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

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low GlobalDefence.net on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefenc.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →