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Transcript of doorstop interview: Robertson Barracks, Darwin: 2 March 2005. Troops to Iraq; developments in Darwin.



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

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MEDIA DOORSTOP INTERVIEW

Robertson Barracks, Darwin

10.45am 2 March 2005

E&oe__________________________________Troops to Iraq, Developments in Darwin

Senator Hill:

(Inaudible)…… Not only have they had strenuous exercise programs but a lot of them have been deployed before some to Timor some to Iraq and they are very highly trained and really this is just fine tuning now.

Journalist:

There have been concerns as you would have seen in the Age this morning that some of the vehicles aren’t up to as high security as some people would like, what’s your response?

Senator Hill:

Well that is not a concern I get from the military, quite the contrary, the ASLAV vehicles performed superbly in Iraq, it’s the envy of some of the other coalition partners actually and the vehicles we are sending are even further enhanced so in terms of the equipment, vehicles and other equipment we send they will be first class and the CDF advises me appropriate for the task.

Journalist:

Will all the vehicles have spall liners?

Senator Hill:

All the vehicles will have spall liners, spall liners or spall curtains, all will have that extra layer of protection. But really the principle protection which people don’t seem to understand is the armor, and although the ASLAVs have been involved in a number of incidents in Iraq, both bombs and also rifle and other fire, the outer lining hasn’t been pierced at all.

Journalist:

But just to clarify that, will all of them have the same level of protection, or according to the Age article nearly half of them won’t have the degree that the other half have?

Senator Hill:

The won’t necessarily all have the same type of spall lining, some will have spall curtains some will have a spall lining - the curtains I gather have got a little more

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inconvenience in but in terms of protection it’s the equivalent. So they will have that extra layer of internal protection.

Journalist:

When will the troops be leaving, what date?

Senator Hill:

I don’t think we’ve announced dates yet but it will be in April.

Journalist:

What about the remote machine guns, only about half of them will be fitted where they can fire machine guns inside, is that correct?

Senator Hill:

Well we are constantly upgrading the vehicles and a short while ago none of them had remote fire machine guns, they didn’t have spall lining either, and these will also have BAR armor, and of course until a very short time ago none of ours had BAR armor. So as new capabilities come along and we fit the new capabilities and what I am told by the CDF, and it is his job, if he tells me that there is a short coming in the equipment obviously we address that. But he tells me that the equipment is appropriate, in fact it’s good equipment for the task and that is the way we operate. We don’t send forces that are not well trained, we don’t send forces that are not well equipped, we accept a responsibility to ensure that we provide our forces with the best training and equipment that we can.

Journalist

Minister can you rule out sending more troops?

Senator Hill

No I can’t rule out sending more troops, we don’t intend to send more troops. In fact one of the goals of this mission is to bring the capability of the Iraqi security force, and in this particular province, up to the standard where foreign forces aren’t necessary, and that’s their objective too. The Iraqi, the Interim Government and I’m sure the transitional Government, won’t want multinational forces to stay any longer than is necessary, but at the moment they can’t provide a secure environment without the international forces and that’s why they ask us to stay.

Journalist

In the short term will you be ruling it out?

Senator Hill

Sorry?

Journalist

In the short term will you be ruling it out, sending more troops?

Senator Hill

In the short term, yes.

Journalist

Is it a case with the machine gun issue, that the ASLAV’s might be upgraded while they’re in Iraq?

Senator Hill

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Well I think the armor for example is going to be attached not in Iraq, but outside of Australia, so we do whatever is the most convenient way of doing it, so the BAR armor is a fit on armor and it will be fitted on before they reach Iraq.

Journalist

So what country would they be fitted?

Senator Hill

Wherever they leave the boat.

Journalist

Where will that be?

Senator Hill

Well we haven’t announced that. We have had strong support throughout these deployments from the Gulf States, they have been very, very helpful and I’m sure one of the Gulf States will be equally helpful in this instance.

Journalist

Minister, why would they need to be fitted outside Australia?

Senator Hill

They’re a new, we haven’t had them in the past on our ASLAVs and the Americans have tried out a form of BAR armor on their strikers which is a different, a larger vehicle. There’s been an analysis by the ADF and by the Defence Science organisation as to the value of BAR armor.

Journalist

What is BAR armor sorry?

Senator Hill

It is an armor that looks like bars, fitted on the outside of the vehicle and its purpose is an extra protection against rocket propelled grenades.

Journalist

Like a roo bar.

