Joint Press Conference with Minister for Defence Stephen Smith – Garden Island



TOPICS: Hawke Review; Growler; Shadow 200; Afghanistan; Lateline; Operation Polaris.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, thanks very much for turning up. I’m here with the Minister for Defence Materiel and Minister for Home Affairs, Jason Clare; also joined by Geoff Brown, the Chief of Air Force; joined also by Allan Hawke, former Secretary of the Department of Defence; and, given that we’re at Garden Island, or Fleet Base East, our host, of course, is Rear Admiral Tim Barrett, who of course is Commander Australian Fleet.

We’re doing three things today. Firstly, releasing Allan Hawke’s report into access by cruise ships to Fleet Base East or Garden Island. Secondly, making an announcement about the purchase of long-lead items for the Growler Electronic Warfare capability and, thirdly, announcing the early delivery of the second Shadow 200 unmanned aerial system for Afghanistan.

I’ll make some brief remarks about the access to Garden Island. I’ll then hand to Allan Hawke, the author of the report, he’ll make some remarks, and then Jason Clare and I will deal with the two capability issues and Chief of Air Force Brown will also make some remarks about Growler.

As you might recall, in June of last year, I asked Allan Hawke to do a review on the access of cruise ships to Fleet Base East or Garden Island. He delivered his report to me earlier this year and today we’re releasing that report in full.

The reason for asking Allan to do that work was because, as Minister for Defence, whilst, of course, my first priority is and has to be defence and national security priorities, where possible we also want to make sure that we can provide access to civilians to military establishments where appropriate.

And at the same time as initiating the review on cruise ship access to Garden Island, we also initiated a review of civilian access to military airfields.

And so our priority, of course, has to be national security and defence, but where appropriate accommodation and opportunity can be given to civilian access, then we are happy to do that.

Access by cruise ships to Garden Island has been an issue for a number of years. The current arrangements are to the following effect that on long-term notice – 18 months to two years – limited access can be given to Fleet Base East on an annual basis.

The effect of Allan Hawke’s report is that in the short term there appears to be limited opportunity to increase cruise ship access, or to change those arrangements. In the longer term, subject to very substantial changes potentially adopted as a result of the Force Posture Review which Allan Hawke and Rick Smith are doing, a progress report of which was published in March of this year, subject to some long-term changes, greater access may be available into the future.

That, of course, would require the Government of the day to adopt a recommendation to create a further eastern seaboard naval base and the Force Posture Review progress report talks in terms of Brisbane as being a possibility in that respect.

That is a very long-term project and that suggestion will feed into the next White Paper and, I suspect, the White Paper after that.

In the short term, Allan has made some suggestions about how cruise ship access into Sydney Harbour generally can be improved for the purposes of the transport infrastructure and tourism industry.

As a general proposition, it is the case of course that cruise ship access to Sydney and Sydney Harbour is important for Sydney’s economy. But it’s also the case that the Navy is an important economic contributor to Sydney. As well, we have in Sydney, in Fleet Base East, very substantial Navy and Defence assets, which it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine being replicated elsewhere.

That, of course, includes the substantial industrial and maintenance base and the dry dock that we find in Fleet Base East.

So, whilst I can envisage an Australia where we have other naval bases, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to envisage not having some important, substantial, long-term ongoing presence of Navy at Fleet Base East.

In the 1980s, we saw the creation effectively of HMAS Stirling, Fleet Base West, as our Indian Ocean naval port and, at the moment, for the purpose of exercises, very many of our ships are at HMAS Stirling. I can envisage into the future a further eastern seaboard naval base, but I cannot envisage a presence in Sydney without Navy.

I’ll hand over to Allan. He can go through some of the detail of his report, but from my perspective, when we put our national security and defence and Navy considerations first, whilst we are happy to accommodate the cruise ship industry on the current basis, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to envisage greater access in the short term.

The Government’s consideration of Allan’s report will require, firstly, the release of the New South Wales reports into transport and infrastructure, which are due in May, and also, the presentation which I’m expecting in the very near future of Allan Hawke and Rick Smith’s final Force Posture Review report, which will deal with the need to ensure that Navy, Air Force and Army are postured appropriately for the challenges of this century.

I’ll hand over to Allan, who’ll go through some of the detail of his report and then Jason and I and the Chief of Air Force will deal with those two capability matters that I’ve referred to.

ALLAN HAWKE: Well, thank you Minister. I only need to add just a couple of things to what the Minister said. The access on this side of the Harbour Bridge, of course, is for the big cruise ships. The New South Wales Government is already building a facility for the smaller cruise ships over at White Bay. So, what I did was to explore five options in the report, both in the short term and in the longer term, as the Minister has referred to.

