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Doorstop interview of the Minister for Defence, Senator Robert Hill: DSTO, Edinburgh, South Australia: 25 February 2005: Science awards, Iraq, Air Warfare Destroyers, medical equipment.



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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 DEFENCE SCIENCE AWARDS

DSTO, Edinburgh

11am Friday 25 February 2005

E&oe_______Science awards, Iraq, Air Warfare Destroyers, medical equipment

Senator Robert Hill:

The depth of this resource, this science resource that we have here contributing to our defence capability is not well understood in the Australian community. We’re very lucky to have so many dedicated scientists who commit themselves to defence capability and therefore make a major career contribution to our nation. So it’s good for me once a year to have a chance to give out awards to those who have been recognised for special attention such as the award to Todd today for the really fantastic contribution he made in the development of the combat system on the Collins which has received world recognition. But as he would be the first to say, he’s really just representative of the whole team that help make these achievements possible.

Journalist:

What training has been undertaken to equip our new troops going into Iraq?

Senator Robert Hill:

Well they train all their professional lives. Australian training and preparation is recognised everywhere as the absolute best. Part of the story of the successes of the ADF has been the type and the quality of the training we provide to the professional military.

Journalist:

The Defence Annual Report has apparently found deficiencies in the training and equipment of the 1st Brigade.

Senator Robert Hill:

Well it was a warts and all report that looks at all the strengths and achievements, and out of many hundreds of pages you have noted one phrase. The training of the 1st Brigade is very good. We’ve had 1st Brigade people operating in Iraq very successfully. It might be said that in the past Army hasn’t received quite the degree of recognition and support that it should have. That’s clearly been changed now with the provision of new equipment, the new ASLAVs have gone extraordinarily well. The new M113s that will be coming on line, the Bushmaster, the Abrams tanks, the purchase of the Javelin direct fire missile, and so I can go on. Army carries a large part of the ADF’s burden in all of its operations and we accept as a

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Government the responsibility to ensure they are properly equipped, properly trained and we’ll meet that responsibility.

Journalist:

So the 1st Brigade is fully equipped and fully trained for the work they’re going to be doing in Iraq?

Senator Robert Hill:

Oh, absolutely, no question about that at all. You just look at the work they’ve been doing in Iraq. It’s first class, recognised by our coalition colleagues as first class and the team that will go as part of this new group will do just as well.

Journalist:

What was you role in the Prime Minister’s decision to deploy further troops?

Senator Robert Hill:

Well the decision’s a Cabinet decision, and I’m a member of Cabinet. Cabinet received a recommendation from the National Security Committee of Cabinet and I’m a member of that National Security Committee. So, you know, part of a team.

Journalist:

Can you talk us through the timeline though of when the approach was made from the British Government. Was it made directly to you by your counterpart?

Senator Robert Hill:

Well we’ve known of the issue for some months, the fact that the Dutch were going to complete their contribution. From my personal involvement the issue was discussed by me with my British counterpart Geoff Hoon in January. The British have taken overall responsibility for security in southern Iraq, and part of that has been not only their very large direct contribution but also looking for other nations to assist them with the burden. And he certainly raised with me or asked through me if the Australian Government could give consideration in helping them out in this particular province.

Journalist:

Minister there’s been some criticism that Adelaide botched the Collins Class submarine project. Obviously Dr Mansell’s work, or award today indicates that he’s done extremely well in the capability of the combat system. What would you describe the standard of the Collins Class boats at the moment as?

Senator Robert Hill:

To take it step by step. Firstly, the Adelaide work as such on the Collins as such was always regarded as very good. You look at the welding for example. I go back many years and I can remember when that first welding was taking place, we were being told that some modules had to come from overseas because they did these sort of things much better than in Australia. Well actually it’s turned out that the Australian welding has been perfect and the imported welding wasn’t so good. The problem with the Collins system wasn’t a problem of Australian technologies. It was a failure by overseas companies. Moving along, the solution that was put in place to the combat system issues was developed largely by scientists from here together with engineers and navy personnel and it’s worked extraordinarily well. Supported by Australian industry, often small Australian industry, and a number of those companies are based in South Australia as well. And they’ve produced a submarine now which is regarded the best conventional submarine in the world. It is the one

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that the Americans always want to exercise against. So it’s been a great credit to those who have developed this submarine. Of course, during the process they’ve learnt a great deal.

Journalist:

That therefore would stand South Australia in good stead for the shipbuilding contract ...

