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Transcript of doorsto interview: Canberra: 15 April 2009: The outcomes of the Defence White Paper community sonsultation program.



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THE HON JOEL FITZGIBBON MP Minister for Defence

www.defence.gov.au

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

THE OUTCOMES OF THE DEFENCE WHITE PAPER COMMUNITY CONSULTATION PROGRAM

Doorstop Interview, Wednesday, 15 April 2009

E&OE

THE HON. JOEL FITZGIBBON, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE; STEPHEN LOOSLEY, WHITE PAPER COMMUNITY CONSULTATION PROGRAM

JOEL FITZGIBBON:

Thanks for coming along on this bright and sunny Canberra day.

Id like to acknowledge the Honourable Mike Kelly, Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Defence leadership; ladies and gentlemen; of course, ladies and gentlemen of the press.

There was no greater obligation for any government than the defence of its country, its people, and their interests. Doing so successfully and effectively requires smart, long-term planning.

In Australia, the White Paper process is the vehicle which provides necessary disciplinee to that planning exercise.

Inexplicably, government in the past has sought to impose that discipline on itself on an irregular basis, allowing a drift to develop between strategic guidance and force structure planning.

Given we strive to plan 20 to 30 years ahead, this is surely dangerous, even in periods when both the strategic and economic outlook seems constant.

But at a time like the present, when the only constant seems change itself, this approach is one which surely deserves consignment to the dustbin of Australian military history.

In considering what our future force should look like, government needs to consider the range of activities our force may be called upon to undertake.

They range from humanitarian aid through to stabilisation efforts; right through to the effective responses to existential threats.

Of course, within the limited resources available, a prudent government will seek to provide a force capable of addressing all of these contingencies. It then becomes a question of proportion or weight.

A more regular threat assessment and review process would surely provide better guarantees that government gets that balance right.

Having said that, there is of course one other constant - hedging in relation to the defence of our sovereignty should always be a first priority, as should ensuring that our men and women in uniform have all the capability, training, and protection they need to do their job as safely, as effectively, and as efficiently as is possible.

One thing government has done well in recent history is to take these issues to the people, to provide the broader community - both within and outside Canberra - with the opportunity to have a say in this critical decision-making process.

Throughout 2008, this community consultation process was undertaken by some of Australia's finest: Stephen Loosley as chair; Arthur Sinodinos as deputy chair; Professor Tanya Monro; Peter Collins; Rear Admiral Simon Harrington; brave the inconvenience of regional travel, the freezing cold in some circumstances, and the extremities of both the left and the right in the name of democracy.

I bet they've got some stories about that too.

In doing so, in such a dedicated manner, they have produced what can only be described as an excellent report, and I now invite Stephen forward to tell us about both the report, and the process which led to its development.

STEPHEN LOOSLEY:

Well thank you very much Minister.

Mike Kelly; the CDF; Secretary Nick Warner; ladies and gentlemen.

It was a privilege to chair the community consultation panel for 2008, and to report to the Government here as part of the White Paper process for 2009.

I'd begin by thanking Arthur Sinodinos and my fellow panelists for an outstanding job and for the support that we received from Nick Warner, Cate Byrne, and the team over at Defence, in making things run smoothly through some 30 community consultations the length and breadth of the Commonwealth, and any number of more particularised meetings with policy makers; with people from state and territorial governments; with think tanks,

largely which have emerged since the last community consultation in 2000 - on which experience we built.

It's fair to say of the Australian people, ladies and gentlemen, we can draw this conclusion not only from the submissions that we received - some 450 - but also from the research that we commissioned, that there are very

mainstream views on national security issues and on defence matters.

And the mainstream is very broad and it's very deep. It tends to be bipartisan. It tends to cut across the regions. So you do find different emphases and different priorities in different parts of the Commonwealth, and that's not unexpected. But it also tends to be very realistic, and very well informed. But above all, Australians are immensely proud of the Australian Defence Force, in terms of combat roles, but also in terms of humanitarian interventions and peacekeeping. And that pride comes through everywhere.

Australians also argue for a holistic view of national security. Not only looking at what Defence is able to do, but seeing Defence as part of our national security strategy overall, which involves diplomacy; our bilateral and multilateral relationships; defence is a policy instrument consistent with what we do in terms of humanitarian missions - [coughs], excuse me, I'm suffering from a bit of a lurgy here - in terms of what we do with Australian and international NGOs; and our overall national and international commitments.

