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Transcript of press conference: Headquarters Australian Theatre, Sydney: Tuesday, 16 March 2004: Joint Operations Command, HQAST, Iraq, terrorism.



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

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PRESS CONFERENCE

Headquarters Australian Theatre, Sydney

11:30am, Tuesday, 16 March 2004

E&oe______________________Joint Operations Command, HQAST, Iraq, terrorism

SENATOR ROBERT HILL:

I have General Cosgrove with me, Chief of the Defence Force, and Admiral Shalders, because he's an important part of these announcements today. And what we're announcing is that I've accepted advice from the CDF for significant changes to the higher command and control of the ADF, in particular we will be establishing a new Joint Operations Command. And Admiral Shalders who's Vice Chief of the Defence Force will be the first commander of the Joint Operations Command, and his deputy will be the current commander of the Australian Theatre. This will consolidate in effect, although not necessarily physically, Australian Theatre, our strategic operations division, our joint deployable headquarters and also NORCOM in Darwin. Coinciding with this and relevant to it is the start of our process to build the new headquarters for the joint operations command at Bungendore in New South Wales. And that's a $300 million project, we're commencing the tender process now, it's just received final government approval, and we're going to finance it through private financing, so that'll be a first for us, so that the successful tenderer will be building, fitting out - designing, building, fitting out and servicing this headquarters for us for a period of between 20 and 30 years, it'll be 20 years with a right to renew for an extra 10 years. This means that we will have a consolidated headquarters staff of about 1000 people. It means that the headquarters that are located here, the Australian Theatre headquarters, will move to Bungendore together with the maritime command, which is also located adjoining here, land command which is currently at Victoria Barracks here in Sydney, and also the Air Force air command which is at the foot of the Blue Mountains. So it's the first time we'll be able to consolidate the command of the ADF in one location, with all the most modern methods of communications and the like, which I think will significantly assist CDF in his command responsibility on behalf of the government.

QUESTION:

How will it work in terms of lines of command to the CDF?

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ROBERT HILL:

The CDF is the commander of the Australian Defence Force, and Admiral Shalders really in effect becomes two-hatted, he remains vice chief, so if ever the chief is away he's the acting chief, but he will also be the principal operations commander, so he will report to the CDF and he will be in charge of basically all of our operations in future.

QUESTION:

And what benefits do you expect this to bring?

ROBERT HILL:

It consolidates, it streamlines our command structure, it brings - in relation to significant parts of it, it allows co-location, it allows the upgrading of communications and basically it is updating our command structure in the same way as we've updated other parts of Defence. In part it's been made possible by the

formation of our new capability development group, which is a lot of the work that the vice chief used to do, that's now under General Hurley, which has freed up the vice chief to concentrate on operations. So overall I think it gives a better command and direction, structure, for the ADF.

QUESTION:

There are a lot of parallels to the US system. Is this integrating us into the US military?

ROBERT HILL:

No, this hasn't in any way been designed on any American model, this is all Australian, so it doesn't integrate us in any way.

QUESTION:

Minister, what's the cost of this new program?

ROBERT HILL:

Well the new headquarters as I said, is about a $300 million project which includes the new communications suite. It'll be paid for differently than in the past as I've indicated because it'll be privately financed and we will lease from the private financier. As I said, that's a first for us, it's not a first for others, the United Kingdom for example has been a long way ahead of us in terms of utilising private finance for the provision of facilities, but we believe it'll mean better use of the taxpayer's money in that regard.

QUESTION:

Minister, how do the claims by Islamic militants for the bomb attacks on Madrid - in their tape they claimed that they would continue attacks on allies to the United States, how does that affect the security that Australian troops serving in Iraq and elsewhere?

ROBERT HILL:

That in itself doesn't affect their security, the risk to Australian forces in Iraq is high, there's no doubt about that, we take every precaution but it's dangerous work.

QUESTION:

Do you agree with the Federal Police Commissioner's view that being involved with the US has brought us more into danger, under attack from Islamists?

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ROBERT HILL:

Well his comment was particularly in relation to the operations in Iraq. When you read what's put out by al-Qaeda they see us as a target because of our values basically, they attacked the United States because they saw it as part of the jihad to attack non-believers, and we're part of that international grouping, so ...

QUESTION:

But he specifically talked about Iraq- -

ROBERT HILL:

Well hang on - I know, I just told you that. So in relation to Iraq, no I think the operation in Iraq hasn't affected that, I think that in terms of being potential al-Qaeda targets, even though we don't have specific intelligence on it, really that's been the case since September the 11th, and possibly it was even the case before.

QUESTION:

General Cosgrove ...

QUESTION:

Do you think the Prime Minister was right to chastise the Chief Police officer of this country?

ROBERT HILL:

Well I’ll finish the questions, just to make it easier. Well I don’t know anything about that - I only know what I’ve read in the newspaper.

