Australia/New Zealand on Rapid Response Team/Defence Ministers’ Meeting

TOPICS: Aus­tralia-New Zealand Defence Min­is­ters’ Meet­ing; Afghanistan; the Roy­al Aus­tralian Navy; HMNZS Can­ter­bury; Queens­land floods; Rapid Response Team
WAYNE MAPP: Ladies and gen­tle­men, Min­is­ter Stephen Smith and myself have had our annu­al Defence Min­is­ters’ Meet­ing. It was slight­ly delayed this year because, of course, the Aus­tralian elec­tions. We will be com­pen­sat­ing for that by hav­ing a fur­ther meet­ing lat­er this year and then one rel­a­tive­ly ear­ly in 2012 for rea­sons that are a bit obvi­ous, there will be a new Min­is­ter at that point in time.

The objec­tive today was very much to look at the dis­cus­sions with a more strate­gic approach. Both our coun­tries have recent­ly com­plet­ed White Papers. Those White Papers looked at our broad strate­gic set­ting but also they’ve been under­tak­en in a cli­mate of fis­cal con­straint and that has cer­tain­ly formed part of the dis­cus­sion today: how the mod­ern Defence forces, with the range of deploy­ments we have, oper­ate under a time of a care­ful focus on bud­get.

You may well recall that 18 months ago there was a plan put togeth­er to estab­lish a Ready Response Force. Our two Depart­ments have been work­ing on that now for some lit­tle while and that’s come togeth­er and will be stood up in March of this year.

Ini­tial­ly there will be essen­tial­ly a plan­ning group and two New Zealand offi­cers will be going to Bris­bane to be part of that. And then a lit­tle lat­er this year there’ll be the first train­ing that will come out of that, very much focused on our region.

The Ready Response Force is pri­mar­i­ly focused around human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance, dis­as­ter relief and the like and I think we all know that there’s plen­ty of prac­ti­cal exam­ples of why that should be with­in our region.

We quite clear­ly have an extreme­ly close rela­tion­ship extend­ing back real­ly more than a cen­tu­ry now. And with­in our region our two coun­tries real­ly have a lead­er­ship role and we invari­ably do that togeth­er and this was very evi­dent in both of our White Papers. And our Pacif­ic neigh­bours do look to us to be reli­able part­ners in times of need, be it around civ­il assis­tance or be it around sup­port­ing Gov­ern­ments as in the case par­tic­u­lar­ly with the Solomon Islands and Tim­or-Leste.

Of course fur­ther afield we’re involved in joint endeav­ours includ­ing in Afghanistan. And of course I should note at this point that the Aus­tralian peo­ple suf­fered a fur­ther loss with Cor­po­ral Atkin­son and that demon­strates the chal­lenges I think of bring­ing sta­bil­i­ty to that part of the world. And both of us do that because it’s in our nation­al inter­ests to do so. We need to ensure that Afghanistan can nev­er become again a safe haven for ter­ror­ists. Both of our peo­ples have suf­fered in the var­i­ous ter­ror­ist inci­dents over the last decade and so those deploy­ments do serve our nation­al inter­ests.

In Brus­sels this year there will be a fur­ther NATO-ISAF Meet­ing of Defence Min­is­ters and obvi­ous­ly one of the key issues there for dis­cus­sion will be tran­si­tion. Can I say the dis­cus­sions were, as you would expect between two nations so close, very can­did. We were able to sort of drill down and deal with the impor­tant issues that affect our Defence forces going for­ward and actu­al­ly learn from each oth­er to get more effec­tive­ness out of that. And both Mr Smith and myself do want to lift the qual­i­ty of and depth of that dis­cus­sion to a new lev­el.

And we’ve charged our Deputy Sec­re­taries to do pre­cise­ly that and they’ll be report­ing back to us in July of this year about an improved or strate­gic dia­logue and look­ing for the oppor­tu­ni­ties for a more joint approach around a whole range of things.

STEPHEN SMITH: Wayne, thank you very much first­ly to you as Defence Min­is­ter. Thank you very much for your warm wel­come and your hos­pi­tal­i­ty and also for our very pro­duc­tive meet­ing this morn­ing.

It’s my fourth vis­it to New Zealand as a Min­is­ter in the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment; my first as Defence Min­is­ter.