Australians recognise that while our security situation broadly is benign, there are changing geo-strategic circumstances; that there are new and emerging threats to our security - cyberspace being one of those that was brought home to the panel.

Australians are also aware that climate change brings with it emerging problems which will have consequences for Australian policy makers in the future.

For example, pressures on resources; pressures on fish stocks for example in our northern waters translates over time, in all probability to pressures upon us in the southern ocean. And it will be a generation before some of these issues emerge in reality, but emerge in all likelihood they will.

In terms of the range of our findings, I'll deal with some of the area of strategic perspectives. In terms of the critical nature of the Australian American relationship, overwhelmingly Australians recognise its value and support its continuation.

There's an interesting view that when Australians talk about the national interest in terms of our economic future, broadly they talk about the relationship with China. When we talk about national security however, we talk about the relationship with the United States.

The cha… changing geo-strategic make-up also takes into consideration the fact that potentially new great powers, in China and India, may well be emerging in the region now.

There remain ongoing concerns about the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons; and of course you may be aware that the report was written well before the latest North Korean adventure.

Australia's maritime security is assuming a far greater prominence in our national security discourse. Concerns about the threat of terrorism remain, although it's far less a front-of-mind issue than it was of recent years.

We looked specifically, ladies and gentlemen, at the role that the Australian armed forces should play. Now, overall most Australians see the key roles of the ADF as being the securing of Australia's resources, including our offshore resources and in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, not surprisingly, there is a particular emphasis upon that critical mission; to provide border security independently or with an appropriate agency; to provide counterterrorism suppro… support to Australian law enforcement agencies; contributing to disaster relief operations in Australia; leading stabilisation, humanitarian and disaster relief operations in our region; making a meaningful contribution to high intensity operations in our region; and contributing to global security through close cooperation with allies and through United Nations peacekeeping operations.

As I said, Australians are well-informed on these issues and they are articulate in terms of the arguments that come forward.

For Australian industry, there are interesting ideas in terms of how to encourage innovation. There are ideas in terms of lifting recruitment.

There's a proposal in our report for a hundred leading Australians to be appointed as ambassadors for the ADF, to assist with recruitment through a specific armed forces week, which would focus on the needs of the ADF and the potential for careers for young Australian men and women.

There are ideas for a more creative use of Reserves and the integration, better integration, of Reserves with the ADF.

And looking ahead, there was a very strong argument that emerged, particularly within sections of the defence community and within some of the think tanks, to move with new generation capabilities, such as new generation submarines.

Minister, it was a privilege to chair the consultation. The report is unanimous in its detail, unanimous in its findings; and to maintain the bipartisanship that existed on the panel, we do intend to brief the Opposition at an early date in the near future on this.

I will just tell one story about the consultation which suggests something about Australians. When we were in Sydney we had a small demonstration outside about one of the foreign deployments, and about halfway through the consultation I noticed a number of the demonstrators come to the door and then come in. And I though to myself, well, this might prove to be interesting. And the demonstrators then came through, looked about, went straight to the tea and coffee that was on offer, filled their cups with tea and coffee, their pockets with biscuits and then went back to the demonstration outside.

[Laughter]

And I thought, it's a good country when you can have a demonstration that acts in such a peaceful manner and no-one blinks an eyelid.

Minister, we commend our report to the Government and ultimately to the Australian Parliament. We trust it will help shape the White Paper. I must mention that Mike Pezzullo, who's had a principal responsibility in drafting the White Paper, was plugged into our process very early on and consistently made himself available to talk to us about the ideas that were emerging, about the thinking that was abroad in the community, and we trust that when the White Paper comes to Government and the Parliament, a number of the ideas that shaped our report will also shape the White Paper when it's released.

We trust that it's given the Australian Parliament some additional policy options and some additional ballast in taking the necessary decisions for Australian national security strategy and for defence policy over the next 20 to

30 years.

Thank you.

JOEL FITZGIBBON:

Thanks very much, Steve.

And well, in the very near future, ladies and gentlemen, the Government will release the first White Paper in almost a decade.

The document and its associated reform project is the product of 18 months of hard work and slog. The White Paper consultation team has been a very, very important contributor to that process and I thank them most very sincerely. I also thank the Chief of the Defence Force, Secretary Nick Warner, the service chiefs, White Paper dep sec Mike Pezzullo and his team and all of those who worked under all of those people by way of making a contribution to what is an important project.

In the not too distant future, you'll have a white paper coming your way and I know you're going to find it interesting and exciting.

Now, the panel has generously agreed to take questions about the report and the processes leading up to it, so I invite you now to ask either Stephen or any of the panel members any questions you might have about the report.

And of course, if you've got some collateral questions you'd like to put to me about White Paper, I'll be very happy to attempt to answer them, at least in the constraint of the fact that the white paper is, of course, yet to be released.

Questions? Brendan.

QUESTION:

A question of the White Paper, could you give us any idea of when it might be released, and might it come out before the Budget, and what [indistinct] comes out after the Budget?

JOEL FITZGIBBON:

I'm assuming this is a question to the Minister rather than the White Paper consultation panel. All I can say, Brendan, is that the White Paper will be released in the very near future.

QUESTION:

Mr Loosley, any sense in your consultation that there's an imminent fear about the growing militarisation of China, and China as a threat?

STEPHEN LOOSLEY:

This did not really emerge in any strong sense. There's a sense that Australia's geo-strategic circumstance is changing over time and Australians are cautious. But there was no palpable sense that China was emerging as a

threat or a strategic adversary, Kieran.

As I said, China is seen more in terms of being an economic partner. In terms of the national security interest, the relationship with the United States tends to be the pivotal axis on which Australians look to the future.

QUESTION:

Mr Loosley, what do you see as the principal difference between your findings this time and the community consultation report conducted nine years ago?

STEPHEN LOOSLEY:

It's a good question in the sense that if you looked at the panel chaired by Ambassador Peacock in '99, there was a real focus on a couple of issues in the particular; East Timor was very high on the agenda which meant the

relationship with Indonesia featured prominently.

And border security was uppermost in people's minds in, particularly in north Queensland and Northern Territory and in parts of - parts of WA.

The response on relations with Indonesia - and I think we can give a blue pencil tick to governments of both persuasions here - response on Indonesia is overwhelmingly positive. And while there were occasional questions on border intrusion and border security, some of those actually came down to how effective Australian border security had become; and not only in terms of our technology, but how effectively some of the indigenous rangers, for example, in the Territory were, in making certain that illegals were picked up very - very quickly.

So, it was a much broader view, I think also, of the national security circumstance that confronts the Commonwealth, rather than specifically focused on a couple of very, very difficult issues at the time.

JOEL FITZGIBBON:

By the way, while I invite and welcome questions from the media, others are also welcome to ask questions - Neil James for example here, he's here from the Australian Defence Association - anyone who would like to ask a question is welcome to do so.

QUESTION:

There seems to be a fair bit of emphasis on Australia's submarine capacity. What are your views, the two of you, on whether we should have more than six, or up to 12 new submarines?

JOEL FITZGIBBON:

While I'm very tempted - you invite me, of course, to pre-empt the White Paper outcomes and naturally I have no intention of doing so today - but I thank you for the opportunity.

QUESTION:

Speaking more broadly, do we need - is there a need for a bigger spend on the newer submarines, given that we're already having problems attracting the sailors [indistinct] the submariners [indistinct]?

JOEL FITZGIBBON:

Well, as I said in my opening remarks, of course, I think it's incumbent for any government to place as a first priority any potential threats to our sovereign interest.

QUESTION:

[Indistinct] a lot of the discussion on China, but in terms of Chinalco, and of sovereign investments from foreign powers. Are you saying that despite all of this, the concept of the yellow peril, the red menace, is actually dead in Australia?

STEPHEN LOOSLEY:

I don't know that it's dead, but it's on life support I think. The circumstances, Paul, are that Australians see our economic future as having an economic partnership with China, as with other great trading partners, be it Japan, Korea, the United States and so on. And…

QUESTION:

But is there a crossover between the security aspect of it and the national interest aspect of it?

