Australia — Discussion on Osama bin Laden and the federal budget

Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­tary for Defence — Inter­view with Lyn­dal Cur­tis, ABC News 24 LYNDAL CURTIS: And it’s the day after the night before, and Aus­tralian author­i­ties are assess­ing whether there are any secu­ri­ty impli­ca­tions after US troops killed Osama bin Laden. The Attor­ney-Gen­er­al says there is no immi­nent threat of retal­i­a­tion in Aus­tralia, but there are ques­tions being asked about how Osama bin Laden could live in Pak­istan so close to the Pak­istani cap­i­tal, and whether that went unno­ticed by offi­cials.
Behind those head­lines, the Trea­sur­er, Wayne Swan, is putting the fine details on the bud­get, which he’ll bring down next week.

I’ve been joined in Mel­bourne by Labor MP — Labor Sen­a­tor David Feeney, and here in Can­ber­ra by Lib­er­al MP Tony Smith. Wel­come to you both. 

TONY SMITH: Thanks Lyndal. 

DAVID FEENEY: Hi Lyn­dal, thanks for hav­ing me on the program. 

LYNDAL CURTIS: David, you’re par­lia­men­tary sec­re­tary for Defence. In Defence terms, in mil­i­tary terms, this oper­a­tion was a long time in the plan­ning to get Osama bin Laden. Could it have gone any better?

DAVID FEENEY: Well I guess it’s obvi­ous­ly been a dra­mat­ic and very suc­cess­ful oper­a­tion. And it was con­clud­ed with­out any loss of life amongst the US forces that car­ried out the mis­sion. And that’s obvi­ous­ly some­thing we can all be very pleased about. As you say it’s a long time in the com­ing — but it’s an impor­tant step for­ward in our war on ter­ror. And I think it’s an impor­tant step for­ward at a very inter­est­ing time for the Arabs, Arab Nations of North Africa and the Mid­dle East. And obvi­ous­ly what’s hap­pen­ing across the whole Mid­dle East­ern region. 

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Prime Min­is­ter and the For­eign Affairs Min­is­ter and the Defence Min­is­ter say it does­n’t have any impli­ca­tions for an ear­li­er with­draw­al of troops for Afghanistan. The Prime Min­is­ter has point­ed out that we’re com­ing into what’s gen­er­al­ly called the fight­ing sea­son. Is there a chance it could make the sit­u­a­tion for Aus­tralian troops more difficult? 

DAVID FEENEY: I think the under­stand­ing across the sort of strate­gic intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty is that now is the time for us to keep the pres­sure on in Afghanistan. Obvi­ous­ly the strug­gle against the Tal­iban and Al Qae­da has had a very strong year if you will. 

This has obvi­ous­ly been a peri­od when the coali­tion forces in Afghanistan have made progress. The death of bin Laden obvi­ous­ly rein­forces that. And I think increas­ing­ly the mes­sage is that change and pros­per­i­ty is attained through peo­ple pow­er and the con­struc­tion of democ­ra­cies and civ­il soci­eties, not through Jihadist extrem­ism. It’s good that it’s mak­ing strong progress in that endeav­our, an endeav­our against a ter­ror­ist organ­i­sa­tion that of course kills far more Mus­lims than any­one else, a ter­ror­ist organ­i­sa­tion that has killed Australians. 

It’s great to see progress, but we can­not imag­ine that now is a time for us to relent. Nor is now a time for us to imag­ine the strug­gle is over. 

LYNDAL CURTIS: Tony is there any rea­son to con­sid­er a ear­li­er with­draw­al of troops from Afghanistan?

TONY SMITH: No look this has been a great step for­ward, it has been a long time, that’s to be expect­ed. I mean we are com­ing up to the 10th anniver­sary of Sep­tem­ber 11 and the ninth anniver­sary lat­er in the year of Bali as well. It’s been a very dif­fi­cult task. I agree with what David has had to say. It is a great step for­ward but it’s the end of Bin Laden but of course not the end of Al Qae­da. And I think we look back 10 years ago the Gov­ern­ment at the time, of which I was part, and the Oppo­si­tion said that this was going to be a long haul, and it will be, the war on ter­ror will take a long time. But it’s a great step for­ward, I agree with what David said about now’s the time to keep the pres­sure on in Afghanistan. 

And it’s great that there’s some sense of jus­tice for the fam­i­lies as well, those who lost loved ones on Sep­tem­ber 11 and in Bali, here in Aus­tralia and around the world, and I think the US forces, the US admin­is­tra­tion deserve con­grat­u­la­tions. But what it does show is that we’re mak­ing progress, we can make progress and now’s the time to stick with the mis­sion in Afghanistan and not for us to con­struct, I think, bar­ri­ers around accom­plish­ing that very dif­fi­cult job. 

LYNDAL CURTIS: David the Attor­ney Gen­er­al was on News 24 ear­li­er today say­ing that there are still threats, although not immi­nent ones to Aus­tralia, from ter­ror­ism in the region and from home grown ter­ror­ism. Is there a risk that after the death of Osama Bin Laden that the pub­lic may become a lit­tle com­pla­cent and think the region­al ter­ror­ism threats have been resolved or are on their way to being resolved? 

