Australia — Minister for Defence Materiel on Egypt, Enhanced force protection in Afghanistan, floods

TOPICS: ADF sup­port in respond­ing to the Queens­land and Vic­to­ri­an floods; Cyclone Yasi; Egypt; Enhanced force pro­tec­tion in Afghanistan; Update to Project of Con­cern; the RAN’s amphibi­ous ves­sels; Defence bud­get; and ADF lead­er­ship.

STEPHEN SMITH: I’m very pleased to be here with Jason Clare, the Min­is­ter for Defence Materiel. We have a range of announce­ments today but before I deal with those joint announce­ments can I just make some gen­er­al remarks? We always knew that this year would be a big year for Defence par­tic­u­lar­ly in terms of pro­cure­ment and capa­bil­i­ty and reform in those areas but it’s already been a big year for Defence with the work that Aus­tralian Defence Force per­son­nel have been doing, assist­ing in the floods in Queens­land and Vic­to­ria. Can I again com­pli­ment the good work of our Defence per­son­nel.

At its peak we had about 1900 per­son­nel in Queens­land. Cur­rent­ly we have a sub­stan­tial­ly small­er com­ple­ment assist­ing in Queens­land and also in Vic­to­ria and that will con­tin­ue in spe­cialised areas.

Can I just make some remarks about the cyclone off the Queens­land coast? It cur­rent­ly is sug­gest­ed the cyclone will bear down either on Cairns or Townsville. We, of course, will mon­i­tor it and take it step by step but first­ly we have assets, of course, in Townsville so we’re tak­ing our own pre­cau­tions in terms of readi­ness for any pos­si­ble cyclone but sec­ond­ly, as we’ve indi­cat­ed pri­vate­ly to Queens­land author­i­ties, and indi­cat­ed pub­licly, that if there is any assis­tance that Defence can pro­vide in the after­math of any such cyclone, and we receive a request from the Queens­land emer­gency man­age­ment author­i­ties then of course we will respond positively.

Can I just also indi­cate so far as Egypt is con­cerned, that the Prime Min­is­ter and the For­eign Min­is­ter have made exten­sive remarks on that but just to indi­cate that, as part of the increased assis­tance and addi­tion­al resources to our mis­sion in Cairo, that eight Defence per­son­nel will join the mis­sion on a tem­po­rary basis to assist with com­mu­ni­ca­tions and logis­tics and to assist the mis­sion staff in the con­sular assis­tance they pro­vide to Aus­tralian citizens.

Jason and I today are mak­ing three announce­ments and those papers have been dis­trib­uted. I’ll make some gen­er­al remarks and then give Jason the oppor­tu­ni­ty to make some remarks on some of the detail.

First­ly, in terms of force pro­tec­tion in Afghanistan, you’ll recall that my pre­de­ces­sor, Min­is­ter Faulkn­er, put in place a Force Pro­tec­tion Review in 2009. That saw 48 rec­om­men­da­tions for improved force pro­tec­tion by 2012–13 with an all-up cost of some $1.6 bil­lion. Min­is­ter Faulkn­er and I have report­ed reg­u­lar­ly either pub­licly, or to the Par­lia­ment on the imple­men­ta­tion of that review.

I’m pleased to advise that 40 of the 48 rec­om­men­da­tions have either been com­plet­ed or are on track. Of the eight remain­ing, six are sub­ject to mon­i­tor­ing and over­sight and two projects will not pro­ceed. One is to do with hear­ing pro­tec­tion. The tech­nol­o­gy is not avail­able to deliv­er that so that project will not con­tin­ue. A sec­ond project, a high tech­nol­o­gy anti-IED mea­sure will also not pro­ceed on the basis that the tech­no­log­i­cal appli­ca­tion is not cur­rent­ly available.

I won’t go into too much detail on the out­stand­ing mea­sures but, as I’ve said in the past, one includes addi­tion­al hard­en­ing of accom­mo­da­tion in Tarin Kowt.

Impor­tant­ly Min­is­ter Clare and I are announc­ing that since 28 Decem­ber, C‑RAM, the counter rock­et, artillery and mor­tar mech­a­nism has been in place. This is a sub­stan­tial improve­ment on the pre­de­ces­sor which was pro­vid­ed by the Sin­ga­pore­an Defence Forces. There’s been a sub­stan­tial tech­no­log­i­cal upgrade. It has been suc­cess­ful­ly imple­ment­ed and it has seen suc­cess­ful oper­a­tion on two sep­a­rate occa­sions. It gives our peo­ple on the ground more time to take pre­cau­tions and eva­sive action when rock­ets, artillery or mor­tars come into our base at Tarin Kowt. In the course of 2011 we will be extend­ing this facil­i­ty to our for­ward bases.

