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Transcript of interview: ABC Capital Hill: 26 April 2013: Defence White Paper, State of Defence, Border Protection

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Transcript - ABC Capital Hill April 26, 2013

Re: Defence White Paper, State of Defence, Border Protection

HAWLEY: Well talk on another major policy platform is set to intensify as the Government prepares to launch its

Defence White Paper, possibly before the May Budget. The last White Paper was released under Kevin Rudd’s

leadership in 2009. In addition on Monday the Opposition’s Defence spokesman, David Johnston, will deliver a

keynote address about the Coalition’s Defence plans. He joins me now from Perth, Senator Johnston thanks so much

for your time.

JOHNSTON: Samantha.

HAWLEY: On the White Paper it looks clear now, or there are reports at least, that the Government will release that

White Paper before the Budget, a little earlier than we had thought, do you welcome that?

JOHNSTON: I do, but I’m going to digest it with a great big dose of cynicism.

This is the shortest lived White Paper - that’s the 2009 White Paper - in our history, the reason being that this

Government has simply never committed one financial jot to it and so we had about $275 billion worth of acquisitions -a huge host of work for Australian industry - none of which has come to pass. It was a fraud, it was a confidence trick,

and so this White Paper needs to have proper costings and some financial commitment, I don’t think we’ll get either.

HAWLEY: So do you think that, it is a White Paper though - it is a view of what the Government wants to see happen

in Defence - does it necessarily need costings attached to it and if you’re setting that benchmark doesn’t that mean

that when you release a White Paper it also will need those costings included?

JOHNSTON: It does. It does Samantha and that’s why a White Paper that we will release will some comprehensive

commitment in terms of finance.

Now it might not be much because the bucket is bare, it might be very difficult for us to find the necessary resources,

but these guys promised $275 billion worth of acquisitions. Every project running today in Defence - ships, planes,

you name it - is a Howard project.

There is nothing in this pipeline, this Minister and this Government just doesn’t get it. We’ve lost 5,000 defence

industry jobs because this Minister and this Government has refused to make any decisions.

HAWLEY: We’ll get to the problem of the lack of resources in a moment, but could I ask you in relation to the White

Paper that the Government will release shortly, will the Coalition purely rip that up and start again or is there some

room here - as there has been in the past in Defence - for bipartisanship?

JOHNSTON: Well we gave the 2009 White Paper bipartisanship for good reason. Now we’ve had a leaked copy of

this White Paper in December; if that’s the document it’s got no financial commitment, so what does the public expect

us to do? The public expects us to do the right thing, and that is commit to a White Paper that actually defends us,

that actually builds Defence, that actually is a positive, not just a splash, a media event and then to be put in the

bottom draw and forgotten about.

HAWLEY: So what are you going to do with it? You’re going to rip it up and start again, is that what’s going to


JOHNSTON: If it’s got no credibility yes, we will.

HAWLEY: And you sound like you think that it won’t.

JOHNSTON: Well nothing this Government has said or done in this space- I mean they’ve taken $26 billion out of

Defence, no other portfolio has had to stump this up.

You know the Prime Minister tells us this is it’s the era of state on state actors, well you know the Defence

department and your Defence Forces are the obvious player in that space, and all we’ve done is emasculate them


HAWLEY: All right well you’re giving a major address on Defence next week on Monday, how much meat on the

bone will we get during that address? For instance will you outline the plan for the Defence budget?

JOHNSTON: Well you’ll have to wait and see. We’re in the business of under-promising and over-delivering, that’s a

very important thing to do given what has gone before in this space.

HAWLEY: I guess my question is will this be your Defence policy? Will this give Australians-

JOHNSTON: No it won’t.

HAWLEY: So how much detail-

JOHNSTON: No of course it won’t. We’ll deliver the Defence policy in detail when we see what we’ve got to work with.

Now we’ve got another Budget, the Minister refuses to rule out further cuts and I hear on the grapevine there’s $2

billion further to come out of the DCP, that just absolutely causes me to be grief-stricken. How much more money can

our self-defence - our Defence, our national security - stump up to the most profligate Government we’ve ever seen?

That’s the question.

HAWLEY: Alright, well Tony Abbott obviously in the past has committed to a 3% budget increase yearly for Defence,

can you stand by that?

Page 1 of 3 Transcript - ABC Capital Hill > David Johnston, Liberal Senator for Western Australia


JOHNSTON: Absolutely we can as soon as we can get there. This Government’s finances are in a mess, they’re in a

mess and for you to ask me to guess what the numbers we’re going to be dealing with are- The books are not even

closed! I mean this is just-

HAWLEY: But doesn’t it just sort of become a meaningless statement though? You say you’ll increase Defence

budget by 3% a year, but in fact you’re saying in the same breath that ‘oh we don’t really know that we could do that’.

