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Transcript of interview with Greg Jennett: ABC24: 1 April 2013: Afghanistan; Indonesia; North Korea; superannuation.

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Minister for Defence - Interview with Greg Jennett, ABC24

1 April 2013



DATE: 1 APRIL 2013

TOPICS: Afghanistan; Indonesia; North Korea; Superannuation.

GREG JENNETT: Well Minister let’s start with that IED explosion in Afghanistan; as we heard involving Australian Special Forces. What’s the latest on their condition?

STEPHEN SMITH: We had two Australians who were injured, one was injured in a minor way, some lacerations. He’s now returned to work, so that’s good news.

The second, who was seriously injured and was operated on in Afghanistan, we’re expecting that over the next 24 hours he’ll be transferred to Landstuhl which is the hospital, the medical hospital in Germany where we take our seriously injured. And we expect that he’ll be there within the next 24 hours.

But he’s in a serious condition, but stable and conscious, so that’s good news, and of course families of the two soldiers concerned have been advised. There were two other soldiers, non-Australians, they both suffered minor injuries and I’m advised they’re both back with their units and back at work.

GREG JENNETT: The transfer to Germany does, as you suggest, indicate a level of seriousness about his wounds. What is the expectation about his recovery?

STEPHEN SMITH: Our expectation is that he will recover, but they were serious injuries. He continues to be listed as serious but stable, conscious, and that’s good. But they are serious injuries, and that’s requiring the transfer to Landstuhl in Germany, but we are confident of a full recovery in due course, and obviously we’re pleased and relieved by that, as is his family.

GREG JENNETT: There aren’t many details available about the operation they were in, but clearly they were struck by an IED exploding, but several more, I think, were discovered in the compound, is that right?

STEPHEN SMITH: Yes, I won’t go, for all of the obvious reasons into too much detail, but it was an IED or a roadside bomb explosion. It’s one of the ever-present risks in Afghanistan. This was a Special Forces operation that we were doing in partnership in Helmand Province, one of the nearby provinces under our out of province arrangements where we can do Special Forces operations outside of Uruzgan, but which are aimed at assisting what’s occurring in Uruzgan.

Other IEDs were found, and they were secured and the area cordoned off. But it underlines that, whilst in some respects the risk in Afghanistan has changed with, in Uruzgan the Afghan Kandaks or infantry now doing all of the patrols. There’s still an ever-present risk, and IEDs is one of those, and of course our Special Forces continue to operate, as they have been for the last few years. And they continue to do what is always difficult and dangerous work, but they do it to a high quality, but on this occasion, over the Easter weekend, we were very relieved that whilst one of our personnel suffered serious injuries, he will recover from those serious injuries.

GREG JENNETT: Now you are off to Jakarta very shortly for regular Ministerial talks. Given the large number of boat arrivals that Australia has experienced in recent weeks, is there any more that you will seek from Indonesia’s Defence Minister as far as assistance to Australia is concerned?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well asylum seekers won’t be a focus of the talks that I’ll be conducting. Either bilateral talks with Indonesian Defence Minister Purnomo or the so called two plus two, the meeting of Australian and Indonesian Foreign and Defence Ministers, which will take place in Jakarta on Wednesday, and I’ll leave Australia for that tomorrow.

But, over the last few years we have significantly enhanced the high level meetings that we have with Indonesia, and this reflects how important Indonesia is to us strategically. So, for the first time last year, we had a formal Annual Leaders’ Summit in Darwin. We also

had last year in Canberra the first two plus two meeting, and Minister Purnomo and I have agreed that we will have formal Defence Ministers meetings on an annual basis. We had the first in Indonesia in September last year, my last visit to Indonesia, and we’ll have one in Australia later this year.

But, whilst we will discuss the array of highly intense practical co-operation, that we have with Indonesia, whether that’s Police, whether that’s Defence, whether it’s peacekeeping or humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, or search and rescue at sea. Asylum seekers, or boats, won’t be a focus, coincidentally my immigration Ministerial colleague Minister O’Connor is meeting tomorrow in Bali for the so called Bali Process, which is the regional venue and forum for discussing people movements and asylum seeker issues in our area.