The industry itself was seeking to have three berths east of the bridge and, as you know, the overseas passenger terminal, the New South Wales Government’s Sydney Ports Corporation is doing a lot of work to bring that back up to speed for the bigger cruise ships. There is already a buoy at Athol Bay over near Taronga Park Zoo and we’re saying that a dolphin could be installed there, which makes the berthing of the big cruise ships more stable.

And the third option to give three east of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is to utilise the new container facility of Hutchison at Port Botany towards the end of the place called The Knuckle, the container terminal there. It’s possible to use a part of that facility for cruise shipping. And they actually do that around the world. And the issue of using dolphins to moor the big cruise ships is also done elsewhere around the world.

So, I’ve made some recommendations in here about how you could maximise use of the overseas passenger terminal. You can load and unload there, you can [indistinct] there, you can take the ships over and moor them over near Taronga Park Zoo and then bring back, as the passengers come on board.

The costings are included in the report and I worked quite closely with New South Wales Government officials and the industry itself to collect their views about these matters before putting forward the five options that are in this report.

My expectation is that there will be further discussion between the Minister, the Commonwealth and, of course, the State Government, when they release at least two of their reports, which relate to this, in May and, of course, that involves the tourism industry, as well as Defence’s special needs. Thank you.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Allan. As I indicated, Minister Clare and I are also announcing two capability matters. Firstly, Growler, the electronic warfare capability. In 2009, the Government committed itself to spending about $35 million to ensure that 12 of the 24 Super Hornets, which we now have, were wired for Growler, to potentially take that electronic warfare capability.

Growler was used very effectively by the US Navy in the recent Libya conflict and today Minister Clare and I are announcing the expenditure of an additional nearly $20 million to purchase long-lead items to continue to make that air warfare capability available to Australia into the future.

Whether we proceed down the track to adopt and acquire the Growler capability is a very substantial and significant decision for Defence and the Government to make in the course of this year. We are keeping our options open in that respect. If we were to acquire Growler under the United States Foreign Military Sales Program, we would become the second nation after the United States to have such a capability.

So this is very much leaving open the option of Australia acquiring an effective but long-term air warfare capability. This now requires exhaustive consideration. The Government has always been attracted to this capability, which is why on two occasions in 2009 and now, for the expenditure of a modest capital sum, we have kept ourselves in the game in this respect.

We are in the process of doing that exhaustive assessment, both in terms of the capability, the cost and how it matches other competing priorities and those judgments and decisions will be made in the course of this year.

I’ve also indicated and released today an announcement with respect to the early acquisition of the second Shadow 200 unmanned aerial surveillance system for Afghanistan. I’ll let Jason make some remarks in that respect and then ask the Chief of Air Force to make some remarks about Growler.

JASON CLARE: Last week, Stephen and I made some important announcements about new equipment for the Australian Army, for Air Force and for the Australian Navy. This week, we’re making three more announcements to support the work of Army, Navy and Air Force. One of the most important parts or our job is making sure that our troops have got the equipment they need to do their job.

We’ve already delivered a lot of equipment over the last 18 months to our troops in Afghanistan. That includes new combat uniforms, new combat body armour, upgrading the protection of our Bushmasters, longer-range weapons, as well as ground-penetrating radar systems that go at ahead of patrols to X-ray the ground for IEDs and bombs that may be planted in the ground.

The next step is the implementation of the Shadow 200 UAV system. It’s now operating in Afghanistan and we have brought forward a second UAV system and that will enable our troops to train with it before they deploy to Afghanistan. It’s a $90 million system and it replaces the existing system that operates out of TK at the moment called Scan Eagle.

It flies at about 2.5 kilometres above the earth’s surface and is able to film what happens on the ground and send that information back to headquarters, up to 125 kilometres away. So, a very important system and by bringing forward by almost a year the second system, made up of five aircraft, it will allow our troops that are yet to deploy to Afghanistan, to train with this equipment and get expertise in it before they head off.

The second announcement today, as Stephen said, is the purchase of the long-lead items for the potential conversion of our Super Hornet aircraft into Growler electronic attack aircraft and we’ve allocated $19 million for that purpose. As Stephen said, there’s only one other country in the world that flies the Growler electronic attack aircraft and that’s the United States.

It proved to be very effective in Libya. It was used to suppress ground-based anti-aircraft systems and the advice we have back is that it was very effective in Libya. By purchasing these long-lead items, it sets us up to make a decision about the potential conversion of some of our Super Hornets into Growler electronic attack aircraft later this year.