In gen­er­al terms, Aus­tralia has a com­pre­hen­sive and close rela­tion­ship with New Zealand. Indeed it is our most com­pre­hen­sive rela­tion­ship and our clos­est rela­tion­ship. That’s reflect­ed by the fact that we have so many shared val­ues and virtues and the dis­tance between us is quite small, sep­a­rat­ed only by the Tas­man Sea.

Our defence rela­tion­ship helps make up that com­pre­hen­sive and close rela­tion­ship and the defence, mil­i­tary, strate­gic and secu­ri­ty coop­er­a­tion between Aus­tralia and New Zealand is very, very firm. But both the Min­is­ter and I believe that we can take that to a new lev­el in two respects: in terms of our strate­gic con­ver­sa­tions, but sec­ond­ly in terms of the prac­ti­cal things that we do.

Aus­tralia and New Zealand, of course, are very impor­tant nations in the Pacif­ic. And one of our long­stand­ing pri­or­i­ties has been to ensure that togeth­er we have the capa­bil­i­ty and the capac­i­ty to main­tain sta­bil­i­ty and secu­ri­ty in the Pacif­ic and to deliv­er human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and dis­as­ter relief when required. And there are very many exam­ples of our shared efforts and our shared expe­ri­ences in that respect. And the Min­is­ter has referred to our joint con­tri­bu­tions in East Tim­or, our con­tri­bu­tion in the Solomon Islands and the dis­as­ter relief and human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance which we have deliv­ered joint­ly through­out our region. But we believe we can do more.

We, of course, and it’s not just Aus­tralia and New Zealand, it’s the Unit­ed States, the Unit­ed King­dom, Cana­da, these com­pa­ra­ble coun­tries, com­pa­ra­ble Defence and mil­i­tary forces. We live in the mod­ern era where there are fis­cal con­straints, where domes­tic con­stituen­cies, quite right­ly, require and demand val­ue for mon­ey and where we have to ensure that we max­imise the eco­nom­ic effi­cien­cy of defence capa­bil­i­ty.

And that’s one of the rea­sons we believe that we can work even more close­ly togeth­er on capa­bil­i­ty and, as Wayne has indi­cat­ed, we have charged our Depart­men­tal Sec­re­taries with the job of ensur­ing that into the future, not just on day to day oper­a­tional mat­ters but look­ing even fur­ther afield, we are dis­cussing and think­ing about inter­op­er­abil­i­ty, about joint pro­cure­ment, about joint capa­bil­i­ty, and the like.

In that con­text, can I say that I’m very pleased that we have made sub­stan­tial progress on our so-called Rapid Response Force. This is a very impor­tant plan­ning tool. I’m also very pleased, as the detail of our joint media state­ment indi­cates, that one of the ear­ly pri­or­i­ties we are giv­ing to the Rapid Response Team is the use of the Can­ter­bury for poten­tial train­ing and exer­cis­es on the deliv­ery of human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and dis­as­ter relief.

This is very impor­tant for Aus­tralia in the long term because it con­tin­ues to meet our joint oblig­a­tion to play a lead­ing role. That is, I’ve made clear in Aus­tralia in recent times we have chal­lenges on the amphibi­ous front, and being able to work very close­ly with New Zealand in terms of poten­tial joint exer­cis­es, joint use, joint plan­ning of the Can­ter­bury is a very sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ment and ben­e­fit so far as Aus­tralia is con­cerned. So that’s been a most impor­tant devel­op­ment so far as the day’s meet­ing has been con­cerned. But more gen­er­al­ly we are look­ing at what we can do in terms of coop­er­a­tion on air­lift capa­bil­i­ty, capac­i­ty, and the like.

In addi­tion to our own region we, of course, work close­ly togeth­er fur­ther afield. And Wayne has referred to the fact that we are both in Afghanistan to help stare down inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism. Can I thank you for the con­do­lences that you have expressed on the loss of our twen­ty-sec­ond sol­dier in the course of the Afghanistan con­tri­bu­tions last week. And today we will see, in Dar­win, the ramp cer­e­mo­ny for the return of Cor­po­ral Atkin­son to Aus­tralia. I thank Wayne for the mes­sages of con­do­lences. They’ll be much appre­ci­at­ed by the fam­i­ly, meet­ing as we do in the con­text of ANZAC Defence Min­is­ters Meet­ing.

