Minister for Defence Stephen Smith — Press Conference, Announcement of the Force Posture Review
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, thanks very much for turning up. Today, I’m announcing that the Government is instituting an Australian Defence Force, Force Posture Review. This is to ensure that our Australian Defence Force is geographically positioned correctly to meet our modern security and strategic challenges.
I am advised that this is the first stand-alone dedicated Force Posture Review that we’ve had for a considerable period of time, although it is the case that in the course of the Dibb report to then Minister Beazley the Force Posture Review aspects were considered. And it’s also the case that in the 2009 White Paper, questions of Defence bases and Defence base consolidation were part of the 2009 White Paper.
I have asked two of our leading national security experts, Allan Hawke, a former Secretary of the Department of Defence, and Rick Smith, also a former Secretary of the Department of Defence, to oversee the Force Posture Review and to provide a report to me by the end of the first quarter of next year. And Dr Hawke and Mr Smith may well recommend in the course of the review that other national security experts be added to the expert panel.
The Defence Force Posture Review and the report to me by the expert panel will form part of the security and strategic considerations for the 2014 White Paper. Our next White Paper on our five year schedule is due no later than the first quarter of 2014.
You might be aware that we currently have a joint working party with the United States on the United States Global Force Posture Review. And so the work of the Australian Defence Force, Force Posture Review will be complemented by the work previously done in the 2009 White Paper, complemented by the work which has been done on the estate consolidation program and complemented by the work that we’re currently doing with the United States on their Global Force Posture Review.
The strategic and security considerations that the expert panel in Defence will look at obviously include the rise of the Asia Pacific as a strategic and security area, the rise of the Indian Ocean rim as an area of strategic importance, the ever-present and ongoing need and requirement for Australia to be in a position to respond to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean and also new and modern security and strategic challenges, in particular energy security.
As we know, in the north west and the north of Australia, off the coast of the north west of Western Australia and off the coast of the Northern Territory, we are now seeing a significant petroleum resources energy belt and so into the future, considerations arise which go not just to the physical security of a growing resources industry infrastructure but also the general question of energy and energy security, as that petroleum resources belt will become particularly important to Australia’s domestic energy use in the forthcoming period, in addition to being a key export element of Australia’s export arrangements.
In terms of the implications, we need to take this, step by step. As I say, the expert panel’s report will help form the strategic consideration for the next White Paper. But as we look at the disposition of the strategic and security factors that we see at the moment, there is a prospect that we’ll see more defence assets in Western Australia, particularly in HMAS Stirling, so far as amphibious or naval assets are concerned, more assets in the Northern Territory in Darwin and the potential for more assets in the north east of Queensland.
But I caution and say I’m not proposing to pre-judge this, and we should not get ahead of ourselves. The other important aspect of the expert panel’s work will be to give advice on the porting or the basing arrangements so far as some of our new amphibious navy and aerial assets are concerned. So, for example, where do we base or port or dock our Air Warfare Destroyers, our Landing Helicopter Docks, the Largs Bay, Joint Strike Fighters and the like?
And you may recall that last week, I announced that Dr Hawke would do a review of the capacity of Fleet Base East, or Garden Island, in Sydney to deal with the growing effective congestion, so far as cruise ships are concerned.
So that’s an outline. Materials have been distributed. I must caution by saying I am told that there is a division imminent, so I might have to abridge, but I’m happy to respond to your questions.
JOURNALIST: Is this the first major review since the 1991 Force Structure Review?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I’m told it’s the first dedicated, stand-alone Force Structure Review for some time, but I don’t want to over-egg it or overstate it. If you look at Professor Dibbs’ report to Minister Beazley, there were four structure elements and as late as the White Paper 2009, there were force posture elements as well.
It’s been suggested to me that it might be the first dedicated, stand-alone Force Posture Review since Vietnam, but former Minister Hill might quibble with that.
But the important thing is this is the appropriate time to do a Force Posture Review because of the strategic and security factors in the modern era and it feeds in appropriately to the strategic considerations for the White Paper.
As circumstances change, our posture needs to change. So, historically, for example, in World War Two, with the Brisbane Line, we saw that places like Townsville and Cairns, Darwin and Perth were essentially secondary defence areas.
That can no longer be the case, with the growing significance of the Indian Ocean, the growing significance of the Asia Pacific and the growing demands on Australia to be in a position to assist the Asia Pacific region in the face of ongoing tsunamis and earthquakes and the like.