GEOFF BROWN: Thanks very much Minister. Well I’m extremely pleased to be here today and I’ll just follow up on that announcement of the long-lead items for Growler. I’ve always been a passionate supporter of the electronic attack and the electronic surveillance capability and, as the Minister said, it has proven to be an extremely effective capability in the battle space, both in Afghanistan and Libya.

It was one of the first aircraft across the line in Libya and the one thing I say is it’s very much a joint capability. It lowers risk for everybody in the battle space and I’m continuing to move forward with the capability and hope that we can actually fit it within the budget space. Thanks very much.

STEPHEN SMITH: All right. We’re happy to respond to your questions.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct]

STEPHEN SMITH: It’s a US foreign military sales item. There are a small number of countries who have access to United States foreign military sales. The formal process in terms of acquiring the long-lead items is what’s described as a Letter of Request and we’ve received every indication from the United States system, including the United States Air Force, that our Letter of Request will be accepted. We have been speaking with the United States about this capability for some time. When I was most recently in the United States it was part of my discussions there.

So we’re taking this, as both Jason and I have said, essentially as a step-by-step matter.

It’s a large capability, a very effective capability. We now have kept our options open, we have to make the judgement about whether its within our capability priorities, within our Budget priorities it’s something that we’re able to move forward on.

And we’ll do that in the course of this year both within the context of review of our Defence Capability Plan but also within the Budget context, the Budget of course being in May.

So we are absolutely confident that if we determine to pick up the capability that our United States colleagues will respond positively. We’ve been working very closely with them in that respect.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct]

STEPHEN SMITH: Well we will continue to have discussions, consultation, both with the cruise industry and with the New South Wales Government. I’ve provided the New South Wales Government, both the Premier and the Deputy Premier, with the report in advance of its release.

As Allan’s report makes clear there are two further reports that we need to see to come to if you like final conclusions. Two of those are New South Wales Government reports in terms of transport and tourism and they’re expected to be received in May.

But my attitude is one of wanting to work cooperatively with the New South Wales Government and the tourism industry, particularly through the tourism industry’s peak groups, to see whether further accommodations or adjustments can be made.

On the basis of Allan’s report that appears to be unlikely in the short term in terms of access to Fleet Base East itself but Allan has made other suggestions which might help.

As I said in my introductory remarks my priority of course has to be national security and defence. But where we can make appropriate adjustments, where we can give appropriate access to civilian activity, whether that’s civilian access to air force airfields or civilian access to Fleet Base East, as we do at the moment, then we will.

But where there are, if you like, competing interests we have and I have to put the national security interests first. And as we move down the next two or three years we’ll see the arrival of two very large landing helicopter docks, over the forthcoming half dozen years three very large Air Warfare Destroyers.

You see just off this part of Fleet Base East HMNZS Canterbury, New Zealand’s heavy amphibious lift ship. It looks like HMAS Choules which we’ve just picked up but it’s about half the size. So we’ve got pressure of our own that we need to manage.

Part of that will be considered in the final Force Posture Review which I’ll receive very shortly from Allan Hawke and Rick Smith and that does require we give much greater consideration in the future than we have in the past to access to other ports, including HMAS Stirling but also ports to the north and the north east.

So we have our own management difficulties in juggling that for Navy and at the same time we’re trying to be as accommodating as we can to the tourism industry. And there is a system in place where on lengthy notice we can give approval and that’s occurred in the past and Allan’s got some recommendations to formalise that.

But we are happy to continue discussions with the industry and with the New South Wales Government to see whether further accommodation can be made. But Allan’s report is quite frank in the difficulties associated with that in the short term.

In the long term there are potentially greater access opportunities but that does require, as I said it does require the establishment of a further large navy base on the eastern seaboard. Allan’s interim progress report suggested Brisbane as a possibility, but that is such a large venture that we can’t contemplate that in the short term.

JOURNALIST: The report also acknowledges the economic benefits to Australia and the state of the cruise ship industry growing. Do you accept there’s an economic downside to saying we’ll go ahead with the status quo at the moment?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well there’s certainly an economic interest to Sydney and to New South Wales in two things. The presence of Navy in Sydney, that of itself is a substantial economic contribution and I know the New South Wales Government is very keen to seek to enhance that.

They have recently appointed the former Chief of Army Ken Gillespie as a person to assist them in seeking to enhance Navy, Defence’s role in Sydney and New South Wales per se.

So we all recognise, not just the national security contribution that Navy and Defence make to Sydney and New South Wales, but also the economic contribution that makes.