DAVID FEENEY: Well I guess we’re very keen to make sure that does­n’t hap­pen, Lyn­dal and, as you say, the threat lev­el remains at medi­um and that means that ter­ror­ist attacks in Aus­tralia are fea­si­ble, they’re not prob­a­ble but they are fea­si­ble. We have to remem­ber that now some 35 per­sons have been arrest­ed in Aus­tralia on ter­ror­ism charges, so the domes­tic threat does exist, and we need Aus­tralians to under­stand that the sig­nalled suc­cess of yes­ter­day in terms of the death of Bin Laden does not mean that the threat here in Aus­tralia has dis­ap­peared, it hasn’t. 

But, as I say, the threat lev­el has remained the same, a lev­el which is real­ly about vigilance. 

LYNDAL CURTIS: Tony are peo­ple right to be ask­ing ques­tions of Pak­istan of how much any of its offi­cials might have known about Bin Laden’s where­abouts? He was liv­ing rel­a­tive­ly close to the cap­i­tal, while there have been sug­ges­tions in some media that it was Pak­istan offi­cials who first spot­ted the couri­er who led to Bin Laden there are oth­er ques­tions about whether Pak­istani offi­cials knew of his whereabouts. 

Is it right to be ask­ing those questions? 

TONY SMITH: Well I think David would agree, most peo­ple would agree we’re find­ing out lots of infor­ma­tion very quick­ly, it’s only just over 24 hours since the news broke, but of course it’s incon­ceiv­able that Bin Laden was exist­ing there with­out a mas­sive sup­port struc­ture. As to who was involved in that I’m sure we’ll hear a lot more from the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty over the com­ing days. But lit­er­al­ly I think as we’re on air there’s devel­op­ing news out of the Pak­istan Gov­ern­ment itself, and I mean I think we just need to assess these things. I think David would agree that whilst there are no sur­pris­es I sup­pose in this busi­ness with the war on ter­ror that the com­pound and the loca­tion and the struc­ture that was there meant that there was a sig­nif­i­cant sup­port struc­ture in place, and had been for a peri­od of time. 

LYNDAL CURTIS: David do you think that that’s the real­i­ty, the like­li­hood that Bin Laden did have a sup­port struc­ture in place in Pakistan? 

DAVID FEENEY: Well we can be cer­tain that he had a sup­port struc­ture in Pak­istan, we’ve known that for a long time. The ques­tion is not whether there is a sup­port struc­ture for Islam­ic extrem­ism in Pak­istan, the ques­tion is what is the rela­tion­ship between that struc­ture and the state of Pak­istan, and that is a ques­tion that has exist­ed for a long time and will con­tin­ue to exist. But I guess for our part we obvi­ous­ly need to com­pre­hend that the chal­lenge in Afghanistan and Pak­istan is a very sig­nif­i­cant one. The sit­u­a­tion in Pak­istan has been frag­ile from time to time, it’s an ally and its demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­ern­ment is a part­ner in the strug­gle against terrorism. 

It isn’t easy and it isn’t always sim­ple, but I think Tony and I are real­ly singing from the same song sheet there in terms of the fact that notwith­stand­ing the chal­lenge of Jihadist extrem­ists in Pak­istan we need to con­tin­ue to sup­port the demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­ern­ment there in Pak­istan and its efforts to com­bat a force which of course kills many thou­sands of Pak­ista­nis every year. 

LYNDAL CURTIS: David, if we can turn to a chal­lenge of a dif­fer­ent sort. The Trea­sur­er will hand down his fourth bud­get next Tues­day. He says he’s up to the task of sell­ing what will be a com­plex eco­nom­ic sto­ry. Do you think he is? 

DAVID FEENEY: Well I cer­tain­ly think he is. This is Wayne Swan’s fourth bud­get. He’s actu­al­ly said that this is his fourth bud­get and in many ways it’s the most com­plex and chal­leng­ing bud­get, but in this pre-bud­get peri­od I think he’s set out some mark­ers. Today we of course dis­cov­er that inter­est rates have remained sta­ble at 4.75 per cent — that’s good news for the econ­o­my. Wayne Swan’s been talk­ing about jobs and the impor­tance of cre­at­ing jobs and get­ting Aus­tralians into work. And I think the bud­get is obvi­ous­ly going to be a very chal­leng­ing one for the gov­ern­ment because as we did with the GFC we are man­ag­ing a com­plex econ­o­my — and a com­plex bud­get — and Wayne Swan is deter­mined to man­age it back into surplus. 

That won’t be easy. 

That will mean there are hard deci­sions — dif­fi­cult choic­es. But in this pre-bud­get peri­od I think that sort of land­scape is being laid out for us by Wayne Swan. And he’ll con­tin­ue to do it.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Tony Smith, do you accept that the eco­nom­ic cir­cum­stances are more com­plex than the Oppo­si­tion may be paint­ing them? 

TONY SMITH: Oh look, I think the main point here is not how Wayne Swan says he can sell the bud­get, I mean his dif­fi­cul­ty in sell­ing each of his bud­gets has been that he’s pro­duced a bad prod­uct every time. 

