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Transcript: contract for new air defence systems, Keswick Barracks, Adelaide: Friday, 23 May 2003: new air defence capability, Woodside drug allegations.



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TRANSCRIPT SENATOR THE HON ROBERT HILL Minister for Defence Leader of the Government in the Senate

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CONTRACT FOR NEW AIR DEFENCE SYSTEMS

Keswick Barracks, Adelaide

Friday, 23 May 2003

E&oe_________________new air defence capability, Woodside drug allegations

Senator Robert Hill

It is a credit to Saab Systems which is an Australian based subsidiary of the Saab Defence Industry conglomerate which is based here in Adelaide. It employs several hundred people in Australia and has been a very important defence partner of ours. They have been successful in this contract to provide new RSB70 capability for us which will double the missile systems and provide new radars for us. That was a commitment that we made in the White Paper when we would double this missile battery. I also want to congratulate the Defence Material Organisation for its part in negotiating this contract. The weapon itself is provided by Saab Bofars from Sweden. The new search, tracking and acquisition radar is a Lockheed Martin radar. The integration of the systems will be done by Saab Systems. And also part

of the package is a new Tactical Command and Control system which will enable us to control the whole of the two batteries if necessary. The purpose of these air defence weapons is to protect troops on the ground or ships. In fact, we have used them for some years now in the Gulf on our two ships, the Kanimbla and the Manoora. We still have 24 soldiers from 16th Air Defence Regiment at Woodside on the Kanimbla in the Gulf at the moment using these weapons. The new weapons are further upgraded, they will have new objects and the New Tactical Comand and Control System also gives us new capabilities particularly in relation to friend or foe identification which, of course, has become more important than ever. So it’s a very important capability for the Australian army and we are pleased that we’ve now got to the stage of this contract and the new weapons systems will be in place and operating by 2005. It’s an $83 million contract.

Journalist

Why do we need this Minister? Why do we need double the amount of these particular items?

Senator Robert Hill

You can never do enough to protect your troops on the ground. When we send Australian forces abroad we obviously want to provide them with capable protection. These are the best weapons of their type in the world and basically if our troops are attacked by aircraft or by missile - up to a range of about 7 kilometres these weapons should do the job of protecting our forces.

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Journalist

On another issue Minister, this issue of soldiers at Woodside under suspicion of having drugs in their barracks, what is your opinion of that? What will happen? What’s the course of action?

Senator Hill

Well, I read that there is an investigation into some alleged cannabis use at Woodside by some soldiers. That investigation is ongoing. We do have a zero tolerance policy within the ADF and if someone is found to be in breach of that policy they would be punished.

Journalist

Does this surprise you that this has surfaced today?

Senator Hill

What - the coincidence with this announcement?

Journalist

No that the soldiers have been….

Senator Hill

It does occur from time to time. I think it’s not widespread. When it does occur, it is dealt with.

Journalist

What about American military planners looking to come to Australia to set up bases to be stationed here on mainland Australia?

Senator Hill

No there has been no approach to us as I said, at a political level. There has been no suggestion to us that the United States wants to establish bases in Australia. We work closely with them and we exercise with them. We host their ships, we now

have a sea swap arrangement to help with their crew transitions as they pass through this part of the world. It’s a very close and positive relationship but there has been no suggestion of American bases. We have an intelligence base at Pine Gap which is jointly managed by us and the United States - it remains an Australian facility but beyond that, there has been no suggestion.

Journalist

If there was to be a request, how would it be received by the Federal Government?

Senator Hill

Well that’s hypothetical and I wouldn’t really want to speculate on that just to say that we have mutual interests in combating terrorism and other potential threats. We work closely together but the Americans haven’t seen a need for a base within Australia and I don’t think speculating will help the debate.

Journalist

Have security forces raised the issue at all? Has it been discussed in an informal way between security forces?

Senator Hill

Well now the (inaudible) gone down the burrow after that story in the Australian a couple of days ago that suggested that some soldiers talked about it after an

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exercise up in Queensland in 2001. But at any senior levels, it hasn’t been suggested.

Journalist

Will the Minister accept today that the Prime Minister’s new terror unit won’t (inaudible) calling for a full Office of Homeland Security like there is in the United States. Is that something the Government would examine?