More gen­er­al­ly, can I say that I regard our meet­ing on defence mat­ters as impor­tant in its own right, but also an impor­tant pre­cur­sor to the Prime Minister’s vis­it next week. Every­one appre­ci­ates the com­pre­hen­sive nature of the peo­ple-to-peo­ple exchanges between Aus­tralia and New Zealand, the eco­nom­ic and trade exchanges, the fact that we have the most suc­cess­ful Free Trade Agree­ment that the world has seen for a sub­stan­tial peri­od of time, over a quar­ter of a cen­tu­ry, and the trade and com­merce and peo­ple move­ment inte­gra­tion con­tin­ues. Every­one sees that and that is an unam­bigu­ous­ly good thing to con­tin­ue.

Not enough peo­ple see the strength of what we do in the secu­ri­ty, strate­gic, defence coop­er­a­tion space. We have an oblig­a­tion as nations in our region to per­form that role in our region, and I’m very pleased that next week we’ll see the Prime Minister’s first vis­it to New Zealand but also see the his­toric address by an Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter in and to your Par­lia­ment. I know the Prime Min­is­ter is very much look­ing for­ward both to her vis­it and to that great hon­our. Thank you.

QUESTION: Min­is­ters, what do you make of Hamid Karzai’s com­ments overnight about troops’ role of PRTs?

WAYNE MAPP: I think that sits with­in the con­text, real­ly, of all the dis­cus­sion around tran­si­tion. And that is going to be a key part of the dis­cus­sion. So I think he was reflect­ing the desire by Afghanistan to pro­gres­sive­ly take respon­si­bil­i­ty for its own secu­ri­ty. Obvi­ous­ly it’s in the inter­est, actu­al­ly, of the NATO-ISAF part­ners, of which there are 52, to see that process occur.

I guess it’s fun­da­men­tal­ly a ques­tion about tim­ing and pace and the actu­al con­di­tions on the ground. But cer­tain­ly, when­ev­er I’ve been to Afghanistan and to the NATO ISAF Meet­ings, invari­ably the Min­is­ter of Defence of Afghanistan is of high praise of the rolling out of Provin­cial Recon­struc­tion Teams. But both Afghanistan and indeed we are look­ing for­ward to a pro­gres­sive trans­fer of respon­si­bil­i­ty in the Bamiyan Province.

QUESTION: But do they under­mine the role of local author­i­ties, as he is say­ing?

WAYNE MAPP: Well, no, I don’t believe they do. They actu­al­ly pro­vide capac­i­ty build­ing. If we didn’t have the Provin­cial Recon­struc­tion Team in the Bamiyan Province, it would be very dif­fi­cult to build the lev­el of gov­ern­men­tal author­i­ty that the Afghanistan Gov­ern­ment has in Bamiyan Province.

And as I say, when­ev­er I’ve been there, Gov­er­nor Sara­bi is full of praise and they’re always look­ing at improv­ing the rela­tion­ship. Since I became Min­is­ter and work­ing close­ly with Min­is­ter McCul­ly, we are shift­ing focus of our total effort to work­ing more in part­ner­ship with the Gov­ern­ment of Afghanistan.

So the state­ments made, I think, can be seen real­ly in the con­text of being a pre­cur­sor to the dis­cus­sions that are going to take place in Brus­sels.

QUESTION: Do you think he’s just say­ing it because he’s got a domes­tic audi­ence or con­stituen­cy over there, and he says some­thing dif­fer­ent, of course, to all the oth­er part­ners that are over there work­ing along­side Afghan forces?

WAYNE MAPP: As I say, every­one knows that there’s dis­cus­sion about tran­si­tion. You can obvi­ous­ly talk about that in dif­fer­ent ways and dif­fer­ent con­texts. But I think the over­all direc­tion is actu­al­ly com­mon­ly held.

QUESTION: The Prime Min­is­ter indi­cat­ed late last year that you were going to start review­ing the phase out of the PRT. What’s your best guess now of when you will [indis­tinct] Bamiyan?

WAYNE MAPP: I’ve always said it’s a 2013, maybe 2014 process. The over­all mis­sion in Afghanistan real­ly does fit with­in that time­frame and we would [indis­tinct] in a sit­u­a­tion where we’re going to ful­ly trans­fer the secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty because that’s the key role actu­al­ly of the PRT with­in Bamiyan, with­in that time­frame.

Now you have to pro­gres­sive­ly achieve that. You can’t be at one lev­el on one day and drop to zero the next. You have to pro­gres­sive­ly step down. It was always going to be based on con­di­tions on the ground.

