Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Transcript of doorstop interview: Defence and Industry Conference, Canberra: 22 June 2004: Labor's defence policy, Afghanistan, poll, JSF, missile defence.



Download PDFDownload PDF

Senator Robert Hill Minister for Defence

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW

Defence and Industry Conference

Canberra

10:00am ,Tuesday, 22 June 2004

E&oe__________Labor’s defence policy, Afghanistan, poll, JSF, missile defence

Journalist:

Minister you said that voters are going to make up their mind about defence policies in ways that they haven’t for a long time. How are you going to tell them that there are real differences between you and Latham?

Senator Hill:

I think they are already becoming aware of that. The cut and run policy of Labor in relation to Iraq typifies their approach. We believe in engaging within the wider world community. To defeat terrorism you’ve got to be prepared to go out and meet it head on. To defeat threats associated with weapons of mass destruction you might need to do it also. Labor’s policy is to withdraw to a continental Australia defence approach. We think that that is highly risky and unwise in

today’s world.

Journalist:

What’s wrong with defence of Australia as an election platform? It sounds pretty attractive I would have thought to a lot of Australians.

Senator Hill:

In a simplistic way. But the idea that you can defend Australia simply from within in an inter-related world, in the new world, is as I said simply naive. I don’t think anybody can sensibly argue it but Labor seems to be doing so. And if it gets to the crunch, would the people of Australia prefer their fight to be on mainland

Australia or would they prefer it to be as far away from Australia as possible and I suggest it would be the latter.

Journalist:

Isn’t your own strategic doctrine, entitled Defence of Australia Minister?

Senator Hill:

Yes - but how do you best defend Australia? And what we say is that you need to be - you need to address each threat in terms of that threat scenario and if it’s in relation to terrorism you do as we did, go out and tackle organisations such as al-Qaeda head on in Afghanistan while at the same time seeking to beef up counter terrorism capabilities within Australia. It’s not, as I said, an either or situation. But to be able to meet a threat outside of Australia you’ve got to have the capability to do so. What the Labor Party is saying is that it wouldn’t invest in long range capabilities.

Journalist:

Do you accept there’s a resurgence of al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan?

Senator Hill:

Of al-Qaeda and Taliban?

Journalist:

Yes.

Senator Hill:

There’s certainly a resurgence it’s - I would argue that al-Qaeda was never totally defeated in Afghanistan. What was defeated was its headquarters, it’s command and control, the destruction of many of its major weapons caches and its training camps. So al-Qaeda operatives nevertheless still remained in Afghanistan. I don’t see them being able to export their terror in the way that they did before the attacks by the coalition within Afghanistan. So my interpretation is that that operation was significantly successful. In relation to the Taliban, that expression is used I think very broadly these days to encompass all of those who support a more theocratic religious basis for a future Afghanistan. Some clearly were part of what was the previous Taliban administration and others I would call loosely associated. But gradually the model is being extended across Afghanistan and nobody’s ever argued that it’s not going to be other than a long hard struggle. So in summary, it’s a long answer, in summary al-Qaeda still exists in Afghanistan. Taliban and their supporters still exist but I think there have also been very great successes.

Journalist:

Are you heartened by an AC Nielson poll which shows that 40 per cent of Australians believe that the US alliance would be weakened if Labor were to come to power?

Senator Hill:

Well this is a very anti-American Labor Opposition. It’s more so than ever in my political life. We’ve never had experience of Labor leaders bagging United States leaders in such personal terms as that of Mr Latham. I know that Australians - Australian are smart enough to understand the value of a strategic alliance with the global super power. It’s more than a strategic alliance, and I don’t use this expression often, but it is actually a special relationship because it’s based on shared values and not simply on an agreement. And Australians know the importance of investing in that alliance. If you’re ever going to need to call upon it, the response you get will be commensurate with what you’ve been prepared to put in.