GREG JENNETT: You mentioned search and rescue; is it not the case that Indonesia is already lagging on an agreement that it gave for faster access to Australian planes and ships for refuelling in the midst of search and rescue operations? If so, what’s the explanation for that?

STEPHEN SMITH: I wouldn’t characterise it in that way. In September last year, my last visit to Indonesia, I was accompanied by the Minister for Transport Anthony Albanese, and also the Minister for Home Affairs Jason Clare. And as part of that meeting we struck some arrangements with Indonesia where we would enhance the ongoing cooperation so far as maritime search and rescue was concerned. And Minister Albanese was back in Indonesia in December of last year, just before the end of the year, to formalise some of those arrangements.

The practical things that we are doing are ongoing, but we have a very high level of intense practical cooperation with Indonesia; whether it’s in the search and rescue area or in other areas. And so I wouldn’t characterise or categorise it in the way in which you have. We made the point at the time that these issues, in terms of aerial access to Indonesia’s airspace and the like, are highly complex, highly complicated, and we need to work our way through. But the most recent advice I have is that we are happy with the progress that we are making.

There are issues here which are of significance to Indonesia, and we work our way through these issues, but we’re happy with the standard and the level of practical cooperation that we receive on this front and others.

GREG JENNETT: Now looking further north, North Korea is of course striking ever more alarming tones with discussion of being on a war footing and boosting its nuclear capability. How seriously should the west be taking this talk at the moment?

STEPHEN SMITH: We should be taking it absolutely seriously, and we are. And you would have seen, over the weekend, US Defense Secretary Hagel making the point that the United States continued to stand shoulder to shoulder, not just with the Republic of South Korea, but also with Japan for any of the provocation or threats which the DPRK, or North Korea, made. And Australia’s position is likewise; we condemn North Korea’s actions and their bellicose remarks. We condemn their nuclear program, and their ongoing testing arrangements. We fully supported all of the United Nations’ sanctions, we strongly support the most recent United Nations Security Council resolution.

And, as Foreign Minister Carr has made it clear, in addition to UN sanctions, we will of course in the usual way look at our own autonomous sanctions to see whether there’s more that we can do on that front. But, together with Iran’s-

GREG JENNETT: I was going to ask you about Senator Carr’s remarks; what does he mean by additional Australian sanctions?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well if you look at what you can regard as the two most serious threats to international peace and security, namely North Korea’s nuclear program, which we’re talking about, and Iran’s nuclear program, then for a long period of time, on both those fronts Australia has been at the forefront together with the United Nations, with the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union, on both enforcing United Nations sanctions, but also looking at autonomous sanctions.

As far as autonomous sanctions are concerned, currently Australia has sanctions on North Korea which go to the capacity for people to deal or trade with North Korea, particularly in the military area, or any materials or assets which may be used for a nuclear program.

We have very serious limitations and exclusions on access to our ports, and the capacity for North Korean individuals and citizens to travel to or through Australia.

But in other areas, without being specific, in other areas where we do have autonomous sanctions, we also look at financial sanctions on individuals associated with a particular regime. So on a regular basis; whether it’s Iran, whether it’s North Korea, we review the sanctions that we have imposed both our autonomous sanctions and also the enforcement of our United Nations sanctions.

GREG JENNETT: Now if I can take you to the domestic matter now Minister, that’s superannuation. Simon Crean says that the pre-budget debate has not been well framed around the issue of superannuation. And I suppose the question arises, why doesn’t the Government more methodically argue the case here and try to bring people into this debate?

STEPHEN SMITH: I think the essential issue here is that we have a Budget in May. In the run-up to a Budget there’s always a thousand stories. The Government never falls into the trap of ruling in or ruling out particular proposals, and that’s been our practice, and indeed the practice of previous Governments over a long period of time, because it simply doesn’t make sense for a Government to go into endless discussions about what may or may not be in the Budget.

So, that’s the context. Secondly, on superannuation, you know, frankly, some of the opposition statements that I’ve seen you really do have to have your tongue in your cheek. The Liberal Party opposed up hill and down dale, the establishment of a superannuation system in Australia. We’ve now got a superannuation system which is well and truly embedded; we are supporting the notion of moving from 9 per cent employer contribution to 12 per cent employer contribution, something again opposed by the Liberal Party.