But we are cer­tain­ly look­ing for­ward to the dis­cus­sion around tran­si­tion because most of Bamiyan, though not all of it, most of it has been rea­son­ably sta­ble. But of course we do know, and the death of Lieu­tenant Tim O’Donnell cer­tain­ly under­scores the point, that there’s parts of it that have still got risks, which we need to address.

QUESTION: Do you think Pres­i­dent Karzai’s going to ask you to with­draw ear­li­er than 2013?

WAYNE MAPP: Well, it will be a joint dis­cus­sion that we have in Brus­sels, and [indis­tinct] around the tran­si­tion.

QUESTION: Min­is­ter Smith, would you like to see more New Zealand per­son­nel at Uruz­gan?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, let me make some remarks about PRTs and tran­si­tion and then I’ll respond to that.

First­ly, nei­ther Aus­tralia nor New Zealand want to be in Afghanistan for­ev­er. And nei­ther does the Afghan Gov­ern­ment, the Afghan peo­ple or the Afghan nation want the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty to be in Afghanistan for­ev­er, which is why we’ve all com­mit­ted our­selves to a tran­si­tion process pred­i­cat­ed on giv­ing the Afghan Secu­ri­ty Forces and the Afghan nation the capac­i­ty to man­age and lead its own secu­ri­ty arrange­ments. That is why, for exam­ple, in Uruz­gan Province, our key focus and our key mis­sion is to train the 4th Brigade of the Afghan Nation­al Army and put them in a posi­tion to man­age secu­ri­ty affairs in Uruz­gan.

So I read Pres­i­dent Karzai’s state­ment as reflect­ing the desire of the Pres­i­dent and his Gov­ern­ment to effect that tran­si­tion process. That tran­si­tion process can only be con­di­tions-based.

In our case, we believe we are on track to effect our train­ing role in Uruz­gan Province over the next one to three years; in oth­er words, to meet the timetable estab­lished as the ambi­tion by the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, by the Kab­ul Con­fer­ence and also at the NATO Sum­mit in Lis­bon, which Prime Min­is­ter Gillard and I attend­ed. So the focus on tran­si­tion is very impor­tant and we believe we’re mak­ing progress on that front.

But also we have said that once that train­ing role has fin­ished, we do envis­age in the longer term the capac­i­ty for Aus­tralia to be there in a dif­fer­ent man­ner or form, poten­tial­ly an over-watch role or pos­si­bly spe­cial forces, but also most impor­tant­ly, the notion of capac­i­ty build­ing, civil­ian capac­i­ty build­ing and long term devel­op­ment assis­tance.

In terms of New Zealand and its con­tri­bu­tion to the Afghanistan effort, like Aus­tralia, New Zealand believes that it’s in New Zealand’s nation­al inter­est and in the inter­na­tion­al community’s inter­est to make a con­tri­bu­tion to star­ing down inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism. The sub­stan­tial New Zealand con­tri­bu­tion of course is either in Bamiyan Province or in Kab­ul. There is a pres­ence of nine or 10 New Zealan­ders in Uruz­gan and we work very close­ly with them and we appre­ci­ate that very much.

The allo­ca­tion of New Zealand forces is, of course, entire­ly a mat­ter for New Zealand. But we are very pleased with the effort that New Zealand puts in, not just through its offi­cers, its high qual­i­ty offi­cers in Uruz­gan, but also gen­er­al­ly. And it is yet anoth­er exam­ple of the ANZAC forces joint­ly mak­ing a con­tri­bu­tion to a dif­fi­cult inter­na­tion­al mis­sion.

QUESTION: You’ve lost 22 sol­diers. We have lost one. Is it fair to say that we are doing an equal amount as Aus­tralia?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, any loss of any sol­dier is a blow to a nation and a tragedy to the fam­i­ly con­cerned, so this is not some­thing that can be judged in quan­ti­ta­tive terms. We’re deeply remorse­ful when you lost your sol­dier in Bamiyan Province, just as you’ve seen the Min­is­ter express pub­licly what he expressed to me pri­vate­ly at the time and today about New Zealand’s remorse at the loss to Aus­tralia.

