Australia — Minister for Defence on HMAS Toowoomba departure to the Middle East

TOPICS: HMAS Toowoom­ba depar­ture to the Mid­dle East; CDF, VCDF and Ser­vice Chiefs appoint­ments.
STEPHEN SMITH: I’m very pleased to be here to help send off HMAS Toowoom­ba off to the Mid­dle East for Oper­a­tion Slip­per. We’ve been doing this as a navy and as a nation for near­ly 10 years and HMAS Toowoom­ba and its com­pa­ny will con­tin­ue the good work that HMAS Stu­art is doing.

Stu­art returns in a month’s time and the focus now in our Mar­itime Secu­ri­ty Oper­a­tion in the Mid­dle East is essen­tial­ly counter-ter­ror­ism and counter-pira­cy, so it’s very impor­tant work. We’re mak­ing a sub­stan­tial con­tri­bu­tion to the inter­na­tion­al community’s effort in the Mid­dle East Area of Oper­a­tions and Toowoom­ba will fol­low on that very fine tra­di­tion. More recent­ly, in addi­tion to counter-ter­ror­ism, counter-pira­cy has come into play and HMAS Stu­art recent­ly res­cued a num­ber of hostages from Soma­li pirates. It’s a very impor­tant role that the ship’s com­pa­ny play and today will be a sad day for friends and fam­i­ly but we wish them well and we look for­ward to their safe return in six months’ time.

JOURNALIST:How many crew on board and pri­mar­i­ly what will their role be whilst over there?

STEPHEN SMITH: Their role will be, under the effec­tive com­mand of our Joint Oper­a­tions Cen­tre, direct­ed by our Chief of Joint Oper­a­tions, Lieu­tenant Gen­er­al Ash Pow­er. The ship’s com­pa­ny will focus on real­ly three issues: first­ly, mar­itime secu­ri­ty gen­er­al­ly, sec­ond­ly, counter-ter­ror­ism and third­ly, counter-pira­cy. Since we start­ed Oper­a­tion Slip­per in the Mid­dle East Area of Oper­a­tions back in 2001, the role has moved from mar­itime secu­ri­ty and counter-ter­ror­ism to also include the pira­cy work.

We know that par­tic­u­lar­ly around the Horn of Africa that pira­cy is becom­ing a very sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem and Australia’s play­ing its role, its part, mak­ing its con­tri­bu­tion to the anti-pira­cy efforts in con­junc­tion with the inter­na­tion­al community’s mar­itime force in the Mid­dle East Area of Oper­a­tions and so that’s a sub­stan­tial con­tri­bu­tion that Aus­tralia makes.

JOURNALIST:Giv­en that, as you men­tioned, HMAS Stu­art saw some action last time, a very impor­tant role can be fraught with its own risks, would you have sort of a per­son­al mes­sage for the friends and fam­i­ly who are here today and the kids, if you were sort of to image that you were speak­ing direct­ly to them?

STEPHEN SMITH: I’ll short­ly have the oppor­tu­ni­ty of speak­ing to the ship’s com­pa­ny and also to their loved ones. When a ship’s depart­ing for a deploy­ment into an area where we know that the ship will be at risk, effec­tive­ly in war­like con­di­tions, it’s always a sad day so our hearts go out to the fam­i­lies and friends on a day like today. In the run-up to today, of course, the ship’s com­pa­ny have been engaged in a lot of train­ing so there have also been absences from fam­i­lies and friends over the recent months.

But today is a day where we say to the friends and fam­i­ly that not just are you proud of your loved ones, we’re proud of them, the nation, the coun­try is proud of them, we know that they’re well-trained, we know that they’re fit for the job that they’re about to do, and we look for­ward to them safe­ly return­ing in six months time.

JOURNALIST:Giv­en the events of this year, is our role there now cru­cial more than ever?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we play-

JOURNALIST:In terms of terrorism?

STEPHEN SMITH: ‑we play a very impor­tant role in our Mid­dle East Area of Oper­a­tions, of course that’s pri­mar­i­ly our con­tri­bu­tion in Afghanistan, our 1550 on aver­age con­tri­bu­tion in Afghanistan, but there’s also a wider role that we play and that’s reflect­ed by the work that we do as part of the inter­na­tion­al community’s mar­itime secu­ri­ty arrangements. 

We’re now into almost a decade of that con­tri­bu­tion, the deploy­ment today is the 26th deploy­ment that we see, as a con­tri­bu­tion to Oper­a­tion Slip­per, it’s a very impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion that we make to mar­itime security.

JOURNALIST:Just on anoth­er mat­ter, the chief of the Defence Force, who would you like to see take over that role?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the appoint­ment of the Chief of the Defence Force, the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, and the Chiefs of the three ser­vices, the Army, Air Force and Navy, is a mat­ter for the Gov­ern­ment to con­sid­er and announce in due course.

I’ve seen some recent com­men­tary which frankly falls into the cat­e­go­ry of base­less and idle speculation.

The process that the Gov­ern­ment is adopt­ing for these appoint­ments, which take effect in ear­ly July and will be announced next month, in June, the process that we’re fol­low­ing is the same process that’s been fol­lowed by Gov­ern­ments of both polit­i­cal per­sua­sions over the years.

I’ve received a series of rec­om­men­da­tions and advice from the Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Hous­ton, and obvi­ous­ly the Gov­ern­ment will weigh very seri­ous­ly his advice. I’ll also take the advice of the Sec­re­tary of the Depart­ment, and I’ll also speak to the cur­rent Ser­vice Chiefs, to get their views. There is wide con­sul­ta­tion, but in the end these deci­sions, these appoint­ments, are what are described as statu­to­ry author­i­ty appoint­ments. They are a mat­ter for the Gov­ern­ment of the day, and in due course, the Prime Min­is­ter and I will make a rec­om­men­da­tion to the Cab­i­net and in due course, the Prime Min­is­ter and I will announce the appoint­ments and that will be done in a method­i­cal and order­ly fash­ion and we will make our announce­ments about these mat­ters next month, in June.

JOURNALIST:Are there any pref­er­ences that you have?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I don’t believe it’s appro­pri­ate for me to spec­u­late or com­ment on indi­vid­u­als. What I can say is that the Gov­ern­ment, the Par­lia­ment, the nation, is well served by a num­ber of senior offi­cers, all of whom are appro­pri­ate­ly qual­i­fied to play a role which will involve the Ser­vice Chief, the Vice Chief, or the Chief of the Defence Force. 

So, the Gov­ern­ment has a series of dif­fi­cult deci­sions to make, but they are dif­fi­cult deci­sions as a result of choic­es and not through a lack of choice. We have a num­ber of senior offi­cers, to whom we can look to take up the lead­er­ship of the Aus­tralian Defence Force over the next few years.

I’m not propos­ing to spec­u­late, as I say, I’ve seen some base­less and idle gos­sip and com­men­tary. In the end the Gov­ern­ment will make an announce­ment about these posi­tions, fol­low­ing effec­tive­ly the same process that our pre­de­ces­sors have fol­lowed, and in the end the Aus­tralian com­mu­ni­ty will be able to judge the qual­i­ty of the appointments. 

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

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