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Transcript of doorstop interview of the Minister for Defence when attending the ADM Defence & Industry Conference, Hyatt Hotel Canberra: 22 February 2005: Mr Barton, White Paper on defence.



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

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ADM DEFENCE & INDUSTRY CONFERENCE

Hyatt Hotel Canberra

9.25am 22 February 2005

E&oe____________________________________________________Mr Barton, White Paper

Journalist:

Mr Barton says you need to provide some more evidence on what you ordered our troops to do in Iraq?

Senator Hill:

Well I don’t know, I was questioned for hours and hours last week on the subject, not only was I questioned but all of the senior defence officials were questioned including Brigadier Meekin who wrote the original concept of operations and who was the senior Australian defence person in the first rotation of the Iraqi Survey Group, so I am in a business where I continue to be publicly questioned and that’s fine.

Journalist:

Did the Australians who were serving in Iraq though think that they were following the US structure, not a set of Australian orders?

Senator Hill:

In the Iraqi Survey Group, if that is what you a referring to, there are only a small number of Australians at any one time and they clearly knew they were operating under the concept of operations written before the first rotation went and that

concept was administed by the commander of each of the three rotations, a Lieutenant Colonel, who thoroughly understood the concept of operations and gave subordinate orders pursuant to those operations.

Journalist:

The reality though was that they were basically following the way the US did things, they were effectively following US orders?

Senator Hill:

No they were following Australian orders, they were under Australian command, just say there were ten or a dozen of them under a Lieutenant Colonel, direct command, clear concept of operations written before they went, written pursuant to direction of the Chief of the Defence Force, no ambiguity there whatsoever.

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Journalist:

So why won’t you put on the public record everything that the Australians were doing in relation to interrogation and or interviews. Why is this going to be death by a thousand cuts?

Senator Hill:

Well in relation to the ISG interviews, last week we answered every question, for several days in a row, many hours a day, so what hasn’t been put on the public record?

Journalist:

Well that is what I am asking you?

Senator Hill:

Well as far as I am concerned we answered every question that was asked and Labor senators had the chance, and did quiz the senior officials, both military and civilian on the concept of operations and the role we played in the ISG and I can go through all that again if you want me to, there is no secret about it.

Journalist

Senator, Mr Barton says that he was not told to withdraw from interviews if they turned into interrogations and he asking you to say who, when and where did give him this order because he does not recall.

Senator Hill

He went there as part of the second rotation, he went there under the same concept of operations as did every other Australian member of the ISG, whether military or civilian and he came under, even thought it was military officer, the command of the colonel who was responsible for implementing the concept of operations.

Journalist

So was he disobeying orders?

Senator Hill

Well no, I don’t think he was disobeying orders I think… I’ve got no problem with Mr Barton, he’s obviously got some problems and he went to Four Corners and he shared that with the world and that’s his business. I was subjected to hours and hours of questioning as were my officials as were the military and I can’t think of anything that didn’t come out last week that would be useful to the debate.

Journalist

So you think that there wasn’t enough pr oof to be given to back up what your answers were to the questions. Do you think there’s actual solid evidence as opposed to just answers to questions?

Senator Hill

I don’t know what you mean, what do you mean?

Journalist

Well what Mr Barton is saying is that he wants you to prove what you are saying is true, he wants you to prove that he was told that he was to leave interviews if they turned into interrogations and he doesn’t think answers are just enough?

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Senator Hill

Well not just me the defence officials, including the senior official, the Brigadier who wrote the concept of operations was questioned at length before the parliamentary estimates committee. That is a public question a public cross examination, so that is not just answering questions, that is an examination in detail - in depth.

Journalist

Minister why do we need a new defence white paper?

Senator Hill

Because I think that the 2000 paper is still fundamentally sound, I think it’s been updated in 2003 with greater focus been given to WMD and global terrorism and as I said to some internal issues of nation buildings within our own regions. The DCP the Defence Capability Plan was written pursuant to that white paper and refined pursuant to the update. I think it addresses the strategic environment as we find it and I don’t think the distraction of going back into another sort of intellectual debate will actually contribute to the better practical outcomes, I think our challenge at the moment is to deliver on the white paper and not to be distracted from that task.

Journalist

So September 11 doesn’t represent a profound change in our strategic outlook in terms of the implications for our defence force?

Senator Hill

Well I think that the defence update adequately draws (inaudible) …..Headquarters of Al Qaeda and their training camps and weapons caches back to (inaudible)….and our region and they’re doing both very effectively.

Journalist

So are you (inaudible) back from that view that concentric circles never made any sense and that concentric circles are somewhat back in fashion for the Australian Defence Force.

