the

Pacific and South East Asia.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct]

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, there’s a range of issues there. Firstly, on the most recent national

Newspoll, I’ve been making the point for more than 12 months, and I’m very happy to make

it again, that I always believed that as we moved into 2013, that people would see the start

of a political competition, and that Labor and the Prime Minister would be very competitive in

that respect. So at the end of 2012 and the beginning of this year, you essentially see a

range of polls which, whilst they have the Coalition in front, have the Government within

striking distance. So whether that’s on a two-party preferred basis, 48/52, 49/51 or 50/50,

what you know is it will be a competition. So I’ve always believed that we would be

competitive, and I’ve always thought that it would be a toughly fought competition.

I think the most significant feature of the national polls over the last few months has been

the very clear indication through the polls that, when push comes to shove, when the

Australian community go to the ballot box and vote in the second half of this year, I’m

expecting September, October, November, a full three year term. I think what the polls are

reflecting is a lack of confidence that the Australian community has in Tony Abbott as a

potential Prime Minister.

I’ve made this point before, I make it again, I’ve always been of the view that when push

comes to shove, the Australian community will form the view that Mr Abbott does not have

the demeanour or the judgement to be Prime Minister of the country. That he doesn’t have

the demeanour to calmly handle national security and economic issues, and his whole trait

and approach to date has been a very negative one, with a refusal to put out long-term

policies for the future. And I think that has been central to the Government’s improvement in

the polls, which has been, despite all of our political difficulties, consistently putting out a

long-term policy approach for the future. In the course of this year you’ll see further work in

education and in disability. But I think, at the start of this year, an election year, you’ll see

more and more of a focus on whether Mr Abbott has the judgement and the demeanour to be

given the responsibility of running the country.

So far as the Western Australian election is concerned, we now have a fixed term for the

Western Australian poll. I’ve always been of the view that Western Australians make a clear

distinction between state matters and federal matters. The state poll will be run on state

issues. I think Mark McGowan has been doing a very good job. It’s quite clear that Colin

Barnett starts as favourite, but I think Mr McGowan has been doing a very good job of

unveiling a range of positive policy proposals, and making the point that he believes that Mr

Barnett ahs become complacent and is now operating on the basis of wrong priorities.

I think as the state election campaign moves from its in informal stage to its formal stage,

either at them end of this month or in February, the Western Australian community again will

be forced to make a judgement between two political parties and what those parties are

holding out for the future. And I think that election, that poll, will be conducted on State

matters and I don’t see any interference either way, either for the Federal election down the

track or for the state poll in March.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct]

STEPHEN SMITH: The Western Australian community knows that in the second half of this

year, whether it’s August, September, October or November, there’ll be a federal poll, and

they’ll make their judgements accordingly. They’re smart enough to work out that this is a

state poll, do they want eight long years of Colin Barnett and the potential for Mr Buswell in

the course of the eight year period, or do they want Mr McGowan, who from the first moment

he became Leader of the Opposition, conducted himself as an alternate Premier, putting out a

raft of positive policy proposals.

There’s a very good contrast between the way in which Mr McGowan has conducted himself

and the entirely negative way in which Mr Abbott has conducted himself as Leader of the

Opposition.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct]

STEPHEN SMITH: We’ll do the next budget in the course of May this year. The Treasurer’s

made it clear that he wants to embark on another savings program. In the last Budget, there

were savings from every agency, the last budget was not aimed at Defence and Defence

made a substantial contribution. You might be aware that since the Budget, Defence has not

been called upon for any further contribution and has been made expressly exempt from a

range of efficiency measures, instituted by the Minister for Finance.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct]

STEPHEN SMITH: We will conduct ourselves in the course of the run up to the 2013 Budget

as we have in the past, sitting round the table having conversations with the Expenditure

Review Committee. One thing though is absolutely crystal clear, this Government has taken

its fiscal responsibilities very seriously. The Government that we succeeded, the Howard-Costello Government, it was accorded the status of international observers, as the biggest

spending Government in Australia’s history.

Our spending is now below 25 per cent of GDP, indeed it’s at or below 24 per cent of GDP.

So, that tight fiscal rein, in difficult circumstance, including the global financial crisis, has

enabled us to, for example, see interest rates fall very substantially. If you’re on a mortgage

of $300,000, which is the average mortgage across Australia, then you’re paying between

two and three thousand dollars less per year, sorry paying between four and five thousand

dollars less per year on your mortgage than you were when we came to office. So we will

continue our tight fiscal regime, because, ultimately, that is of benefit to the Australian

economy and the Australian people, both in terms of jobs, but also in terms of the important

cost of living issues, in particular the payment of their mortgages.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct]

STEPHEN SMITH: In the course of last years budget, where Defence made a substantial

contribution to our fiscal arrangements, we made it clear that our overseas operations, not

just Afghanistan, but also the Solomon Islands and East Timor, would be ring fenced, there

would be no adverse implications for those overseas operations, and that will continue.

Whether it’s in terms of resources being made available to people on deployment in

Afghanistan, or about to deploy.

So, just as there weren’t any adverse implications for what we do with the United States in

terms of our alliance arrangements, protecting core and key capability. There are no adverse

implications for our effort in Afghanistan, Solomons and East Timor and that will continue for

Afghanistan and for the Solomon Islands.

But we go into a different phase now in Afghanistan. It will still need to be fully funded but

the phase we now go into are working through the detail of the transition and working

through the detail of, as we wind down in Afghanistan, how we extract both personnel and

equipment. That process has started, but that will be a big logistical exercise, and that will

be, as I said earlier, very much a focus of our attention in the course of this year.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] Just wondering is Australia considering any assistance in

equipment or troops or even [indistinct]?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we’re certainly not considering any military contribution. We

strongly support France’s initiative. The Security Council, of which we are now a member,

was receiving, this morning Australia time, a briefing from France on its intervention, which

was, of course, made at the request of the Government of Mali.

There is an existing United Nations Security Council resolution which authorises an African

Union Force to intervene in Mali. We strongly support the French intervention as being in

international communities interest, but we also strongly support the bringing forward of the

African Union contribution in Mali. And that’ll be the view that we put at the Security Council.

Whether down the track a contribution, either humanitarian assistance or disaster relief, or

some contribution to that commitment, time will tell, but certainly neither the Foreign

Minister nor I are in any way envisaging any military contribution per se.

Ok, thanks very much. Thank you.