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Transcript of doorstop interview of the Minister for Defence: Outside Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices, Adelaide: 14 April 2005: Sumatra Assist II, Air warfare destroyer.



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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

Outside of Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices, Adelaide

1pm, Thursday, 14 April 2005

E&oe_________________________________ Sumatra Assist II, Air Warfare Destroyer

Senator Robert Hill

The ADF has now completed its contribution to the immediate rescue and recovery of people from the island of Nias. The ship the Kanimbla is now returning home to Australia. It will call at Singapore and at Townsville and arrive in Sydney about the end of the month. We have 20 personnel arriving back today on a C-130, we have another 55 coming back tomorrow on a Boeing 707, a RAAF aircraft, and a number from the medical team will disembark the Kanimbla in Singapore and also be flown back to Australia in the next few days.

From the Government’s perspective, the ADF has done a marvelous job, both in the operation in relation to Sumatra, and now more recently in Nias - a contribution that has been very much appreciated by the people of Indonesia.

Journalist:

So is this it, there’ll be no more Defence Force personnel in Indonesia now?

Senator Hill:

Well, in relation to Nias, no. In terms of supporting the operation, there’s the longer-term reconstruction that will be carried out by civilian contractors. But also the Indonesian military will stay there for some considerable time, but the ADF will have completed its task.

Journalist:

Are you organising any sort of ‘welcome home’ ceremonies for those on board - is the Government putting anything on?

Senator Hill:

We always do. Yes, we’ll have a ‘welcome home’ when the ship gets to its home port in Sydney and, you know, they should celebrate what they’ve achieved because as I said, it really has been a most significant contribution - both were very difficult

missions, and of course the second of the missions saddened by the loss of the Sea King and of the nine crew. So it’s been a tough job for the ADF, but as always, they’ve done it superbly.

Journalist:

Was the black box found from the Sea King helicopter?

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Senator Hill:

Yes, it was found.

Journalist:

What did it reveal?

Senator Hill:

I don’t know, that’s being dealt with by the accident investigation team. We still have quite a large team on Nias investigating the site, and they will ultimately return to Australia all the relevant parts of the downed Sea King and we expect the accident investigation team in turn to be back later this month.

Journalist:

So will that black box shed some more light on what actually happened?

Senator Hill:

Yes, of course. But it’s only one part of the jigsaw - I met last week with the head of the accident investigation team in Sumatra and they’re doing the job carefully, as they must; it will take time but it’s important that we understand exactly what went wrong on the helicopter.

Journalist:

So when do you expect to have that report finished, when will we know?

Senator Hill:

Well, they haven’t put a timeline on it. It will be as soon as the job is done, but the job must be done properly.

Journalist:

Forgive me if this has already been mentioned, but is there any indication yet as to what actually did go wrong?

Senator Hill:

No, and flights have been suspended for the time being. The aircraft can still be used in emergency situations, but basically they’re not being operated until we get the answers.

Journalist:

Is that on the assumption that there could be a mechanical fault with all of the aircraft?

Senator Hill:

It’s just a precaution - we don’t know what went wrong on the aircraft, and obviously we would like to know what went wrong before we start flying the type again.

Journalist:

The overall effort of helping after the tsunami and then after the second earthquake, do we know how much that costs and is it a cost borne by the taxpayer here?

Senator Hill:

We will do a final account now. It’s been quite expensive, and it is borne by the Australian taxpayer. We are pleased to help a neighbour in need, and this was a real catastrophe, particularly the first, the tsunami - there were hundreds of

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thousands of lives lost, and, you know, total devastation, and I’m pleased that the ADF has played its part in helping the Indonesian people through that terrible experience.

Journalist:

Roughly how much - are we talking millions, more than ten million?

Senator Hill:

Oh, yes, it’d be more than ten million.

Journalist:

How much more?

Senator Hill:

I can’t say - we’ll account in the normal way, rather than me giving you a best guess.

Journalist:

While you’re here, the ADF contracts - are we any closer to a decision on the air warfare destroyer contract?

Senator Hill:

(Laughs) We must be in Adelaide. Yes, it’s progressing quite well. There’s a number of different tender processes being undertaken in relation to that for an integrator of the system, combat systems. That process of analysis has been completed. In relation to the builder, I understand they’re well advanced in the assessment of the bids as well. And then after that will be the selection of the type of vessel and that process is quite well advanced. So yes, we’re making progress.

Journalist:

So the obvious question: who’s the front-runner?

Senator Hill:

I don’t know - I’m at arm’s length from the process.

ENDS