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Opposition Leader discusses crash of Sea King helicopter on Nias.

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4 APRIL 2005


Subjects: Sea King tragedy:

LOANE: Kim Beazley who is of course these days is the Federal Leader of the Labor Party, good morning and welcome.

BEAZLEY: Good morning. These are sombre times, aren’t they? It’s an incredibly sad weekend.

LOANE: Its awful news and I think Australians everywhere are sort of feeling it. It would be different, I don’t know, would it be different if they died in the war somewhere in Iraq. It’s just that these people were doing the hard work, you know, that good work we’re known for.

BEAZLEY: It wouldn’t be different of course in terms of the sorry effect it would have on their loved ones. I think in terms of the public reaction, yes I can scarcely get my head around this. You can comprehend in the circumstances where people are in mortal danger because of hostile actions against them that a helicopter would be shot down for example. In circumstances where they’re just at the end of what has been an absolutely superb piece of hard community service work, the aftermath of the tsunami. There’s just seems no rhyme or reason and I can hardly get my head around it. The situation must be causing in the hearts of those who are on board the boat and of course in the services more generally and above all the families.

LOANE: Exactly. Because they were going home, I played a little bit of the interview Richard Glover did with Commander McGuire and he had that bravery in his voice, he was saying: look I was a bit nervous in telling the guys and girls we had to go around but in the end that’s their job. Kim Beazley, you know these young people, that is their job, that is what they do.

BEAZLEY: I think we’ve got to have a little bit of a pause for reflection here. Our armed services do do the job that the Government and the people of the day

expect of them. We need to comprehend, I think, as the people on whose behalf these marvellous young men and women act that they’re under enormous pressure. We have had a huge work rate over the last five or six years and the navy in particular but the service altogether. They’re deployed in many parts of the globe, the tempo of operations has been substantial but at the same time we’ve been thought a process where in order to ensure that there are more and more soldiers, sailors and airmen of what we like to call the sharp end many of the quiet billets have been replaced by civilians or by contracting out and the like. More and more these days, if you have a career in the armed services your in the most demanding parts of the service without breaks virtually for an entire military career. Now, that used not to be case but it is now.

LOANE: Do you think they are overstretched?

BEAZLEY: I think the inquiry will, of course, take a look at all those sorts of issues. At one level, no they’re not overstretched because they love this work and these are the things that they want to do.

LOANE: They want to get out and get away from Australia -

BEAZLEY: They want to do those sorts of things but they need to be particularly honoured, that sort of commitment needs to be honoured by an understanding community and I do think we really do need to reflect on the demands we make on our armed services personnel.

LOANE: Are we taking them a little bit for granted?

BEAZLEY: I think we actually do honour them considerably but I think that we’re probably not fully aware of the extent to which they’ve been under pressure over the last five or six years. We want to make absolutely certain that when an accident like this occurs or when a death occurs in war, that the families of those left behind are absolutely one hundred per cent effectively looked after. We owe it to them. We owe it to these young people and there’s been reviews and reviews of assistance to the widowed families of service personnel who have been killed and also assistance to those who have been injured. This will, if you like, bring this matter again freshly to the attention of the public.

LOANE: Do you think there needs to be some form or assistance, more compensation perhaps?

BEAZLEY: We need to make sure that what we’re doing now is (inaudible). There were a lot of question over that and the recent issues involving the widow of the SAS person who was killed in Afghanistan and I think there’s unfinished business there.

LOANE: What about the Sea King helicopters, there’s a lot of debate this morning that they’re too old, some people are saying no they’re not if they’re maintained you can fly them for a long time.

BEAZLEY: The armed services are very good at keeping old platforms going and renewing via the more complex electronics they put into it. The measures they take to strengthen the frame and new technologies are constantly being introduced to old models. I wouldn’t rush to judgment on that. I think that’s something that the inquiry needs to determine for us. The Americans, for example, keep the B52 Bomber which has enormous stress on it going for ever and ever it’s a lot older than the Sea Kings and it’s still there in operation (inaudible) to dispense with it.

LOANE: Do you think the investigation should be widen at all, or is it adequate at this point just looking at what caused the crash?

BEAZLEY: I think partly it’s very important that we truly honour the nine people who have been killed and they will be honoured by a thorough going investigation at least in part anyway, into the circumstances of their death. I don’t think we should use the occasion of this investigation to arrive at any other conclusions about the multifarious factors which may have been involved in this particular incident so that we have a fully, satisfactory explanation of that incident at the end of the day. The other things I’ve been talking about, not necessarily issues to which I have solutions frankly by and large the purposes for which our armed forces have been deployed have had strong levels of public support over the course of the last five or six years. There’s just been an intersection between that a more longer term plan or scheme to involve more and more of our armed services in the combat or combat related type activities more at the sharp and less in the support areas. I think as we’ve done that, we’ve sometimes forgotten the fact that enabling people the navy can take shore billets, air force can take desks and army can take desk positions has often been a mechanism of keeping people basically, reasonably well tuned and with a decent family life whilst at the same time going through a twenty year career.

LOANE: Just finally the families of these young people, as I said they were just in the prime of their lives, they were from central casting. How would the navy be probing in around them, I know it’s like a family, isn’t it, the Royal Australian Navy?

BEAZLEY: It is there will be an enormous amount of support for the people who are directly related if they are wives or course or partners. Sometimes it gets a bit more distant for other family members, parents and that’s as I said, this is something we need to think about a bit I think. How will we do all these things as a community, it’s not just simply the responsibility of the services, it rests with all of us.

LOANE: I think you’re right. Thank you very much for your time, I appreciate it.

BEAZLEY: I was going to say it’s good to talk to you Sally, and normally it is, but not today.