Aus­tralia, of course, is a larg­er coun­try than New Zealand. We make a con­tri­bu­tion which we believe is appro­pri­ate to the role that Aus­tralia plays in the world. We are in the top dozen economies; we are in the top 12 coun­tries in terms of pros­per­i­ty, income per capi­ta; we’re in the top dozen in terms of defence and peace­keep­ing spend. And we regard our­selves as hav­ing an oblig­a­tion not just to our region but to be a good inter­na­tion­al cit­i­zen. And we believe our con­tri­bu­tion in Afghanistan reflects the size and the nature of our coun­try. Our pop­u­la­tion is con­sid­er­ably larg­er than New Zealand’s.

It is not for us to make a com­ment about New Zealand’s con­tri­bu­tion oth­er than to say we regard New Zealand’s con­tri­bu­tion as impor­tant, as appro­pri­ate, and we would be the sad­der and the poor­er if it were not there. And that con­tri­bu­tion has been at some cost to New Zealand.

QUESTION: Min­is­ter Smith, just on the shar­ing of the Can­ter­bury, does that mean that Aus­tralia is now not going to be look­ing to lease amphibi­ous ves­sels to tide it over while the decom­mis­sion­ing…

STEPHEN SMITH: It’s a very good ques­tion. It enables me to make some more gen­er­al remarks about the Navy and the use of Aus­tralian ships because there’s some com­men­tary back in Aus­tralia that I’ll refer to.

Peo­ple need to under­stand when it comes to a mod­ern Navy, whether it be Australia’s Navy or any­one else’s Navy, that your start­ing point can­not be that every ship you have is in the water at the same time. So it is start­ing from a fun­da­men­tal­ly false premise if you pro­ceed on the basis that every ship in your fleet has to be in the water at the same time. Some ships are on oper­a­tion, some ships are under­go­ing main­te­nance, some ships are being used for train­ing pur­pos­es and some ships are under­go­ing nec­es­sary upgrades of com­bat sys­tems, and the like. That’s the first point.

Sec­ond­ly, in terms of the Aus­tralian Navy, the Chief of the Navy advis­es me that over the last 12 months, all of the assigned task­ing that the Aus­tralian Navy has been asked to do, it has done, at the same time, it has car­ried out all of its inter­na­tion­al and domes­tic train­ing exer­cis­es and oblig­a­tions. So I make that point to put the chal­lenges that the Navy has into a prop­er con­text.

So far as our amphibi­ous lift fleet is con­cerned, I’ve made it clear in recent times that we have a con­sid­er­able chal­lenge in that area. And it’s not the only area where Navy and the Defence Force has a chal­lenge. We have a con­sid­er­able chal­lenge in terms of main­tain­ing oper­abil­i­ty of our sub­marines. That issue is well-known and of long­stand­ing.

We have con­sid­er­able chal­lenges where I believe we are mak­ing, under the Chief of Navy, real progress in train­ing and man­ning.

In terms of our amphibi­ous fleet, we are mov­ing, tran­si­tion­ing to Land­ing Heli­copter Docks which are being effec­tive­ly built in Spain and assem­bled in Aus­tralia.

And we expect to have that capac­i­ty, two of those up and run­ning, essen­tial­ly on a timetable 2014 to 2016. So we have to tran­si­tion to that. And we’ve known in recent times, with advice to me in Jan­u­ary of this year to decom­mis­sion the Manoo­ra, advice to me that the Kan­im­bla would be out of oper­a­tion until the mid­dle of next year, and Tobruk being on 48 hour oper­a­tional notice and sub­se­quent­ly going into main­te­nance to enable it to be ful­ly pre­pared for North Queens­land cyclone work if it was required, which in the event it wasn’t. We’ve known for some time that there were chal­lenges in our capa­bil­i­ty capac­i­ty in the amphibi­ous fleet area. That’s why we’re doing three things. First­ly, I’ve asked Defence to give me com­pre­hen­sive advice as to what more we need to do to ensure that we meet that tran­si­tion. Sec­ond­ly, I’ve raised with Defence Sec­re­tary Fox the ques­tion or the issue of leas­ing a Bay Class, which we are pur­su­ing with vigour. And, third­ly, which stands inde­pen­dent­ly from our joint pro­pos­al or our joint under­stand­ing on the Can­ter­bury, being able to utilise the Can­ter­bury joint­ly, if I can use that expres­sion, for region­al dis­as­ter relief and human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance is a very good thing for Aus­tralia and New Zealand to do. It makes sense strate­gi­cal­ly for the long term, just as coop­er­a­tion on air­lift makes sense. But in the short term, that also pro­vides the poten­tial for a sub­stan­tial fil­lip to Australia’s capac­i­ty where I have made clear we have chal­lenges and we need to be very care­ful to make sure we meet the nec­es­sary capa­bil­i­ty into the future.

So the pro­pos­al in respect to the rapid response force and the Can­ter­bury stands alone. It’s a sen­si­ble thing to do as an exam­ple of enhanced inter­op­er­abil­i­ty and coop­er­a­tion, but in the short­er term it pro­vides a very sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to Australia’s amphibi­ous lift poten­tial, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the con­text of joint dis­as­ter relief in our region.

QUESTION: And just on the issue then of capa­bil­i­ty of boats, obvi­ous­ly, Dr Mapp, there have been prob­lems with the off­shore patrol ves­sels. I’m won­der­ing — you’ve asked for a review into the prob­lems faced by the Ota­go and the Welling­ton. Have you received any response from that and, sim­i­lar­ly, how con­fi­dent are you of get­ting any boats built by Tenix in Williamstown ever again?

WAYNE MAPP: Well, let’s deal with the Welling­ton and Ota­go sit­u­a­tion. That issue’s essen­tial­ly been resolved now and those ves­sels are, well, about to go down to the South­ern Antarc­tic area for a full test­ing of its sys­tems. The Navy is very con­fi­dent that the issues, which were actu­al­ly rel­a­tive­ly minor as it turned out, have in fact been sat­is­fac­to­ri­ly resolved.

I think the broad­er issue around the Can­ter­bury, as you know, had some issues itself, and the effec­tive­ness of it as between New Zealand and Aus­tralia demon­strates that in some areas we’re often down, sort of, you know, one, two, three plat­forms and that things are not quite right. Even joint­ly these issues rep­re­sent some chal­lenges.

It’s one of the rea­sons why we’ve asked our Sec­re­taries to look more care­ful­ly at this con­tin­gent sort of capa­bil­i­ty man­age­ment issue, because in many cas­es, even the com­bined effort of the two coun­tries still means you’re down sort two, three, four ships in that regard.

So it makes sense to sort of step back a bit and think, so what is actu­al­ly required in our region. And you only have to look over the last 12 months or so, that there is a sort of increased tem­po of nat­ur­al dis­as­ters in the region. And we can’t assume that will decline and so there’s a real focus on doing this sort of thing more effec­tive­ly. The Ready Response Force start­ed off with a bit of think­ing around the secu­ri­ty dimen­sion, shift­ed pret­ty quick­ly on to more around human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance, dis­as­ter relief dimen­sion as being sort of a prac­ti­cal focus. Our White Paper and indeed the Aus­tralian White Paper puts it in this sort of con­text.

With­in our region, New Zealand and Aus­tralia togeth­er, basi­cal­ly have to lead on every fore­see­able con­tin­gency. And because the rest of the world expects us to do so and our Pacif­ic Island part­ners also expect it, they want to be able to see us as reli­able part­ners able to pro­vide the sup­port that they them­selves can­not.

And so we have a respon­si­bil­i­ty both to our­selves and to the wider region to be able to do that. And we need to take a more strate­gic look at the capa­bil­i­ties and cer­tain­ly look at our own Defence Force. And I can cer­tain­ly see this evolv­ing also in Aus­tralia as well and through the White Paper, a sense that you have a range of capa­bil­i­ties that might lean more towards the human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance, dis­as­ter relief logis­tics, and that that is a core task of any Defence force in the mod­ern era. And then sort of anoth­er capa­bil­i­ty lev­el beyond that, but often prob­a­bly more focused out­side of the region, although hav­ing said that Tim­or Leste and the Solomons both have sig­nif­i­cant secu­ri­ty dimen­sions as well. So, the Can­ter­bury issues I think are sort of a lit­tle bit of a micro­cosm of think­ing for­ward on how best to pro­vide essen­tial capa­bil­i­ties with­in the region and the need to actu­al­ly work more close­ly to be able to do that.

QUESTION: Aside from the [indis­tinct] that are going to Bris­bane in March, will a group of New Zealand troops be based in Bris­bane as part of that Ready Response Force?

WAYNE MAPP: It’s not the cur­rent inten­tion. It’s more of a plan­ning capac­i­ty and the abil­i­ty to ensure that peo­ple are [indis­tinct] train­ing is an inher­ent part of that. It’s not dif­fi­cult to shift peo­ple both ways across the Tas­man for that pur­pose and to actu­al­ly live in each other’s coun­tries. But cer­tain­ly you’ve got to have a force work­ing close­ly togeth­er on a whole-time basis.

QUESTION: Mr Mapp, how many New Zealand per­son­nel even­tu­al­ly went to Queens­land to help out with the flood and cyclone?

WAYNE MAPP: Well, it wasn’t actu­al­ly ulti­mate­ly required. But what it illus­trates is that both of our coun­tries actu­al­ly expect each oth­er when times are tough to make the offer. Now cir­cum­stances will dic­tate whether the offer needs to be accept­ed, but the offer is expect­ed. We would expect it of Aus­tralia and we were extreme­ly grate­ful for their assis­tance over the Pike Riv­er and trans­porta­tion of the GAG machine and so forth.

And Aus­tralia would antic­i­pate that we would pro­vide that assis­tance and of course we would mutu­al­ly do it as neigh­bours. As I say, how it actu­al­ly plays out might be dif­fer­ent. The key thing actu­al­ly is being in a posi­tion to make the offer when it’s nec­es­sary.

STEPHEN SMITH: Can I just add to that. First­ly, when Wayne rang me in the very ear­ly days offer­ing what­ev­er assis­tance New Zealand could pro­vide in terms of Defence force per­son­nel, I was very grate­ful for that.

We were able to make that judge­ment quite quick­ly that we had suf­fi­cient resources in terms of per­son­nel and also assets to man­age what effec­tive­ly has been the largest Defence force per­son­nel deploy­ment for a nat­ur­al or civ­il dis­as­ter since Cyclone Tra­cy back in the 1970s. But it would be wrong of me to allow the impres­sion to be cre­at­ed that New Zealand has not or did not make a con­tri­bu­tion to our nat­ur­al dis­as­ters.

We were very appre­cia­tive of the fact that first cab off the rank in terms of inter­na­tion­al assis­tance was 13 or 15 Emer­gency Man­age­ment Author­i­ty work­ers from New Zealand who went to Queens­land, not to Bris­bane nor to Ipswich but to Con­damine, one of the small­er towns, which had been very severe­ly hit by the flood and by the flash storms, and per­formed a very sig­nif­i­cant task and role in terms of help­ing that com­mu­ni­ty. And New Zealand, of course, has also made a sub­stan­tial mon­e­tary con­tri­bu­tion to the Premier’s Appeal.

But we are both pros­per­ous and well-devel­oped coun­tries. And when these nat­ur­al dis­as­ters occur, gen­er­al­ly we are in a posi­tion to man­age these things by our­selves. We very much appre­ci­ate the offer, we very much appre­ci­ate the assis­tance and often the assis­tance is spe­cialised or niche tasks.

Because we are also a great min­er­als and petro­le­um pro­duc­ing coun­try, the entire Aus­tralian com­mu­ni­ty was deeply sad­dened to see the recent mine dis­as­ter that you had. We were also very pleased, and I was per­son­al­ly very pleased to be able to use a Roy­al Aus­tralian Air Force C-130 to trans­port a robot that was believed to pro­vide some use­ful effort so far as the res­cue was con­cerned.

So it is not as if we don’t do things to help each oth­er. But as Wayne has said, we’re such good friends that the impor­tant thing is the offer. Invari­ably it’s the case that we have suf­fi­cient resources of our own to man­age. But what that coop­er­a­tion and friend­ship does, as Wayne has cor­rect­ly drawn atten­tion to, is that when a dis­as­ter occurs in our region we work hand in glove. We’re both prac­ti­cal nations and prac­ti­cal peo­ple, so when a tsuna­mi or a cyclone occurs in our region, to date his­tor­i­cal­ly there’s been very quick and close coop­er­a­tion which is: here’s the prob­lem, we can deliv­er this, you can deliv­er that, let’s get togeth­er and do it. And that’s a very good thing. What we need to do is just to put a bit more longer term plan­ning into that and put some bet­ter longer term struc­tures in place. And that is, if you like, the essence of the Rapid Response Team. They will form the basis for the plan, but as Wayne has said, it won’t nec­es­sar­i­ly mean that per­son­nel are spend­ing long peri­ods of time either in Aus­tralia or New Zealand as the case may be.

QUESTION: How large do you see that force being?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it would depend again, the force which is deployed, the rapid response will depend upon what’s required at the time. It will be a dif­fer­ent com­po­si­tion for dif­fer­ent dis­as­ters or dif­fer­ent human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance.

