Australia — Minister for Defence Stephen Smith on MRRT, CHOGM, Facebook and Afghanistan

TOPICS: Com­mon­wealth Heads of Gov­ern­ment Meet­ing (CHOGM); Face­book and Afghanistan; MRRT.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well thanks very much for turn­ing up. I just first­ly want­ed to indi­cate how pleased the Fed­er­al Gov­ern­ment is that Buck­ing­ham Palace has announced overnight that Her Majesty The Queen, togeth­er with His Roy­al High­ness The Duke of Edin­burgh will come to Perth to enable Her Majesty to offi­cial­ly open the Com­mon­wealth Heads of Gov­ern­ment Meet­ing in Octo­ber.
This will be a tremen­dous boost to the Com­mon­wealth Heads of Gov­ern­ment Meet­ing and a great thing for West­ern Aus­tralia and Aus­tralia.

CHOGM itself, of course, will be a tremen­dous oppor­tu­ni­ty for West­ern Aus­tralia and Aus­tralia to show­case itself to the rest of the Com­mon­wealth. Over 50 com­mon­wealth lead­ers, pres­i­dents and prime min­is­ters, and over 50 for­eign min­is­ters attend­ing over the CHOGM week and we very much look for­ward to it.

I, of course, was very pleased to have been able to play a small part in the last Com­mon­wealth Heads of Gov­ern­ment Meet­ing in Port of Spain to encour­age the Com­mon­wealth to choose Aus­tralia and sub­se­quent­ly to allow the Gov­ern­ment to announce that CHOGM will be held at Perth, and very much look­ing for­ward to, as the local Fed­er­al Mem­ber for Perth, see­ing so many lead­ers from the Com­mon­wealth come to Perth and West­ern Aus­tralia.

It will be a tremen­dous eco­nom­ic boost to Perth and West­ern Aus­tralia, but also a very good oppor­tu­ni­ty for West­ern Aus­tralia and Perth to show­case itself to the rest of the world. So we’re very pleased with the announce­ment overnight and I’m hap­py to respond to your ques­tions.

JOURNALIST: How much will secu­ri­ty have to be tight­ened even fur­ther now with the Queen being one of the head­line acts, so to speak?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well we’ve always known that with sig­nif­i­cant inter­na­tion­al events regret­tably in the mod­ern era secu­ri­ty will always be an issue, and secu­ri­ty is one of the mat­ters which the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment is work­ing very close­ly with the state gov­ern­ment but also with the city of Perth, with local gov­ern­ment as well.

There will be all of the usu­al secu­ri­ty pre­cau­tions tak­en. It will, of course, be a need for sig­nif­i­cant secu­ri­ty for Her Majesty but, in any event, we will also have, as I said, over 50 lead­ers from the Com­mon­wealth and that brings with it, regret­tably in the mod­ern world, the need for secu­ri­ty but those mat­ters will be assid­u­ous­ly attend­ed to and I’m very pleased that on that front there’s very good coop­er­a­tion not just between the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment and the state gov­ern­ment but also between the rel­e­vant agen­cies, in par­tic­u­lar the West­ern Aus­tralian Police.

JOURNALIST: What do you think the reac­tion will be from Aus­tralians and, I guess more specif­i­cal­ly, peo­ple from Perth about learn­ing that the Queen will be com­ing out here?

STEPHEN SMITH: I think they’ll wel­come it very much. Last year I had the great hon­our to rep­re­sent Aus­tralia at the cen­te­nary of diplo­mat­ic rela­tions between Aus­tralia and the Unit­ed King­dom at Aus­tralia House in Lon­don, had the oppor­tu­ni­ty of meet­ing Her Majesty and also meet­ing the Duke.

I think West­ern Aus­tralians will be very, very pleased. Many Perth res­i­dents and many West Aus­tralians will be old enough to remem­ber Her Majesty open­ing the then called Empire and Com­mon­wealth Games back in the ’60s and very many peo­ple will remem­ber her most recent vis­it to Perth in 2000.

So she will receive a very warm wel­come. She is very fond­ly regard­ed by West­ern Aus­tralians and Aus­tralians.

