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Transcript of interview: ABC News Radio: 14 February 2013: Defence spending, maritime security, regional security

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Interview: ABC News Radio February 14, 2013

Re: Defence spending, maritime security, regional security

ALOISI: Here at home in this election year, the economy , industrial relations and leadership are clearly issues that

will dominate the election campaign, but other policy areas are also being debated, among them Defence, with the

Opposition attacking Labor for cutting spending in that area. David Johnston is the Opposition’s Defence spokesman;

he is speaking to Marius Benson.

BENSON: David Johnston can I begin by asking about the Opposition’s spending plans because late last year Tony

Abbott said that Defence spending would be restored that the cuts of Labor would be reversed and 3 per cent would

be reinstated, that’s no longer the case I think.

JOHNSTON: No, no that’s not true, what we’ve said is and we’ve been committed to the last four years to the 2009

White Paper, we’ve said firstly, in order to get back to where we should be on that scheduled growth rate, I mean we

gave bipartisan support and tried to take the politics out of Defence funding.

What we’ve had to say now is, look, $25 billion out of this portfolio has wrecked it, the Budget has been trashed ASPI

has said it’s an unsustainable mess. So the very first thing we must do before we can put a proper and responsible

handle on this, is to say no more cuts, and that’s what we’ve said. Tony Abbott has committed to no more cuts in


From there, once we’ve worked out and scoped out the level of pain and damage that this Minister and this Prime

Minister has inflicted upon the portfolio, we’ll chase that aspiration of 3 per cent annual growth, taking us out to GDP

of 2 per cent, now that’s our ambition, that’s what John Howard did and that’s what were committed to.

BENSON: But you’re committed to an aspiration; you’re not committed to achieving that.

JOHNSTON: Certainly. The problem Marius is this, we have one more Wayne Swan budget, and we have a Defence

Minister who on ABC two weeks ago refused to commit to Jim Middleton that there’ll be no more cuts in Defence in

this coming Budget.

Now we’re does this leave the Opposition? We are in limbo, as is every soldier, soldier and airman, as to their future

financially, so we can’t commit to anything whilst the Government continues to treat this portfolio as its sole source of

cash. No other portfolio has had to stump up anything like Defence has had to put up.

BENSON: Okay can I leave money aside for a moment and ask you about some of principles that will guide an

Opposition Defence policy if you are in Government, what should our Defence policy achieve, what’s the objective in

terms of what we are defending ourselves against?

JOHNSTON: The very first and major priority for the Opposition in Defence is force protection. We want our people to

have the very best equipment, the very best personal protective equipment, the best intelligence when they go

forward to do various tasks, so force protection is number one.

What really worries me is when the Prime Minister in her National Security Statement talks about a movement from

non-state actors to state-on-state actors, the major deterrent in peace time and the sort of last resort we have in state-on-state actors is a Defence force, and she has completely stripped and hollowed out this Defence force in terms of

finance. Now there’s just incongruity and I think very confused messages coming from the Government and we’ll

repair that, put some certainty back into that space.

BENSON: When you’re talking about state-on-state actors you mean wars between nations, what nation should

Australia be equipped to fight?

JOHNSTON: Well Marius we are not going to get into pointing the bone at any of our trading partners, our near

neighbours or anybody else. That’s what Kevin Rudd did in 2009 and I think that was a mistake. I think the Prime

Minister’s tenor in respect to not pointing to any particular threat is a wise one. I think all of us are adults and

understand where the threats come from, what the nature of the threats are, but the question is, are we prepared for

them and I think the performance of this Government in being prepared is absolutely lamentable and dangerous.

BENSON: Can I ask you this, is it appropriate in the current world to be thinking about fighting nations in wars, is that

likely, and in fact is Defence spending distorted by that because there is an assumption that defence spending makes

a nation strong, and more spending makes it stronger. But if you look at the last 10, 15 years the United States,

unrivalled as a military power, spending, what, 4.5% of GDP on its military, it has launched wars very successfully

although complications flow thereafter.

But it’s been a period of economic decline and a fall in confidence in the United States. Compare that with China, an

economic miracle achieved in the same period with barely any military, no military role, certainly, and no problem

getting everything it needed - resources, markets, and trade routes. Is the thinking about what the military should be

doing outdated?

JOHNSTON: No I don’t think it is and I’ll tell you why. Australia has grown to be completely economically dependent

upon sea lanes. Oil and gas, LNG, coal, minerals and agriculture, all access our markets; all feed our families, on


Now maritime security and our frontier is vast, for 23 million people we have one of hugest areas to try and secure of

any country in the world. Now Canberra has responsibility not just to encourage the investment, particularly in the oil

and gas area, but to get out and actually protect it. To secure, for the future or our trading partners, of which there are

many and at some distant, those sea lanes. We must do that, now the task for Australia to continue to grow

economically is to provide on the ground on the water security for exports.

And that’s the way of the future, we cannot risk and turn our head away from potential non state actors, piracy, or

indeed various state-on-state incidents that can disrupt the flow of our vital exports. Now if China, Japan, Korea,

Page 1 of 2 Interview: ABC News Radio > David Johnston, Liberal Senator for Western Australia


We must have maritime security, we’ve done a lamentable job to this point with two submarines on a good day, a lot

of our ships are dysfunctional, no amphibious capability and so it goes on. We want to repair that.

BENSON: But Australia’s own capability to provide maritime security can only apply to a small fringe around the

nation - our trade obviously applies to sea lanes across the world, our military can’t do anything about them.

JOHNSTON: I don’t agree with that. I think we can get various platforms that provide good intelligence as to what’s

happening, we can call upon our allies in an informed and intelligent way to assist us - a lot of our neighbours will

play a role in that because they’re also traders. And so we must contribute in the broader region but we’ve got to

have the right equipment, we’ve got to have a commitment to Defence and at the moment what I’ve seen from this

Government the commitment has been nothing more or less than just to reach in and grab a handful of cash when

they can’t make the books balance.

BENSON: Do you share a concern expressed by some that there’s a bit of an arms race going on in the Asia pacific

region and that Australia is contributing to that if it boosts spending?

JOHNSTON: Everybody else’s’ spending is going up in Defence and ours is contracting I mean we’ve taken Defence

as a share of GDP back to 1937 levels. Now I’m not alarmist but 1937 seemed like a happy event looking back but of

course we not what flowed from that. Within five years we were in dire straits, Darwin was bombed; there was major

drama for Australia. International events can turn turtle very quickly. Being prepared and having a good insurance

policy is what Defence funding’s all about and this Government has dropped the ball in that regard.

Page 2 of 2 Interview: ABC News Radio > David Johnston, Liberal Senator for Western Australia