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Transcript of doorstop interview: Commemorative service for the 62nd anniversary of the bombing of Darwin: Thursday, 19 February 2004: service, [Frank] Lewincamp.



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TRANSCRIPT SENATOR THE HON ROBERT HILL Minister for Defence Leader of the Government in the Senate

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DOORSTOP INTERVIEW

Commemorative service for the 62nd anniversary of the bombing of Darwin

Thursday, 19 February 2004

E&oe_______________________________________________________service, Lewincamp

Senator Robert Hill

This is of course a very important commemoration in Darwin. In a way I don’t think it’s as well recognised across Australia as it should be. There are many lessons in this area (inaudible), the need for surveillance, the need for effective civil defence. Darwin demonstrated that it can occur and in this world of terrorism, we still continue to face threats. So I’m pleased to have been able to get to Darwin today and to be part of this commemoration and hopefully have the opportunity to spread the message further across Australia.

Journalist:

Senator was counselling a strong enough action to be taken against Frank Lewincamp?

Senator Hill:

Well the Secretary of the Department was satisfied that what was said to the seminar was consistent with what he said publicly to the Senate Estimates Committee last year and that the other element of the article didn’t relate to statements from Mr Lewincamp. So on that basis the Secretary decided that counselling was the right response.

Journalist:

Are you happy with that?

Senator Hill:

Well I’m happy that the three department and agency heads - the head of ONA, the head of ASIO and head of my department - are satisfied that there is no breach of security. But then it becomes a question of public service administration. Mr Smith looked into that and believed that counselling was the right response and I respect his judgement.

Journalist:

Senator, the admission by Frank Lewincamp, does that strengthen the ALP’s call for an inquiry on Australia’s pre-war intelligence?

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Senator Hill:

I can’t see how it is in any way relevant to that. On the issue of inquiries, we’ve had a parliamentary inquiry and both parties are represented within that inquiry and it’s due to report early next month. We put our agencies before that Committee. They advised the Committee of the intelligence that they had and their assessments on that intelligence and what they advised government. And the parliamentary committee will respond so that inquiry has taken place.

Journalist:

(Inaudible) that intelligence is in disarray in Australia?

Senator Hill:

It’s a nonsense. It’s a nonsense. Mr Lewincamp spoke to a masters course at the university. He has informed us - and he is a highly reputable public servant, senior public servant - and being a public servant that what he said was what he said publicly previously. So the more exotic comments within the article were presumably taken from some other source.

Journalist:

Should Mr Lewincamp be giving off the record lectures? Or people of his nature?

Senator Hill:

I think that’s a very difficult question to answer. Obviously if this is a masters course - these are the future senior intelligence officers of our land and senior strategic guidance people. That senior public servants are willing to contribute to

their learning I think is commendable. When it comes from intelligence officers, I think it becomes an issue of judgement. And it can end up being used in unsatisfactory ways and misused so that’s the argument on the other side. I think

on balance I probably would prefer my senior intelligence officers not to giving such lectures. It’s a pity that they can’t do so. But it just shows that there are risks unfortunately associated with it. and probably on balance better not to.

Journalist:

Did he show poor judgement?

Senator Hill:

No he actually said to the Senate yesterday he was authorised to do that so I guess that was his seniors who authorised his participation in the course. So I wouldn’t reach that conclusion.

Journalist:

Senator, the Melbourne Age is reporting that a senior Cabinet minister questioned our intelligence saying as to why do the Australian intelligence wasn’t as gung ho as the Americans? Is that senior cabinet minister you?

Senator Hill:

We had a discussion in the Senate yesterday about that. I certainly test the intelligence assessment of agencies against each other. I think that that’s a sensible and prudent thing to do. And where there are differences I ask the agencies to explain the differences. You know, very serious consequences flow from these assessments and I think it’s important that Ministers properly understand

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what is being put before them and they properly understand the arguments for the judgements that are made within those assessments.

Journalist:

Have you made a decision for the replacement of the leopard tanks?

Senator Hill:

No. I read in a newspaper this morning that we had. But we are very close to it. My recommendation has now gone to the National Security Committee and the evaluation process has been completed. We tested three different types in a very thorough evaluation and I hope that within a few weeks the NSC will make a decision on that matter.

Journalist:

Have you decided which one you’d prefer?

Senator Hill:

If I made a recommendation I obviously have a preference, yes, on the basis of this thorough analysis. But it’s up to the National Security Committee of Cabinet to make the decision. Therefore I prefer to wait on their decision.

Journalist:

(Inaudible.)

Senator Hill:

But it’s very much looked forward to up here I have to say when you go out to Robertson.

Journalist:

Is that preference for the Abrams?

Senator Hill:

No, I said that I’d - it’s not appropriate for me to express my personal preference.

Journalist:

Will a US training base be established in the Northern Terrritory?

Senator Hill:

No. Well there’s no plan to establish a US training base anywhere. What we’re looking at is, with the United States, as to whether we can enhance training facilities in Australia for the benefit - so that each of our forces and therefore the national security of each of us, and also cooperatively working together. And I think there’s a real window of opportunity there because the United States has very sophisticated training bases and if out of our collaboration we can end up with upgrading - an upgrading of some of our major training facilities for our mutual benefit that would be a great asset for Australia.

Journalist:

Senator can you confirm how many tanks you’ve recommended Australia purchase?

Senator Hill:

No.

Journalist:

Would a substantial proportion of any tanks come up to Darwin?

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Senator Hill:

Firstly the capability from our new tanks will be much greater than what we’ve got at the moment so we’ve got to put numbers in perspective. Where they’ll be based - they’ll be based up here yes. All of them yes. There’ll be a small training group down in Victoria as is the case at the moment, their deployment, their base will be up here.

Journalist:

24 officers discharged from the Army. Are you confident that the Army is now drug free?

Senator Hill:

I’m confident that they’ve got the issue under control. It’s been an unfortunate experience and I think in some way reflects a widespread tolerance or acceptance within the broader community of recreational drugs. But when you’re in the military forces you’re under rules that are different from the rest of civil society. And the rule is that you don’t take those drugs. There’s no ifs or buts about that. And those that breach the rules suffer the consequences.

Journalist:

Four soldiers who returned positive tests have been allowed to stay. What do you say to that then?

Senator Hill:

What occurrs is that in effect there’s a prima facie case that if you’re found to have breached this serious rule you’re likely to be out. They are however given the opportunity to, in terms of natural justice, to put their side of the story. And in those cases their must have been extenuating circumstances that caused their commanders to show a little leniency. It doesn’t affect the principle of zero tolerance which stands within the military and is supported by the Government.

Journalist:

Will you be meeting Claire Martin while you’re in the territory?

Senator Hill:

Yes.

Journalist:

Has the NT, have they show an interest to you in having a US base here because of economic reasons. It might bring more money into the territory?

Senator Hill:

Well yes I think they’re interested - not an American base. They’re interested in if there were to be further bases or enhancement bases in Australia, not surprisingly they would like to see them in the Northern Territory. And no doubt when I see her today she will repeat that. I might say I have similar representations from Queensland and Western Australia. So all decisions are made on merit but you have - I think this is very strategically important. We have significant part of our armed forces based here already. We have significant training bases such as the air bases and the tanks and infantry. You should be in a good position to put a very competitive case. Okay, thanks.

ENDS