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Transcript of interview with Latika Bourke: ABC News: 14 November 2012

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Interview - ABC News with Latika Bourke: watch the YouTube video November 14, 2012

BOURKE: David Johnston welcome to ABC News 24.

JOHNSTON: Thank you Latika.

BOURKE: It seems like everybody is watching the scandal engulfing David Petraeus and General Allen in the United

States, do you think this is going to overshadow the AUSMIN talks in Perth and do you think that Australians might

now be looking at the US military and the CIA a bit differently and with a little less prestige than before?

JOHNSTON: I think no and no is the answer to those two questions. Look, personal issues - not often, but

sometimes - come into the professional aura of public affairs. Petraeus’ record is outstanding, and General Allen is

doing a really good job in Afghanistan. Now look, I wouldn’t want to detract from that historical reputation, I think both

those men are outstanding, I think things happen and I’m not across them-

BOURKE: But this is a major setback isn’t it?

JOHNSTON: I think it’s a setback in that one of the best players on the field has had to leave the field, and that’s the

big issue, but I know there are good people that can step up to the mark and I don’t think Australia should be at all

concerned about any of those matters.

BOURKE: Let’s look at some of the issues that the AUSMIN talks might focus on, one is an increased US presence in

Australia. If we hypothesise and the Coalition were in Government next year, what sort of military presence from the

United States would you accept in terms of naval terms at HMAS Stirling?

JOHNSTON: Well everybody’s talking about Stirling, I mean there’s a fairly limited capacity for accommodation down

there, there needs to be some scoping as to what expansions are required, how many personnel, how many ships,

what sort of draught do the ships have? We have in Cockburn sound a fairly restrictive channel to get down, I think

it’s about ten nautical miles, and so there’s a lot of work to be done whilst we speculate as to what might happen at

HMAS Stirling.

BOURKE: How many years worth of work?

JOHNSTON: Well I would have thought at least two or three - and then we’ve got to find the money to make the

changes - to see what the US wants in terms of a staging facility to better sustain and maintain its Indian Ocean force


Now, these things don’t happen overnight, I think the debate - if I can call it that - is ongoing, I think the right

questions have to be asked, and I don’t think people should get fidgety about this I think it’s going to evolve over a

long period of time in a very transparent way.

BOURKE: Could Stirling cope with, say, a carrier size and would that be something the Coalition would welcome?

JOHNSTON: Well look I can tell you, you won’t get a carrier down that channel I don’t believe.


JOHNSTON: Well you’ll have to do a fair bit of dredging, now dredging is extremely expensive.

In Gage Roads a 95,000 tonne US aircraft carrier hasn’t got a lot of water under the keel even now, so I’m pretty

certain we’re not ever going to see a carrier down into Cockburn Sound. Other ships certainly, and submarines are in

there now from time to time, but usually one or two only, not a taskforce, and not a lot of sustainment and

maintenance work is carried out, so you know we need to really explore this carefully.

BOURKE: Talking about submarines, does the Coalition want to see nuclear submarines in Australia?

JOHNSTON: No we don’t.

BOURKE: So where is this speculation coming from?

JOHNSTON: Well look we have a policy, and the policy is as set out long ago and we think that policy certainty is a

very important thing in politics in Australia.

W t d th t l b i th t th G t h t d d t f d i th Whit P th ’

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construction as the case may be.

The nuclear side of things is a fabulous capability. Now, no-one should be in any doubt that probably the world’s

leading, cutting-edge military deterrent capability is a Virginia class or a Los Angeles class submarine. It’s

extraordinarily expensive. The Occupational health and safety requirements, just for the basing and the maintenance,

the refuelling, are all extremely expensive. Now I was in-

BOURKE: Well if it’s this unviable why on the weekend were ‘unnamed Coalition sources’ - presumably your

colleagues David Johnston - telling the papers that this might be something the Coalition would consider?

JOHNSTON: Because when they go to the United States and they see capability it is quite amazing and it’s very

attractive, but nobody wants to say that there’s 150 personnel on board, that the submarine has almost thirty

megawatts of energy to play with so it can produce as much oxygen and fresh water as it likes, only needs refuelling

every twenty-five to thirty years, no-one’s understanding how difficult it is to base them and what sort of concrete and

stainless steel is required.

Now, every skipper of a nuclear submarine is a nuclear engineer, and there are several nuclear physicists on board

each boat, now we’re in no position to get certification just to base them or to have the personnel to run them. It’s a

huge national step that I think probably requires some bipartisan support, but it’s not our policy. We’re sticking with

the twelve conventional submarines that we’ve accepted as the Government’s best effort in the 2009 White Paper.

