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Transcript of doorstop interview: Robertson Barracks, Darwin: 14 August 2004: [ next troop rotation of Australian security force in Iraq].\n



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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

ROBERTSON BARRACKS, DARWIN

10.30AM 14 AUGUST, 2004

Senator Robert Hill:

Well I just wanted to say how pleased I am to have the opportunity to meet the troops that will make up the next rotation of our security force in Iraq. We cannot have our diplomats and our officials in country helping with the transition to a free Iraq without military protection. We can’t be helping rebuild institutions, such as the Iraqi Army which we are doing through training teams, without the sort of protected transport that you see here and the forces that obviously man that transport. So this is a critical component of our overall contribution to Iraq, and as with previous rotations have done a fantastic job and I know that these men will do just as well. The other thing is that I’m please to see is the new remotely controlled weapons system on the transport version on the ASLAV. One of our worries has been the vulnerability of the person who is operating the machine gun. It can now be a protected position and further more the new laser system provides much greater accuracy as well. So not only does the operator have a more effective weapon but he gets personal protection which we’re very pleased about. You would also see that we are now lining these vehicles inside to give them greater protection. These upgrades have been achieved in an extraordinarily short time and it shows that when the need is there, when they come to us and say they need these upgrades or better weapon systems or more protection we will do it, we will achieve that goal and we will achieve it quickly, that's one of our commitments to the troops - we ask a lot of them and they’ve got every right to ask of us the best possible equipment and the best protection. So it’s good to see that the new platforms are in place so quickly and it’s good to hear the troops talk so positively about their equipment. Even the older versions I know have been the envy of others in Iraq, and I think that envy will be even greater now with the new equipment. And I’m happy to answer any questions.

Journalist:

Don’t our troops in Iraq at the moment have state of the art protection?

Senator Robert Hill:

Well there’s always another potential upgrade. This capability of operating the machine gun from inside is brand new. So of a vehicle of this type, I don’t think it’s ever been deployed, so these will be the first. There is another larger vehicle that the Americans are deploying with it for the first time.

Journalist:

When will these particular vehicles arrive in Iraq?

Senator Robert Hill:

They will go to Iraq in a couple of weeks time. They will rotate - we now have a dozen vehicles in Iraq, a combination of the troop transport and the protection vehicle with a cannon. They work as teams, they work in Baghdad, based practically adjacent to the Representative Office, but they are also working more now further north because one of our vulnerabilities has been the transport of our trainers out to the training camps that are further afield. When they are protected by vehicles such as this in transit they are obviously much safer and much more important to us.

Journalist:

Senator Hill in regards to the comments Alexander Downer said made yesterday in regard to North Korea’s nuclear program - he’s repeated his assertion that North Korea has the capacity to launch long range missiles into Australia, is that your understanding?

Senator Robert Hill:

This is the Taepo-Dong-3? Well the Taepo-Dong-2 is a missile they fired over Japan so that’s a medium long range ballistic missile, and the new one that they’re developing has got a much greater range, and that’s the Three. One of the difficulties with North Korea is that you don’t always know either the state of development or whether the weapon system is deployed. So there remains some uncertainty about that, but certainly what I do know is the missile they are developing is a very long range missile.

Journalist:

So do you have intelligence that maybe Australia is at risk?

Senator Robert Hill:

We don’t see a threat to Australia at this time, but we see a country that’s not been prepared to accord to standards of normal civilised behaviour developing long range ballistic missiles, delivery systems in other words, and at the same time we believe that they have a nuclear weapons program and some of the analysts, there are differing views around the world, but some analysts believe they already have a small stock pile of nuclear warheads. So the combination of the warheads and the delivery system is not a comfortable situation - you’ve only got to ask the Japanese what they think of it - and that’s why we’re working so hard with others from within the international community to try to bring North Korea back into the community of nations that focuses on other things like better living standards for their people. This is the great irony, it is a country that will put its resources into developing that sort of sophisticated weapons system, very sophisticated, but not feed its own people. It’s very hard for us to understand, but we, through the six nation talks are trying to persuade North Korea to recognise that there’s a better way for the future.

Journalist:

Do you think we’re ill equipped for a nuclear attack with a missile?

Senator Robert Hill:

Well we don’t anticipate a nuclear attack on Australia. But do we have a form of protection against intercontinental ballistic missile? No we don’t, and that’s one of the reasons why we have decided to work with the United States in their missile defensive system. They are starting for the first time to deploy a defence in the United States against intercontinental ballistic missiles but we’ve got a long way to go. It will be sea based and land based. We want to build up our knowledge or

those capabilities and it might be one day in the future that we want to field that sort of protection.

Journalist:

I mean how positive is the Government that the six nation talks will lead to North Korea disarming its nuclear program?

Senator Robert Hill:

We’re not positive at all. There’s been some progress but very slow progress. But particularly its neighbours - Japan, South Korea, Russia, China - all have major short term interests in persuading North Korea along that path and they would be, with the support of the United States, working hard on the issue. And we, with the broader international community, are looking at ways in which we can add value to that process. So you see Mr Downer… we take what ever opportunities we can to

have further assistance because where as we mightn’t see North Korea as a threat to us now, we want to ensure that they’re not going to be a threat to us some time in the future.

ENDS