Sec­ond­ly, we’re announc­ing changes to the projects of con­cern list. We’re announc­ing that the water­craft project has been can­celled and will not con­tin­ue. That’s a project which has been out­stand­ing for some time. It was start­ed by the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment in 1997. 

The great tragedy of this project is that when the water­craft were pro­duced, they were not in a posi­tion to be utilised by Aus­tralian Defence Forces so that project, regret­tably is can­celled at a cost of some $40 mil­lion to the Com­mon­wealth. It’s a long­stand­ing project and, as a con­se­quence, very many of the lessons learnt from that project have already been caught by the changes or improve­ments made in the pro­cure­ment area fol­low­ing the Mor­timer and Kin­naird reports.

But I indi­cat­ed at the end of last year, in the first quar­ter of this year the Gov­ern­ment is look­ing, on my rec­om­men­da­tion and Min­is­ter Clare’s rec­om­men­da­tion, to make fur­ther changes and reforms in the pro­cure­ment and capa­bil­i­ty area. We need to have ear­ly warn­ing mech­a­nisms to avoid these out­comes occur­ring in the future.

So we are look­ing to a reform pack­age in the first quar­ter of this year, to add to the mea­sures the Gov­ern­ment has already put in place, includ­ing, of course, the Projects of Concern.

We’re also announc­ing that the heli­copter project, the pro­posed replace­ment for the Sea Kings and the Black Hawk will be the sub­ject of a ful­ly fledged diag­nos­tic review. That project has been the sub­ject of delays and tech­no­log­i­cal difficulties. 

Final­ly and very impor­tant­ly, we are announc­ing that I have asked Navy and Defence to pro­vide a com­pre­hen­sive new tran­si­tion plan for mov­ing to the amphibi­ous ves­sels, the Land­ing Heli­copter Dock. These are two very large ves­sels under con­struc­tion in Spain. The first hull goes into the water in Spain lat­er this month. 

Until very recent­ly, the tran­si­tion­al arrange­ments pro­vid­ed for us to con­tin­ue to use our cur­rent amphibi­ous ves­sels, the Manoo­ra, the Kan­im­bla, and the Tobruk, to tran­si­tion to these large Land­ing Heli­copter Docks.

In the course of Jan­u­ary and on Fri­day I have received advice to two effects. First­ly the Manoo­ra and the Kan­im­bla were put under oper­a­tional pause in Sep­tem­ber-Octo­ber of last year and are sub­ject of a sea­wor­thi­ness report. The advice that I’ve received in the course of this year from Navy and Defence is that the Manoo­ra should be decom­mis­sioned and the Gov­ern­ment has accept­ed that advice.

The most recent advice I have received in respect of the Kan­im­bla, as late as Fri­day, is that the Kan­im­bla also requires sub­stan­tial reme­di­a­tion work and we’re not expect­ing to see now the Kan­im­bla back in oper­a­tional activ­i­ty until at least the mid­dle of 2012.

As a con­se­quence of that I’ve asked Navy and Defence to pro­duce and pro­vide to the Gov­ern­ment a new tran­si­tion­al plan. One part of that, of course, which I’ve already indi­cat­ed pub­licly, is the prospect of acquir­ing, either by lease or by pur­chase, from the Unit­ed King­dom, a Bay Class amphibi­ous ves­sel. This was a mat­ter that I raised with UK Defence Sec­re­tary Fox at the recent AUKMIN meet­ing and I’m propos­ing to have a fur­ther con­ver­sa­tion with Defence Sec­re­tary Fox in the course of this week.

That’s essen­tial­ly the frame­work of the announce­ments. I’ll ask Jason to make some remarks in respect of the detail but I’ll fin­ish on this gen­er­al point which is we have seen suc­ces­sive Aus­tralian gov­ern­ments get into dif­fi­cul­ties so far as projects are con­cerned. The Gov­ern­ment has made a very strong effort to put Defence pro­cure­ment, Defence capa­bil­i­ty and Defence expen­di­ture sub­ject to exter­nal parameters.

