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Transcript of interview with Kieran Gilbert: Sky News AM Agenda: 12 November 2012: Nuclear submarines, U.S criticism of Labor's Defence cuts



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Transcript - Sky News AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert November 12, 2012

Re: Nuclear submarines, U.S criticism of Labor’s Defence cuts

GILBERT :Now to the debate around whether or not Australia should acquire nuclear submarines, former Defence

Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said it was a mistake to rule out the fast attack submarines in the 2009 White Paper, there

have been reports that Coalition leaders want to take another look at purchasing or buying these nuclear submarines.

I spoke to the Defence spokesman for the Coalition, Senator David Johnston earlier in the day.

Senator David Johnston thank you very much for your time, now there were reports on the weekend that senior

Coalition figures are wanting to open up a debate on buying nuclear submarines, as a replacement for the Collins

Class, is that correct, were those reports accurate?

JOHNSTON: Well to my understanding our policy is very very clear Kieran, nuclear submarines are not on the

agenda, we support the 2009 White Paper in nominating 12 conventional class submarines for Australia, it’s not our

policy and it’s not on the table to the best of my knowledge.

GILBERT: But would you or other senior members of the Coalition at least like this debated, given the enhanced

nature of the capability that we are talking about?

JOHNSTON: It’s up to them, but I’m telling you what the Defence policy it, is as I sit here as Shadow spokesman on

Defence, the defence policy is that we are going for 12 conventional class submarines, pursuant to the White Paper,

the now defunct White Paper that the Government has walked away from and never funded. But that’s our policy and

no one else has told me anything different, it hasn’t been through the Party, it’s a very big decision. Can I tell you

people will want to wax lyrical about that because it’s a fabulous capability- but our policy is conventional submarines.

GILBERT: Peter Reith, former Howard Government Defence Minister is quoted today saying that nuclear submarines

are top quality kit, so let’s find out how we can afford them, how much they cost to run, manning issues and the like.

His argument is, essentially as a nation we should look at it. Do you agree with him on that, it should be at least on

the table as a prospect given the amount of money that is spent on submarines?

JOHNSTON

Kieran we’re in Opposition, for us to assume that one of our Allies, either the United States or the United Kingdom,

would give us a nuclear capability and the technology that goes with it, is very presumptuous indeed and quite

discourteous. Now there’s no capacity in my view to entertain such a thought from Opposition. Our policy is what I

stated, I can’t put it any higher or lower than that. We are in favour of 12 conventional class submarines, the 2009

White Paper came at some considerable expense and we supported it in a bipartisan fashion.

GILBERT: Stephen Smith, your opposite number, the Defence Minister, has said without a local nuclear industry we

would not be able to support nuclear submarines, the other argument that’s been made is that we want them

constructed here, or specifically in Adelaide, do you see that argument as well in the sense that they the Government

clearly want to give an expression of support to the local industry?

JOHNSTON: My leader and I both expressed on several occasions that we support 12 conventionally powered

submarines constructed or assembled in Adelaide. Now that’s our position.

GILBERT: So where do you think these reports emerge from then, what would you put this down to?

JOHNSTON: Well we have a particularly difficult maritime environment. The American technology is outstanding, but

it’s extremely expensive. People want to say why can’t we have that and I think that’s OK but our policy is as I’ve

stated.

GILBERT: There were suggestions the US had concerns about our Defence Budget cuts made by the Government in

May, you’ve expressed your own issues with those cuts, but Ambassador Bleich on the weekend, the US

Ambassador said that he believes that he’s had their comments misinterpreted and that they don’t have any issues

with the Budget as it stands. Will you retract your criticisms now that the U.S clearly doesn’t have any concerns

according to Mr Bleich?

JOHNSTON: I absolutely retract nothing. If you read the article by a most respected Fairfax journalist, the statements

attributed to Dr Kurt Campbell are crystal clear, he has not retracted them.

They fall into line with previous statements indirectly attributed to Obama officials, Rich Armitage, General Peter

Cosgrove - former CDF, Peter Leahy - former Chief of Army, Commander in Afghanistan John Cantwell, I mean all

of these people have said these cuts are too deep, and at long last there is an official - a deputy secretary for East

Asia and the Pacific - Dr Kurt Campbell - from the State Department has said categorically that we are concerned

about the cuts and want to discuss them at AUSMIN.

Now nothing the Minister has disingenuously said detracts from that, if Dr Campbell wants to come forward and say

sorry I was misquoted them I happy to say sorry to the Minister but he hasn’t done that. I think the professional

reputation of the journalist is strong, and I think the facts are in my favour and the Minister is just trying to drown this

in spin.

GILBERT: But Senator Johnston, Mr Bleich the US Ambassador said, and I quote “I know Kurt Campbell well and I

know that he doesn’t have worries about the Budget” it is pretty clear cut.

JOHNSTON: Well I don’t think it is, given that the quotes on Saturday’s paper were exactly word for word, on the cuts

he expressed concern and wanted to raise them as an important issue for AUSMIN, now I don’t think it gets any

clearer than that and you know, the Ambassador, who I know very well and respect enormously, is a diplomat, and

people who are charged with strategic posture in the Asia Pacific area are concerned and he’s expressed that

concern and I thank him for it - because we are all concerned.

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it’s not part of the AUSMIN agenda - so if it is a concern they’re obviously not that worried about it because it’s not

part of the formal talks.

JOHNSTON: If you look carefully at the article it talks about officials discussing it, I think it is now on the agenda,

notwithstanding the Minister’s said it’s not I think it is on the agenda because you and I are discussing it now.

It has to be on the agenda because this is a respected senior State Department official who has not retracted his

statement. And nothing the Minister can say or do can avoid that. When as I say Dr Campbell comes forward and

says I have been misquoted, which I really believe he hasn’t, then I’ll reconsider.

But the fact is the Minister has been clearly caught out by this statement, and no amount of obfuscation and

disingenuous commentary can get him out of the problem he is in.

GILBERT: OK well even if they do have concerns, Senator Johnston, the fact is the U.S is also undertaking massive

cuts to their Defence expenditure over the next decade as well.

JOHNSTON: All the more reason for them to be concerned about ours. I mean we are meant to have one of the most

resilient economies in the world and yet we can’t afford to defend ourselves?

In terms of GDP, this year’s Defence Budget is going back to 1938 levels, 1.56% of GDP - 1938 was the last time we

spent so little on Defence, and we all know what happened after 1938. This is a scandal, the Minister has been

caught out and our allies are clearly concerned.

GILBERT: Shadow Defence Minister David Johnston, appreciate your time today thanks very much.

JOHNSTON: Always a pleasure Kieran.

Page 2 of 2 Transcript - Sky News AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert > David Johnston, Liberal Se...

10/09/2013 http://www.senatorjohnston.com.au/Media/OtherMedia/tabid/71/articleType/ArticleV...