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Transcript of interview with Alison Carabine, Radio National Breakfast: 5 September 2012: Indonesian relationship; US Force Posture

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Minister for Defence Stephen Smith - Interview with Alison Carabine, Radio National Breakfast

5 September 2012




TOPICS: Indonesian relationship; US Force Posture.

ALISON CARABINE: A very early good morning, Stephen Smith.

STEPHEN SMITH: Yeah, good morning, Alison. How are you?

ALISON CARABINE: Very well, thank you.

Minister, more than 350 asylum seekers have died in recent months on the journey to

Australia. Will this deal mean fewer people drown at sea?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, there are two things. We’ve seen a number of terrible incidences

recently, and when President Yudhoyono was in Darwin, the Prime Minister and the President

asked relevant ministers to see if there was more that we could do to make the search and

rescue operations more effective, more efficient and quicker, and Anthony Albanese, the

Transport Minister responsible for maritime safety issues, announced a range of

improvements yesterday that was a result of discussions that we had had, and we hope that,

giving greater capacity and capability to BASARNAS, the Indonesian Search and Rescue

Authority by giving access to where the maritime civilian naval vessels are, who can also

assist on search and rescue, instantaneous communication and, also, the prospect of our

aerial assets having speedy access to Indonesian airspace and, also, the potential to land and

refuel and then return to a rescue area.


STEPHEN SMITH: I think all of this will help.

ALISON CARABINE: Minister, does that-

STEPHEN SMITH: I think all of this will help.

ALISON CARABINE: Yeah, that should, hopefully, all help. But the increased or the speedy

access to Indonesian airspace, including refuelling at Indonesian airfields, does that mean

Australian planes won’t require Indonesian clearance to enter territorial airspace. And, if so,

are there any strategic implications of that?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well no, that’s the whole point. We’ve agreed, in principle, to do this, but

there are about 11 agencies all up who’ve got to get all of their authorities in a row. So, what

we’re aiming to do is to effect a hotline or a speedy clearance, so that the approvals will still

be required to be given. What we need to do is to give those [indistinct] access approvals in a

speedy way, and that’s what we’ve agreed to seek to implement.

So far as the landing at Indonesian airports is concerned, or relevant airfields is concerned,

what that will seek to prevent is search and rescue planes flying to the north, then having to

return to Christmas Island or further south. And if we can land in Indonesia, with their

requisite speedy approvals and refuel, then that’ll save hours.

But in addition to all of those arrangements, what we want to do is to persuade people to

stop getting on boats and putting themselves at risk, and that’s why the Government’s

announced offshore processing in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, because we don’t want

people putting themselves at risk in the first instance.

ALISON CARABINE: Last week, Minister, 55 asylum seekers rescued by HMAS Maitland off

Java were transferred to an Indonesian vessel and taken to an Indonesian port. Did these

people not claim asylum before the decision was made to remove them from the Maitland?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I’ve seen people trying to make a great deal of this case. From my

perspective and from my observations, and the observations of Minister Clare, who also has

responsibility in this area, [indistinct] a search and rescue operation where people on the

high seas having to do two things. To, firstly, rescue people who are in grave distress and

then seek to get them urgent medical attention made a judgement that the best way to give

them the urgent medical and other humanitarian assistance required was to see them

returned to Indonesia.

That’s a search and rescue decision made by people on the ground. It’s not made by people

from afar. So, I regard that as a very good example of people coming to the aid and support

of people in distress and then making judgements on the ground at the operational level to

give them much-needed medical and other assistance as soon as humanly possible.

ALISON CARABINE: But if they had claimed asylum, shouldn’t they have been taken to


STEPHEN SMITH: Well, if they’d been taken to Australia, they wouldn’t have received the

urgent medical assistance that they were requesting. This was not a decision that was made

by an Immigration official in Australia or a Member of Parliament or a Minister in Australia.

You had a rescue on the high seas, you know, people in distress. You had people asking and

crying out to be helped and you had people who were in urgent need of medical attention.

And people on board the boats at the time, people who were on the ground making

judgements and doing life-saving things made the decision that the best way of rendering the

urgent medical assistance was to take them to Indonesia.