Senator Hill

(Laugh) Like a close knit roo bar, you can tell you come from the Territory.

Journalist

(Inaudible)

Senator Hill

I’m Sorry?

Journalist

Why do soldiers receive the danger money, the bonus $150 a day for being in Iraq?

Senator Hill

Well in a war-like environment we provide particular financial benefits, I don’t understand the question. With each deployment there are a set of conditions and those conditions relate to the environment they are going into - the risk environment and their tasks - it takes into account the threats and the missions

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that they are assigned to do and we get advice again from the ADF as the appropriate form of benefits in those circumstances, we invariable take that advice.

Journalist

Minister, on ABC Radio this morning you said you were unhappy with the way the waterfront discussions were progressing with the NT Government and that you won’t be rolling over. What’s the sticking block?

Senator Hill

The Northern Territory Government is the sticking block. If the Northern Territory Government wants to develop the waterfront in a different way with a Convention Centre and high rise buildings and so forth, that’s fine, provided it’s compatible with the use of the wharfs by warships. This is a very importance strategic base for us, you saw it used only a month or so ago when Kanimbla left for Aceh, it took on its engineers and all of their heavy equipment here in Darwin, it’s a very important base for us and we want to continue to be able to use it as we have used it in the past and pursuant with the existing agreement we have with the Northern Territory Government. So what we have said is let’s try and find a win win outcome but that will require the Northern Territory Government to bend a bit and so far they haven’t been prepared to do so and that is why I have said they obviously believe that they will just bluff us out, but we can’t be bluffed out because we have national security responsibilities and we have to jointly find a solution.

Journalist

What is the compromise that needs to be reached as far as you are concerned?

Senator Hill

We need to be able to offload oil from the ships and they won’t budge on that at the moment, they won’t even discuss it.

Journalist

Why would it matter if the ships were moved?

Senator Hill

There is no suitable alternative place to move them. They’ve looked at the East Arm option, it is not a goer as it is heavily used by other ships, you’ve got to book time, you are not allowed to hold to in the area, so we want to continue to use the facility that we have used in the past and pursuant to the agreement we have with the Northern Territory Government. Let’s find a win win outcome, that’s what we have said from the start and it hasn’t been a very pretty story. The Northern Territory Government, should have come to us in the beginning and said this is what we have in mind can we find a way that can accommodate national security needs as well as our convention centre, they didn’t, they leaked the story to the media, they presented it as a fait accompli and from then it’s been an attempt to catch up and so far we haven’t been able to catch up. So Defence has lodged formal objections and we’re open to continue our next negotiation, we’ve always said we will enter into a constructive dialogue, but it is going to require a bit of give on both sides and they have got to understand that or we won’t break the stale mate.

Journalist

(Inaudible) Are you able to put blocks in place on the development?

Senator Hill

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No, I’m not going to make threats, I’ve said that before. But what I have said is I want them to treat the national security issue seriously. I would have also thought that they would also treat the issue of ship visits seriously because it is such a major income earner for the top end, so I don’t understand why they want to be so difficult about it, but as I said my commitment has always been that we will

constructively negotiate and we remain willing, and in fact want to constructively negotiate.

Journalist

You mentioned there is going to be a bit of give and take to get the issue resolved, what are you going to give?

Senator Hill

Well that is part of a negotiation and the officials can sit down. What we need, I I don’t mind how it’s done, provided that we are able to replenish ships from the wharfs, Australian ships and allied ships. That we have a facility that meets all the technical requirements in relation to threat, which are now much higher than they used to be in the world today unfortunately so it’s got to be meet those security requirements. There’s got to be adequate manoeuvre space for ships to be filled with heavy equipment, as the Kanimbla was, and we want the facility for our forces, for allied forces to call at the wharf for ship visits in Darwin. They actually like that, it’s one of the few places where they pull up at the end of the main street, it’s one of the attractions, the Northern Territory should understand that there is huge demand for ship visits, not just in Australia but within Australia every port wants our Navy and visiting Navies to visit their port so you have got to be competitive and if you put barriers in the way that doesn’t help your case. But provided those needs can be met then that’s fine. If we meet those needs and get the Convention Centre and the high rise developments in that’s fine with me.

Journalist

Can you tell us the time frame?

Senator Hill

Well we have agreed to twelve months through two six month rotations.

Journalist

Could that be extended?

Senator Hill

It could, but that’s not our intention at the moment, our intention is two six month deployments and during the course of the year we will consider what the current situation is.

ENDS