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Doorstop interview of the Minister for Defence: Garden Island, Sydney: 29 October 2004: Special Operations Command appointment.

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




Friday, 29 October 2004

E&oe________________________________Special Operations Command appointment

Senator Hill:

General Leahy is of course Chief of the Army and Major General Michael Hindmarsh has just been promoted to the rank of Major General to head our Special Forces command and on behalf of the Government I wanted to take the opportunity to firstly thank Duncan Lewis who has just retired as Commander of our Special Forces, to take up a senior position in the public service in the national security arena. I thank him for his leadership of Special Forces which is regarded certainly by us as the best in the world and by some others as well. I wish him well in his new task and to congratulate Major General Hindmarsh on his promotion and to wish him well in his task of leading the organisation. We are very proud of our Special Forces. We have asked a lot of them in recent years. In all operations they have performed superbly. They’ve also been great ambassadors for Australia. They work so well in coalitions, all of our coalition colleagues say to me how much they appreciate working with Australian Special Forces not only because of their competence and professionalism but a lot to do with their attitude - their can-do attitude, their good spirit, get on with the job and get it done and get it done efficiently and where necessary sensitively. So my congratulations on your promotion. You have come out of the organisation, you are highly regarded within the Defence Force and I know you’ll do your new job superbly and that will clearly be in the national interest. All the best.

Major General Duncan Lewis

Thank you. I appreciate that.

(Cut in tape for other interviews)


John Hopkins University, there was a study that’s out today saying that there’s about 100,000 civilians that have died as a result - sorry that have died as a result of the war in Iraq. What’s your response to that and it’s mainly been after the war was finished?

Senator Hill:

During the conflict phase and since, every effort has been taken to minimise civilian casualties and I think you might recall just from the Australian perspective the extraordinary efforts that were taken and by our Airforce when they were engaged in Iraq to avoid civilian casualties. But you will never have a conflict in which there


won’t be some. But we seek to keep it to an absolute minimum and with the capabilities that now exist you are better able to keep civilian casualties lower than ever before and that will be the way that we approach it.


What does this say though about the American’s saying that they’d look after civilians, that they were going in and they were doing it to save the people of Iraq when 100,000 people have died?

Senator Hill:

Well I don’t know that 100,000 people have died. I haven’t seen that report. What I have said to you is that the Americans were also committed to minimising civilian casualties. Unfortunately there will always be some civilian casualties. The removal of Sadam Hussein, somebody who contributed to have killed at least 300,000 innocent Iraqis, is something to be of great benefit to future generations of Iraqi people and without the intervention of the Coalition Force lead by the United States that would not have been achieved.


This survey though was done all over Iraq, over a number of months, given that if it is near 100,000, men, women and children, is it still pertinent that Australia has a role in the war in Iraq?

Senator Hill:

Well Australia had a role in the first instance in removing Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, responsible as I said we believe the deaths of over 300,000 innocent people and in addressing a threat associated, as it was understood then, with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In relation to our current role, our current role is to help in the rebuilding of Iraq to give the Iraqi people the chance for a better future. A chance of a free and democratic Iraq. A chance in which they can achieve their reasonable economic aspirations and without the support of the international community and the multinational force, which is specifically endorsed by the United Nations, that goal would not be achieved.


But if that figure is correct, and it’s close to 100,000 people, that’s a very significant figure. What would the government be doing about this?

Senator Hill:

As I said, every effort was taken to minimise civilian casualties. Even as we support the Iraqi people today in the rebuilding of their country and have to combat insurgence, every effort is still made to avoid, and if not avoid, minimise civilian casualties.


(Inaudible). What is your position in relation to Iraq? (Inaudible)

Senator Hill

Well our position is that the Australian forces will stay until, as we say, the job is done. The United Nations has requested the international community, through a multi-national force, to support the Iraqi people through the stage of their elections and the writing of their constitution and the full transfer of sovereignty and this process of also rebuilding the nation. So during the course of next year no doubt the UN Security Council will continue to address that issue and we’ll see what it


says in relation to further commitments of the international community. But at the moment we say there is an important job there still to be done. The Australians are doing it. We welcomed home an Army Training team today that trained 2,700 of the

new Iraqi Army. Building these new institutions is going to be critical to the success of the new Iraq and Australia is playing a very important role. In relation to Mr Latham’s commitments, well the people have passed their judgements on Mr Latham’s policies. It was never something that appealed to the Australian people.

The idea that you would cut and run half way through a job.


You had 44 troops come home today. The second training team is coming home in January. How different is that then to what Labor was saying earlier on and how many will you have left there?

Senator Hill

We have about 900 personnel in the Middle East Area of Operations. Our current intent is to maintain about that number but we change the units according to the jobs that need to be done and the particular value that we can bring. So we believe helping build their institutions in terms of training the Iraqi Army is an important job. That’s why we’re doing that. We helped train their Navy. That job is now complete. The Navy’s been commissioned, they’ve got their 5 patrol boats, they’re out of operations and so we’ve brought that force element home. We completed the task in Baghdad in relation to keeping the airport open by providing traffic controllers. So we’ve brought them home. Other force elements we’ve sent as new tasks have arisen but we expect the number of about 900 in the region to be maintained for the time being.