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Transcript of interview with David Speers: Sky News: 3 May 2012: Defence budget cuts

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Interview on PM Agenda with David Speers Sky News -Defence budget cuts May 3, 2012

David Speers: The Shadow Defence Minister Senator David Johnston joins me now from Perth. Senator thanks for

your time. Firstly on those Joint Strike Fighters there have been delays in the actual project in the United States, so

this was really forced on the government - this saving wasn’t - it?

David Johnston: Well it was to some extent David, and a pleasure to be with you this evening, the point is this: with

four days to go before the federal budget, the Defence portfolio has to stump up on savings to make the numbers

come together. Now it sends an irresistible inference I think that this whole budget process is shambolic and in


The numbers are not adding up and Minister Smith has had to come before the public and the media this morning

and say “here are some further contributions from Defence”.

Now the Joint Strike Fighter is a very very important platform for Australia into the future I hope he knows what he is

doing, he has exhibited nothing that gives me great confidence that he knows what he is doing.

This announcement is about politics it is not about the defence of Australia.

David Speers: But hang on you have just agreed that there have been delays in the project itself - so what could

have the Government have done on the JSFs.

David Johnston: Well he hasn’t explained the basis for the deferral. He sais he has deferred it for money reasons.

Now I would have thought he would defer it because it might be a better aircraft it might be a cheaper aircraft, and

those are the sort of matters I would have thought would have underpinned a decision of this nature, but no it is about

the money.

David Speers: Well what in particular then do you disagree with in terms of these savings the government has

announced today

David Johnston: Well he hasn’t explained the effect on capability. He hasn’t said to us why and how he had

supported the program to this point in time in the White Paper of 2009 there has been no explanation as to the short

fall of capability that deferring this aircraft brings to the table for our defence.

And I have to say he imparts no confidence what so ever that defence is his first priority. It is about the politics of this

coming Tuesday night.

David Speers: Well if the Coalition does form Government next year what will you do on our fighter jet capability,

because we do have a potential capability gap emerging there don’t we.

David Johnston: Brendan Nelson did a remarkable job in filling the gap with 24 Super Hornets. Every RAAF pilot I

speak to says this is a fabulous capability. We would want to see the JSF bear in mind we are one of 11 countries

participating in providing this aircraft and it is very very important that the purchase orders be concrete to secure the

cost and capability of the air craft.

Now it concerns me greatly when the Minister does no explain from a defence perspective what this deferral means.

David Speers: But if they are not ready, they’re not ready are they? So what can you do?

David Johnston: Well I have just come back from Fort Worth as of Monday, you would be surprised to know. These

aircraft are coming along very well they are on schedule for production. I have seen over 40 fuselages in

manufacture. This aircraft is coming along very well.

David Speers: So what is the Minister talking about when he says we are essentially going to be in line with the

United States by pushing back this purchase by two years.

David Johnston: Well I really don’t know what he is talking about. I think he is taking a convenient perspective.

There has been a reconfiguration in respect to a number of the aircraft. I am not sure what the Minister is talking

about - he doesn’t ever explain the details from a defence perspective of what these deferrals mean.

David Speers: So he could go ahead with the purchase you reckon?

David Johnston: Well he hasn’t explained to us why he couldn’t. He has explained that he wants the money for

budgetary purposes well I am sorry from a defence perspective which is my responsibility, that doesn’t cut it.

David Speers: Now on the submarines the government is embarking on a $214 million dollar early stage design

study at least on the purchase of the new 12 next generation submarines. These could eventually cost around 40

billion dollars - what do you think we need when it comes to submarines, there is a lot of debate about this. Do we

need long range submarines, what do we need?

David Johnston: What we need is a reliable submarine design that can be built with a minimum of risk. We have

some of the worlds best submariners in a platform today that many of the senior players in Canberra had a lot to do

with choosing. The Collins Class has been running at $800 million dollars a year to sustain, with very little capability

on offer in defence of Australia. What we want to see is a detailed plan. We have wasted the last three years, this is a

government that is all about the announcement and nothing about delivery.

David Speers: So this sort of study they have announced today is probably a good idea then isn’t it? To work out

what exactly we need.

David Johnston: This is something like the 13th study that has been conducted by Rear Admiral Rowan Moffit and

th i t d I t b li it i ti $200 illi b t th f t i thi t d t t t

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They have deferred it until after the next election. They have wasted three years and they are going to waste a further

12 months.

David Speers: But if you become Minister you are not certain what we need, neither are you, so what would you do?

Have another study or make a decision?

David Johnston: Well I can tell you last week I was in Kiel and I was in Spain. Two very good manufactures, I also

went to France to have a look at what they do they are predominantly focused on nuclear manufacture. The point is

that there three conventional class submarines manufacturers. If we are going to have a conventional class

submarine, which clearly we are then we have only three choices.

The longer the Minister leaves this the more narrow the choice of options to him. Because bear in mind Collins is due

to complete its life in 2025. Now you are never going to get a new submarine in the water by that time.

David Speers: So we should buy something off-the-shelf from one of those European manufacturers?

David Johnston: Not for five years. A European manufacturer will want five years to manufacture the vessel, bear in

mind the cost of $40 or $36 billion dollars as set out by ASPI is only the acquisition cost. That is one third of the total

life cost. This is a $100 billion dollar project. Now a $100 billion dollar project that no Labor minister for defence in the

last three years has dared open the file.

Because of that cost, so what has this minister done? Simply deferred it, and put $200 million on the table, a little ‘too

little, too late’ and said I am not going to make this decision for another 12 months.

David Speers: Something the next government may inherit. I want to finally ask you about the White Paper, it is

going to be a year early. Do you except the Prime Ministers argument tha the changes in this region, the clearer time

frame for withdrawing from Afghanistan do mean that we need a white paper a little earlier?

David Johnston: I think this is the epitome of spin that she herself has said that she would not deliver. What has

changed in our region? I can tell you what has changed David, Australia has presented and provided much more

resources, oil and gas and coal into the region. Our maritime security is evermore important than it was three years


And what is this government doing? It is taking money from defence. It has clearly abandoned the three percent

growth in the defence budget that it promised in the 2009 white paper. The 2009 white paper is shambolic it has not

been supported by its authors. We are left high and dry and so the minister is now saying I am going to bring forward

the next review, which was scheduled for 2014.

Why? The answer is because defence finances will be in such a parlous state next year and the fact of the strategies

outlined in the 2009 white paper are all wrong. So what have we done? Wasted four years effectively.

David Speers: We will have to wrap it up there I am afraid. Shadow Defence Minister David Johnston, I think we get

the point. You think the government is (inaudible) on this and ripping money out of defence in your view. Thanks for

joining us this afternoon.

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