JOURNALIST: With the con­fir­ma­tion today, the debate’s kind of turned now to what we’d like the Queen to vis­it while she’s here. What would you like Perth to show­case? As the Mem­ber for Perth, what do you think we can take her and show her to see?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I’ve always thought that one of the high­lights of Perth was the view of the city and the riv­er from Kings Park. That, of course, is where the lead­ers retreat will take place with the expand­ed Fraser’s Restau­rant. So that’s, I think, an icon­ic view of Perth, so hope­ful­ly Her Majesty might have the oppor­tu­ni­ty of shar­ing that view when the lead­ers gath­er for their retreat.

There’s also an expec­ta­tion, sub­ject to con­fir­ma­tion, that she will stay at the Governor’s res­i­dence in The Ter­race and, as many West Aus­tralians know, as many Perth res­i­dents know from the open­ing up of Gov­ern­ment House on reg­u­lar occa­sions for peo­ple to vis­it the gar­den and see the gar­den, that’s also a great, a great spot and a great part of the city itself.

JOURNALIST: Can we talk about Afghanistan now?

STEPHEN SMITH: Yeah, I’m hap­py to respond. If we’re fin­ished on CHOGM I’m hap­py to respond to that.

JOURNALIST: Sor­ry, can I just-

JOURNALIST: Yeah, yeah, sure. Sor­ry-

JOURNALIST: In terms of the rel­e­vance of the Queen, it’s prob­a­bly her last, fair to say her last vis­it to Perth any­way, if not Aus­tralia, being at the age of 85 I think she turns next month; so how sig­nif­i­cant and how rel­e­vant, I guess from a Com­mon­wealth point of view, is her vis­it here because today’s soci­ety, I mean do you think peo­ple real­ly care that she would be com­ing?

I mean is it real­ly, does it real­ly strike a chord?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well whether it’s Her Majesty’s last vis­it to Aus­tralia time will tell. I expect that she will be very, very warm­ly received. I think there is a great affec­tion for her in the hearts of the Aus­tralian peo­ple.

I also think that there is great respect and regard for her in the way in which she has con­duct­ed her­self as the Monarch. The view of the Gov­ern­ment is at some time in the future Aus­tralia should move to become a repub­lic and I share that view, but I think there’s also a view in the Aus­tralian com­mu­ni­ty that maybe the appro­pri­ate time to do that is when Her Majesty fin­ish­es her reign.

But I think both affec­tion and respect and regard are the way in which the Aus­tralian pub­lic view Her Majesty The Queen and I think that’s a very good thing.

JOURNALIST: So do you think it could also be the last time we get a vis­it from roy­al­ty as part of the Monar­chy?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well time will tell. Time will tell.

JOURNALIST: Do you think there’s been a renewed inter­est in the monar­chy because of the upcom­ing Roy­al Wed­ding?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well cer­tain­ly when the Prince was both in New Zealand recent­ly and also in Queens­land recent­ly there was an out­pour­ing of affec­tion for him and there’s great inter­est in the wed­ding. So I think the inter­est in the monar­chy, the inter­est in the Roy­al Fam­i­ly con­tin­ues.

JOURNALIST: How dam­ag­ing has this lat­est inter­net scan­dal been to the Defence Force’s rep­u­ta­tion and to Australia’s cause in Afghanistan?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well as I’ve said ear­li­er in the course of the day, I spoke to Afghan Defence Min­is­ter War­dak last night. I apol­o­gised on behalf of Aus­tralia, I indi­cat­ed to him that the Chief of the Defence Force and the Chief of Army would cause these mat­ters to be inves­ti­gat­ed and in all like­li­hood, sub­ject to the appro­pri­ate pro­ce­dures, dis­ci­pli­nary action would pro­ceed.

It is also a pos­si­bil­i­ty or a prospect that those involved will return to Aus­tralia, but that’s a mat­ter for the prop­er process­es.

The rea­son I rang Min­is­ter War­dak was to make the point that I regard this very much as run­ning counter to the tremen­dous work that the Aus­tralian Defence Force and Army have done in Afghanistan over a long peri­od of time.

He indi­cat­ed to me that he did not believe that this would sul­ly Australia’s rep­u­ta­tion. He said to me on the phone last night, as he has said to me in the past, that he holds Aus­tralia and Aus­tralian sol­diers in very high regard, not just because of our fight­ing prowess but also because of the way in which we mix with and deal with the com­mu­ni­ty in Afghanistan and in Uruz­gan Province, not just com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers but also Afghan cit­i­zens in the vil­lages in Uruz­gan Province.

