Australia — Minister for Defence on Amphibious ships fleet; Joint Strike Fighter

Min­is­ter for Defence: Inter­view with Vir­ginia Tri­oli and Michael Row­land, ABC TV

TOPICS: Libya; Aval­on Inter­na­tion­al Air Show; Amphibi­ous ships fleet; Joint Strike Fight­er
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Now the Pen­ta­gon says it’s mov­ing naval and air forces into posi­tion near Libya, as West­ern coun­tries weigh pos­si­ble mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: To dis­cuss Australia’s response to the con­flict, Defence Min­is­ter Stephen Smith joins us now in the stu­dio. Mr Smith good morn­ing, good to see you again.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Good morning.


VIRGINIA TRIOLI: First of all the no fly zone idea is being sug­gest­ed by the For­eign Min­is­ter Kevin Rudd and not tak­en up by oth­ers at the moment. What’s your view on the pos­si­bil­i­ty of some kind of mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion, or at least involve­ment by Australia?

STEPHEN SMITH: We need to take it step by step. The Unit­ed King­dom and sub­se­quent­ly the Unit­ed States have indi­cat­ed that’s a pos­si­bil­i­ty for them. We’ll obvi­ous­ly see what response or reac­tion there is in terms of mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion, if any. In the first instance we want to make sure that what occurs, occurs under the author­i­ty of inter­na­tion­al law, in par­tic­u­lar the Unit­ed Nations and we’re very pleased to see the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil essen­tial­ly resolve that the Inter­na­tion­al Crim­i­nal Court has a role to play in this mat­ter. That opens up the notion of what we describe as the Respon­si­bil­i­ty to Pro­tect, on which Gareth Evans has been very active inter­na­tion­al­ly over the last few years, which essen­tial­ly says that the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty has a respon­si­bil­i­ty to make sure that indi­vid­ual cit­i­zens of a nation aren’t oppressed by the state itself.

So we’re pleased with the actions of the Unit­ed Nations. The For­eign Min­is­ter is in Gene­va today, at the meet­ing of the Inter­na­tion­al Human Rights Coun­cil. But, as I say, step by step, issues or ques­tions of no fly zones, issues or ques­tions of mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion, we need to take them care­ful­ly and step by step. 

As you’d expect, giv­en Australia’s inter­est in the Mid­dle East, whilst we have a very keen eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal and social inter­ests there, we’re not in that respect a lead nation, so par­tic­u­lar­ly in terms of Libya, the Unit­ed King­dom has a long­stand­ing his­tor­i­cal role and that’s why you’re see­ing them, in a sense, first out of the blocks on that issue.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Many inter­na­tion­al law experts say it’s an open and shut case, this issue of Respon­si­bil­i­ty to Pro­tect and, there­fore, that war­rants direct mil­i­tary intervention.

STEPHEN SMITH: We’ve been very pleased with the way in which, slow­ly but sure­ly, over the last decade or so, notions of the need for inter­na­tion­al insti­tu­tions like the Unit­ed Nations and for nations them­selves to have upper most in their minds the rights of indi­vid­ual cit­i­zens and to not…

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: … it took Rwan­da and Koso­vo for every­one to get there of course.

STEPHEN SMITH: No, no, I — that’s why I’m say­ing it has been a big effort and we’re not there yet in terms of hav­ing entrenched it or estab­lished it as a prin­ci­ple of inter­na­tion­al law. But cer­tain­ly the actions of the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil refer­ring Libya to the Inter­na­tion­al Crim­i­nal Court; the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil itself, talk­ing in terms of Respon­si­bil­i­ty to Pro­tect, is very good progress on that front. 

But, in the first instance, of course, we want Libya to, through Colonel Qaddafi, to respect the rights of the cit­i­zens of Libya. We effec­tive­ly want Colonel Qaddafi to go and this mat­ter can be resolved if he was sim­ply to walk away.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: I don’t know whether you’ve seen the lat­est inter­view he’s giv­en to the BBC and Amer­i­can ABC this morn­ing, but the man is unhinged. He looks — you look at that and he’s clear­ly delu­sion­al. Should­n’t that flow into West­ern deci­sion-mak­ing as to what to do?