If we weren’t aware of the economic opportunities and contribution which the cruise ship industry bring to Sydney and New South Wales, then I wouldn’t have made a decision which has sought to do more for the industry than any previous Government.

In the past essentially Navy and Defence have made the decisions by themselves and they’ve been supported by successive Governments. What I wanted to do was to put out into the marketplace, an independent objective review and Allan’s review is that firstly. Secondly but it is also very frank about the practical difficulties that Navy itself faces with the growing amphibious fleet but also the difficulties we have in accommodating any more than we what we currently do.

But we have, for example, seen very large cruise ships, including the Queen Mary, come to Sydney. That process will continue. Allan’s got a recommendation to formalise that but as I said in my opening remarks I’m very happy to continue the consultative process, not just with the industry but also with the New South Wales Government.

And Allan has made a range of suggestions which, whilst they don’t directly impact on Fleet Base East, may well prove to be helpful and sensible suggestions which the industry and the New South Wales Government can adopt.

JOURNALIST: Minister, we’ve now had confirmation that the suicide bomber involved in the attack that David Savage the aid worker was caught up in was a child. What does this mean for war in the future? Are we going to have to change our strategy if this sort of thing is going to start happening particularly in Afghanistan?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, as I said yesterday, this is not the first occasion where we’ve seen evidence of children or minors being used by the Taliban in such a contemptible and reprehensible way.

It’s in breach of international law, it’s in breach of humanitarian law and Australia has a long and proud history of, successive Governments and Defence itself, arguing strongly internationally, that we have to very strongly argue against the use of children in armed conflict.

Afghanistan continues to be difficult and dangerous. We’ve known that over the last two years, as we have made up ground in Afghanistan, as we have degraded the Taliban’s capacity on the ground, that they have resorted to high profile propaganda style attacks and suicide bombings either by children or by others is one of those. So we are all too well aware of the dangers.

As I said yesterday in the normal course of events there will be an exhaustive assessment of the circumstances which led to this attack on David Savage. I’m told this morning that he’s now in Germany receiving medical attention and his condition is satisfactory, so obviously we wish him a full recovery and again express our sympathy to his family and friends.

JOURNALIST: Will this lead to changes in the way [indistinct] deal with children?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, as I said, we have been aware of this danger for some time. This is not a new experience for us. But as the Chief of the Defence Force and I have said on any number of occasions, we continually review our force protection measures in Afghanistan, whether it’s relating to this danger or other dangers. They are constantly reviewed and, as I say, in the normal course of events there will be a review of the circumstances which led to this matter.

David was provided with force protection or protection by International Security Assistance Force members, not by Australian Defence Force personnel. That’s not said in any critical way.

I made the point yesterday, I repeat it today, that we’ve been very pleased with the protection measures provided not just by our own Defence Force personnel to Australian civilians but also by the International Security Assistance Force. But there’ll be a review, anything we learn will be incorporated and adopted.

JOURNALIST: A question for perhaps either of you ministers, David Johnston’s been pushing for Australia to purchase I think it’s the Global Hawk unmanned drone [indistinct] arguing that they have a civilian capability to perhaps replace mobile phone communications in the event of a bushfire as well as military. What do you think of that?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I’m very happy to deal with that. Mr Johnston was on Lateline last night. He said three things which I think are worthy of scrutiny.

Firstly, a couple of hours after the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop said that she wanted a briefing from the Government on anything proposed for Cocos Island, and in that respect I made the situation so far as Cocos Island clear yesterday. A couple of hours after Julie Bishop said she wanted a briefing, David Johnston went on Lateline and said that we should effectively, immediately lease Cocos Island to the United States, allow the United States to establish their own base there.

This is not a sensible considered judgement about either force posture matters with the United States or a sensible judgement to make about national security issues or a sensible judgement to make about Australian territory.

This looks very much like a judgement on the run and a judgement on the run is not a good starting point for national security issues.

As I said yesterday on a number of occasions, on Cocos Island people should not get ahead of themselves. This is a matter where in due course I’ll have a conversation with my counterpart Leon Panetta about the potential for Cocos Island.

But we have three priorities which we are currently dealing through in detail. A marine force task group locating through Darwin; greater access to US planes to our airbases in the Northern Territory and in due course greater naval access to HMAS Stirling.

So the Coalition overnight deciding that Cocos Island should be leased to the United States on effectively a permanent basis to enable the United States to establish a base there is something that requires scrutiny.

Secondly, he said again that we should immediately acquire Global Hawk for the purposes of maritime surveillance. The United States is developing a Global Hawk for maritime surveillance but it is currently not yet in existence. So I don’t know that it’s a sensible thing to do to immediately purchase something which has not yet been developed.

