Australia — Stephen Smith on Budget, Afghanistan etc

Min­is­ter for Defence — Inter­view with Alexan­dra Kirk, ABC AM
TOPICS: Strate­gic Reform Pro­gram; Bud­get; Vis­it by Pakistan’s Gen­er­al Wynne; Death of Osama bin Laden; Afghanistan
PETER CAVE: The Defence Min­is­ter Stephen Smith told Alexan­dra Kirk a pre­dict­ed growth in Defence pub­lic ser­vants will be scaled back.

STEPHEN SMITH: We are propos­ing over the next three years to reduce our civil­ian com­pli­ment by 1000. That will see rule of thumb a sav­ing of in the order of $300 mil­lion. Under the Strate­gic Reform Pro­gram that would nor­mal­ly be returned to Defence but because of the need for Defence to make a con­tri­bu­tion to the bud­get bot­tom line on this occa­sion those pro­ceeds will be returned to the Bud­get and assist the Gov­ern­ment in its efforts to return to surplus. 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And is this going to hap­pen more fre­quent­ly, or is this a one-off? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well this par­tic­u­lar mea­sure is a one-off. And, impor­tant­ly, we are talk­ing here about civil­ian employ­ees. Our oper­a­tional mat­ters will con­tin­ue to be appro­pri­ate­ly and ade­quate­ly resourced and they stand alone in their own right. 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Is the fed­er­al Bud­get in such dire cir­cum­stances that you have to steal, in effect, $300 mil­lion from Defence’s Strate­gic Reform Pro­gram in order to bol­ster the bot­tom line? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well first­ly this is an addi­tion­al com­po­nent of the Strate­gic Reform Pro­gram. Sec­ond­ly I have made it clear that whilst I won’t be drawn on Bud­get mat­ters per se as a gen­er­al propo­si­tion we will con­tin­ue to ade­quate­ly and appro­pri­ate­ly resource our oper­a­tions whether it’s Afghanistan, East Tim­or or the Solomon Islands. But sec­ond­ly Defence does have to make a con­tri­bu­tion to the Government’s bud­get chal­lenges and its sur­plus ambi­tion and this is an appro­pri­ate way of doing that while at the same time effect­ing a long term strate­gic reform. 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Pakistan’s Chair­man of their Joint Chiefs of Staff Com­mit­tee, Gen­er­al Wynne, was in Aus­tralia this week when the bin Laden news broke but flew out under the radar. Did you meet him? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Yes,I met him in the after­math of the president’s address, pres­i­dent Obama’s address to the nation. So obvi­ous­ly we spoke about that and his response was pre­cise­ly the same as pres­i­dent Zardari’s response as relayed by pres­i­dent Oba­ma. In oth­er words he wel­comed the out­come. He regard­ed bin Laden as hav­ing declared war on Pak­istan and the Pak­istani peo­ple. And he believed it was a sub­stan­tial advance so far as efforts against ter­ror­ism were concerned. 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And con­sid­er­ing his posi­tion was he, did he say whether he was aware that Osama bin Laden has been in Pak­istan for some time? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well he cer­tain­ly did­n’t indi­cate to me that he was aware of that. On the con­trary, he said that Pak­istan had been seek­ing to locate bin Laden for a num­ber of years and had been unsuc­cess­ful. He also indi­cat­ed that for a num­ber of years efforts had been made or pred­i­cat­ed on the basis of bin Laden being in the gen­er­al vicin­i­ty of the Pakistan/Afghanistan bor­der. He was at pains to make the point that he believed that Pak­istan had coop­er­at­ed in gen­er­al terms with the Unit­ed States on counter terrorism. 

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

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