Australia — Stephen Smith on crisis in Japan, Libya and acquisition of C‑17 Globemaster

TOPICS: Update on the earth­quake and tsuna­mi cri­sis in Japan, ADF efforts in dis­as­ter relief in Japan, sit­u­a­tion in Libya, bid for Bay Class ves­sel, acqui­si­tion of an addi­tion­al C‑17 Globe­mas­ter.

KIERAN GILBERT: Join­ing me here in the Can­ber­ra stu­dio, the Defence Min­is­ter, Stephen Smith. Mr Smith, thanks for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: A plea­sure.
KIERAN GILBERT: Aus­tralians who don’t have to be in Tokyo, as we heard from the For­eign Min­is­ter ear­li­er, are being advised to con­sid­er leav­ing. Not because of lev­els of radi­a­tion or con­cerns over that, but due to infra­struc­ture, essen­tial ser­vices. Did the radi­a­tion issue play any role in the nation­al secu­ri­ty com­mit­tee com­ing up with that con­clu­sion?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, there are two sep­a­rate issues there. First­ly, the trav­el advice, which the For­eign Min­is­ter has referred to yes­ter­day and today, makes it clear that there is sig­nif­i­cant dis­rup­tion, ter­ri­ble dis­rup­tion to facil­i­ties and resources, con­tin­u­ing after­shocks and the like. And, on that basis, the trav­el advice was changed to indi­cate to peo­ple that they should con­tem­plate leav­ing, and also, that fam­i­ly mem­bers of diplo­mats could vol­un­tar­i­ly leave if they so chose to do.

Sep­a­rate from that, of course, is the issue of radi­a­tion. We’ve been, obvi­ous­ly, work­ing and fol­low­ing that issue very close­ly. Not just with our own advis­ers, ARPANSA, the Radi­a­tion Pro­tec­tion and Nuclear Safe­ty Organisation[sic] and the oth­er relat­ed nuclear organ­i­sa­tions that we have, but also work­ing close­ly with oth­er coun­tries and the Inter­na­tion­al Atom­ic Ener­gy Agency. 

And, in that respect, the advice con­tin­ues to be the need for localised exclu­sion zones, and for peo­ple to take care if they’re close to the actu­al facil­i­ty. And we’re mak­ing that advice also avail­able on the Depart­ment of For­eign Affairs and Trade web­site as part of a trav­el advice, and that’s being updat­ed on a six-hourly basis. But the…

KIERAN GILBERT: Did that feed into the over­all deci­sion though to advise Aus­tralians in Tokyo, for exam­ple, to-


KIERAN GILBERT: Con­sid­er leaving?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well,no. We’re list­ing the two things, or treat­ing the two things sep­a­rate­ly. We are con­tin­u­al­ly mon­i­tor­ing any adverse impli­ca­tions for safe­ty as a result of what’s occur­ring at the Fukushi­ma pow­er sta­tion and the reac­tors there. 

The advice con­tin­ues to be that we should very care­ful­ly fol­low the exclu­sion zones. There’s cur­rent­ly [break in trans­mis­sion] zone which the Japan­ese author­i­ties have advised either to remove one­self from the area or to take shel­ter. We’re fol­low­ing that, and that’s part of our trav­el advice. But we’re mon­i­tor­ing that assid­u­ous­ly. For exam­ple, overnight, the Unit­ed States Ambas­sador in Tokyo has indi­cat­ed to Unit­ed States cit­i­zens that they should con­tem­plate an 80 kilo­me­tre exclu­sion zone. And as the For­eign Min­is­ter has said this morn­ing, our offi­cials, as we speak, are giv­ing that very care­ful consideration.

So, at this stage, all of the advice we have from our own offi­cials, who are experts in the area, from the Inter­na­tion­al Atom­ic Ener­gy Agency, and from oth­er coun­tries’ advice is that so far as radi­a­tion is con­cerned, we’re deal­ing with a localised area where peo­ple need to take very seri­ous pre­cau­tions. That’s sep­a­rate from peo­ple in Tokyo, to whom we’ve said, because of dis­rup­tion, you might want to con­sid­er leaving.

The trav­el advice, of course, makes it clear that peo­ple should not trav­el to the adverse­ly affect­ed area where the reac­tors are situated.

KIERAN GILBERT: Can you talk us through the sup­port that the Defence Force has been pro­vid­ing — the Aus­tralian Defence Force has been pro­vid­ing as part of the search and res­cue efforts there?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, first­ly, we have a very close rela­tion­ship gen­er­al­ly with Japan. It’s one of our clos­est rela­tion­ships, and we have a very close defence and mil­i­tary coop­er­a­tion rela­tion­ship with them. Indeed, after the Unit­ed States, we prob­a­bly have the clos­est rela­tion­ship with Japan and it self-defence forces. We sup­plied a C‑17, a very large air­craft, and 24 hours, effec­tive­ly, after the earth­quake and tsuna­mi, we used a C‑17 to deliv­er our own emer­gency work­ers and that’s occurred. We’ve agreed with the Japan­ese author­i­ties that the C‑17 will remain in Japan for the rest of this week, at least until the end of Sun­day. And we’ve been assist­ing the Japan­ese author­i­ties in their efforts. 

Yes­ter­day, for exam­ple, we were deliv­er­ing fresh water. Today, the C‑17 will trans­port Japan­ese emer­gency work­ers, which we’ve also done in the course of our time there. So, it’s a very good thing that we’re doing.

Oth­er than the Unit­ed States, we’re the only coun­try who’s got a mil­i­tary asset in Japan and the only coun­try, oth­er than the Unit­ed States, who’s got such a large, heavy air­lift capa­bil­i­ty to assist. And we’ll con­tin­ue to do that for the rest of the week.

KIERAN GILBERT: Can I ask you about a cou­ple of oth­er issues?


KIERAN GILBERT: Now, the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty seems to have missed the oppor­tu­ni­ty to enforce a no-fly zone, as the Qaddafi forces close in on that rebel-held city of Beng­hazi. Is that a fair assess­ment of the sit­u­a­tion at the moment?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we’ve been say­ing for near­ly a month that the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil should adopt a no-fly zone res­o­lu­tion with respect to Libya. The Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil, as we speak, is cur­rent­ly seized of that issue. There’s a draft res­o­lu­tion before it and we…

KIERAN GILBERT: But it’s too late isn’t it?

STEPHEN SMITH: And we con­tin­ue to urge-


STEPHEN SMITH: We con­tin­ue to urge-

KIERAN GILBERT: Qaddafi’s forces are clos­ing in on this city.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we con­tin­ue to urge the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil to adopt such a res­o­lu­tion. We’ve believed for some time that that would be a help­ful contribution.

We were, frankly, dis­ap­point­ed that the G8 for­eign min­is­ters could­n’t reach una­nim­i­ty over the issue. But when I was in Brus­sels last week, I was very pleased that NATO defence min­is­ters essen­tial­ly said that in the face of a Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion, togeth­er with region­al sup­port from the Arab League and the African Union that NATO would take up the imple­men­ta­tion of such a no-fly zone.

What’s occur­ring in Libya is most dis­tress­ful, and we con­tin­ue to urge the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty and the Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil to adopt a no-fly zone as part of the array of mea­sures. We strong­ly sup­port the arms embar­go, we’ve applied our autonomous sanc­tions so far as finan­cial and trav­el mat­ters are con­cerned. But we believe the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty can do more.

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, just final­ly, on the issue of acqui­si­tions, I under­stand that the gov­ern­ment is mak­ing a for­mal bid for a Bay Class ves­sel to fill the capa­bil­i­ty gap in the navy, and also, anoth­er acqui­si­tion for the air force.

STEPHEN SMITH: Yeah, well, two sep­a­rate things. First­ly, today, Lon­don time, we will for­mal­ly enter a bid for the pur­chase of a large, heavy amphibi­ous lift ves­sel, a Bay Class from the Unit­ed King­dom. I’ve spo­ken about this pub­licly before. But we’ll put our for­mal bid in today to pur­chase the vessel. 

And sep­a­rate­ly, this week, the government’s also for­mal­ly decid­ed that we should acquire anoth­er C‑17 large air­craft, and we’ll do that as quick­ly as we can. And this has been — this has arisen in part because of the great util­i­ty we’ve got out of our cur­rent C‑17 fleet in dis­as­ter relief, both in Christchurch, the earth­quake recent­ly, but now as lit­er­al­ly as we speak, also in Japan, so far as the after­math of the earth­quake and tsunamis con­cerned there.

So we’re — we are very keen to pick up the Bay Class to cov­er that amphibi­ous lift capa­bil­i­ty, and the C‑17s have been a very use­ful asset for us, and get­ting anoth­er one will real­ly help us in terms of our flexibility.

So, very pleased with both of those ini­tia­tives occur­ring this week in terms of acquisitions.

KIERAN GILBERT: Min­is­ter, I appre­ci­ate your time, thank you.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much. 

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

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