STEPHEN LOOSLEY:

Australians seem very comfortably [sic] in terms of talking and thinking about the national interest on economy and the Chinese role, and national interest and security and our relationship with the United States very easily. It's thinking along parallel lines with which most Australians appear to be very

comfortable, judging by what was put to us and what we learned in our consultations and beyond.

I suspect that that notion of the yellow peril is probably now 40, 50 years out of date. Michael.

QUESTION:

Mr Loosley, if everyone is saying, what about China? And [indistinct] what about Indonesia? Where is the threat that would demand the new generation of submarines? What are they for?

JOEL FITZGIBBON:

Well, Michael, it's pretty hard to respond to that question, again without pre-empting the White Paper outcomes. You're making some assumptions about those outcomes, which I'm not in a position to respond to today.

What I can say is that I'm sure all of us collectively believe that China will make an important contribution as a growing power in the region, in an economic sense in particular, in the future, and it's incumbent upon us all as international partners to make sure that overwhelmingly that contribution is a positive one; as I'm sure it will be.

QUESTION:

Mr Loosley…

JOEL FITZGIBBON:

No, I'm sorry, I'll come back; I'm just going to go to Neil James.

QUESTION:

Why when the Defence community consultation papers finished at the end of last year, weren't they released then, so public debate, particularly the media debate, could have been more informed over the last three months?

JOEL FITZGIBBON:

Well first of all I would say that the public consultation process has been a key input in the Government's consideration of the White Paper development process along the way. And, as I understand it, that's been the timing of that process is quite a normal one.

QUESTION:

Why has it got a December '08 [indistinct]? We haven't had much time to digest [indistinct].

JOEL FITZGIBBON:

Well, I'm not sure how much time you want to digest it, but I'm sure you've got plenty of time between now and the release of the White Paper to do so.

Brendan, you've had one, so I'll just…

QUESTION:

[Indistinct] some concern in the community about the utility of heavy armour, such as the illustrations you've got here. Was the review of the proponents of such equipment, sort of, really sort of akin to sort of dinosaurs looking up at a meteorite shower?

STEPHEN LOOSLEY:

No, there was, there was none of that. Australians are very realistic about national security. And when you're being asked to look 20 or 30 years ahead, they understand that circumstances change.

Now, the question earlier was about what had changed between 2000 and now. Well, one thing that very definitely changed was Australians view of the Collins Class. It's now seen as a very formidable asset for the ADF and for the Navy - very formidable. And, Australians want to build upon that experience, that skill, that technology, and the capacity of our submariners for the future.

So that's something that emerged, emerged very clearly.

But on the issue of heavy armour and so on, none of that.

QUESTION:

Mr Loosley…

CONVENER:

Two more questions.

QUESTION:

Just in relation, more broadly regarding defence budget allocation - in your consultations did people express a desire for there to be more money spent on defence? And if so, in which areas? Or did anyone express a view that we spend too much on defence?

STEPHEN LOOSLEY:

You have both, Daniel. You have people arguing different points of view.

For example, some people will argue that the defence budget overall should be cut, then turn around and say, but we should spend more money on our capacity for humanitarian intervention, and that we should have C-17s for humanitarian intervention.

So you get a tremendous complexity of arguments.

Most Australians appear to be quite comfortable with the scale of the defence budget and the three per cent real growth which has a bipartisan consensus in the Parliament at the moment.

You get a wealth of different arguments. I think it's fair to say most Australians seem comfortable with the defence budget as it currently exists.

CONVENER:

Last question.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible question]

JOEL FITZGIBBON:

I'm sorry, I didn't hear the…

CONVENER:

I think, I think the question was, do, does the chairman believe those attitudes may have changed in the context of the current global financial crisis?

STEPHEN LOOSLEY:

We mentioned the impact of the, the GFC in our report. I think the honest answer is, most Australians expect value for money, and there to be greater scrutiny, not only on defence spending, but everywhere in government.

But in terms of the budget overall, I think provided value for money is, is there and Australians see that, they don't have great difficulty with the defence budget as it currently exists.

JOEL FITZGIBBON:

Well I thank you all for your strong interest, both in the White Paper consultation process and the broader Defence White Paper and reform project.

Again, we look forward in the not too distant future, of producing an exciting document, one of which will be of intense interest to all of you.

And again, I thank very much Stephen, Arthur, and members of the panel.

Thanks for coming along.

* * END * *