Minister For Defence - Interview With Jim Middleton, Newsline, Australia Network

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MINISTER FOR DEFENCE

STEPHEN SMITH, MP


TRANSCRIPT: 

Interview with Jim Middleton, Newsline, Australia Network

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: 12 OCTOBER 2010

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JIM MIDDLETON:

Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard has just announced that the first

parliamentary debate on the country's involvement in the war in Afghanistan will take place

next week.

The debate was one of the conditions demanded by the Greens for supporting her minority

Government. 

It will take place in the shadow of a protracted spat between Ms Gillard and Opposition

Leader Tony Abbott over recent visits to Australian forces in Afghanistan.

Australia's Defence Minister is Stephen Smith, and he's currently in Hanoi for the inaugural

meeting with counterparts from ASEAN, as well as the United States, China, India, Japan and

Russia.

Minister, welcome to the program.

STEPHEN SMITH:

My pleasure, Jim.

JIM MIDDLETON:

The parliamentary debate on Afghanistan

is

now set down by the Prime

Minister for next week. Do you worry it may have an impact on morale of Australian forces

in Afghanistan, even though it will end up endorsing Australia's involvement?

STEPHEN SMITH:

No, I think the debate is and will be a good thing.  I think an

examination of what our objectives are in Afghanistan, what we're doing there, how the

Government and the nation is supporting its troops there will be a very good thing. 

I think it

will also be educative.  It'll help people understand we're not there by ourselves,

we’re there with a 47 member International Security Assistance Force, and our mission is to

train the Afghan National Army and the Afghan police to enable them to do these things, to

take care of their own security arrangements.  

So I think it'll be a good thing, not just for our troops, but for the public.  And I think

the

overwhelming sentiment will be of support for our people in the field.

JIM MIDDLETON:

Just a point of fact, will Labor MPs be allowed a free vote or will they

have to follow the Government line?

STEPHEN SMITH:

It'll be a parliamentary debate.  The contribution that Members of

Parliament make will be a matter for them.  But the Government's position on Afghanistan is

well known.  We believe it's in our national interest to be there.  We believe it's in the

international community's interest to be there to stare down international terrorism. 

But neither the Prime Minister nor I will be trying to prescribe what individual members say. 

And, of course, there'll be contributions from Independents and Greens, and members of the

Coalition.  But the contributions that individual Members of Parliament make will be a matter

for them.

JIM MIDDLETON:

The inaugural ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting

Plus

you've been

attending in Hanoi with some very big powers in attendance, does this go part way to

Australia's desire for a comprehensive security structure to manage strategic developments in

the Asia-Pacific, notably, the rise of China?

STEPHEN SMITH:

Well, I think it's a very significant development.  The ASEAN Defence

Ministers' Meeting Plus, which we've just concluded in Hanoi, has the ASEAN 10 countries,

plus eight ASEAN dialogue partners, obviously

including Australia, but also including the

United States, Japan, China and the Republic of Korea.

It essentially mirrors at the Defence Ministers' level what the proposed expanded East Asia

Summit will do, adding the United States and Russia to the East Asia Summit.

It was a very productive and successful meeting.  We've established a number of expert

working groups including maritime security, which Australia will co-chair with Malaysia.  

But it is, I think, very significant

and it will enable, through the Defence Ministers Plus

Meeting, in addition to the East Asia Summit and the like, it will enable cooperation and

practical outcomes to occur on the peace, security and stability front.  So that's a very good

thing.

JIM MIDDLETON:

Minister, thank you very much.

STEPHEN SMITH:

Thanks Jim, thanks very much.






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