And the rea­son I rang him was because we have, not just in Afghanistan but his­tor­i­cal­ly, a first class rep­u­ta­tion for being a coun­try which, through its Defence Force, whilst it is a defence force which has got a first class fight­ing prowess also treats the cit­i­zens and the civil­ians of coun­tries that it is in with respect and regard and civil­i­ty and dig­ni­ty and we very much want that to con­tin­ue.

JOURNALIST: I’m sure there’s already lots of rules and reg­u­la­tions in place about Face­book use and the inter­net access over there. Is it time though, giv­en repeat­ed inci­dents like this, that there’ll be more cen­sor­ship, per­haps bans on the use of things like Face­book by Aus­tralian troops?

STEPHEN SMITH: [Inter­rupts] Well there is access to our forces, our per­son­nel in Afghanistan. There is access to the inter­net and there is, there are some lim­i­ta­tions on that.

One of the things which the Chief of the Defence Force will now exam­ine and con­sid­er is access to and use of social media.

My own start­ing point, my pref­er­ence in all of these mat­ters is not that we pre­vent peo­ple from util­is­ing meth­ods of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with fam­i­ly or friends, but that we ensure that it’s done in a seri­ous and sen­si­ble and respon­si­ble way.

One of the lessons from this is the les­son that peo­ple con­tin­ue to learn in the dig­i­tal age that what you put online or what you put into cyber­space is there for, even­tu­al­ly, all to see for all time. So there’s a les­son about the use of what you put on Face­book gen­er­al­ly.

But my own pref­er­ence would be that cul­tur­al­ly there is a sen­si­ble and respon­si­ble use of such mat­ters, but in my dis­cus­sions with the Chief of the Defence Force overnight and this morn­ing, that is one of the issues that he will now have cause to look at.

JOURNALIST: It’s huge­ly dam­ag­ing though to our rep­u­ta­tion, isn’t it? Inci­dents like this can undo years of diplo­ma­cy and care­ful work by our troops over­seas.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well this is pre­cise­ly the rea­son why I have been strong in my remarks that what has occurred is not just inap­pro­pri­ate, it’s effec­tive­ly appalling, it is required to be con­demned and that view has been shared in remarks that the Chief of the Defence Force has made today, remarks that the Act­ing Chief of Army made overnight.

But the fact that there has been such a strong response to the inci­dent from Defence, from the Army, from the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment gives me cause for con­fi­dence that this will be seen for what it is, which is the actions of a very small minor­i­ty which run counter to the work that Aus­tralian forces have done in Afghanistan over the last near­ly decade and the work that Aus­tralian defence forces have done since the for­ma­tion of the Aus­tralian Army and the Aus­tralian Defence Force.

And I’m, I gain my con­fi­dence in that as a result of the response from Defence Min­is­ter War­dak who was at pains to make the same points to me.

In the past when I’ve spo­ken to Defence Min­is­ter War­dak and when I’ve spo­ken to oth­er Afghan offi­cials, min­is­ters and Pres­i­dent Karzai they make the point to me that they high­ly val­ue and regard Australia’s con­tri­bu­tion not just because of the capa­bil­i­ty and fight­ing prowess of our troops in the field, but also because of the way in which they deal with Afghan com­mu­ni­ties and the way in which they work with and respect the Afghan pop­u­la­tion and civil­ians.

JOURNALIST: What about the argu­ment that that sort of atti­tude or, I guess, aggres­sion against the oppo­si­tion dur­ing war time is nec­es­sary? A lot of for­mer sol­diers have come out and said that that sort of mes­sage is quite clear­ly made through­out Defence at dif­fer­ent times. What’s your response to that?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well it’s not a view I share and it’s also entire­ly inap­pro­pri­ate for such views to be placed on cyber­space, on the inter­net where almost inevitably these things are made pub­lic.

So I don’t share that view.

JOURNALIST: What about-

STEPHEN SMITH: Peo­ple are not enti­tled, in my view, to make remarks about the cit­i­zens of oth­er coun­tries which are racist, which are deroga­to­ry, which are crit­i­cal of the cul­tur­al val­ues that oth­er peo­ple share. It is not a val­ue and virtue of Aus­tralia gen­er­al­ly.

It is not a val­ue and virtue of what we have seen in terms of the Aus­tralian Defence Force con­tri­bu­tion in Afghanistan and it’s not some­thing which the Aus­tralian Army, the Aus­tralian Defence Force or the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment or, in my view, the Aus­tralian peo­ple will tol­er­ate.

