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Transcript of doorstop interview: National Convention Centre, Canberra: Tuesday, 24 February 2004: JORN, missile defence, Newspoll.



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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

National Convention Centre, Canberra

10:15am, Tuesday, 24 February 2004

E&oe_________________________________________JORN, missile defence, Newspoll

Journalist:

Minister, how will upgrading JORN make it better suited for missile defence?

Senator Robert Hill:

Further improvement of the sensors. And basically it’s principle objective was to see aircraft over large distances. Further upgrades will allow it to see much smaller objects such as missiles.

Journalist:

Is that the prime objective?

Senator Hill:

The prime objective? No, the prime objective remains what it’s been, but with new technologies, new science, we now have the capability for it to do more. This was a capability that was noted by United States officials when they were recently in Australia and the Government has taken the decision to agree to a $60 million program to further update and improve the capabilities of the system. So it’s a vote of confidence in the system but also recognition that it can do much more than what was its original intention.

Journalist:

How often do you predict the upgrade being required based on this? It’s only about a year old or so. How often do you expect to sort of have further spends on it?

Senator Hill:

Well I think it’ll basically for its life. This is part of the new reality that technology is changing so rapidly that to keep pace you need to be constantly upgrading your systems. And we are now the world leader in that particular technology. We have a niche advantage in that regard. Other major powers are now interested in getting back in to that technology so for both a national security - for both national security reasons and for Australian industry reasons, there’s a good basis to continue with its revolution.

Journalist:

Minister was - you mentioned border protection in relation to this upgrade. Have any specific incidents motivated the need for this - such as the arrival of boats last year?

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Senator Hill:

No, no not specifically. It - better integrating the three radars will provide an even greater coverage than we have at the moment and in further improving the sensitivity of the sensors obviously will better enable us to see objects in difficult environmental circumstances. So you could say there’s an incidental benefit in that regard but that in itself hasn’t driven the decision.

Journalist:

Senator Hill, Opposition leader Mark Latham says that Labor supports the Pine Gap, or the Australian-US cooperation. But he doesn’t support the Star Wars program. Is that kind of an oxymoron? Do you have to support one to support the other?

Senator Hill:

Well I think it’s political. It’s trying to have a bet each way but it doesn’t make any sense to me because the joint facilities in Australia have helped provide the West with early warning of missile launches, thus to protect the west. This was the old way under the Cold War. Mutually assured destruction was the response. Now we’ve got a better way of responding. We can response by actually defeating the missiles before they reach the target - so why would you be opposed to that? It

doesn’t make any sense to me unless it’s for pure political reasons, in effect wanting to please both sides.

Journalist:

Logistically though could you support one without supporting the other? Wouldn’t intelligence be shared anyway?

Senator Hill:

Well no not - it depends on what capabilities you want and what’s the purpose of those capabilities. What we say is that if we can contribute to providing a way of defeating incoming missiles either against Australian interests or against our friends and allies, that’s the - that’s security for the future. It’s a defensive capability and we find it very difficult to see an argument against it. That’s why it seems to me the only argument against it is a political one. He wants to be seen to be sort of pro-West in one way but not too pro-West and that’s not really the way to approach national security issues.

Journalist:

Under the agreement that we have with the States though on Pine Gap, would it be feasible to actually say we want this intelligence used for one reason but not for ballistic missile defence system? Like could Australia actually dictate those terms, which is what Labor seems to be suggesting we could do?

Senator Hill:

I suppose we technically could. It’s a joint agreement but basically it’s - a lot of the equipment is American equipment but it’s sovereign on Australian soil. But we’re in an alliance to protect our interests and to help our alliance colleagues to protect theirs, so why you would want to do it I don’t understand. If we can help provide the capability to defeat incoming missiles, why would you be opposed to that? That just doesn’t make sense to me at all unless it’s purely a political position to win - in effect to try and win both sides of the argument.

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Journalist:

So are you saying - I just want to make sure I get this right. So you’re saying that Pine Gap isn’t necessarily - the Pine Gap intelligence facility isn’t necessarily needed to make the Son of Star Wars defence shield program work?

Senator Hill:

To make missile defence work you need a range of sensors. The more sensors you’ve got and the broader their capability, the better position you’re going to be in. And the joint facilities in Australia have been recognised as providing potential support for such a system. That’s really all I’m saying. When - we’ve had discussions before and I’ve said before capabilities such as the joint facility, the new air warfare destroyers that we’re going to get, with probably the AEGIS system that will allow sensing and monitoring from a ship or even firing from a ship, the JORN system, over the horizon radar system that we’ve been talking about - all these have the potential to assist in an effective missile defence system. And that’s why we’re talking with the United States about how we might be able to use our capabilities to better protect Australia in the future and why Mr Latham would want to rule out wanting Australia to protect its interests in the future I don't understand.

Journalist:

Minister how close are we to actually getting this Memorandum of Understanding with the States? Can you - is there any detail that we’ve actually agreed to yet on what Australia’s involvement would be?

Senator Hill:

The time table they’re working to is hopefully having the memorandum settled by the middle of this year so it’s only a few months away. At the same time we’ve been talking the United States about a number of the projects that we might jointly work on under the memorandum which is really in effect sets the framework. And the sort of projects that I’ve mentioned including others in the research area - other types of projects that we might work on jointly together in the future.

Journalist:

Senator Hill on the issue of the Newspoll, is it a positive feedback for the government today?

Senator Hill:

Well - what do they say? They won’t comment on polls. I think the thing for us is to get on with the business of governing well. We’ve got a challenging agenda before us in the Parliament. We sit three weeks out of four in March. We’ve got important legislative initiatives to get through. Health is at the top of our priority. I think if we concentrate on governing well, addressing the big economic issues, providing for the national security of this country. We demonstrated an education what we’re able to do before Christmas. We expect in March to demonstrate what we can do in health then the future will look after itself.

ENDS