Journalist:

Are you concerned there’s a possible conflict of interest involving Dr Gumley in his former role with ASC and his involvement in the selection of an air warfare destroyer contender?

Senator Hill:

No. Dr Gumley was the Chief Executive of the Submarine Corporation and they may be a bidder. But he’s not now with the Submarine Corporation. He’s now with us, the government. And he will judge - any part he plays, and we’re still to set up obviously the probity arrangements, any part he will be playing will be what’s in the best interests of the Australian people. To pursue that argument you would say we should never employ previous industry leaders within Defence. I hold the contrary view. I actually want to employ more and he’s been a great find

for the DMO and for Defence and certainly has my total support.

Journalist:

What’s the - in your mind what’s the indicative date now for the delivery of the Joint Strike Fighter? Is it 2012 or has it shifted out to 2014?

Senator Hill:

This is Australia’s in-service date? There are pressures on the timelines, there’s no doubt about that. The weight issue associated with the vertical, the short take off-vertical landing version has led to some delay in the project even though it doesn’t relate to the conventional aircraft that we’re purchasing. More investment is being put into the design and demonstration phase in order to overcome those problems. My latest advice is that our in-service date still stands. But we wouldn’t want to see - we would want to see the problems solved rather than new problems develop. The project as a whole is going extraordinarily well if you - the

aircraft engines are operating well, the avionics program, so many of what is the most complex combat aircraft program in global history is going extraordinarily well. 20,000 - in excess of 20,000 people are now working on the project. But it’s highly innovative as it has to be, highly technologically complex and there will always be hiccups. But at the moment our in-service date still stands.

Journalist:

Have you decided on location of a US training base?

Senator Hill:

No. I expect to have further discussions on that in the United States in a couple of weeks.

Journalist:

Tell us about the Memorandum of Understanding on missile defence, can you tell us what sort of things that will cover?

Senator Hill:

The MOU is basically the framework under which particular projects will be developed. We had to determine what projects will most benefit Australia and obviously they need to be of US interest if we’re going to get the benefit of a US contribution. The first project will be in the science and technology area and we’ll

link in DSTO’s skills, particularly in the broader surveillance area. Other projects that we expect to work on in the years ahead, and it’s a long term program of course, include the over the horizon radar, which the US are particularly interested in because we were the country that went ahead with the further development of that capability when others didn’t and as the global strategic environment is changed, it’s now become a very valuable technology and also in relation to the development of our air warfare destroyers which will have the potential to play a role not only at the sensor level in picking up the launch and trajectory of a missile, but also depending on what level of upgrade we undertake, it may have a role at the shooter end as well.

Journalist:

Do we want a second radar in Australia to cover the East Coast which as I understand isn’t’ covered by the existing over the horizon radar?

Senator Hill:

Well we have a program - well there are three major radar systems now and it covers a very large part of Australia’s coastline and those systems are currently being upgraded even further. We don’t have a plan to develop further radars of that type at this time.

Journalist:

Are we interested in only the in-theatre elements of missile defence or are we interested in the broader picture, to defend population centres which seems to be the US ultimate aim?

Senator Hill:

Well we’re at the beginning of a very long program. With technologies changing rapidly it’s difficult to define capabilities 25 years out. I wouldn’t have used the expression in-theatre. At the moment we’re - the focus is on the technologies and the capabilities and us defining where our interests will lie. Where we can provide economic benefits to Australia by contributing and where we can get capability for the future and the air warfare destroyers is the obvious example. If we’re upgrading to that, to air warfare destroyers for a range of reasons, but having the capability to intercept ballistic missiles or to contribute to others being able to, friends and allies being able to effectively intercept ballistic missiles would be a great advantage for Australia.

Journalist:

So we are interested in protecting populated centres from ballistic missile attack? You’ve talked about, in your speech, the threat of rogue states …

Senator Hill:

I’m not - I wouldn’t rule out in the longer term some capability to protect a population centre. Okay? Thank you.

ENDS