What we now need to meet those exter­nal para­me­ters of the White Paper of Force 2030. The Strate­gic Reform Pro­gram requires much more inter­nal rigour and ear­ly warn­ing mech­a­nisms to avoid these projects going off the rails as they have in the past. You can expect fur­ther reforms to be announced by the Gov­ern­ment in the course of the first quar­ter of this year. Jason.

JASON CLARE: Thank you, Stephen, and as Stephen has men­tioned, it’s going to be a very busy year for Defence and in par­tic­u­lar for Defence Materiel. We’ve already seen the good work that our troops and our defence equip­ment have done in the floods in Queens­land over the course of the last few weeks. 

In Afghanistan we’ve now deliv­ered into ser­vice the C‑RAM sys­tem at Tarin Kowt and that’s pro­vid­ing impor­tant sup­port for our troops that are based there in Afghanistan.

I want to take this oppor­tu­ni­ty to thank Army and thank Saab, the com­pa­ny respon­si­ble for putting that equip­ment into ser­vice ahead of sched­ule and, as the Min­is­ter has said, this is equip­ment, an ear­ly warn­ing sys­tem for rock­ets, that pro­vides extra warn­ing for our troops and the extra oppor­tu­ni­ty to take cov­er. And an extra few sec­onds can be all the dif­fer­ence between life and death.

In addi­tion to that we’re also deliv­er­ing into ser­vice in Afghanistan this year new com­bat body armour. Last week I vis­it­ed Bendi­go, the Aus­tralian Defence Appar­el Com­pa­ny, where they are now pro­duc­ing new com­bat body armour. It’s a lighter, more com­fort­able body armour that the Third Men­tor­ing Task­force will take with them when they deploy into Afghanistan in the mid­dle of the year.

In addi­tion to that, you might recall that last year I announced a new com­bat uni­form for our Defence troops, in par­tic­u­lar for the men­tor­ing task force, and that new uni­form will be avail­able for our troops in Afghanistan in the next few months. It’s a big year for air force. We’ll take deliv­ery this year of the remain­ing Super Hor­nets for the air force, as well as tran­si­tion into ser­vice the Wed­getail air craft. 

And as the Min­is­ter has men­tioned, it’ll be a very big year for navy as they tran­si­tion to the new land­ing heli­copter dock ships. These ships are big­ger than any ships navy’s ever oper­at­ed before. They’re big­ger than our last air­craft car­ri­er, HMAS Melbourne.

They’re two foot­ball field lengths in size. They can car­ry up to 1000 troops. They can car­ry up to 100 armoured vehi­cles as well as 12 heli­copters. And the way they oper­ate will be very dif­fer­ent to the ships that we’ve got now. 

Because of the decom­mis­sion­ing of the Manoo­ra as well as the age of our oth­er amphibi­ous ships, we’ve asked Defence to come for­ward with a com­pre­hen­sive new plan to make sure we have a smooth tran­si­tion to the intro­duc­tion of these new large amphibi­ous ships in the mid­dle of this decade. 

Final­ly, it’s a big year for reform. A big year for reform in the area of project man­age­ment. That deals with the ini­ti­a­tion of projects, the man­age­ment of them once they’ve been approved by gov­ern­ment, but also their reme­di­a­tion. And we’ve updat­ed the projects of con­cern list today, can­celling one project — a very old project ini­ti­at­ed more than 10 years ago in 1997. 

When we came to gov­ern­ment we put this on the projects of con­cern list that we estab­lished in 2008, and asked Defence to con­duct a review of these ships, and what that found was that these ships weren’t the right size and weren’t the right weight to sit on the Kan­im­bla and the Manoo­ra, and they weren’t fit for any alter­na­tive mil­i­tary purpose. 

And that’s why we’re can­celling this project today — based on the advice of Defence. 

We’re also con­duct­ing a high-lev­el diag­nos­tic review of the MRH 90 heli­copter project, and this is an impor­tant part of putting more rigour and a high­er stan­dard in this process, get­ting Defence and exter­nal experts to look at all these projects, and pro­vide high-lev­el advice to gov­ern­ment on how to pro­ceed with reme­di­at­ing and improv­ing and turn­ing these impor­tant projects around. 

It’s one part of a num­ber of reforms that I’ll bring for­ward this year to strength­en the projects of con­cern process. Anoth­er part of that will be meet­ings that I’ll hold with the chief exec­u­tives respon­si­ble for all of these projects. 

