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Transcript of interview with Marius Benson: ABC News Radio: 19 July 2012: Defence budget cuts, Richard Armitage, people smuggling

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Interview - Marius Benson, ABC News Radio July 19, 2012

RE: Defence budget cuts, Richard Armitage, people smuggling

BENSON: David Johnston, Tony Abbott was critical of cuts in the Defence area calling them irresponsible but it’s not

clear what the Opposition would do, are you promising to increase defence spending if you take Government?

JOHNSTON: Marius we’ve got a good and strong track record on maintaining defence budgets, the point here is

we’ve got another Wayne Swan Budget to come, this Government has treated the Defence portfolio as nothing more

or less than an ATM. They’ve ripped something between $21 and $25 billion out of Defence to this point in time,

heaven only knows what we’ll be confronting when we get to Government.

BENSON: So the question remains, will you increase Defence spending back to the levels before these cuts?

JOHNSTON: We would love to increase defence spending but the black hole we will be confronting, the mineshaft we

will have to go down, we just can’t tell how deep it is going to be.

BENSON: But is defence spending too low, because at the moment it’s been cut down to 1.6 per cent of GDP and


JOHNSTON: It’s 1.5 per cent and that takes us back to 1938.

BENSON: But it’s more than comparable in comparable countries, Japan spends 1 per cent, most of Europe spends

less than what we’re spending.

JOHNSTON: Not in our neighbourhood - Singapore, China, South Korea, Malaysia, these countries are all spending

much more than we are.

BENSON: Julia Gillard says if you want to attack Defence spending or national security policy do so by all means but

don’t do it in Washington. Is she right?

JOHNSTON: Oh look, Marius, this is the most precious display from a Prime Minister than I think I’ve ever seen.

We’ve had one of America’s leading and most highly decorated officers in Richard Armitage criticise the level of our

spending. Tony Abbott is doing everything right it’s our most important and biggest defence ally; I think he’s done

everything that Australian’s would expect of him to say to the Americans that we can do better.

BENSON: Richard Armitage has always been a very robust advocate of US defence interests, and you point to his

criticism of Labor, but at the same time the chief of the US Army, General Raymond Odierno, he’s in Canberra right

now, he says the relationship is better than it’s ever been because we’ve worked so closely together over the past ten

years. It’s a fairly ringing endorsement.

JOHNSTON: Well that’s right, our relationship is very good, but Richard Armitage is not talking about the relationship

he’s talking about the level of commitment in terms of budget expenditure.

BENSON: And he’s a strong advocate of more spending and he always has been, but the head of the US Army says

things are going great.

JOHNSTON: Well things are going great but the point is he’s not talking about Defence spending and the

commitment by this Government to Defence. That’s the problem. Richard Armitage is making an assessment of

Australia’s contribution, Australia’s capacity and Australia’s maintenance of it’s capability, and he’s concerned. I think

that’s an alarm bell ringing very loudly.

BENSON: Can I ask you about a separate story that’s on the front page of The Australian this morning, reporting that

Australian spies, our international agency the ASIS organisation are operating in small teams in places like Pakistan,

to combat people smuggling. Is that an operation that you would endorse?

JOHNSTON: Well I’m not sure they are actually doing that, but I think that for all our options and for all our agencies

to be working diligently wherever that may be, to try and arrest this people smuggling blight, is a very good thing.

BENSON: I’ll leave it there, David Johnston, thank you very much.

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