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Transcript of interview with Marius Benson: ABC News Radio: 27 August 2013: Syria; Future Navy Taskforce; Campaign

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Campaign Transcript


E & O E - PROOF ONLY _____________________________________________________________

Subjects: Syria; Future Navy Taskforce; Campaign _____________________________________________________________

HOST: Prime Minister, good morning and thanks very much for joining us on ABC NewsRadio this morning.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks for having me on the program, Marius.

HOST: It is appropriate that you’re talking about international affairs because they’re at the top of the agenda today because the world is looking at Syria. John Kerry the US Secretary of State says there is clear evidence now the Assad regime has used chemical weapons. What do you believe the international community should now do?

PM: Well, firstly, I’ve noted carefully what Secretary of State Kerry has said in his remarks, and you will have noticed from my remarks in recent days that we have been taking the appropriate calm and measured approach to reach our own conclusions about the use of chemical weapons and by whom.

As I said a couple of days ago, all indications point in the direction of the regime, and of chemical weapons having been used, and we concur with the American assessment. Furthermore, I am deeply disturbed today to have just received reports that the first group of UN chemical weapons inspectors’ motor vehicle was fired upon by unidentified snipers in the core area of concern in Damascus. I believe this is deeply disturbing again, and in New York, in the United Nations Security Council there will be ongoing consultations with all members of the council on the most appropriate form of response given the facts which have come to hand.

HOST: But given that Russia is on the Security Council and supports the Assad regime and will veto action, what should the world do?

PM: The challenge that we all face now is to make sure that we are operating on concert with the other major powers on the Security Council, by which I mean the permanent five members and countries like ourselves, which are non-permanent members. We need a strong, possible menu of response options. President Obama pointed to the preparation of such a list, in his statement from the White House a few days ago. I don’t think we should be rushing to immediate judgement as to the content of those responses. The point that you have made now about Russia on the UN Security Council has been correct. The Government of Russia, of course, will now be facing pressure of its own, given the fact that we now have increasingly unassailable evidence pointing to the use by the regime of chemical weapons.

Remember, under international law this is a grave breach of not just human rights, it is a humanitarian assault and potentially also a crime against humanity and an act which is fundamentally in violation of international law. For those reasons, the international community must now come together. We on the UN Security Council will do everything we can to forge consensus and I remind your listeners that we assume that Presidency of the Council as of this coming Sunday.

HOST: Mr Rudd, moving on to domestic issues, you want to see the Naval Base now set in Sydney moved North to Brisbane. You say that makes sense in strategic terms.

PM: I’ll be making a statement at the speech - I’m delivering a speech at the Lowy Institute later today on this important subject of our long-term national defence, and our long-term national defence industries and infrastructure, which in our country employs somewhere between 25 and 30,000 Australians and provides them with jobs. We’ve been looking very carefully at the recommendations of the 2012 Defence Posture Review, and when we’re looking at the future of the need to move our armed forces often in large-scale operations in the Pacific, whether it’s for humanitarian or other purposes, this makes strategic sense - but I emphasise the point that these recommendations are grounded in the very fundamental Defence Force Posture Review of 2012.

HOST: The New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell is far from happy with the idea. He says it will cost maybe half a billion dollars to Sydney a year and all you’re doing is political - you’re just shoring up seats in Brisbane.

PM: I would strongly suggest that the Premier of New South Wales have a long look at the 2012 Defence Force Posture Review. Our responsibility as Prime Minister is to look at the country’s future defence force placements and where those would be out to the 2030.

HOST: But are there political benefits in putting all this money into Queensland when you’re trying to win Queensland seats?

PM: My responsibility as Prime Minister is to identify what in fact the defence experts have recommended and if we’re looking at the implementation of such recommendations out to 2030 - that is a long time from now.

My responsibility is to make sure that our naval assets are in closest possible proximity to their areas of operation by which I mean the rolling set of humanitarian disasters we often face in the countries of the South-West Pacific Islands, also in the operations we’ve had to undertake from time to time in East Timor and of course our continuing operations in the Indian Ocean as well. These are important strategic considerations. As for Premier O’Farrell, I’d draw his attention also to the fact that if the Chief of Defence Force in chairing such a taskforce to consider fully the implementation of these recommendations proceeds in this direction - as we believe based on the earlier recommendation of the Defence Force Posture Review is the overall direction which the defence community wishes to head in the long term - then the alternative possible uses of Garden Island are extraordinary. On the cruise ship industry itself, there are massive economic opportunities here for Sydney, where frankly, there are berthing limitations now. You currently see cruise ships moored at Garden Island, and on top of that the people of Sydney may also have an interest in open green space in the Sydney foreshore areas to make that available to all Sydneysiders in a way which gives them greater access to harbour-side areas and on top of that-

HOST: You might start a real estate frenzy. Sydney real estate agents aren’t uninterested in harbour-side property either.

PM: I think what the people of Sydney may be looking at in the long-term is the availability of open green space; the availability of appropriate heritage protection; the continued deployment of part of Garden Island for naval purposes - but also, greater access for the cruise ship industry. These are all considerations.

The cruise ship industry represents hundreds of millions of dollars of further economic and tourist potential for the economy of Sydney and greater New South Wales - or greater Sydney I should say - going out to other areas of New South Wales and therefore, it’s important to look at this carefully.

I’m told, for example, in terms of alternative berthing possibilities in Sydney Harbour that most of the world’s current cruise ships, for example, are now simply too big - those under construction I should say - to actually fit comfortably under the Harbour Bridge. So, you are looking either at the existing terminal, which is at Circular Quay or you are looking at increased use of Garden Island and there are already cruise ships there.

All I’m pointing to the fact that the Navy is growing. We are getting very large ships coming into the Navy now through our LHD’s. We’re getting new air warfare destroyers. The defence experts have looked at this in the 2012 Defence Force Posture Review. This will be a controversial decision into the future, but we’ve got to be mindful of our long-term national interest here and I’m concerned about the appropriate spread of Australia’s national defence assets, close as possible to the areas of deployment and operation.

HOST: Just quickly, on the campaign, before you go Mr Rudd, it’s reported that you’re now abandoning hope of winning Coalition seats. You’re just circling the wagons to defend Labor seats - is that true?

PM: Which newspapers was that reported in?

HOST: Now you’ve got me, I think it was the Herald.

PM: Well - I haven’t seen that particular report, but what I would simply say is that we, in the Government, are taking our argument out to the entire Australian people as to why the Government should be supported this election and it’s a very clear message.

Our message is building Australia’s future and building Australia’s future means building the industries and jobs of the future. It means on top of that, also building the schools and the hospitals of the future; building the National Broadband Network of the future; building a clean energy future for all Australians, and within all of that, building the defence industry and infrastructure we need, not just for now, but for 20 years’ time. That’s our vision.

Mr Abbott’s alternative vision is to cut, cut and cut - cut jobs - cut hospitals - cut schools and to do so in a manner which actually poses a grave risk to the overall health of the Australian economy given the difficult and uncertain global economic circumstances in which we find ourselves.

HOST: Mr Rudd, thank you very much again for being with us on News Radio this morning.

PM: Thanks for having us on your program.


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