JOURNALIST: Minister, the-
STEPHEN SMITH: Yes, Brendan and then Andrew.
JOURNALIST: China is both seen as the source of our economic salvation far into the future, but also apparently as an emerging strategic threat. How big a threat to Australia is China?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, both the White Paper 2009 and this Force Posture Review is not aimed at one particular country. It is aimed at our strategic and security considerations. That’s the first point.
Secondly, on China, we have a comprehensive bilateral relationship with China. Yes, it started with our early recognition of China by the Whitlam Government, when recognition of China wasn’t quite as fashionable then. It grew with our minerals and petroleum resources industry, particularly from my own state of Western Australia. But now we have a comprehensive bilateral relationship with China, which includes strategic and security matters and includes Defence to Defence and military to military exchanges and arrangements. And we have seen in recent times, for example, for the first time, live-fire naval exercises. So we have a comprehensive relationship with China.
We are confident that China will emerge, as Bob Zoellick would say, a responsible stakeholder, as the Chinese would say, into a harmonious environment. We are confident of that. But in our relationship with China, as we have made clear on questions such as human rights and treatment of Australian citizens, we do not take a backward step on our values and virtues.
But we have a very important economic relationship with China, but it’s also an important comprehensive bilateral relationship.
JOURNALIST: Minister, across the northern belt, there’s hundreds of billions of dollars worth of resource industry assets. How much concern have they expressed to the Government, in years past and recently, about those assets being subject to physical attack or piracy? And indeed, you’ve got companies like Shell, which are going to be putting out floating ships in very deep sea water, well away from Australia. What do you envisage the Defence role being?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I think there are a number of factors. Firstly, the general question has been raised with me in the course of my time as Defence Minister, and my response has been that I am not running petroleum or minerals resources policy; I’m running a national security policy. That’s the first point.
Secondly, we do have a number of bases in the north west of Western Australia, in the Northern Territory and in Queensland which are essentially bare-bone bases and they’re particularly Air Force bases. One possibility is a greater presence there.
More generally, I think there are two aspects to the growing offshore petroleum resources industry. Firstly, it is growing exponentially, so you will have a very significant energy resources belt there. That raises for the future two issues — the physical protection of those installations, physical security of them, and secondly, more generally, we know that in the modern day, we’re not just faced with the traditional security considerations. There are modern considerations, and energy security is one of those.
So, into the future what requirements do we need to effect to ensure that we are taking the necessary precautions to provide security for an energy belt which will be providing much needed energy to Australia domestically and also as an export industry.
But in terms of direct or immediate consequences, as I say, let’s not prejudge, and we do need to take it step by step. But I have expressly, in the materials distributed to you and to Dr Hawke and Mr Smith, made the point that I do see very much that expanding petroleum resources industry off the coast of the north-west of Western Australia and off the coast of the Northern Territory as a significant security consideration.
JOURNALIST: Back on to China, you did say to Brendan’s question that you’re hopeful of a harmonious-
STEPHEN SMITH: Confident.
JOURNALIST: Confident of a harmonious rise of China and [indistinct] to the military cooperation that’s underway. But this press release does talk about one of the areas of the review being the growth of military power projection capabilities of countries in the Asia Pacific. Are you concerned about China’s military build-up?
STEPHEN SMITH: There is more than one country in the Asia Pacific. That’s the first point.
Obviously a country like Australia, in dealing with its future security and strategic challenges, has to look at the growth of any capability.
China is not the only country in the Asia Pacific which is enhancing its military capability. And what we say of China, both publicly and privately, is what we also say to other countries in the Asia Pacific which is all we ask in terms of a growth of military capability is that one is transparent as to its strategic intentions. We-
JOURNALIST: China doing that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, China publishes a white paper on an annual or a biannual basis. And in my conversations with my Chinese interlocutors they assert to me on an ongoing basis they are transparent about their growth in military capability.
We also accept — as I’ve said both publicly and privately, we accept that as a country’s economy expands it is perfectly entitled, perfectly entitled to enhance and increase its military capability. China is doing that, but on an ongoing basis we want China to be transparent about its strategic intentions.
But the growth of military capability in the Asia Pacific is not restricted to any one country.