QUESTION: Will there be a core though? How big will that core of that force be?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, as Wayne has said, gen­er­al­ly it’s the case that we have suf­fi­cient either amphibi­ous lift or air­lift to do the imme­di­ate dis­as­ter relief and human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance. What we add to that invari­ably requires an inspec­tion of the dam­age and then to look at what spe­cial­ist or niche or skilled areas are required. So it will vary from time to time. But the key thing is we think this puts us in a posi­tion to respond bet­ter and more quick­ly on a bet­ter long term plan basis. QUESTION: Just go back to that ques­tion on Hamid Karzai, are his com­ments unhelp­ful?

WAYNE MAPP: Well, I mean, he is rep­re­sent­ing the con­cerns the Afghan peo­ple nat­u­ral­ly have. They ulti­mate­ly want to be able to be in charge of our coun­try. That’s their coun­try. That of course is also the intent of the NATO-ISAF part­ners. I wasn’t sur­prised because it puts into a con­text of actu­al­ly dis­cus­sions on tran­si­tion. That is actu­al­ly going to be the lead top­ic in the Defence Min­is­ters’ Meet­ing in Brus­sels.

QUESTION: But you reject that claim that we’re not mak­ing progress.

WAYNE MAPP: I believe we are mak­ing progress. In fact every report that I get shows that progress has been made and I see it when I go there. There’s a tan­gi­ble dif­fer­ence in the place, each vis­it that I make you can see real progress. You can see a greater lev­el of infra­struc­ture capac­i­ty, you see peo­ple — more kids at school, more health [indis­tinct]. And you actu­al­ly also see — and this is prob­a­bly the crit­i­cal part — an increased capa­bil­i­ty with­in the Afghan Government’s arrange­ments. You can see obvi­ous improve­ments over time. Now you can sort of project that out for­ward and that’s why peo­ple say 2013, 2014 looks like you’ve essen­tial­ly [indis­tinct] task and the capac­i­ty of Afghanistan Gov­ern­ment has got to a point where they essen­tial­ly take prime respon­si­bil­i­ty.

STEPHEN SMITH: The tran­si­tion also will vary from province to province, indeed from dis­trict to dis­trict. So in Uruz­gan, for exam­ple, we are not expect­ing or pro­ceed­ing on the basis that Uruz­gan will be in a posi­tion to effect a tran­si­tion in the short term, which is why we’re still work­ing on what we describe as essen­tial­ly a one to three year timetable, meet­ing the inter­na­tion­al community’s aspi­ra­tion of 2014.

But we believe that progress has been. For exam­ple, at the most recent par­lia­men­tary elec­tion in Uruz­gan Province, the Afghan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces had lead respon­si­bil­i­ty for secu­ri­ty of the elec­tion on the day, planned the secu­ri­ty arrange­ments and led them on the day. There was no need for Aus­tralian or any of the oth­er Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force part­ners in Uruz­gan to move in to ren­der any assis­tance. And that was, we believe, if you like, an anec­do­tal expres­sion of mak­ing progress in terms of secu­ri­ty capac­i­ty, because we know the Tal­iban sought to active­ly dis­rupt the elec­tion process. So that was, in our view, a good sign.

We also believe that progress is being made. The key thing is hav­ing made progress, to con­sol­i­date the ground, which is why a mis­take we don’t want to make is to tran­si­tion too ear­ly.

But the expres­sions that we’ve seen from Pres­i­dent Karzai, and we’ve seen any num­ber of expres­sions from Pres­i­dent Karzai since his re-elec­tion last year, have all had the same fun­da­men­tal start­ing point, which is he wants his Gov­ern­ment, his peo­ple, his nation, to man­age the affairs of his nation. That seems to me to be a quite rea­son­able aspi­ra­tion. The Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force is in Afghanistan at the invi­ta­tion of the Afghan Gov­ern­ment are also impor­tant­ly has been sup­port­ed by a unan­i­mous Unit­ed Nations man­date from day one.

But we don’t want to be there for­ev­er, we can’t be there for­ev­er. But we think we’re on track to tran­si­tion in accor­dance with the timetable that the Lis­bon Con­fer­ence has set out. But it will vary from province to province. The tran­si­tion in Bamiyan Province will occur at a dif­fer­ent time to the tran­si­tion in Uruz­gan Province.

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

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low GlobalDefence.net on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter