Australia — Minister for Defence Stephen Smith on Queensland flood relief and AUKMIN

TOPICS: Aus­tralian Defence Force sup­port to Queens­land flood relief and recov­ery effort; Aus­tralia-Unit­ed King­dom Min­is­te­r­i­al Con­sul­ta­tions
JULIAN MORROW: The Aus­tralian Defence Min­is­ter, Stephen Smith, will be meet­ing his British coun­ter­part, Liam Fox, today. On the agen­da, the war in Afghanistan and the chang­ing role of Chi­na in our region. And the Defence Min­is­ter joins us in our Syd­ney stu­dio. Good morn­ing, Min­is­ter.

STEPHEN SMITH: Good morn­ing, Julian.

JULIAN MORROW: Now obvi­ous­ly one of the new Defence deploy­ments that’s very much front of mind at the moment is Queens­land. Can you give us an out­line of the recov­ery work that Defence forces are involved in at the moment?

STEPHEN SMITH: On the ground at the moment we’ve got about 1600 Defence per­son­nel. They’re help­ing on the search and res­cue and recov­ery which is ongo­ing in the Lock­y­er Val­ley. But the largest num­ber is help­ing on the ini­tial cleanup and recov­ery in Bris­bane and Ipswich. In Bris­bane we’ve got both reg­u­lars and reservists from that city. In Ipswich we’ve got peo­ple from RAAF Amber­ley air base down the road, and we con­tin­ue to have peo­ple using the heli­copters to help in search and res­cue but also trans­port­ing essen­tial items and supplies.

We expect in the course of this week that the num­bers will drop to 1200 because we’re going through a tran­si­tion now. The search and res­cue and recov­ery is focussed in the Lock­y­er Val­ley, Grantham and the like. So over the course of the next few days or week, we expect we’ll get down to about 1200. But we’re very pleased with the great work that the Defence per­son­nel, both reg­u­lars and reservists, have been doing. It’s been a ter­rif­ic effort and we’re very pleased with their work and proud of what they’ve been doing.

JULIAN MORROW: What sort of strains does an oper­a­tion like this put on the capac­i­ty of the armed forces, and how does it affect oth­er deploy­ments when the armed forces are doing, you know, work as a cleanup squad?

STEPHEN SMITH: We’ve been very care­ful to make sure that what­ev­er com­mit­ments we make don’t do two things. First­ly, don’t cut across the pri­ma­ry respon­si­bil­i­ty for dis­as­ter relief and man­age­ment in Aus­tralia, which is civil­ian and, in the first instance, led by the state author­i­ties. And so in Queens­land, it’s an emer­gency man­age­ment arrange­ment, its emer­gency ser­vices per­son­nel, they are respon­si­ble for the work that occurs.

Because of the scale of the oper­a­tion in Queens­land, we were asked to assist, and giv­en that this is the biggest nat­ur­al dis­as­ter we’ve seen since Cyclone Tra­cy, that was appro­pri­ate. But we com­ple­ment and add to that which the state pro­vides. The Aus­tralian Defence Force has a very good record of help­ing on dis­as­ter relief and dis­as­ter man­age­ment, whether in Aus­tralia or in our region. And the most recent exam­ple would be the Vic­to­ri­an bushfires. 

But the sec­ond thing we have to be con­scious of is not to cut into our core capac­i­ty to do what you’d regard as our core busi­ness, which, of course, is defence and oper­a­tions. So at the moment every­one sees our oper­a­tion in Afghanistan, the dif­fi­cult and dan­ger­ous work we’re doing there, but we’ve also got peace­keep­ing com­mit­ments in our own region, in East Tim­or and the Solomon Islands. We have also had for a num­ber of years a peace­keep­ing con­tri­bu­tion that we’re mak­ing in Sudan. 

So we have to be care­ful not to over­stretch and we have to be care­ful to ensure that what­ev­er com­mit­ment we make for dis­as­ter relief or dis­as­ter relief man­age­ment does­n’t cut into our core capac­i­ty to do our oth­er work. We’re very con­fi­dent of that and so are the Ser­vice Chiefs and the Chief of the Defence Force.

JULIAN MORROW: Okay. Well, let’s move on to the talks that you’re hav­ing today. You’re meet­ing today with the UK’s Defence Min­is­ter, Liam Fox, and you’ve said you’ll be dis­cussing chang­ing dynam­ics in Asia. Are you con­cerned by China’s mil­i­tary build-up?

STEPHEN SMITH: What’s occur­ring in Syd­ney today is what we call AUKMIN, Aus­tralia-Unit­ed King­dom Min­is­te­r­i­al Con­sul­ta­tions. So it’s the For­eign Min­is­ter, Mr Rudd, and I meet­ing with our respec­tive coun­ter­parts, For­eign Sec­re­tary Hague and Defence Sec­re­tary Fox. It’s the third so-called AUKMIN Meet­ing but the first one we’ve had in Aus­tralia. So we wel­come that very much. 

We will be look­ing at the range of things that we share in terms of issues — Afghanistan and Pak­istan — but also chang­ing dynam­ics in the Asia-Pacif­ic. We know this is the cen­tu­ry of the Asia-Pacif­ic with the move­ment of eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal and strate­gic and mil­i­tary influ­ence to that part of the world. 

JULIAN MORROW: And cen­tral to that also is the increased role of Chi­na. Is that some­thing you’ll be discussing?

STEPHEN SMITH: Absolute­ly. It’s not just the rise of Chi­na; it’s also the rise of India and the rise of the ASEAN economies combined.


STEPHEN SMITH: But when it comes to China’s mil­i­tary expan­sion, we, Aus­tralia, acknowl­edge and accept, and the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty acknowl­edges and accepts, that as a coun­try ris­es in terms of its eco­nom­ic prowess, there will also be a cor­re­spond­ing rise in its mil­i­tary capac­i­ty and capa­bil­i­ty. And what we say to Chi­na pub­licly and pri­vate­ly is that we sim­ply want Chi­na to be trans­par­ent about its mil­i­tary and strate­gic intentions

JULIAN MORROW: So will you and the UK be exchang­ing infor­ma­tion about what you assess as the real scope of China’s mil­i­tary build-up, because it’s cer­tain­ly sug­gest­ed that Aus­tralia believes that the real sit­u­a­tion is more than dou­ble what China’s admitted.

STEPHEN SMITH: We say to Chi­na pub­licly and pri­vate­ly we want them to be trans­par­ent about their mil­i­tary strate­gic inten­tions. That’s the first thing. Sec­ond­ly, we are also con­fi­dent and pos­i­tive about Chi­na emerg­ing as what we would describe as a respon­si­ble stake­hold­er, a ris­ing pow­er that wants to take its part in the region­al and inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty and do so in accor­dance with accept­ed inter­na­tion­al norms.

So yes, we will have a con­ver­sa­tion about Chi­na but it won’t be an exclu­sive con­ver­sa­tion about Chi­na. Part of the dynam­ic in this cen­tu­ry is the move of polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic and strate­gic influ­ence to the Asia-Pacif­ic. That’s our part of the world and it’s one of the rea­sons why For­eign Sec­re­tary Hague and Defence Sec­re­tary Fox are com­ing to Aus­tralia, com­ing to the Asia-Pacif­ic, because they under­stand and acknowl­edge that as well.

JULIAN MORROW: And that is prob­a­bly where we’ll have to leave it, Defence Min­is­ter Stephen Smith. Thanks very much for join­ing us on Radio Nation­al Sum­mer Break­fast this morn­ing. STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much, Julian.

JULIAN MORROW: And what a change of tone it is to be ask­ing seri­ous ques­tions of the Defence Min­is­ter. I think the only ques­tions I’ve asked Stephen Smith in the past have been Triv­ial Pur­suit ques­tions. But the Min­is­ter was always very kind to include those on the offi­cial tran­scripts of his press conferences. 

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

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