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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