QUESTION:

Senator Hill, the head of FBI counter intelligence is in Sydney at this police commissioner’s conference. He’s just given a media conference outlining his perspective on al-Qaeda’s future moves, particularly in relation to the Spanish

elections. It was asked of him did he believe that the election in Spain might have been a target, and what would that say for our elections? He speculated that yes it could have been the target and we might have to start looking at elections and the overturning of governments through the process that happened in Spain. Is that something that would concern you? Is that on the government's radar screen?

ROBERT HILL:

Well the risk to Australia is regarded as medium and has been for some time. Particular events in Australia attract extra security, for example we provided extra security for the CHOGM meeting outside of Brisbane, as you would know we provided extra security for the Olympic Games, other major public events sometimes we get advice that extra precaution should be taken. We haven't addressed it specifically in relation to elections.

QUESTION:

Do you think we ought to?

ROBERT HILL:

Well it's not for me to say, I rely on the experts in that regard, we have the ongoing assessment by ASIO and other experts of the risks to Australia. Their current assessment is it's still medium, and when there are particular events that they

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think require some upgrading of that assessment, then we follow their advice. We always follow their advice in that regard.

QUESTION:

Minister, Mark Latham's restated Labor's policy to withdraw troops from Iraq. In the light of the Spanish elections, how do you think this will affect any future government policy or even perhaps it will incline people to vote Labor?

ROBERT HILL:

Well firstly, we believe there's a job still to be done in Iraq, consolidating and reconstructing Iraq in terms of a new democracy, where people have a better opportunity, or have opportunity for a better future, we think is an important part of the project. And as you know, the ADF is particularly helping in rebuilding Iraqi institutions, such as the new Iraqi Army and the new Iraqi Navy. So whilst the job remains to be done, it's the view of our government that Australia should continue to assist.

QUESTION:

Do you think that this has become and is becoming a genuine election issue though?

ROBERT HILL:

Well, you can’t - I wouldn't respond to that. We determine policies that we believe are in the national interest. And we believe continuing to support Iraq as it rebuilds, as the reconstruction takes place, is important in our interests. Considerable benefit has been received in terms of international peace and security in the removal of Saddam Hussein and the removal of any threat associated with weapons of mass destruction. We believe it's important that those gains be consolidated.

QUESTION:

Minister, given the stark contrast between what Mick Keelty is saying about what our involvement in Iraq means and what the Prime Minister was saying, should the Prime Minister ask Mick Keelty to resign?

ROBERT HILL:

No, I think Keelty's done a great job actually, you know, the role the police under his leadership have played for example in the Solomon Islands has been great, the role that they're going to play in PNG that we're still working on will also be equally important. I think the Federal Police and the fantastic effort that they put in in Indonesia in supporting the Indonesian police in their investigations post the Bali bombing, the AFP is held in very high regard and Keelty's been a very good leader of them.

QUESTION:

Minister Hill, are you concerned that protestors can go up to HMAS Success in New Zealand and scrawl whatever they like down the side of it, and blow it up if they want to?

ROBERT HILL:

I am concerned, not so much that something was scrawled on it, which is a bit distasteful but that's not my real concern, my real concern is the security issue, and I've raised that with the CDF and the security is being looked at again. When we we're in foreign and friendly ports we are to a significant extent reliant on the

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domestic law enforcement. Obviously it suggests to us that we will need to do more of that security work ourselves, and if that's what's necessary we'll do so.

QUESTION:

Don't they post watches on ships?

ROBERT HILL:

Yes, there was a watch on the ship. But now there may need to be more intense watches.

QUESTION:

Minister, who should the public believe, Mick Keelty or the Prime Minister on this issue of Iraq?

ROBERT HILL:

What, on the issue as to whether there is a greater risk as a result of us being in Iraq? Well as I said the risk was there, you know, notwithstanding Iraq, the risk was there beforehand. The risk in the face of Islamic extremists doesn't relate to Iraq at all, and therefore my view is that there is no further risk attached to Australia as a result of the efforts we made to remove Saddam Hussein.

QUESTION:

Where does this leave Mick Keelty?

ROBERT HILL:

Well he'll say what he believes, I'm not speaking for Mick Keelty. I'll tell you what my position is, after everything I've read on the subject over the last few years.

QUESTION:

But he's not being backed by the government at all.

ROBERT HILL:

Well what do you mean by that? I've just said to you, I think Keelty has been a great police commissioner, he remains a great police commissioner, I reckon the AFP are doing a fantastic job.

QUESTION:

Should he say what he likes though?

ROBERT HILL:

[Laughs] I think I've said enough on Keelty.

QUESTION:

But is it the case that the government will just listen to selective intelligence advice?

ROBERT HILL:

No, we listen to it all, we get advice from all of our agencies and we read the international advices as well. The risk to Australia is medium, the risk to Australia before the Iraqi operation was medium. Okay? Anything of the General?

ENDS