Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Contribution of the Australian Defence Force towards security for the forthcoming CHOGM Meeting: transcript of press conference.

Download PDFDownload PDF


Press Conference


Defence Minister, Senator Robert Hill, outlines the contribution of the Australian Defence Force towards security for the forthcoming CHOGM Meeting.

ROBERT HILL: What I can do today is provide some information on the contribution of the Australian Defence Force toward security at CHOGM. Obviously in the post September 11 environment there is a greater role for defence forces than previously because they have particular skills and capabilities that the civil authorities don't have.

However, the work in security is principally in support of the civil authority and, in this instance, principally in support of the Queensland Police. We will be contributing about 2,400 Australian Defence Force personnel.

They come within three separate categories. Most will be Army people that are carrying out a range of what you might describe as basic security functions such as supporting at airports, searching for bombs, guarding perimeters of key premises and that sort of function. They will be organised through one taskforce with a commander at Enoggera in Brisbane.

The second capability will be special forces. They were mobilised during the Olympic Games here in Sydney and they will be carrying out a similar role in relation to CHOGM. Whilst we don't disclose the size of that force or their capabilities, I think it's well appreciated that they have a range of skills and I think many people in Brisbane saw them before. The previously intended CHOGM saw them operating at night from Blackhawk helicopters and the like.

The capability that they principally bring is counter-terrorism. If there was a terrorism event the chances are they would have a significant role to play in that circumstance.

The third capability, which is something we didn't bring to the Olympic Games and really is a reflection of the heightened security environment post September 11, is that the Government has decided to provide for air defence. That will be done through Air Force FA18 fighters, but will be based at Amberley, which will patrol over and around the key sites during the period of CHOGM.

The planes will have the capability of flying 24 hours a day. In other words, sufficient assets have been deployed to Queensland for that purpose. They will have an in-air refuelling capability. But it doesn't necessarily mean that they will be patrolling 24 hours a day. They will be patrolling as is determined by the threat assessment and by the air commanders.

They will be principally patrolling what we refer to as a danger zone of 25 nautical miles radius from Maroochydore Airport. And basically what that means is that aviators should understand that there is the chance of fast jets operating in that area and it's therefore obviously better if they seek to avoid that danger zone.

The danger zone and rules that apply to it are being published by Airservices Australia today in the usual language to aviators and they will be further publicised between now and CHOGM through the popular media so that the community can understand exactly how the defence component will operate.

The risk assessment is not there is any particular threat, however CHOGM is the largest meeting of world leaders in Australia for a long time. I think some might argue it is in fact the largest meeting, and it's obviously at a centralised venue and it includes world leaders who have played a significant role in the war against terrorism. And therefore we’ve decided to deploy this extra security arrangement, and it is very much in accordance with what's becoming the norm worldwide for protection of major events of this type, where there is a large number of world leaders gathering in the one place.

The fighters, obviously, are flown by the most capable and experienced air force pilots and what they will do is if aircraft come contrary to the Airservices Australia guidance within a 25 mile radius, that aircraft would be first contacted by Airservices Australia people and told it would be better if they weren't there. If the civil traffic authorities can't make contact with the aircraft for some reason or another, then they would be contacted by the airforce. We will have a radar system set up which will monitor aircraft in that zone and basically we'll report to the air commander who will be operating from Amberley but also to any air force planes that are in the area.

So we would first seek to make radio contact with any aircraft that happen to stray into that zone and again have them identify themselves and basically manage their passage through, or monitor their passage through the area or, if it's appropriate, suggest they fly around the area.

If our air force, this is the sort of third level, if our air force is unable to make radio contact with them, which would be extremely unusual, then an air force fighter, and air force fighters will be operating in pairs, may well go and have a look at the aircraft and that's literally what they will do. They will fly up to the aircraft and visually observe what it is and where it's going and the like and they may seek to, apart from their radio, seek to communicate with it through the range of internationally accepted communications between aircraft, which will be referred to in the Airservices Publications and also publicised in the press between now and CHOGM.

It would only be in the most extraordinary event that an aircraft actually made an attack on the site that there is the chance that it could be shot down. But that is the last level of air defence that we have, that in the unfortunate and highly unexpected situation of an attack on the site from the air, that we would have the capability to shoot that aircraft down.

The decision for that extraordinary event to occur would be made by the air commander or his deputy at Amberley. They will be operating on shifts so that they are working 24 hours, between them, working 24 hours a day. So the pilot in the fighter would be in communication with the air command at Amberley, they would have been monitoring the passage of the aircraft on the radar, they would see that the plane is getting closer and closer to the critical site and watching its behaviour but only, as I said, in the extraordinary event that the plane sought to attack, say, a suicide attack upon the site, could the decision be taken to actually shoot the aircraft down and therefore save the site from destruction by that method.