JOHNSTON: We committed to the 2009 White Paper which had a 3% growth rate indexed at 2.5. When we left

Defence in 2007 our annual growth rate was about 1.9% spending of GDP. Now at the moment it’s going down to

1.49% of GDP, the last time we were there was 1937. These guys have busted the bank.

We have a track record, we want to live up to it. People out there know that when we’re talking national security the

Coalition is the one reliable constant, and as I say we will under-promise and we will over-deliver.

HAWLEY: So how long would it take do you think to get to 2% of GDP?

JOHNSTON: It depends on how extensive the mess is, and given what I’m hearing from inside Defence it is mayhem.

HAWLEY: So it could take more than one term?

JOHNSTON: It could take more than one term, it’s an exponential decline in our capacity to keep pace with

technology and with cost. To get us back into the right space we need to be in, in the neighbourhood, given their

expenditures, our neighbourhood’s expenditures in defence is going up all the time, ours is going down.

Now to get us back into a position where I’m confident that we can say ‘yes 3%, we want 2% GDP to Defence’ I need

to scope out how bad this mess is, and remember ASPI, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, have declared the

Defence budget an “unsustainable mess” - now they’re not political players, they are objective commentators - I’m

dealing with an unsustainable mess.

HAWLEY: Alright, well if you are elected, if the Coalition is elected in September, how much of the Defence resources

will be put into border protection?

JOHNSTON: Well I think our objective is to stop the boats and hopefully we can take a lot of resources away from

that area, but one of the areas we’re keen on is to get some surveillance - some proper, cost-effective surveillance -out into these far-flung areas where it’s really not cost effective to try and keep an eye on what’s going on, particularly

the air-sea gap between Christmas Island and Sri Lanka.

But I’m optimistic that we can stop the boats. We can properly engage Indonesia on so many fronts, both in the

Defence space and also in terms of live export and a whole host of other areas where we’ve just really snubbed them

and treated them so poorly.

I think we can stop the boats and think we can then give our Armidale class patrol boats a bit of a rest and we can

start to concentrate on really important things; this is costing us about $6 billion a year, these 38,000 people on 641

boats. It’s got to stop and we will stop it.

HAWLEY: Alright, well one of the key platforms as you mentioned is towing the boats back. As the alternative

Defence Minister in this country have you had discussions with anyone in Defence, anyone within Navy, about how

that would work?

JOHNSTON: We did it a number of times under John Howard’s leadership-

HAWLEY: We’re a long way from- it’s many years, many years since John Howard’s leadership, so surely the

discussion needs to be had again.

JOHNSTON: Well it’s an operational matter. Can I tell you with 38,000 people coming here people smugglers are

making are millions of dollars of profit obviously. I don’t want to give them a leg up as to the way that we are going to

do our business, but let me tell you if you wanted to have a bet on who’s going to stop the boats it’s not this

Government, it’s us.

HAWLEY: Because of course there have been concerns in the past that Navy personnel would be put at risk by doing

this, I know you say it’s an operational matter but don’t Australians deserve a bit of information about a key Coalition

policy - how it will work, how it will operate, how Navy personnel will be used - before they go to the polls.

JOHNSTON: Sure. We’ve told you that with Temporary Protection Visas this is just one of a suite of measures. Can I

tell you nine service personnel were blown up on one of these boats; every time we put an Armidale out in sea state

we are risking 25 lives; every time we have an Orion flying way out to sea looking for things, responding to distress


So this is a mess, this is a massive policy failure by this Government and we’re talking about stopping these boats

and this aspect is just one of a number of things we’re going to do. We’ve said anyone coming by boat is going to get

a Temporary Protection Visa and will not get citizenship, and I think that has got to save a lot of lives in the long term.

HAWLEY: Ok, well in your portfolio area though, how soon would the boats be turned around? Would that be an

immediate policy that would come in effect day one if you’re elected in September?

JOHNSTON: Well that’s operational, I’ve said to you I’m not going to discuss operational. I don’t want people getting

on boats because there’s an election coming.

We will engage Indonesia properly and fairly and respectfully, and we will deal with this problem on all of the policy

fronts that we have set out, and we will be successful because we cannot continue to sustain $6 billion worth of cost

to have the 38,000 people continue at the rate - you know there’s two or three boats arriving every one or two days,

now that is not sustainable and we have to be determined, we have to take measures and we will. This Government

has just given up, it’s as simple as that.

HAWLEY: Alright Senator Johnston thank you so much for joining Capital Hill this afternoon \

Page 2 of 3 Transcript - ABC Capital Hill > David Johnston, Liberal Senator for Western Australia


JOHNSTON: Thank you Samantha.

Page 3 of 3 Transcript - ABC Capital Hill > David Johnston, Liberal Senator for Western Australia