Senator Hill

No I think that we have moved beyond all of that, I think that people understand that when you are facing a challenge of global terrorism you tackle it in the most effective way where you can best defeat it and if that is attacking a headquarters of Al Queda in Afghanistan that might be where you have to go. If it is building the police or the militaries, counter terrorism and capabilities of our neighbors then it is doing that task as well. So that is not drawing circles on a map, you don’t need to be able to draw circles on a map to be able to do the job.

Journalist

When might a new white paper be appropriate?

Senator Hill

Well I haven’t put a date on that. I think you can have too many white papers that is what I am really saying. If I was in an academic institution I would probably call for a white paper every year because that is a part of an academic debate. But in terms of getting the capability the ADF needs to do the job I think that the doctrine that we’ve got through the 2000 white paper and the 03 update is more than adequate for the moment and as I said there should be updates from time to time that was one of our commitments and we will address it on that basis.

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Journalist

The Victorian and South Australian Governments are engaged in tough campaign over the Air Warfare Destroyers at the moment. When are you going to put them out of their misery?

Senator Hill

Well it’s good to see that they are both enthusiastically committing themselves to building infrastructure that will assist us in terms of naval shipbuilding in this country. So as you know the builders bids are currently been assessed and whilst I

am at arms length from that process I am assuming it takes into account the offers that have been made by the two State Governments, perhaps other state governments as well.

Journalist

Is the fact the Tenix building steel ships on time and budget tip the scales in their favour do you think?

Senator Hill

No, but if I was Tenix, I would be certainly pressing that point and just leaving aside the American bidder, Tenix have delivered ANZACs on time and on budget and achieving the capability requirements for which they were designed and that is a great credit to them. I think that the ASC delivered submarines which I think you can argue are more complex then the ANZACs and probably the most complex

naval vessels that we have ever built in this country. I think the ASC is also operating much better then it once did and that is evidenced by that fact that we gave the major contract to maintain the submarines, long term contract.

Journalist

(Inaudible)

Senator Hill

No, I know but you have this argument to whether it is the surface ship skills or whether it is really the system integration skills which are the highest priority. I am assuming that all of these aspects have been taken into account by the assessors and I am looking forward to their recommendation in the next couple of months.

Journalist

Why did you allow Northrop Grumman to bid when it’s obviously not complied with criteria that you published before the RFT closed?

Senator Hill

I didn’t allow Northrop Grumman’s bid, we put out tender specifications and I understand Northrop Grumman have bid, and I don’t know how they have complied with those tender requirements and I won’t know that until the assessment process has finished.

Journalist

They’re not Australian owned for a start so they’re not compliant on that criteria.

Senator Hill

Yeah but as I said it is improper for me to get into the assessment process at this stage. I’ve got to keep at arms length and I think everyone would agree that this is the right way to do this business and the detail of their bid I don’t know.

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Journalist

Do you expect to make an announcement on time and when do you expect to announce the successful bidder?

Senator Hill

The process is on time at the moment, yes, so as you know it isn’t only the build contest, but we also have the design contest and also the integration of systems other then the AEGIS system and all of those processes are on time. This is the new DMO!

Journalist

So late March, early April for a builder?

Senator Hill

I think April was about the time from memory.

Journalist

Senator this morning’s Cabinet meeting about Welfare Reform and Industrial Reform, what will you be pushing for or hoping to come out of that meeting.

Senator Hill

Well I don’t think that I want to get into Welfare Reform at the moment but you may have noted from what I have said in my presentation this morning I think that skill shortage is a major challenge for Australia as we maintain with the momentum of this economic expansion and I am expecting a lot of this cabinet meeting to deal with how we do continue to provide the framework for economic expansion, to lock in all the benefits which have flowed in recent years. I think one of the issues we need to discuss is this challenge of ensuring we have a workforce of the size and capability that is necessary to meet the new and growing demands and my challenge in relation to shipbuilding is just an illustration of that national challenge.

Journalist

The Prime Minister suggested taking some people off welfare to survive this skill shortage and put them back into the workforce. Would you support that move?

Senator Hill

Well we certainly want to provide work opportunities for those who are currently on welfare that have the capacity to take up work opportunities. Whether they lack the training or the confidence or what, the issue is something that needs to be debated but I think it is an issue that needs to be addressed and that clearly will be addressed today.

Journalist

Have you determined that Angus Houston will be the next Chief of Defence Force?

Senator Hill

No, it is July that the CDF retires so it is a bit premature but not by much. The Government has the lucky, no not lucky - the government is fortunate not only because the current team of service Chiefs, Vice Chiefs are well chosen but we have depth and we have strength at the moment in terms of military leadership in this country and one of a number of individuals, even a few not currently within that list could do the job very ably.

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Journalist

So will it be your choice or John Howard’s?

Senator Hill

Obviously the question of the CDF is ultimately a cabinet decision and what I did on the last occasions was I made recommendations to Cabinet.

(ENDS)