That's principally what it's all about and, as I said, the details of the restrictions, there is a closer in restricted area around Maroochydore Airport which is also controlled by the civil authorities.

The civil authorities, as I said, will be working hand in glove with the military in this instance. Any passage by aircraft during the dates of the CHOGM will be primarily managed by the civil authorities, whether or not they are in breach of the restraints, but if the civil authorities have a situation that is, in effect, beyond their control, it gets referred to the military who have that direct line of communication.

QUESTION: Minister, just to be clear, these are FA18s flying combat air support missions over or near the CHOGM conference and armed with air-to-air missiles. Is that correct?

ROBERT HILL: Yes, they would be armed with missiles and they also have a form of machine gun, as I understand it.

QUESTION: Two planes?

ROBERT HILL: They'll be flying in pairs: two Hornets together.

QUESTION: So if they were to go and look at an aircraft, a suspicious aircraft, they would be flying in pairs to do that?

ROBERT HILL: Yes. I don't know whether one would stand back and the other would go up but basically they would be operating in pairs. Most of the time when they are flying, they won't be visible, of course. They will be flying high and we think that it's better that we don't publish when they'll be flying because we think that adds to the deterrent value.

Whilst, as I said, we believe the risk is low, we think this added form of security is justified by the changed world environment but we will exercise it with the greatest of caution.

QUESTION: Given that CHOGM had to be postponed in the light of September 11, what's your feeling or how many inquiries have been made by world leaders' security experts about what we've put in place for this one?

ROBERT HILL: I can only relate back to some questions and answers that I heard on the issue of are world leaders satisfied with the security precautions that we've put in place and the answer was yes, they're totally satisfied. They have confidence in the security arrangements that Australia is making and if you bear in mind that the 2,500 Defence Force personnel is a supplement to very extensive civil security arrangements, it is really a security blanket that is extraordinary in Australian terms but it just reflects the changed world we live in.

QUESTION: So it's the biggest security operation we've seen in Australia?

ROBERT HILL: Some might argue the Olympic Games was bigger. I suspect there were probably more people involved in that because of the spread of the venues but, as I've said, there are added resources this time that haven't been used before in Australia.

QUESTION: How does the air defence measures that you've just put in place now differ to the original plan before it was cancelled in October?

ROBERT HILL: I don't know. I don't know how far the air defence plan had developed then. I wasn't involved.

QUESTION: How much is the extra security costing?

ROBERT HILL: When you say the extra security, what do we mean by that?

QUESTION: Just how much is it costing?

ROBERT HILL: Just to give you a guide, I think that we have been given, we the Defence Force, have been given additional appropriations of about $9 million but that would be only, I suspect, a relatively small part of the total security cost.

QUESTION: Do you know what that total would be?

ROBERT HILL: No, I don't know the total.

QUESTION: Are you expecting extra protests in regards to Hollingworth, the controversy surrounding him at CHOGM? Are you prepared for that?

ROBERT HILL: No, that hadn't even occurred to me.

QUESTION: After September 11, in the UK and the US, the decision was taken to also arm air force planes. The decision about whether to shoot them down or not is an executive decision and it came down to the Prime Minister in the UK and the President in the US. Any consideration given to that being made an executive decision here rather than just resting with the air force?

ROBERT HILL: No, we accepted that the best party, the most highly trained and skilled party to make that decision is the air force commander so there will be an air force commander of CHOGM and, as I said, he will be based at Amberley and the rules of engagement that will be settled within probably the next 24 hours, would provide that it is only the air defence commander or the deputy air defence commander that can make that ultimate decision.

QUESTION: And does that person alert the government before they make that decision?

ROBERT HILL: No. If it got to that decision we would all know but no, that's not. There are some other instances where there will be a role for a responsibility for government particularly in relation to some of the counter-terrorism capabilities. Some of those special forces tasks require a separate government approval and some of us are expected to be available in case that unfortunate need is realised.

QUESTION: Peta Johnston, an outspoken critic of Dr Hollingworth, has said that she plans to go to CHOGM in an attempt to talk to the Queen. Are you concerned by that? How will you deal with that?

ROBERT HILL: I don't think that concerns me. I'm talking about a physical security issue here in extreme circumstances. Protesters is part of the Australian way of life. I've got no problems with that. That's a different thing. That's a different thing entirely.

QUESTION: You said before that you hadn't thought at all about protesters.

ROBERT HILL: That is not my responsibility. I've participated in many protests myself. It's a good, healthy, democratic pastime. I've got no problems with that.

QUESTION: So you wouldn't have any problem with Peta Johnston?

ROBERT HILL: No, no, no. No connection with the sort of threat that I'm talking about.