JOURNALIST: Just on another matter, President Obama obviously today is going to lay down some sort of framework for withdrawal and, you know, there’s been some figures bandied around over the last day or so. Will what he announces have any impact whatsoever on what our plans are for Afghanistan over the next-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well first, my understanding is that he is announcing tonight, Wednesday night United States time, that will effectively be tomorrow morning. So I expect in the normal course of events I’d make some remarks tomorrow. That’s the first point.
Secondly, as I said before, this is not something we should try and prejudge or guess.
Let’s wait and see what proposals the President announces.
Thirdly, my conversations with Secretary Gates and General Petraeus and Colonel Creighton in the past, we’re not expecting that any drawdown we’ll see any adverse implications for us in Uruzgan Province and with Combined Team Uruzgan in Uruzgan Province where we work very closely with the United States.
I’d also make the point which I made at the beginning, there’s nothing inconsistent with a drawdown and our ambition for transition by 2014 both in Uruzgan and Afghanistan, an Afghan led security responsibility.
We also need to understand in the context of the surge a couple of things. Firstly, we’ve seen in the so-called surge an increase in US and NATO and ISAF forces of some 30,000 or 40,000, the bulk of those United States, over 30,000. At the same time we’ve seen a growth in the Afghan National Security Forces of 70,000 to 80,000. And so in the context of having made substantial security ground which we want to consolidate, it is open to the United States to change the allocation of its resources without adversely impacting on the grounds that we’ve made or the consolidation.
But let’s wait and see what the formal announcement is. I’ve seen plenty of speculation but it’s always best to judge on the outcome. I expect that I’ll be making some remarks tomorrow.
JOURNALIST: How does the Force Posture Review fit into the [indistinct] review into security [indistinct] will also be looking at?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, they’ll naturally complement each other. But my — as I said before, I’m not seeking to run a petroleum resources policy. I’m running a national security policy and this is an emerging national security issue.
JOURNALIST: Sorry, Minister, do you see an irony in the fact that Australia, and particularly Western Australia, is making so much money out of selling minerals and resources to China and India and at the same time we’re talking about repositioning our forces to meet the changing power structures in the Indian Ocean and the Indian Ocean Rim? STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I don’t see any irony in that at all. The whole world is moving to the Asia Pacific. It’s not just the growth of China, it’s the growth of India which continues to be under-appreciated and it is the ongoing significance of the United States.
Some people make the mistake of somehow assuming that just because China is the rise, the United States is going away. Well, to use an American expression, the United States ain’t going anywhere. And the Obama Administration has made it crystal clear that not only does it want to maintain its presence in the Asia Pacific, it wants to enhance it.
And so in the course of this century we will see India, China and the United States as great powers. And so, in very many respects, the bilateral relationship between those three great powers will be deeply significant.
But the world is moving to the Asia Pacific for those factors that I’ve referred but also the ongoing economic strength of Japan and the Republic of Korea, the emergence of Indonesia from a regional influence to a global influence, and the growth of the ASEAN economies combined, including for example the emergence of Vietnam as a significant ASEAN influence.
So all of these factors cause us to make judgements about our security and strategic outlook and cause us to make judgements about where is the correct geographical disposition so far as our assets are concerned.
JOURNALIST: Minister Smith, were you surprised or dismayed to learn of the law company — law firm that’s looking at the complaints of Defence has received more than 1000 of them?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, given the volume of material that came to my office at the height of the so-called Skype incident, no I wasn’t. I was pleased to see DLA Piper release that information overnight.
The most important thing from my perspective is that we have an arms-length process with expert lawyers from DLA Piper now doing the painstaking task of going through all of those allegations to give me advice by the end of August as to what now, what is the best next step forward. And I’ve made it clear in the past I’m not tilting the legal one way or the other. I don’t rule out any options.
It will now require an assessment of those cases which DLA Piper have said go from anonymous to detailed personal accounts.
I think I’m being told there’s a division. There’s a division. Unless-
JOURNALIST: One quick one about JSFs. With the JSFs, given the Force Posture Review; do you envisage them being split up in various bases, sort of east and west at various-
STEPHEN SMITH: In advance of the Force Posture Review, would not be surprised to see Joint Strike Fighters at Williamtown and at Amberley. There’s a prospect I think as a result of the Force Posture Review that we look at other areas, just as I’ve made clear both today and in the paperwork that we’re looking at other base potential arrangements for our large amphibious vessels in addition to Sydney.
I’ve got to go.
Thanks very much.
Ministerial Support and Public Affairs,
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