Thirdly, he was again asked on Lateline last night about the Coalition’s commitment to the Future Submarine project, namely the building or the assembling of 12 new submarines in Australia, namely South Australia. And, again, he refused to commit the Coalition to the building of any submarines in Australia or South Australia and indeed again refused to commit himself to the notion of 12 Future Submarines.

So there are some issues there which require scrutiny so far as Senator Johnston and the Coalition is concerned on national security.

But I just make this general point. We approach these issues in a calm, methodical, exhaustive, deliberative way. These are not issues which should be dealt with on the basis of making a judgement on the run on Lateline.

JOURNALIST: Maybe this is a question for Allan Hawke.


JOURNALIST: The Minister has spelled out some of the longer term options with a view to perhaps expanding access to the cruise ship industry. Can you just summarise a couple of things you think the cruise industry could do in the short term to help them [indistinct]. Maybe you-

ALLAN HAWKE: The first one is to the refurbishment of the overseas passenger terminal and some associated work there so that they will be able to take the biggest cruise ships that exist here east of the harbour.

So the cruise ship industry are after three possible berthing options.

The second one is to put a dolphin in, a permanent mooring base for cruise ships at Athol Bay near Taronga Park Zoo.

And the third one is to utilise some unused container ship space at Botany Bay where Hutchison’s are building their new terminal.

So that meets their requirement for three berths east of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the short term.

And, as the Minister referred, there are some recommendations in here to facilitate access of cruise ships to Garden Island dockyard where that’s feasible within the constraints of Navy operations.

JOURNALIST: Are you suggesting that the cruise ships should spend a shorter time at the overseas passenger terminal to allow more to-

ALLAN HAWKE: I’ve covered that off in the report, where they could come in there and they could discharge the people who are there. They could then go and moor off at Athol Bay and then come back and pick up their passengers there.

As you know the cruise ships normally come in around breakfast time of a morning, eight o’clock and normally leave the Harbour between six and seven o’clock at night. So there’s capacity to be able to do more than one cruise ship into the overseas passenger terminal each day.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the industry’s very fixated on having access to Garden Island and have they looked at these other possibilities?

ALLAN HAWKE: I think they see that as an easy option here. But the Minister will need to consider what’s in my report against the other two reports from the New South Wales Government and what they’re prepared to do as well.

There are issues for instance relating to roads around Garden Island here that would need to be attended to by the New South Wales department. Sydney Ports Corporation will need to do some significant work to facilitate this and of course for smaller cruise ships the Government is already providing a new facility at White Bay to handle those.

They would basically be home ported ships rather than the big ones which are cruising around the region.

JOURNALIST: Why should the Queen Mary be given special status?

ALLAN HAWKE: Well it won’t need to because it will be able to dock at the overseas passenger terminal when they complete the work there. In fact when she was here recently Navy did facilitate her being able to dock alongside the fleet base here as they have done in the past.

So it’s not a question of Navy not wanting to do this, it’s a question of how you can do it within the constraints of Navy operations.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask [indistinct]

JASON CLARE: We know that criminals target police, we know criminals target customs officers. We also know that criminals target the waterfront- we’ve seen that around the world.

That’s why we set up Operation Polaris. It’s made up of the Federal Police, the Australian Crime Commission, NSW Police, the NSW Crime Commission and Customs and Border Protection. It’s made up of 47 full time officers and we’ve injected about $4.5 million of Federal money into that Task Force.

It’s already led to 10 arrests as well as the seizure of cocaine and other drugs as well as illegal tobacco. In addition to that we’ve asked the law enforcement officers that are part of Operation Polaris to give us recommendations on what further action is needed to harden security on the waterfront.

My belief is that a major overhaul of security on the waterfront is necessary. One part of that is an overhaul of the integrated cargo system. As the Chief Executive of Customs has said today – he’s involved right now in an overhaul of the integrated cargo system to make it more secure, to make it harder for criminals to get access to that system, to make it harder for people who want to misuse that system to try and use it to import drugs or to get things through the system. It needs an overhaul and he’s in the process of doing that now.

I’ve made it very clear that my priority as the Minister for Home Affairs is on organised crime, particularly on guns, and on corruption.

I’ve been in the job now for three months and I’ve commissioned work in all three areas. Over the course of the next few weeks and months I’ll be making a series of announcements in those areas, about tackling organised crime, about making it harder for criminals to get access to guns and making it easier for police through better intelligence to track down and seize guns as well as further work that’s necessary to crack down on corruption when we find it and weed it out.

STEPHEN SMITH: Right, everyone happy?

Good, thanks, thanks very much. Thank you.