Interview with Michael Rowland, ABC 24 Breakfast – Canberra – 16 November 2011



TOPICS: Force posture initiatives.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Now, to get the Australian Government’s reaction to that regional response and, also, to talk about much greater detail what that deal actually means for Australia, I’m joined now by the Defence Materiel Minister, Jason Clare. Minister, good morning, thanks for joining us.

JASON CLARE: Great to be here.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Now, we heard there from the Indonesian Foreign Minister that this deal will create, in his words, a circle of mistrust and tension. Has he got a lot to worry about?

JASON CLARE: Well, the Foreign Minister is right that trust and transparency are very important in our region. It’s the key to stability in the region. That’s one of the reasons why Australia told our neighbours about the announcement with the United States over the last few days.

The Indonesian Foreign Minister also talked about the East Asian summit. That’s critical. Getting all of the big countries of the region around the table to talk about defence and security issues is critical to transparency and making sure that that mistrust doesn’t exist.

Now, America is at that meeting this week for the first time. We’ve had APEC where you can talk about economic matters, but we haven’t had the forum where America, China, India, Russia, the big players can sit down and talk about defence and strategic issues. Things like the announcement we made yesterday. And now that’s going to happen. That’s good for trust, good for transparency.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: But you say all that, that the Indonesians were briefed ahead of this deal, that they saw this reaction and still we get comments like that. So they clearly, based on those comments – and a pretty strong word in diplomatic terms from any foreign minister, they still feel a bit threatened by what’s been announced.

JASON CLARE: I wouldn’t agree with that. I – when I hear those words with the emphasis on trust and transparency, what I’m hearing is the importance of countries of the region talking to each other, working together, telling them what they’re doing before they do it. That’s critical. That’s what the East Asia Summit is all about.

It’s got to be all of the major countries that are involved in providing security for the area by working together. And I’ll tell you why. This is the Asian century. We talk about it all the time. What the President of the United States announced yesterday, and what he’ll say in parliament today shows that he understands this and America understands it – that you will only get the economic growth that we have the potential to get in this region if you’ve got security to underpin it.

And the sort of announcement we made with the United States yesterday is a core part of helping to make sure that we have the security that will enable economic growth to occur in our region, prosperity for the countries of our region, more jobs here in Australia and more jobs in the United States.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: How much of this deal which, as I mentioned, will see up to 2500 marines based in Australia. Lots more US war ships coming into Australian ports. US planed landing at Australian RAAF bases. How much of this is a hedge against China, perhaps, hypothetically – it’s a worst case scenario – but overstepping the bounds militarily and strategically in the years ahead?

JASON CLARE: Well, everyone knows that Australia and the United States are good allies and great friends. We’re celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the alliance with the United States this year. Now, this is an expansion of what we’re already doing.

It’s often forgotten that the United States has 14,000 troops here in Australia every two years as part of a major exercise called Talisman Sabre. So, it’s expanding what we’re already doing. And I think it makes a lot of sense, that as Asia changes, as it becomes more important to the world, as it becomes more important to world economic growth, that America’s role in providing security in this area is going to change as well. As Asia becomes more important, America’s role becomes more important here, not less.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Well, under this deal, the first American boots hit the ground, I think, from July next year at the start of the Northern Territory dry season. Practically, how will it work? Will there be joint training or will the Americans, in fact, train by themselves?

JASON CLARE: Well, there’ll be a bit of both. For Australia, that’s great. It means Australian soldiers training with American Marines, it’ll give us some of the skills that we’re going to need over the course of the next few years.

We’re building big amphibious ships in Spain at the moment that our troops are going to be using over the next decade and beyond. They’ll carry 1000 Australian soldiers, as well as about 100 trucks and about 12 helicopters.

Now, operating them is different to operating your standard navy ship. It’s the difference between a car and a truck. Now, the Marines have been doing this for decades.

So, their skill, their assistance are going to help us to skill up as we become – as our army develops that amphibious capability.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: But there’ll also be scope for the marines to train by themselves with no Australian involvement.

JASON CLARE: Yeah. And look, that occurs already with the Talisman Sabre exercise that I mentioned. Americans do separate training as part of that. The Singaporean army that trains up in Queensland, we’ve got five and a half thousand Singapore soldiers that come and train here on a regular basis. They do training on their own as well. So, it’s not new. This is more regular, doing it six months of the year.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: The other big issue, of course, militarily is the war in Afghanistan. We heard the President telling reporters yesterday that Aus… that America well and truly appreciates the tremendous loss and sacrifice Australians are suffering in that war since the invasion of 2003. What do you expect to come out of this visit in terms of how that war is being fought by Australia, the United States and all the coalition partners?

JASON CLARE: Well, I think, not only have we seen it over the course of the last day here, but in statements the President and the Prime Minister have made over the course of the last year or so, that we’re in it together. And we’re working to make sure that we leave Afghanistan in a better place.

We’ve got to make sure that when we draw down out of Afghanistan, that the work we’ve done there is irreversible. What we don’t want is the Taliban being able to return to Afghanistan and create the havoc and the risk for the world that it has in the past. That’s why the work that Australia and the United States are doing in Afghanistan is so important.

As the President said yesterday, it’s work that we’ll do together and draw down together.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Jason Clare, Defence Materiel Minister, thank you very much for your time.

JASON CLARE: Thank you.