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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: Thursday, 16 October 2003: Australian Submarine Corporation, sheriff.\n\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

Parliament House, Canberra

10:00am, Thursday, 16 October 2003

E&oe_______________________________Australian Submarine Corporation, sheriff

Senator Robert Hill

Well I wanted to say something about the contract between ASC and the government because this is a major contract in anyone’s language. The chance and commitment to provide the major servicing for our submarine fleet for 25 years at a cost of up to $3.5 billion is a great achievement for the Australian Submarine Corporation. They’ve got the job because they’ve proven that they can do it. We brought in Electric Boat from the United States, the world’s largest submarine manufacturer, and we in effect bench marked ASC against them. As a result of which we are convinced that they can do what we need in terms of not only maintaining and servicing the submarines but providing the future upgrades that will be so important. So I’d like to congratulate ASC on its achievement. It’ll be the basis of on ongoing strong defence industry in South Australia. When we move into the air warfare destroyers, they’ll be in a very good position to be a part of that project. It links in well with the maritime surveillance aircraft up in Edinburgh. And it really is the nucleus of a defence industry, although small on global terms, nevertheless very competitive on global terms. So it’s a great success to them.

Journalist

What sort of new technology will go in to these submarines over this period?

Senator Hill

Well it’s continuous upgrade. As you know we’re committed to the new Raytheon combat system. That’ll be state of the art. We’re in effect taking it from the latest US Nuclear Submarine and upgrading it further. That’ll be matched by a new heavy weight torpedo that’s still in development. That will be the top torpedo of its type in the world. It’ll be used by both the United States and Australia. Ultimately we will need a project to upgrade the sonar system on the boats. So, you know this is top science, top technology and they’ve demonstrated to us they’ve got the capability to do the job and we’re very pleased that we can do it in Australia.

Journalist

And as a South Australian yourself, how many new jobs will this do you think this will create?

Senator Hill

Well this consolidates ASC rather than creating new jobs in the immediate term. As we go in to further upgrades there may well be further job opportunities arising

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from such additional work and also of course if ASC is part of the air warfare destroyer project that would be another huge boost.

Journalist

Minister, is Australia a sheriff in South-East Asia?

Senator Hill

What do you mean by that?

Journalist

What do you think the US President meant by it?

Senator Hill

You better ask him.

Journalist

What do you think it means?

Senator Hill

What do I think it means?

Journalist

Yes. The comments reported in the Australian when it was put to him.

Senator Hill

Well I read the Australian but that’s Mr Bush’s comment. You take that up with Mr Bush. You might have a chance next week.

Journalist

What will you be saying to him about it?

Senator Hill

Well what will I say about the alliance? I think the alliance is in very good shape. The US takes on a huge load in terms of ensuring global stability and global security. We’re very pleased to be a part of that because that’s what’s necessary to protect the interests of Australians, of Australians and other Australian interests.

Journalist

Would you describe Australia as a sheriff in South-East Asia the way George Bush has?

Senator Hill

No it’s not my language.

Journalist

Why not?

Senator Hill

This is a game is it? Anything else on submarines?

Journalist

This is on still Mr Bush.

Senator Hill

Oh right.

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Journalist

Were you surprised by his comments that he’s not concerned about a protest against him in Parliament?

Senator Hill

Well how would I - why should I be surprised? That’s Mr Bush’s business. Ask me Australian business.

Journalist

Do you think the sheriff comments …

Senator Hill

Come on there’s no point. I’m not interested in the sheriff comments.

Journalist

Well why aren’t you? I mean when the Prime Minister …

Senator Hill

Do you want to ask an issue about Australian national security?

Journalist

Is this about Australian national security?

Senator Hill

What is? Submarines are.

Journalist

The reason why you don’t want to address any comment about Australia being a sheriff in South-East Asia?

Senator Hill

I’ve never said that. That’s not my language. And I’m not sure …

Journalist

And why wouldn’t you say that?

Senator Hill

… what it means. So why don’t you ask a question about us?

Journalist

Do you think it’s appropriate language to be used …

Senator Hill

…Come on. Anything else?

Journalist

Well MPs coming into Parliament this morning have described it as being unhelpful, possibly damaging to Australia’s role in the region …

Senator Hill

Well I think the alliance is in great shape. I think everybody recognises that. It’s a difficult time in terms of global security. There’s great uncertainty, unpredictability - watch out the rumbling - particularly behind you. I suppose we better start that one again. It is a difficult time in terms of the global security picture. The alliance

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is very important in that regard. You know our alliance is with the world’s one super power. We only play a small part of that obviously, but we believe we can make a constructive and useful contribution and that’s what we seek to do.

Journalist

The fact that he’s named Australia as, the way he sees it, as a sheriff in the region, do you think that’s helpful to our Asian neighbours?

Senator Hill

He was asked the question does he agree that Australia’s a deputy Sheriff and he said no it’s more of a sheriff. I interpreted that to mean, if it’s any help to the ABC, I interpreted that to mean that he believed we took on a serious role, made a significant contribution to stability particularly within this region. That’s our view that we do that. If that’s what he means therefore, I would agree with him.

Journalist

Do you think that with the submarines, the maturity of the submarines program, out of the construction cycle now, into the maintenance cycle, that it’s at the stage now where people will stop bagging them?