This month I’ll meet with the chief exec­u­tives respon­si­ble for all projects on the projects of con­cerns list to ensure that at the high­est lev­els of gov­ern­ment, the high­est lev­els of Defence, and the high­est lev­els of indus­try we’re focused on the action that’s need­ed to make sure that we turn these projects around and ulti­mate­ly get them off the list. 

QUESTION: How much are the LHDs, if I may ask, and giv­en that they’re heli­copters not air­craft, [indis­tinct] air­craft car­ri­er, what does that say about our strate­gic under­stand­ing of how they’ll be used and how [indis­tinct].

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I’ll let Jason deal with cost on the basis of Defence Materiel. But the Land­ing Heli­copter Docks, large amphibi­ous ves­sels we need for amphibi­ous pur­pos­es — for also heli­copter land­ing purposes. 

They are part of the Force 2030 strate­gic force struc­ture, and they’re an impor­tant part of our amphibi­ous capability. 

As Jason has indi­cat­ed, these very large land­ing docks will be the largest ships Navy has ever oper­at­ed — larg­er than our most recent air­craft car­ri­er. So the Tobruk, the Kan­im­bla, and the Manoo­ra, which cur­rent­ly pro­vide our amphibi­ous list, and our amphibi­ous dock­ing, have always been sched­uled for replace­ment. Indeed the Tobruk, the Manoo­ra, and the Kan­im­bla are now some 40 years old. 

What we’ve dis­cov­ered more recent­ly is the sea­wor­thi­ness and oper­a­tional fit­ness of the Manoo­ra and Kan­im­bla has been the sub­ject of adverse reports, and we need to take fresh and new steps to make sure that we make the tran­si­tion appro­pri­ate­ly to the new Land­ing Heli­copter Docks. 

That’s one rea­son I raised it with Defence Min­is­ter Fox. And we’ll also be in dis­cus­sions with oth­er coun­tries to look at the pos­si­ble leas­ing pro­cure­ment or joint util­i­sa­tion of amphibi­ous vessels. 

JASON CLARE: The first of the LHDs will hit the water in Spain lat­er this month, on 17 Feb­ru­ary, and they’ll stay in Spain there for an extra year to do more fit out work.

And then the hull of the first LHD will arrive in Mel­bourne in the mid­dle of next year. And as I said before these are very big ships. They’re dif­fer­ent to any­thing that navy has pre­vi­ous­ly oper­at­ed. One LHD has the capa­bil­i­ty of the entire amphibi­ous fleet that navy cur­rent­ly has. 

The cost of the project is in the bil­lions and that is why it is impor­tant that we take the steps now in 2011 to make sure that we have the tran­si­tion process right so that when these ships come in to oper­a­tion in 2014 and 2015, that tran­si­tion is a smooth one. 

As I said, this is a ship that is very dif­fer­ent to the ships that we cur­rent­ly oper­ate. It oper­ates a float­ing dock. They’re effec­tive­ly a mov­ing air­port, because they can have six heli­copters take off at any one time, and hold up to 12 heli­copters. The elec­tri­cal sys­tem that oper­ates is very dif­fer­ent in nature as well — and they’re a very dif­fer­ent ship to dri­ve. It’s like mov­ing from dri­ving a car to dri­ving a truck, so it’s very impor­tant that we get the tran­si­tion plan right. 

QUESTION: All of these changes, tak­en togeth­er, is that going to blow out the Defence bud­get, or is it all going to be fund­ed with­in a $20 bil­lion, [indis­tinct] $20 bil­lion of savings…

STEPHEN SMITH: No no. We are absolute­ly com­mit­ted to stick­ing to the exter­nal para­me­ters, as I’ve described them in the past, as a result of our deci­sions on the 2009 White Paper, the Strate­gic Reform Pro­gram, and the bud­get rules. 

Part of that requires that $20 bil­lion worth of strate­gic reform sav­ings be found and rein­vest­ed in Defence. So all of this is pro­posed to be done in accor­dance with deci­sions that the Gov­ern­ment has pre­vi­ous­ly made, aris­ing from and flow­ing from the 2009 White Paper and the Force 2030 structure. 

I think the impor­tant point — that regime, if you like, for the first time in the mod­ern era, prob­a­bly for­ev­er, first time ever, put exter­nal para­me­ters sen­si­bly around the Defence bud­get and the Defence pro­cure­ment and capa­bil­i­ty plan. 