ALISON CARABINE: Minister, later today, Australia and Indonesia will be co-signing the

defence cooperation arrangement. How will this change the bilateral defence relationship?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it won’t so much change it, as to give a formal structure to it. The

most important document we’ve signed in recent times with Indonesia, which reflects the

modern relationship, is the Lombok Treaty which Hassan Wirayuda, then Foreign Minister and

I signed in Perth in 2008 and brought it into effect. And under the Lombok Treaty, there is

provision for security and defence arrangements.

We’ve got a very well developed, practical cooperation arrangement with Indonesia, but the

Defence Cooperation Agreement which Defence Minister Purnomo and I will sign today sets

and establishes the framework for - the formal framework for all of that practical

cooperation. Whether it’s English language training by Australians in Indonesia, whether it’s

Indonesian military personnel coming to Australia for education and training purposes,

whether it’s the work we do together on peacekeeping, or, indeed, whether it’s, for example,

as occurred recently, Indonesian aerial assets, Sukhoi fighter planes coming to Darwin for

Exercise Pitch Black.

So, it sets the framework for the very extensive practical cooperation that we have with

Indonesia. It’s at its highest level for some considerable time, and that’s a very good thing. It

reflects the strength of the defence relationship, but also the relationship generally.

ALISON CARABINE: And how much of this is about calming some Indonesian nerves about

the marine rotation through northern Australia? There was some unease in Jakarta about this

venture when it was first announced.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, when it was first announced, there were some suggestions publicly of

worry about the rotation, but President Yudhoyono in very quick order came out saying that

he saw this as being good, because he could see United States-Australian marines engaged in

humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercises, and he would very much like to see

Indonesia being a part of that.

That was a very good suggestion. We’ve agreed to that. And later this year we’ll see a

desktop exercise of Australia, US and Indonesian Defence Force personnel engaged in a

humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise and that’ll be replicated in Indonesia next


And we’ve also encouraged our ASEAN-associated partners, our East Asia Summit partners to

also in the future take part, either practical involvement or by way of observer status.

So, it’s hardly rated a mention in our talks here. Indeed, last night, over dinner, Defence

Minister Purnomo said that he saw that as a good thing. There were no longer concerns about

it. And that’s a very good thing from Australia’s perspective.

ALISON CARABINE: It’s 16 minutes past eight on Radio National Breakfast. Our guest this

morning is Defence Minister Stephen Smith who’s on the line from Jakarta.

Minister, ramp ceremonies will be held today for the five Australian soldiers killed last week in

Afghanistan. Has there been any progress in the hunt for the ANA soldier who turned his rifle

on three of our five dead?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, you’re quite right, the ramp ceremonies will take place today in

Amberley in Brisbane and Richmond in New South Wales. That’ll be, you know, a very tough

moment for the families concerned. It’ll be the single largest ramp ceremony we’ve had for -

well, since the Vietnam War. So, this is a terrible moment for the families and it’ll be a tough

moment for Defence and the nation.

We continue to trace Hek Matullah. We’re doing that in cooperation with International

Security Assistance Force, and, also, Afghan National Security Forces.

But I’m not in a position to indicate that we’ve made any further progress on that, which I

and the Chief of the Defence Force have previously put on record. And, as you will be aware,

in an operation over the weekend, we detained a person who we believe had either actually

assisted in his escape or was intending to assist in his escape, and he continues to be in


ALISON CARABINE: The reward on offer for information about Hek Matullah is just $5000.

Surely, we can do better than that.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, that’s a significant amount of money in Afghan terms. Rewards have

been posted in the past; they’ll no doubt be posted in the future. The amount of the award is

essentially done in conjunction - operationally on the ground by International Security

Assistance Forces. So, I’m not proposing to comment or disturb that, but that is a significant

amount of money in Afghan terms. It makes the point that if there’s any information out

there that can be handed over to Australian, Afghan or international forces, then that will be

of assistance.

But we are pursuing every avenue available to us in our efforts to capture Hek Matullah who

on - whilst we describe him as the alleged perpetrator on the preponderance of evidence is

the person responsible for this terrible atrocity.

ALISON CARABINE: Yeah, let’s hope that we capture him pretty soon. Stephen Smith, thanks

very much for joining Radio National Breakfast.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Alison; thanks very much.