Senator Hill

Well it’s very Australian isn’t it to bag your own successes. I think there’s been a misunderstanding of just how complex this project was in the first instance and how complex it remains. Because again, if you want to talk about the Americans, you go to the American Navy and they are most impressed with the Collins submarine. We exercise with them and do very well. But yet there’s still an Australian belief that because it’s built in Australia, it’s perhaps not quite up to the task. So I don’t know, I think over time attitudes will change. There’s certainly

been difficulties. There’s been difficulties with the combat system but we’re addressing that. We’ve put in place a transitional solution and now we’re moving to a longer term solution. As far as we’re concerned they’re very capable boats and will serve Australia’s interests for a long time. Obviously if we’ve entered into a 25 year contract.

Journalist

(Inaudible) Adelaide. Is the Submarine Corporation taking on this project with Australia’s boats, is there room in there for it to expand and bring other overseas boats into go through the same process? Is that likely?

Senator Hill

Unlikely because every submarine - every country has a slightly different class of submarine. Countries, because of the strategic nature of submarine assets they hang on to them closely. So I would be surprised - I can’t see that happening. I think the opportunities for growth in the submarine corporation are more into new Australian projects such as the air warfare destroyer. The submarine corporation is also interested in other commercial work and there may well be opportunities. In terms of the high tech area, it may well be that some of their opportunities will be, may be in platforms even other than Navy because when you get into the systems integration questions the same sort of technical issues apply in other platforms as well. So I see the submarine corporation building more into a systems integration type of skill base and there could well be incidental work that comes out of that in the years ahead.

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Journalist

Minister when this terminology of a sheriff was first an issue, the Bulletin magazine interview with the Prime Minster, he went out of his way …

Senator Hill

I don’t think the Prime Minister said it did he? No.

Journalist

No he didn’t. He agreed with an assertion and added in the region, in the region, to the assertion.

Senator Hill

That made a good story did it?

Journalist

The Prime Minister went out of his way then to say that Australia being a deputy sheriff in the region did not represent his view. Why would being a sheriff be appropriate now?

Senator Hill

But I haven’t said we’re a sheriff.

Journalist

Well I think you said that if what George Bush meant by it was that we help keep the peace in the area that does represent …

Senator Robert Hill

No. I said if you asked me do we help - do we contribute to stability and security in our region then my answer is definitely yes.

Journalist

So you said that in context of George Bush using the term Sheriff and that meaning that …

Senator Hill

You’re wanting to put words into my mouth.

Journalist

Well we’re just trying to work out when it was inappropriate to be described as a deputy sheriff in 1999, why is it at all appropriate to be described as a sheriff, even with your meaning, now?

Senator Hill

Well I don’t even understand the question.

Journalist

In 1999 the Prime Minister said that being a deputy sheriff in the region is not his view. In 2003 George Bush says that we are in fact a sheriff in the region. That’s not something that you’ve got a problem with?

Senator Hill

No. I’ve said that if your question to me is do we play a worthwhile role, a significant role in terms of stability and security in the region, then my answer is yes we definitely do and it’s in Australia’s best interests to do so.

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Journalist

Don’t sheriffs enforce good order against evil doers?

Senator Hill

Well I guess most do. I don’t know …

Journalist

Is that our role in the region?

Senator Hill

My only experience of sheriffs is within the Adelaide local court I think a long time ago.

Journalist

Senator Hill, what do you make of comments by NSW Premier Bob Carr that basically if people can’t stick by Australian laws they should go back to where they came from? In relation to, there was … do you know the comments?

Senator Hill

No.

Journalist

In relation to murders in South Western suburbs, the sort of gangland war in the Lebanese community.

Journalist

Which was in fact a family dispute.

Senator Hill

Is this an argument that in Australia we don’t want to import a cultural of violence? If that’s what’s being said I understand that sentiment. We - I think for example one of the great things about our country is we haven’t had a cultural of political violence. We’ve had a culture of enthusiastic protest but we don’t become violent and I hope that will be forever the case.

Journalist

But do you think it’s an unfair attack on the Lebanese community given that it was in fact a family dispute?

Senator Hill

Well if it was an attack on the community than it would be an unfair attack because I don’t attribute the culture of violence to any particular community.

Journalist

Senator, where are things at for plans for a new tank contract for the ADF?

Senator Hill

We don’t …

Journalist

Or the capability eve?

Senator Hill

Good for sheriffs you reckon?

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Journalist

In terms of the capability plan, would an Abrams tank be good for a sheriff?

Senator Hill

You’re being very pushy. The answer is we don’t have new tanks in the Defence Capability Plan at this time but there is clearly a debate as to whether we should and we’re reviewing the DCP at the moment and when we make a decision we’ll make an announcement. Okay, I’d better go.

Journalist

Is there any word on when the Solomons people are coming out, just briefly?

Senator Hill

Sorry?

Journalist

The defence force from the Solomon’s and the (inaudible).

Senator Hill

Well we’ve had some discussions on that and but we need to consult with the Solomon Island’s government and also with our coalition partners before we make an announcement, but I think we’ll be able to say something on that in the reasonably near future. We’re looking for - well I certainly hope some will be home by the end of the year. We’ve always said we don’t want them to stay any longer than is absolutely necessary. There’s been very significant successes on Guadalcanal. There’s still some considerable work to do on Malaita and what we’ve been assessing is whether the force structure at the moment is appropriate for that task or whether there might be some room for some drawdown and that’s what we’re discussing with others at the moment. Okay? Thanks.

ENDS