Senator Robert Hill:

I thought you were going to raise that (laughter). Is that a question or a statement? There’s no doubt that South Australia has got a lot of assets to bring to the table. It’s got this organisation, the DSTO here, the combat team we were talking about, the combat maritime team that did so well with the Collins. A number of the major industry partners are located in South Australia. It’s got the ASC and all it’s history here as well. It’s got Edinburgh and the linkages with electronic warfare and so forth. South Australia should be able to produce a very competitive tender.

Journalist:

Like your colleagues, are you aware of the economic importance to the State of the contract?

Senator Robert Hill:

Well, in all it’s about a $6 billion project. That’s obviously not all going to flow into the construction of the (AWD). It’s a major naval build and the construction is really just part of it. It’s the development of the systems and the integration of the systems. It will be a major employer and particularly of the high end, so it’s an investment in Australia’s intellectual capital. So in terms of the economic benefits, they are significant.

Journalist:

Minister, obviously the decision hasn’t been taken yet, but are there any concerns about the relative placement of the locations for either of the projects that go ahead, ie Williamstown versus Osborne, ie one being in a fairly built up residential area and the other being a self enclosed precinct. Is there any advantage in South Australia in having the Osborne precinct?

Senator Robert Hill:

Osborne has advantages in terms of future expansion. The Victorian site is quite constrained in that regard, but it has produced the Anzac Frigates and that’s been a contract on time and on price and on capabilities. The workforce there can be

very proud of what they’ve contributed to our naval capability. I don’t know the detail of the bids, but just as an observer, both bids clearly have their strengths. ASC has been very successful in the development of the Collins, and that’s the most sophisticated and complicated naval vessel that we’ve ever built. In Victoria, the development of the Anzacs has been a hugely successful project. Both State Governments seem to be committed so it’s a good contest.

Journalist:

Would you say that either State had the lead at the moment in your personal opinion (laughter)

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Senator Robert Hill:

In my personal opinion? (laughter) This is a very difficult issue for me, because I was born and lived in South Australia for all my life. But the ultimate decision will be one on merit.

Journalist:

Can I just talk about Aceh briefly?

Senator Robert Hill:

Yeah ...

Journalist:

Just about the pulling out of our troops by the end of next month. What are the circumstances around that? Are we pulling out too early or have we been pushed?

Senator Robert Hill:

Oh, no we haven’t been pushed at all. They are extraordinarily grateful, the Indonesians, the Government and the people for what we’ve contributed in Aceh, but we sent a military force because a military force was the only way to provide immediate assistance. It was never intended to remain forever. It was always intended to transfer to civilian alternatives as soon as those alternatives can be put in place. So as they are, we gradually withdraw the military component. The hospital for example has now got civilian alternatives in place. Helicopters are being provided by the UN and other parties now, so we’ve been able to withdraw our helicopters. Our engineers are coming towards the end of their tasks. So it’s an orderly transition, exactly the way it should occur.

Journalist:

Will there be any other troops remaining?

Senator Robert Hill:

I doubt if there will be any after the end of March, but if there is a particular need that hasn’t been filled and the Indonesians ask us, we would clearly consider it.

Journalist:

Briefly can you tell us about this funding for the medical deployment teams.

Senator Robert Hill:

Ah, yes, well of course the medical staff within the ADF, both the permanent and reservists, have played a huge role in recent years. No-one will forget their efforts after the Bali bombing, assisting the injured out of the country and it was a tremendous contribution to our nation. Most recently they are recognised for the fantastic job they have been doing in Aceh, and there are so many other examples that I can give. I’ll give you one more example because it really has been extraordinary and it’s the work that they have done and continue to do at Ballad in Iraq, much admired by all the Coalition partners. And they’ve got to have the best equipment that our nation can afford. It’s got to be upgraded, they’ve got to continue to grow their capability, so the Government’s taken the decision to put this bit over $50 million into further equipment and support for defence medical capabilities and we think that's a very wise investment.

Journalist:

Will it be equipment or training or ...

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Senator Robert Hill:

It’s mainly equipment, you can always get new kit in this area in terms of medical evacuations and being able to deal with more serious injuries on site and some training as well. So it will be over a period of 5 years but it does demonstrate to the medical community within the ADF and I think to the broader Australian community the importance that we attach to these particular skills, and also our appreciation for the fantastic work that they’ve done in recent years.

ENDS