QUESTION: If somebody were to strap some bombs to their body and walk up to the Queen or somebody- -

ROBERT HILL: That's a threat of extreme violence.

QUESTION: Is it a Defence Force responsibility?

ROBERT HILL: It is between the Queensland Police and the Defence Force. That is our responsibility to address.

QUESTION: Some of these protests could get out of hand and they might just not be a whole lot of people waving placards and things.

ROBERT HILL: Even protests that, as you say, get out of hand, that is really a civil responsibility. That's not why we've got soldiers there. I'm talking about - it depends what you mean by out of hand. What I'm talking about is violence. I'm talking about bombs or terrorist attacks and that sort of extreme event. That's why we've got Defence Force people involved. Even enthusiastic protests are more than adequately managed in this country by the civil authority and so it should be.

QUESTION: On a smaller scale, a lone person such as Peta Johnston by herself or with other people, are you not concerned that she might want to disrupt proceedings by trying to talk the Queen, would you try and keep her out of- -

ROBERT HILL: We don't encourage people, obviously, to disrupt CHOGM. It's an important meeting and we are the hosts but, on the other hand, we don't ban legitimate, democratic protests and neither we should but that is an entirely different issue to the sort of issues that I'm talking about.

And, of course, if the system works as it's designed to work, somebody with a bomb won't get anywhere near their target.

QUESTION: That's being led by the Queensland Police.

ROBERT HILL: That level of security with some support from Defence in terms of its anti-bomb capabilities - we do have capabilities in identification and dealing with bombs that is a valuable supplement to the civil authorities and that's why it's there.

QUESTION: When was the decision made to increase air security? Has there been any recent security assessment or risk that has prompted it?

ROBERT HILL: The National Security Council decision, committee of Cabinet's decision, was about within the last fortnight. It was between about a week and two weeks ago, I think. It might have been a fortnight ago and there was no increased risk that led to it. Rather it is part of the heightened alert since September 11 as applied to a large meeting of world leaders being held in Australia.

And Bill Clinton, I don't know anything about security arrangements for Bill Clinton.

QUESTION: The ADF is not contributing?

ROBERT HILL: Not that I know of. I haven't heard that. I think he normally brings his own American security and would work with the civil authorities here.

QUESTION: What about the Queen? Will she be bringing a particularly large entourage, to your knowledge?

ROBERT HILL: I don't know the Queen's entourage.

QUESTION: As far as the danger zone, when does that come into operation?

ROBERT HILL: The period for the restrictions will be from 25 February to 6 March, according to the Airservices material that's going to be distributed today, but you would expect any air force attention to be concentrated during the CHOGM itself.

I think they have a padding in that to ensure that every airman or airwoman is properly familiar with the process and the rules.

QUESTION: How many FA18s - I know that they're flying in pairs, but how many of them have been assigned to CHOGM?

ROBERT HILL: I don't know how many aircraft it is. All I know is that it's sufficient aircraft to allow flying in pairs for up to 24 hours a day and that, I gather, is not so much the number of aircraft as the number of air crews and they've come up from Williamtown in New South Wales. They are being relocated at the moment.

QUESTION: You've described the overall risk as low and obviously in advance that's fairly difficult to determine, but post September 11 this must be one of the greatest risks worldwide that we've actually had, with all of these world leaders here.

ROBERT HILL: Australia has never undertaken an air defence task. Our Defence Force has never undertaken an air defence task like this before which reflects what I described as the new world after September 11 but, having said that, that is an overall upgrade of security rather than one that is related to any particular threat. We are not responding to a particular threat that we know of. We don't know of any particular threat.

QUESTION: Are you nervous though? If something was to occur, realistically - -

ROBERT HILL: No, I'm not nervous. I think the security blanket not only will be an effective deterrent but if it is called upon to work it will work most effectively.

QUESTION: Another issue, do you believe- -

ROBERT HILL: Have we finished with this?

QUESTION: No. I'd like to come back to it.

ROBERT HILL: I'd prefer to get this out of the way then. Then if you want to- -

QUESTION: Are we receiving support from any other national governments? Is the US rallying sort of- -

ROBERT HILL: No. We share intelligence, for example, not just with the United States but our threat assessments are based on an international intelligence network. We have various communication capabilities that we share with partners but principally this is Australian security arrangements for guests to Australia.

QUESTION: Any air escorts requested or provided or will it be provided to any world leaders coming in, as in military escort for their flights once they come into Australia?

ROBERT HILL: As I understand it, we are providing security support for all of the individuals so- -

QUESTION: What do you take responsibility for? When they arrive on Australian soil or as they get- -

ROBERT HILL: Basically when they're in-country but that's our responsibility. Some of the soldiers that I've described as being in the general support role will be assisting in that regard but they'd be principally police.

QUESTION: So there are no escorts being provided to flights incoming?