BOURKE: Will the Coalition commit to Defence spending of three percent worth of GDP when you are returned to

Government, whenever that might be?

JOHNSTON: Look we’re committed to trying to go back to the three percent annual growth rate taking us up to about

two percent of GDP on an annual basis. Now currently this Government has brought it down to 1.56 percent, which is

the lowest level since 1938. Next year-

BOURKE: So two percent is your goal, how soon would you want to be reaching that target after a Coalition

Government is elected?

JOHNSTON: Well John Howard had it at 1.96, I don’t think it’s very far to get it up to two, I think two is realistic.

America’s is at 4.7-

BOURKE: So why do you, two year after the Coalition-

JOHNSTON: Well I think two or three years, but look, you know the winner takes all in Australian politics, so the

Opposition’s currency is very low-value and quite irrelevant, so we’re kept in the dark about everything.

Where these cuts are impacting is kept from us, no-one’s volunteering as to how deeply these cuts are and what

capability it is undermining and eroding. So once we get in - if we do, and I trust we do - we will have to look and

scope out very carefully where we can make further savings and re-address those savings, as my leader has said, to

getting capability and spending back up to a point where we’re getting the very best bang for the buck.

Now, it’s not something we can really be definitive about from Opposition because, as I say, we are kept away from

all of the real facts.

BOURKE: So is two percent worth of GDP, is that an ‘aspiration’ or a ‘promise’?

JOHNSTON: I think it’s an aspiration because, can I tell you that in health, education - you know we’ve got Gonski,

National Disability Insurance - all of these are promises. We’ve got another Wayne Swan budget to go - allegedly a

surplus budget which everybody seems to realise is not going to be a surplus budget - we’ve got $200bn from the

2009 White Paper that the Minister has signed off to me on telling me it’s unfunded. So when someone says to

me ‘would you like to make a promise?’ it’s very, very difficult to promise - I’d be doing what the Labor Party has

been doing now for four years: making absolutely outrageous political statements with no substance, so I’m not going

to do that.

BOURKE: And just finally David, you’re from W.A., Tony Abbott overnight, the Federal Leader, has described Ken

Wyatt - one of your colleagues and the first indigenous MP elected to the House of Rep’s - as an ‘urban aboriginal’,

a man ‘not of the culture’ and has compared him to Alison Anderson who he says is a more authentic representative

of the ancient cultures. Is that offensive to Ken Wyatt as his nephew says?

JOHNSTON: Well Ken Wyatt is a simply outstanding person - he’s a great personal friend of mine - and I don’t think

he’s offended because he lives in Perth. I don’t know whether he’s been through the lore - that’s a private matter for

him - but I grew up in Kalgoorlie and going through the lore is a very significant thing for Aboriginal people and I think

what Tony was saying is ‘let’s see if we can get someone who has been through the lore and knows what living in an

Aboriginal community that is run by Aboriginal people is like, so that’-

BOURKE: But did he need to diminish Ken Wyatt’s authenticity to make that comparison?

JOHNSTON: Well I don’t think he did, I don’t think he diminished it at all and I think trying to say that Tony’s

diminishing Ken Wyatt at all. I mean, look, Tony Abbott, Julie Bishop and I fought very, very hard to get Ken elected.

Tony was right there leading the charge get him pre-selected and elected in the seat of Hasluck.

BOURKE: Assistant sources close to Ken Wyatt say he is offended by those comments.

JOHNSTON: Well I’m surprised about that and I hope that that is not the case and I will talk to Ken about that, but

Tony and Julie and I are huge supporters of Ken Wyatt, we think he’s a fabulous contribution not just because he’s

Aboriginal, but he’s a great member for Hasluck.

Now, I do agree with Tony, I think there’s a need for indigenous people who are out there - doing it tough, grappling

with funding and other issues, law and order issues - to be elected, particularly from the Northern Territory where I

think their voting power is going to reflect the fact that they do, firstly get into the Territory Parliament and then make

it to the Federal Parliament. I think that would be wonderful for Aboriginal people and I think that’s just the slight

difference that my leader is trying to draw here. You know, Hasluck is an urban seat, it’s got urban issues, I’d like to

see someone from out in the Central Desert come into Canberra as an elected member, that would be fabulous.

BOURKE: David Johnston thank you for your time.

JOHNSTON: Thank you Latika

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