Senator Hill

We have examined it and we decided it wouldn’t add value. I think you have to look at the differences between the United States system and ours. Their intelligence organisations, for example, don’t work in the same cooperative way that ours currently work. But nevertheless, in view of the terrorism threats there, they have improved coordination overall. Its not just the intelligence organisations, it’s Defence, it’s the police, it’s the police in each of the six States, it’s Customs, it’s other agencies and that is now being coordinated through the Prime Minister’s Department and this administrative change that’s been spoken about today is really just to facilitate that decision that’s already been taken.

Journalist

Since the US have raised its security levels there have been questions about Australia raising its level, this morning on radio the Prime Minister said we are now on high alert with a small h, do you know what high alert with a small h means?

Senator Hill

We have been on a heightened state of alert since the September attacks on the United States in 2001. Basically the issue of travel advisories, our specialists advise particular precautions that should be taken at any one time. Other things you know - we have generally improved domestic security across the country. We’ve improved security at airports, we’ve put marshals on aircraft, we’ve spent more money on protecting strategic assets. We’ve doubled our counter terrorism capability. After the attack in Bali, we increased the size and capability of our Special Forces, we now have a role for Reservists in combating terrorist threats. So there’s a lot we’ve done in the last few years to enhance domestic security. And if there is any specific warning that we get, then obviously we publicise that and give specific guidance that flows from it. So I think that is really what he is saying, that

ever since the attacks on the United States, because we saw that as an attack on the values which we share with the citizens of the United States, that we need to be prepared for the possibility of a terrorist act or a terrorist incident.

Journalist

What would you think of our current level of security?

Senator Hill

Heightened.

Journalist

Just on that drugs thing once again, are there any changes you would like to see to heighten perhaps the detection of this sort of thing going on in barracks around Australia? Any changes to policy? Any changes to guidelines for senior officers?

Senator Hill

No I don’t think so. I wouldn’t (inaudible). We have a zero tolerance policy. But from what I read, all my daily briefs, I don’t see evidence of any extensive use. I

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don’t see evidence of a widespread problem. When there are incidents, they are properly investigated and action will be taken under the Defence Force Disciplinary Act.

Journalist

This is the fourth incident in recent months, the fourth one that there has been an investigation within the army barracks. It sounds like it might be pretty well spread.

Senator Hill

I can’t remember four separate incidents in the last few months. As I said, my observation overall across the ADF, is that this is not widespread. From time to time there are reports and there are investigations and if individuals are in breach of the regulations they are punished

Journalist

Minister, what do you think about the fact that the CIA is reassessing its intelligence gathering method?

Senator Hill

The CIA?

Journalist

Yes.

Senator Hill

What do you mean?

Journalist

Well is it possible …

Senator Hill

Intelligence agencies are always reassessing their capabilities and we do likewise. I didn’t mention it, but also in the last couple of years we have substantially expanded our intelligence agencies, those within my Department, those under the Attorney General and those within the Foreign Affairs Department. And we spared the money for it in its last Budget. So in terms of capability, obviously agencies on a continual basis look at their capabilities and how they can be further improved.

Journalist

But in terms of the war on Iraq, how do you feel that we still haven’t seen any evidence of weapons of mass destruction?

Senator Hill

Well that’s a different issue. If you are asking me the question, was the intelligence wrong, I don’t think it was. My view is reinforced by the fact that Iraq itself acknowledged that it had weapons of mass destruction and the United Nations, on behalf of the total international community was of the view and passed resolutions on the basis that it had weapons of mass destruction. The investigation of those weapons is still taking place.

Journalist

But do you think it will impact on Australia public opinion if we don’t see some real evidence that there are weapons of mass destruction?

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Senator Hill

I think it’s important that the full story is told and we’re contributing, there are several thousand specialists working in Iraq at the moment to put the pieces of the jigsaw together. The issue is whether the weapons were destroyed, if so when they were destroyed, to what extent, there is a whole range of different questions that continue to be investigated. And I want to know, and I think the public as a whole

would want to know, what was the full story when the full story’s available. At the moment, we are working on several vehicles that are believed to have been part of mobile biological weapon laboratories. There’s another team looking at sites where there’s indicated high levels of radiation. It’s a complex investigation and it’s far from complete. But I think it’s important that it is completed and the full story’s told. Because out of that we can better protect ourselves in the future.

ENDS