Now let’s cut to the chase here. I mean David knows as a Sen­a­tor for [indis­tinct] as he trav­els around, he knows what vot­ers are think­ing, and he knows what his col­leagues are think­ing, which is that in three short years, and as he said, this is Wayne Swan’s fourth bud­get, he deliv­ered his first back in 2008 — the pub­lic have had a good look at him. 

And what they’ve seen is some­one who they don’t trust to deliv­er on his word. They see some­one who they don’t think is com­pe­tent to admin­is­ter pro­grams. His bud­get pol­i­cy has been lit­tered with waste and ceil­ing batts and we could go through all those pro­grams. We’d run right up to 5 o’clock. 

And impor­tant­ly they also see some­one as Trea­sur­er who they think isn’t com­pe­tent — and does­n’t under­stand the day to day con­cerns they have. And that is a big… 

LYNDAL CURTIS: But is there also an impe­tus on the Oppo­si­tion too which you’ve been call­ing for the gov­ern­ment to get back into sur­plus to pass any spend­ing cuts the gov­ern­ment may choose to use to get back into surplus? 

TONY SMITH: We’ve iden­ti­fied [indis­tinct] cuts they should make. We iden­ti­fied pro­grams along the way that they’ve wast­ed. Now look, the crit­i­cal point is this. David knows — I mean, all right, he’s got to do the job here on tele­vi­sion and say he’s, you know, he’s very con­fi­dent about Wayne Swan, you know, that he’ll sell him … he did­n’t sound very confident. 

DAVID FEENEY: Sounds like you’re speak­ing there for both of us Tony. 

TONY SMITH: He did­n’t sound… well I am, I’m try­ing to help you out mate… 

DAVID FEENEY: Yeah, tremen­dous, thank you. 

TONY SMITH: … I mean, he did­n’t sound very con­fi­dent, and what he knows is the pub­lic have just about giv­en up on Wayne Swan. They know that when an oppor­tu­ni­ty comes along he wastes it, when a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion comes along he makes it worse. 

And real­ly I mean what vot­ers are telling me is they are con­cerned — when he breaks promis­es. They’re con­cerned when he seeks to imple­ment them. Whichev­er way. Because when he does he mucks them up. 

And that’s what this budget’s going to do again you can see. 

DAVID FEENEY: Yeah, lis­ten, I think what Tony’s miss­ing in all of that is that it’s real­ly just a pile of rhetoric which goes to the Lib­er­al Party’s only p… only con­tri­bu­tion to debate in this coun­try, and that’s N‑O, no. And of course what Wayne Swan’s doing, what the gov­ern­ment is doing, is embark­ing on a seri­ous pol­i­cy con­ver­sa­tion. There are choic­es to be made. 

This is a strong econ­o­my. But it’s got the challenges. 

The dol­lar is now at 110 cents US. That obvi­ous­ly brings chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties. This is a gov­ern­ment that’s talk­ing about jobs. It’s talk­ing about a two speed economy. 

These are all big con­ver­sa­tions we need to have and we need to get on with hav­ing them. And if the Lib­er­al Party’s only real mes­sage here is char­ac­ter assas­si­na­tion on Wayne — and say­ing he’s not up to it and all of that non­sense, then they’re, ulti­mate­ly, they must fail. 

This is an eco­nom­ic team that got this coun­try through the glob­al finan­cial cri­sis. This is a proven and expe­ri­enced group of min­is­ters. And Wayne Swan of course being prin­ci­ple amongst them. 

And I don’t think there is a doubt about Wayne Swan’s capa­bil­i­ties, he’s proven him­self again and again. I think there’s a doubt about the qual­i­ty of the polit­i­cal dis­course in this coun­try — and the Lib­er­al Par­ty are mak­ing no con­tri­bu­tion to either that or to any sub­stan­tive pol­i­cy ideas, they don’t have any ideas Lyndal. 

LYNDAL CURTIS: And just quick­ly — a final response Tony? 

TONY SMITH: Well look, I mean, what David knows, what the pub­lic know, I mean you can say all of that. 

Last year in fact almost a year ago today, just before the bud­get, Wayne Swan released part of the Hen… we released all of the Hen­ry review and a small response, and brought for­ward the min­ing tax. 

This was a tax that was his idea that shred­ded a Prime Min­is­ter. He paid no price for it as Trea­sur­er. Now look, very clear­ly when there’s cost of liv­ing pres­sures he’ll add to them. 

DAVID FEENEY: But we believe that eco­nom­ic booms build the coun­try as well as build indi­vid­ual com­pa­ny profits. 

LYNDAL CURTIS: And I’m sor­ry, that’s where we’ll have to leave it. We’ve run out of time. Tony Smith and David Feeney thanks very much for join­ing us. 

TONY SMITH: I might give David a call and we’ll keep talking.

DAVID FEENEY: Thank you very much, cheers Tony. 

Press release
Min­is­te­r­i­al Sup­port and Pub­lic Affairs,
Depart­ment of Defence,
Can­ber­ra, Australia 

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