STEPHEN SMITH: I think there’s been a long­stand­ing and wide­ly held view that Colonel Qaddafi is not nec­es­sar­i­ly the most ratio­nal inter­na­tion­al leader that we’ve seen, if I can use that under­stat­ed expres­sion. So whilst the sim­ple solu­tion is for Colonel Qaddafi to walk away, no-one’s expect­ing that will occur, which is why you see the Unit­ed King­dom speak­ing in the way in which it has; the Unit­ed States as well. But also Aus­tralia and oth­er mem­bers of the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty stand­ing shoul­der to shoul­der with the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil, with the Inter­na­tion­al Crim­i­nal Court and with Libya’s neigh­bours and the region on this matter.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Just one more on Libya before we move on, and if — tak­ing it away just from Aus­tralia deci­sion-mak­ing and pol­i­cy, hear­ing that those peo­ple in Beng­hazi and else­where are so light­ly armed when it comes to a poten­tial direct strike on them from their leader, Muam­mar Qaddafi, and they need more arma­ments, tac­ti­cal­ly, log­i­cal­ly, how dif­fi­cult is it to get that to them?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well tac­ti­cal­ly dif­fi­cult, which is why, in the face of that, you see indi­vid­ual nation states and the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil look­ing at issues of mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion, of no fly zones, of ref­er­ence of Libya to the Crim­i­nal Court. So no-one should under­es­ti­mate the dif­fi­cul­ty of this sit­u­a­tion and that’s, of course, one rea­son why we’ve been very assid­u­ous over the last peri­od, days and weeks, of doing every­thing we can to make sure that Aus­tralians who were in Libya depart. We’ve got a small num­ber who are still there — just over 20. But we are in reg­u­lar con­tact with them, help­ing some to leave and stay­ing in reg­u­lar con­tact with those who have cho­sen to stay, although our for­mal advice, of course, is not to trav­el to Libya and if you’re there, to depart.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Clos­er to home, you’re attend­ing the Aval­on Air Show which we were dis­cussing this morn­ing. Of course, we had US Gen­er­al North on the pro­gram talk­ing about that too. He gave a speech to mark the nineti­eth anniver­sary of the RAAF. That part of the Defence Force must be feel­ing a lit­tle hap­pi­er at the moment than, say, the Navy does right now and per­haps the Air Force is enjoy­ing a lit­tle bit more of your friend­li­ness and sup­port than you are feel­ing, clear­ly, towards the Navy right now. STEPHEN SMITH: Well I’m ever friend­ly to all com­ers as you know. [Laughs]

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Rub­bish. They must see you com­ing at the Navy right now, and quake in their boots.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I’m not sure about that. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: You’re furi­ous at them.

STEPHEN SMITH: The Navy has had its chal­lenges and I’ve expressed my views pub­licly and pri­vate­ly. I’ve seen ref­er­ences to my tone and demeanour. I’ve expressed my dis­ap­point­ment, but the key thing is to find a solu­tion. And there are a range of things that we’re doing on the heavy amphibi­ous lift, or the Navy front. One is to make sure that we now fill the capa­bil­i­ty gap which has emerged. Yes, we’re get­ting some what are called Land­ing Heli­copter Docks from Spain for the mid­dle of this decade, but it’s clear that what was pre­vi­ous­ly relied upon, the Manoo­ra, the Kan­im­bla, the Tobruk won’t meet the heavy amphibi­ous lift requirement. 

So I’ve had dis­cus­sions with my coun­ter­part from the Unit­ed King­dom about buy­ing or leas­ing a heavy amphibi­ous lift ship from them. We’ve got an arrange­ment with New Zealand for greater coop­er­a­tion on that front in the region. But we’re look­ing at all options to make sure that we cov­er that capa­bil­i­ty gap. 

And as you’d know I estab­lished an inde­pen­dent task­force head­ed by Paul Riz­zo. He’s doing some pre­lim­i­nary work now but he for­mal­ly starts up with his team next week. But I want to do two things — to solve the cur­rent prob­lem, but also to make sure we put in place steps to ensure that this nev­er hap­pens again.

On the Air Force front, it’s the nineti­eth anniver­sary. Aval­on is a very impor­tant time for Australia’s Air Force and the aero­space and avi­a­tion indus­try. And last night I did a cou­ple of things, I com­pli­ment­ed Air Force on the ter­rif­ic job they’ve been doing on heavy air lift, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the dis­as­ter relief and human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance, whether it’s Bris­bane floods, or cyclones in North Queens­land, or the after­math of Can­ter­bury. And I also announced that we were look­ing at pur­chas­ing a fur­ther C‑17 which is a very large heavy lift air­craft, because, giv­en the work we’ve been doing over the last cou­ple of months, we think that a slight change of our con­fig­u­ra­tion there will advan­tage us for the future.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: You’ve already pur­chased, of course, I think it’s 10 Joint Strike Fight­ers from Amer­i­ca. Is the Air Force going to see those, giv­en they have been so over time and over budget?

STEPHEN SMITH: The advan­tage we have in terms of the Joint Strike Fight­er which, togeth­er with the Hor­nets and the Super Hor­nets when we have the Joint Strike Fight­ers, will effec­tive­ly be the replace­ment of the F1-11. The advan­tage we have is that we’ve always opt­ed for what’s described as the con­ven­tion­al ver­sion, the 35‑A. So this is not the plane which is sub­ject to the most extreme of tech­no­log­i­cal chal­lenges and dif­fi­cul­ties which my col­league in the Unit­ed States, Defense Sec­re­tary Gates, drew atten­tion to recent­ly. And we also took the pre­cau­tion of putting into our own cal­cu­la­tions plen­ty of padding in terms of time. 

So we’re still con­fi­dent that we’re on track for that. It’s a chal­leng­ing project, and we’re very well served, in the mean­time, by the Hor­nets and the Super Hor­nets. But some of our neigh­bours and part­ners will have grave dif­fi­cul­ty because they’ve gone for a more com­pli­cat­ed vari­ance of the Strike Fight­er. But in what is a dif­fi­cult project, we believe we’re effec­tive­ly on track.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Stephen Smith, good to see you.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks. Thanks very much. 

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

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