And we’re not unique in this respect. You’ve seen in recent times Sec­re­tary of State for Defence Gates mov­ing to address com­pa­ra­ble issues in the Unit­ed States. And you’ve also seen Sec­re­tary of State for Defence Fox doing pre­cise­ly the same as a result of the Unit­ed King­dom Secu­ri­ty and Force Struc­ture review in the UK

So we live in a time where we need to ensure fis­cal rigour and val­ue for mon­ey, so we work with­in those exter­nal parameters. 

The key chal­lenge now — and I think this is the big chal­lenge for Defence, the big chal­lenge for the Gov­ern­ment, is to make sure that inter­nal rigour match­es those exter­nal para­me­ters. And that’s why a key pri­or­i­ty for Defence — a key pri­or­i­ty for Jason and I this year — is to put in place bet­ter account­abil­i­ty mech­a­nisms, bet­ter fis­cal dis­ci­pline inter­nal­ly with­in Defence to make sure that we meet — and con­tin­ue to meet those exter­nal parameters. 

In terms of Force 2030 or the White Paper, this will also be a big year. Because very impor­tant­ly, the Defence plan­ning guide­lines, 2011, will be the first oppor­tu­ni­ty to care­ful­ly exam­ine the changes in strat­e­gy, if any, fol­low­ing on from the White Paper and any changes in need for dis­po­si­tion of capability. 

The White Paper itself envis­ages, on an annu­al basis, a review of Defence plan­ning guide­lines to see whether adjust­ments are required in the run up to the next White Paper in 2013. 2010, of course, was in the imme­di­ate after­math of the White Paper, so no sub­stan­tial changes were effected. 

But this will be a big year in terms of Defence plan­ning guide­lines as its in a sense a halfway point between the ’09 and the 2013–14 White Paper, but also the first real­is­tic oppor­tu­ni­ty to have a look at whether any plan­ning guide­line changes are required as a result of any changes in strate­gic posture. 

QUESTION: What exact­ly are the prob­lems with NFH90? What’s that say for NFH90?

JASON CLARE: I can deal with that if you like. There’s been some issues with engine fail­ure as well as a short­age in sup­plies and what that has meant that there’s been a delay in bring­ing that air­craft, those heli­copters into ser­vice — some­thing in the order of 12 months for navy and 18 months for army. 

That’s why I’m con­cerned enough about this project to want defence to do a full diag­nos­tic analy­sis of it, iden­ti­fy what can be done to reme­di­ate the project and bring it back on to sched­ule and have the project ful­ly imple­ment­ed as soon as possible. 

It’s a very impor­tant project and part of the rigour that we need to main­tain here is to make sure that defence at the high­est lev­els, in this case the deputy CEO of the DMO will chair what we call a gate review or a high lev­el defence review, with the assis­tance of inde­pen­dent experts, to pro­vide advice to us on what are the nec­es­sary steps for gov­ern­ment and for defence and for the com­pa­nies respon­si­ble to make sure that this project is ful­ly imple­ment­ed as quick­ly as possible.

QUESTION: [Inaudi­ble question]

JASON CLARE: Oh it’s a sep­a­rate and dif­fer­ent project. Rec­om­men­da­tions about that will come to gov­ern­ment lat­er in the year.

QUESTION: What does this — this suite of prob­lems tak­en as a whole, what does it say about the com­pe­tence of DMO hier­ar­chy past or present?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, as Min­is­ter for Defence and Jason as Min­is­ter for Defence Materiel, we’ve been work­ing very close­ly with the senior offi­cers in Defence, in the Ser­vices and in Defence Materiel, and I make no reflec­tion on any of those per­son­nel oth­er than to say I con­tin­ue to be impressed by the pro­fes­sion­al­ism and the ded­i­ca­tion that those offi­cers, either in uni­form or civil­ian per­son­nel in defence, display.

But we have to acknowl­edge in the past and it’s con­tin­u­ing, that we have seen seri­ous dif­fi­cul­ties with pro­cure­ment and capa­bil­i­ty and we can­not allow that to con­tin­ue, and that is why, since we came to office, you have seen the reform pro­gram already in place, whether it’s as a result of the Mor­timer Review, the Kin­naird Review or the cre­ation of the Projects of Con­cern list, all geared to reduc­ing risk and min­imis­ing the prospects of these capa­bil­i­ty projects going awry into the future.

Hav­ing said that, when you’re deal­ing with new capa­bil­i­ty, invari­ably there will be dif­fi­cul­ties of new tech­nol­o­gy, of new appli­ca­tions. So there is always a risk asso­ci­at­ed with a large Defence project. What we have to do is to ensure that risk is min­imised from day one. We see plen­ty of post mortems, whether it’s by the Audit Office, or whether it’s by the Defence Materiel Organisation. 

We see plen­ty of post mortems. We have to get into very much the detail of pre­ven­tion as the cure to these ongo­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, and we’re not an orphan in this respect. Com­pa­ra­ble coun­tries, whether it’s the US, UK, Cana­da, or New Zealand, also face sim­i­lar challenges.

QUESTION: How dif­fi­cult will it be to make [indis­tinct]?

STEPHEN SMITH: As you would have gath­ered from the can­cel­la­tion of that project, that was not a project which Defence cov­ered itself in glo­ry at a cost of some $40 mil­lion to the Aus­tralian tax­pay­er. This is pre­cise­ly what we are seek­ing to avoid in the future.

QUESTION: How soon will you be able to acquire a bay class ship from the British?

STEPHEN SMITH: We are look­ing at either a lease or a pur­chase of a Bay Class, and I’ve already had dis­cus­sions with Defence Sec­re­tary Fox and I’ll con­tin­ue those dis­cus­sions by phone this week. That is one option. What has become clear in recent weeks is that the orig­i­nal tran­si­tion plan which was depen­dant upon the ongo­ing oper­a­tional capac­i­ty of the Manoo­ra and the Kan­im­bla and the Tobruk will not now be suf­fi­cient to make the tran­si­tion to the new Land­ing Heli­copter Docks.

So we need to put in place a new tran­si­tion­al arrange­ment. The prospect of leas­ing or buy­ing a Bay Class amphibi­ous ves­sel from the Unit­ed King­dom is one option. We are look­ing at oth­er options includ­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty, for exam­ple of shared or coop­er­a­tive ser­vice with close coun­tries and allies.

QUESTION: Are you hap­py with the per­for­mance of Dr Stephen Gumley?

STEPHEN SMITH: Absolute­ly. I have the high­est regard for Dr Gum­ley, as I have the high­est regard for the Sec­re­tary of Defence, as I have the high­est regard for the Chief of the Defence Force and the Ser­vice Chiefs. We’re deal­ing here with an insti­tu­tion­al prob­lem that the insti­tu­tion of Defence itself has to grap­ple with and come to terms with. In the past there has been too much of an atti­tude or a cul­ture that, irre­spec­tive of the cost, irre­spec­tive of the out­come, a Defence project was some­how immune from rigour.

That is no longer the case. It has not been the case under this Gov­ern­ment and we need to put in place fur­ther detailed inter­nal rigour and ear­ly warn­ing sys­tems to avoid the sor­ry repeat of these exam­ples, of which the ones we’ve detailed today are but one or two. 

QUESTION: Sor­ry, have you been frus­trat­ed because defence is insti­tu­tion­al­ly demand­ing and request­ing things that aren’t quite ready yet or they’re want­i­ng too many addi­tion­al pieces [indis­tinct]?

STEPHEN SMITH: I, as Min­is­ter for Defence and a mem­ber of the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Com­mit­tee, have to make sure of two things — that we work assid­u­ous­ly to make sure that our strate­gic pos­ture is right, and then, par­tic­u­lar­ly when it comes to Defence, that we have the assets to match that strate­gic pos­ture. That has proven in the past dif­fi­cult to effect with effi­cien­cy, dif­fi­cult to effect with­out mishap, dif­fi­cult to effect with­out cost to the Aus­tralian taxpayer.

It’s that area that we need to do much bet­ter. So that is why both I and Jason as Defence Materiel Min­is­ter have indi­cat­ed we see this as in very many respects, our high­est reform pri­or­i­ty for the first quar­ter of this year.

QUESTION: Has the Manoo­ra sailed its last oper­a­tional mis­sion now, [indis­tinct]?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well the Manoo­ra has been on an oper­a­tional pause since Sep­tem­ber, Octo­ber. It’s cur­rent­ly in dock and on the rec­om­men­da­tion of the Chief of Navy, it’s rec­om­mend­ed that it be decom­mis­sioned and we’ve accept­ed that advice, it will be decommissioned.

QUESTION: And then nev­er again…

STEPHEN SMITH: It will be decommissioned.

QUESTION: And there’s a chance that Kan­im­bla could be decom­mis­sioned before it fails as well.