ROBERT HILL: Incoming, not that I know of, no. I haven't heard that.

QUESTION: Who will be the CHOGM air commander?

ROBERT HILL: I understand he is Air Commodore John Quaife.

We are setting up a procedure to provide anyone who wanted technical information, they should contact the Public Affairs Division of the Department of Defence. The person who is responsible for the technical detail is Air Vice Marshall Kindler who is the Australian Air Commander and who is also in charge of this concept of operations and, as I said, it is intended that there be further public communications through the normal public media in support of what's being distributed to the flying community, the air movements community in Australia.

QUESTION: Will there be any police at this stage from interstate?

ROBERT HILL: I haven't been involved in the police decisions. It wouldn't surprise me at all if they're not being supplemented in various ways. Most other service support that I know - I know a lot of service support from Canberra in different areas is going up there so it could be police as well.

Is there anything I've forgotten?

QUESTION: On another issue?


QUESTION: Do you believe Angus Houston did all he could to convey to Peter Reith the [inaudible].

ROBERT HILL: I'm not quite sure. I've had several days, literally days, hours and hours and hours of being questioned on this subject this week. What he did was in the days that he was acting chief of the Defence Force, which I think was 7 and 8 November, when he conducted an investigation as the result of an article and photo that was in The Australian newspaper which cast doubt on some of the facts, conducted an investigation and spoke to Peter Reith by telephone.

Peter Reith was I think involved in the launching of a submarine in Adelaide but, in actual fact, he was responding to Reith. Reith had contacted him and asked that because of this article in The Australian that the matter be looked at further and Houston got back to Reith after he'd conducted that investigation and expressed his doubts about several aspects of the matter.

What else could have done? I suppose the only argument is whether he should have then written up his doubts and communicated in that written form to Peter Reith.

I'm not making a point of that. I don't understand whether that's what you're wanting me to say. Is the other form of communication that you had in mind?

QUESTION: I just wondered whether there was more things that he could have done to alert Mr Reith about- -

ROBERT HILL: He could have put it in writing, his views in writing to him, but I'm not expressing a view on that. He was only in the office for two days and then it was rotating - it seems to be a rotation. It was then going to General Cosgrove for a couple of days and then after that couple of days it was back to the chief of the Defence Force, Admiral Barrie, who was returning from overseas.

QUESTION: Will heads roll in the Defence Force over the obviously poor lines of communication between them?

ROBERT HILL: No, I think that the important thing is to learn from this experience and move on. There are obviously communication issues within Defence, there are communication issues, I believe, within the Defence Minister's office, there are communication issues between the two and particularly if you look at the reports that have been written, the counsel from those reports is that we all learn from the confusion that surrounded these events in order to best ensure that it doesn't occur again.

QUESTION: Is there a rift in the Defence Forces about who told who what about the issue?

ROBERT HILL: No, there's no rift on the subject of who told who. There have been some differences of interpretation and some differences in terms of weighing up the evidence. Admiral Barrie, I think it's fair to say, puts greater weight on the initial advice, the initial determination of the chief of the task force, that there were children in the water whereas some of the other military chiefs put greater weight on subsequent reassessments of the original information.

But that's all on the public record. As far as I'm concerned, the challenge now is to move on. They all work together well. They have important roles in terms of our national security and we want to continue to do that in a harmonious way.

QUESTION: Is there a feeling that they are being made the scapegoat for this?

ROBERT HILL: No, they're not being made - that's not the answer I just gave, is it? No, they're not being made the scapegoat.

What I've said is, I think there are lessons for all of us in terms of communications. If you read General Powell's report, that's basically the conclusion he came to as well. He made a series of recommendations. I said to the Estimates Committee that I, for one, am determined to learn from this lesson and to improve the lines of communication between the Defence Minister's office and the Department of Defence.

If we learn from it then there is a constructive benefit that flows from it.

QUESTION: Do you support Dr Hollingworth staying on as Governor-General?

ROBERT HILL: I obviously support the statements that the Prime Minister made on the subject yesterday. He made the determination that there wasn't a sufficient case on the record that called for the Governor-General's resignation and that would obviously, therefore, be my position as well.

QUESTION: Was it you that got the message Dr Hollingworth that he should resign? Are you the senior Liberal?

ROBERT HILL: Is that right?

I don't know. Of course it wasn't. I don't know what you're talking about. I haven't spoken to Dr Hollingworth.

QUESTION: Minister, how is $9 million additional funding for this exercise - reality, I should say.

ROBERT HILL: Additional funding to Defence towards their costs in relation to CHOGM.

QUESTION: CHOGM since October or since the Olympics?

ROBERT HILL: You are very astute. It covers additional costs to Defence from CHOGM which, in this financial year, would cover the aborted CHOGM as well as this one.

* * End * *