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Transcript of doorstop interview: 10 November 2012: Defence Funding, AUSMIN, Nuclear Submarines

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Transcript - Doorstop regarding US defence funding criticism November 10, 2012

Re: Defence Funding, AUSMIN, Nuclear Submarines

Johnston:What we’ve seen today from assistant deputy secretary Dr Kurt Campbell, who is secretary with respect to

East Asia and the Pacific, is the most serious slap to this Government’s funding of defence that we’ve seen probably

in a generation.

Four days out from Hilary Clinton meeting with the Prime Minister here in Perth to discuss defence and other alliance

issues, for them to officially set out that they are concerned about our defence funding is a crisis in confidence from

their perspective.

Now, many of us have been saying for a long time you cannot take the GDP percentage for defence back to 1938

levels - next year 1937 levels - without putting at risk our national security.

Our most senior regional partner in security coming out and saying - four days out from a most public meeting - that

they are concerned about our commitment to defence, is little short of a scandal - this Government has brought us

into disrepute with our most important partner.

Now that’s along the lines with no funding for Gonski, no funding for National Disability Insurance, no funding for 12

submarines and no funding for the 2009 White Paper. This is outrageous, and people are now starting to switch on to

the fact that this Government certainly is all talk but no action and no substance.

Journalist: There have been comments made that Australia seems to be ‘freeloading’, is that because of the US

Marines based in Darwin? Is that something that you would agree with? Is that a concern that the US thinks this way?

Johnston: The Prime Minister tells us how close her personal relationship is with the President, the newly elected

President, that’s wonderful, but the fact is they don’t see that as precluding them from saying, publicly, ‘we are

concerned with your commitment, get your house in order in terms of regional and national security, fund defence.’

Now I think that we are freeloading, I think we’re saying well, you know, America will look after us. They have

enormous economic problems. We have sovereign issues that we need to maintain in our region. It is irresponsible, it

is like spending the house and contents insurance on a holiday, that’s what we’ve been doing and our near neighbour

has told us it’s unacceptable.

Journalist: Don’t you think it’s a bit rich coming from the US, who is also cutting their defence budget?

Johnston: Well we’re in this together, and I think their concern says ‘look, we have some constraints right around the

world. Europe’s on its knees economically. We’re having trouble. You’re doing all right because of your trading

situation in East Asia, but you’ve got to carry some responsibility with that’, and I think that’s perfectly acceptable.

They’re saying to us ‘we can’t do it all’.

Journalist: What is the rest of Asia, what is the trend...

Johnston: Every other Asian neighbour is increasing their defence share of GDP. They are gearing up because they

realise - not necessarily because of the rise of China, but because they’re all trading with China, increased trading -

there’s a threat from piracy, there’s a vulnerability in terms of energy - Western Australia will be supplying East Asia

something like twenty percent of all its energy needs into the next ten to twenty years, now that’s a huge

responsibility for Canberra, they’re showing no signs of wanting to shoulder that responsibility.

Journalist: With regard to nuclear submarines then Senator, there has been talk that you’re - that some of your

colleagues - are talking about the possibility of purchasing nuclear submarines for Australia. What’s your comment?

Johnston: Nuclear submarines are not our policy; they are not on the table.

It needs to be understood that firstly we have absolutely a bare minimum of indigenous maintenance, sustainment

and knowledge in terms of running nuclear submarines. We have no Australian nuclear industry to speak of, we have

a reactor at Lucas Heights and that’s all.

Now, in that context, building up just the personnel to administer six nuclear submarines that we might get from

somewhere - and I want to say that logically we need to very diplomatically and carefully go to the Americans and

see what their attitude is. I’m not convinced that they’re confident enough in our indigenous capacity, or indeed our

expertise in the water, to give us nuclear reactors.

Journalist: Do you think it’s a path we should be embarking on though in terms of training people to be able to use


Johnston: Look, the capability is a magnificent capability, and like all military capabilities it’s extremely expensive, the

materials and the training is far and away beyond what we’re capable of right now given that we have a budget that I

think is in crisis. Everyone’s talking about a surplus, I don’t think we’re going to come within a bull’s roar of a surplus,

people out there are seeing their jobs - particularly on the eastern seaboard - dry up, things are tightening up in

Western Australia, I mean for us to be talking about such a thing I think is getting the cart before the horse,

particularly whilst we are in Opposition.

Journalist: So it’s not obviously going to be an election commitment?

Johnston: I don’t believe so, no.

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