JOURNALIST: It sounds like you’re going to have to restrict a lot of access, a few bad apples in the Army.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well that’s why, that’s why I say my own pre­ferred out­come would be sen­si­ble access to such mate­ri­als on the basis that peo­ple con­duct them­selves respon­si­bly. But, as I say, this is an issue that the Chief of the Defence Force have dis­cussed and it will form part of, nec­es­sar­i­ly form part of Defence’s con­sid­er­a­tion of that which has occurred.

What will also occur, which the Chief of the Defence Force has made clear, the Chief of Army has made clear and I have made clear is that this regret­table and offen­sive inci­dent is the sub­ject of an inves­ti­ga­tion.

In all like­li­hood, after the prop­er process­es have been fol­lowed, dis­ci­pli­nary action will occur and there is also a prospect that the peo­ple involved and respon­si­ble will be returned from Afghanistan.

JOURNALIST: Min­is­ter, on one final note, what do you think of your col­leagues threat­en­ing to with­hold fund­ing from WA if the state increas­es its min­ing roy­al­ties?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I don’t inter­pret it in that way. I mean what the Trea­sur­er and the Min­is­ter for Resources, Mar­tin Fer­gu­son, indi­cat­ed yes­ter­day was that the gov­ern­ment has accept­ed all of the over 90, or near­ly 90, rec­om­men­da­tions of the imple­men­ta­tion group. That’s a very good thing.

The min­ing com­pa­nies who, on the basis of the leg­is­la­tion is enact­ed, who are taxed under the leg­is­la­tion, so that essen­tial­ly is restrict­ed to peo­ple who mine or pro­duce iron ore, coal or oil and gas onshore or off­shore, that they will get a cred­it for state based roy­al­ties.

The point that the Trea­sur­er made and the Min­is­ter for Min­er­als and Ener­gy made was that that is not a green light for any state to increase its roy­al­ties in iso­la­tion.

We have seen sub­stan­tial increas­es of roy­al­ties in West­ern Aus­tralia and in oth­er states from time to time. All of the eco­nom­ic analy­sis is that a resources rent tax, which is a tax on prof­its, is a much bet­ter way of tax­ing than a roy­al­ty, which is essen­tial­ly on the basis of vol­ume of pro­duc­tion, not on prof­it.

The Trea­sur­er this morn­ing on Perth radio made it clear that this is an area where he wants to have a sen­si­ble con­ver­sa­tion with West­ern Aus­tralia and Queens­land, the two main min­er­als and petro­le­um resources states, he wants to have a con­ver­sa­tion with them about it.

I also see the Pre­mier, who’s made some rhetor­i­cal­ly robust remarks but he’s also made the point that this is a mat­ter that he wants to have a con­ver­sa­tion with the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment about at the next COAG meet­ing.

And that’s how it should pro­ceed, a sen­si­ble con­ver­sa­tion between the states and the Com­mon­wealth about the imple­men­ta­tion of a prof­it based tax, which is a much bet­ter and more effec­tive and effi­cient way of tax­ing the pro­duc­tion of min­er­als than a roy­al­ty which is sim­ply a tax on the vol­ume of pro­duc­tion irre­spec­tive of whether a com­pa­ny is going well or going bad­ly.

JOURNALIST: Sor­ry, just one more on Afghanistan. Giv­en Defence refus­ing to release a video recent­ly of sol­diers in Afghanistan sav­ing up to 30 Afgha­nis and then this very pub­lic scold­ing, do you think that sol­diers over there should feel hard done by? Is it fair that some of them do feel hard done by?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, first, there are two sep­a­rate issues. The issue that you refer to goes to the way in which Defence issue images, either pho­to­graph­ic or video images, of oper­a­tions out of Afghanistan and, for a long peri­od of time, the approach has been that images are released on the basis of oper­a­tional secu­ri­ty.

These deci­sions are made by Defence offi­cers and Defence per­son­nel whether they’re in the Mid­dle East or whether they’re in Can­ber­ra.

There was an asser­tion made, which was incor­rect and with­out foun­da­tion, that the video to which you refer to was not released as a result of action by me or my office. That’s not true. These mat­ters don’t come to me, nor should they. They are deter­mined on the basis of oper­a­tional secu­ri­ty.

JOURNALIST: Thank you.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks.

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

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