So, we are the party which has not just strongly supported a long term, sustainable superannuation system or regime for all Australians, we are the party that, in Government, has created and sustained it. And so the discussions that we’re currently going through are essentially discussions which make sure that superannuation is sustainable for the vast bulk of Australians who, in

their retirement years, will need superannuation in addition to whatever pension entitlements they might have, to live out their retirement years.

GREG JENNETT: You say that’s for the vast bulk of Australians, but what about the so called fabulously wealthy? Are you able to guarantee, around the term that Craig Emerson has used, that the changes would only be restricted to them. And what of them, how do we define the fabulously wealthy?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well again, I’m a member of the ERC, so I’m not going to be drawn on any such discussions. But, we have made it absolutely clear that we want to ensure that there is a long term, sustainable system of superannuation which caters for the vast bulk of Australians who are dependent upon a decent superannuation system for their retirement years. This is a system which we created, against the violent and strenuous opposition of the Liberal Party at the time. And, in terms of specific proposals, they’re the only party out there at the moment with a specific proposal to take away superannuation entitlements from nearly four million Australians, the vast bulk of whom are low or middle income earners.

GREG JENNETT: And so is there any point that you foresee, before the Budget, where some parameters can be put around this as far as the Government’s options are concerned? Because in the space of just a few days we’ve seen contributions from Simon Crean, from Joel Fitzgibbon, from Craig Emerson. Does this need some clarity ahead of Budget?

STEPHEN SMITH: The clarity which I provide is that the Government does not engage in ruling in or ruling out the hundreds of proposals that you’ll see in the run-up to the Budget. Firstly, secondly what we want to do is to ensure that our superannuation system, our superannuation scheme, our superannuation regime is a long term, sustainable system for the vast bulk of Australians; particularly low and middle income earners who will be, in some respect, either wholly or partially dependent upon superannuation for their retirement years.

And it’s entirely a matter for the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Finance Minister as we get closer to the Budget, to outline any further detail or such remarks. In the meantime, to use the age old

expression which I’ve seen Simon Crean use from time to time, I think people should take a cold shower, I think people should understand that this is in the context of a Budget which will be delivered in May. My age old advice to people, if they’re interested in matter in the Budget, is to turn up on Budget night, and in the meantime, you know, the hypocritical beatings I’ve seen from some members of the Liberal Party, who spent a lifetime in public life, or a lifetime, generally, attacking the Labor Party for introducing and sustaining superannuation for the vast bulk of Australians.

GREG JENNETT: Do I detect a sense of frustration there about Simon Crean and his conduct? Not only, obviously in events in Canberra a couple of weeks ago, but continuing to advocate along these lines?

STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely not. Simon Crean is a member of the Labor Party who is of high standing, he’s a former leader. He is no longer in the Cabinet, but he’s a back bencher, he’s entitled, in a responsible way, to put his point of view. And he does so as a person who’s made a substantial contribution to the Labor Party both in the Parliament, in successive Governments, but also as a person who’s made a substantial contribution over a long period of time to the Labor movement both industrially and politically.

So, Simon’s entitled to express his view, but he’s no longer a member of the Cabinet, and so far as Cabinet members are concerned, particularly if, like me you’re a member of the ERC, this is not a conversation which in my view helps the Government, in terms of being a Cabinet Minister, helps if you go into detail of something which is clearly being considered in two contexts. Firstly, the Budget context, and we’ll see the Budget in the middle of May.

But secondly and most importantly; a commitment, a long standing commitment by the Labor Party. Successive Governments of the Labor Party - the Hawke, the Keating, the Rudd and the Gillard Governments to ensure that the superannuation system which we introduced against the violent opposition, political opposition of the Liberal Party, is sustainable into the long term to the benefit of the vast bulk of Australians, in particular low and middle income earners.

GREG JENNETT: Alright well Minister, I think we’ve been almost literally around the world with questions here today.

Thanks for your time, we’ll leave it there.

STEPHEN SMITH: I think it’s called around the world for sixpence Greg, thanks very much.

GREG JENNETT: Thank you.