STEPHEN SMITH: I think it’s always impor­tant to take these things step by step, but when I received the ini­tial advice and when Jason received the ini­tial advice on the Manoo­ra, the advice on Kan­im­bla was not as adverse as it is now. The most recent advice which we received as late as Fri­day of last week was that fur­ther sea­wor­thi­ness inspec­tions had indi­cat­ed fur­ther sig­nif­i­cant dif­fi­cul­ties with the Kanimbla.

The cur­rent advice is that it will take until the mid­dle of next year for those adverse find­ings to be rec­ti­fied. So I hope that that will be the out­come but we need to take that step by step.

QUESTION: Min­is­ter, what’s the tran­si­tion plan for the CDF and the Ser­vice Chief? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well the Chief of the Defence Force’s term expires in June of this year. The oth­er Ser­vice Chiefs’ terms expire at about the same time, in July. It’s not some­thing that I’m propos­ing, obvi­ous­ly, to spec­u­late about. In due course the Gov­ern­ment will make deci­sions, and when the Gov­ern­ment has made deci­sions about these mat­ters, they’ll be announced. 

The only point I would make in addi­tion to that is that the Chief of the Defence Force has made it clear pub­li­cal­ly that he’s not propos­ing to pro­ceed beyond his cur­rent term. I saw a report this morn­ing spec­u­lat­ing on some ill health. Can I just, on behalf of the Chief of the Defence Force, debunk that straight away? 

On most occa­sions when I have my ear­ly morn­ing con­ver­sa­tion with the Chief of the Defence Force he’s either on a five kilo­me­tre run, or a 30 kilo­me­tre bike ride. So he’s in per­fect health, but he’s made it clear pub­li­cal­ly that two terms is suf­fi­cient for him. And at the appro­pri­ate stage the Gov­ern­ment, and the defence com­mu­ni­ty, and the Aus­tralian com­mu­ni­ty gen­er­al­ly, will make its com­pli­ments to him for the very fine work that he has done. 

QUESTION: Min­is­ter, do you have any update on the Aus­tralian who was injured in Afghanistan on Fri­day, and do you have any details as to how he came to be injured in an acci­den­tal shooting? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Defence has issued a press release ear­li­er this morn­ing. That indi­cates that at this stage the wound­ing has all of the appear­ances of an acci­dent. Defence has com­mis­sioned an inquiry into this mat­ter, and in those cir­cum­stances it would not be appro­pri­ate for me to spec­u­late. We should let that stan­dard inquiry run its course. 

Suf­fice to say that the sol­dier was very seri­ous­ly injured. It’s expect­ed that in the very near future he will be trans­port­ed to Ger­many for ongo­ing hos­pi­tal treat­ment. And we of course wish him and his fam­i­ly all the best. 

We now have, ter­ri­bly, some 160 defence per­son­nel who’ve been wound­ed in Afghanistan since we arrived a decade or so ago. So our thoughts are obvi­ous­ly with him and his fam­i­ly. But I’m not propos­ing to spec­u­late on the nature of the inci­dent. I’ll leave that for the Defence inquiry in the usu­al way. 

QUESTION: [Indis­tinct] at the time? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I’m not propos­ing to be drawn on that. 

QUESTION: How would Aus­tralia joint­ly oper­ate a ves­sel with, I pre­sume, Indone­sia? It would be a first for us [indis­tinct].

STEPHEN SMITH: I’m not propos­ing to spec­u­late in that respect. I think if you look at the use of our amphibi­ous ves­sels, often they have been used not just for defence or mil­i­tary pur­pos­es, but for dis­as­ter relief. 

The Kan­im­bla, for exam­ple, most recent­ly was used for dis­as­ter relief in the face of an Indone­sian earth­quake. We have worked very close­ly, for exam­ple, in dis­as­ter relief in our region with New Zealand, and New Zealand have amphibi­ous vessels. 

So there is a prospect that we could work close­ly with New Zealand in that con­text, and this is some­thing that I will dis­cuss with my New Zealand coun­ter­part when we have the annu­al Aus­tralia New Zealand Defence Min­is­ters meet­ing in the near future. 

QUESTION: Will the HMAS Suc­cess report be released? 

STEPHEN SMITH: I was propos­ing to vol­un­teer that, so I’m pleased you’ve remind­ed me. The CDF and I are work­ing very hard to put the Gov­ern­ment and the Chief of the Defence Force in the posi­tion of being able to release a redact­ed ver­sion of that report as soon as possible. 

The report needs to be redact­ed because it deals with indi­vid­u­als who have a right to fair process. We are very keen to put the doc­u­ment into the pub­lic are­na in a respon­si­ble man­ner as quick­ly as possible. 

The Par­lia­ment comes back next week for the first of its sit­tings. I’m not in a posi­tion to under­take that we will be able to make it avail­able in that first week, but we are work­ing very hard to be as trans­par­ent as pos­si­ble, to release that report in a respon­si­ble man­ner, whilst pro­tect­ing the inter­ests and the rights of indi­vid­u­als con­cerned, poten­tial­ly adverse­ly affected. 

But I repeat the remarks that I made when I announced the receipt of the report from Com­mis­sion­er Giles; this is a report which does not make good read­ing. This is a report which makes and draws atten­tion to very seri­ous issues in terms of dis­ci­pline, in terms of author­i­ty, and in terms of cul­ture on board the Suc­cess, and pos­si­bly wider. 

So we want that process to be trans­par­ent. In any event my pre­de­ces­sor, Min­is­ter Faulkn­er, indi­cat­ed to the Sen­ate For­eign Affairs and Defence Com­mit­tee, that that Com­mit­tee would be kept ful­ly informed as to progress, and I pro­pose to hon­our that commitment. 

QUESTION: Min­is­ter, what do you make of the sit­u­a­tion in Egypt with the appar­ent move towards democ­ra­cy? We don’t — obvi­ous­ly don’t know how it’s going to unfold, but if we don’t like what the Egyp­tians decide at any sub­se­quent demo­c­ra­t­ic elec­tion, like in Gaza with Hamas, it can be a very unsta­ble region. Are you wor­ried about that? 

STEPHEN SMITH: I’m not propos­ing to be drawn on those issues which have been exhaus­tive­ly can­vassed both by the Prime Min­is­ter and by the For­eign Min­is­ter, both overnight and ear­ly this morning. 

Suf­fice to say, as I did ear­li­er, that in terms of a Defence inter­est, or a Defence role, as part of the addi­tion­al resources to be pro­vid­ed to our mis­sion in Cairo there will be eight Defence per­son­nel who will assist on com­mu­ni­ca­tions, logis­tics, and gen­er­al assis­tance to the mis­sion, as it dis­charges its oblig­a­tion to assist­ing Aus­tralians who want to leave Cairo. 

We have no Defence assets per se in Cairo. We of course do have Aus­tralia Defence Force per­son­nel who are part of the Unit­ed Nations Mid­dle East Peace Keep­ing Group, and they of course are sit­u­at­ed in the Sinai, near the Israeli border. 

QUESTION: Just on the cyclone affair now. You said that there’s a — you’re will­ing to help out at the after­math. Is it — do you think — do you see any role for the Defence Force in prepar­ing the region, like for exam­ple, evac­u­at­ing people? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well again, we take it step by step. First­ly, both in Queens­land and also in Vic­to­ria on a less­er scale, we respond­ed to requests made to us by the rel­e­vant State emer­gency man­age­ment author­i­ties, of Queens­land and Vic­to­ria respectively. 

There is a prospect of a cyclone cross­ing the Queens­land coast, and that could be in the area of Cairns or Townsville. So two points, and I’ll repeat them. We of course have assets in Townsville, so we’re tak­ing our own precautions. 

Sec­ond­ly, if there is an adverse cyclone, and the Emer­gency Man­age­ment Author­i­ty of Queens­land ask for our assis­tance, then we will respond in the same way and man­ner that we did with the floods, that is we will respond pos­i­tive­ly to any request for assistance. 

QUESTION: Just also there was a report this morn­ing that the Afghan Gov­ern­ment could be walk­ing away from its agree­ment to take asy­lum seek­ers from Aus­tralia. Could this agree­ment be dead before it even starts? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well you’d need to speak to my col­league, Min­is­ter Bowen, the Immi­gra­tion Min­is­ter. I’ve heard ref­er­ence to that, but I haven’t seen a detailed report. So you should address that to Min­is­ter Bowen. 

QUESTION: On the [indis­tinct] ques­tion, you said it’s at dock. Which dock do mean? 

STEPHEN SMITH: It’s in Syd­ney, Fleet Base East, in con­tradis­tinc­tion to Fleet Base West, which of course is Rock­ing­ham and Gar­den Island in West­ern Aus­tralian, or as I some­times say, the Gar­den Island, but that’s a West Aus­tralian thing.

Okay, thanks very much. Cheers. 

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

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