TOPICS: Avalon International Air Show; Possible acquisition of a C-17 aircraft; China; Carbon price framework
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, thanks very much for turning up. I'm very pleased to be here at the opening of the Avalon Air Show, together with the Minister for Defence Materiel, Jason Clare, and also pleased to be joined by the Chief of Air Force, Mark Binskin.
Firstly, the Avalon Air Show is a great thing for Avalon. It's a great thing for
Of course, in the course of its grand 90-year history, we've seen the Defence Force take part in all combat activity that
But the Air Force has discharged the two great obligations of Australian Defence Force personnel. Firstly, combat and military obligations; and secondly, humanitarian and disaster relief. And we've seen that, unfortunately and regrettably, very much in the course of the first part of this year. Whether it's been floods in Brisbane or Ipswich, whether it's been floods in the Lockyer Valley, or whether it's been cyclones in North Queensland, or terribly, most recently, the tragic earthquake in Christchurch, we've seen Air Force effectively come to the rescue with heavy airlift capability - C-130s and C-17s doing great work removing people, for example, from the Cairns hospital and private hospital, and also getting emergency search and rescue workers to Christchurch in less than 24 hours. So, great work.
As a result of the work that we've been doing this year, it's caused us to also have a look at the make-up of our heavy airlift. We currently have, as you might know, 24 C-130s, both the H and J varieties, and four C-17s. I've announced overnight that we've approached the
The C-17s, of course, are very heavy cargo lift, can fly much longer distances than the C-130s. For example, the C-17 you see behind us could effectively take half a dozen Bushmasters or a half a dozen ambulances.
So we've indicated to the
Our current defence capability plan would see us contemplate buying two more C-130s in the middle of this decade. If we pick up the C-17 in the way in which I've outlined, then it's almost certainly the case that we wouldn't see the need for those C-130s. So I've made that announcement overnight.
I'd like to ask Jason to make a few remarks and then we're happy to respond to your questions.
JASON CLARE: Thanks Stephen. It's great to be here at the Avalon Air Show, the biggest air show in
Over the next six days, almost 200,000 people will visit the Air Show, and there's more than 100 aircraft on display, including the Australian Super Hornet and the American F-22 Raptor. It's going to mean more than $120 million of investment in the local economy. So it's great news for Avalon, great news for
It's also the perfect place to announce our intention to purchase a C-17 aircraft. The C-17s are one of the great work horses of the ADF, and as the Minister has mentioned, we've seen them on active duty during the floods, during the recent cyclone and in
It was the capability of the C-17 that allowed us to evacuate the entire
The C-17 also gives us global reach. It gives us the capacity to deploy overseas. So this is an important decision, it gives us global reach. It extends our global reach and our capability to deploy overseas, and extends our humanitarian support capability, both here in
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Jason.
QUESTION: Minister Smith, how much would this cost and when would it be available?
STEPHEN SMITH: We've indicated to the
We're effectively doing the due diligence on availability, price and the like, so I'm not proposing to be definitive about an actual cost or price. It's on the public record that when we purchased our four current C-17s they cost us in the order of $2 billion, so you're talking hundreds of millions of dollars. But we think it's value for effort, value for money and it calibrates better, we think, the mix of our airlift and the capability, as Jason and I have both said, a capacity for much longer distances than the C-130s and capacity also to do large tasks very quickly, as illustrated both in Cyclone Yasi and in Christchurch recently.
QUESTION: Minister, has this decision in any way been bought forward by the lack of Navy amphibious capabilities?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, the two are unrelated. We're very conscious of the challenges that we've got in our Navy amphibious lift, and we've had difficulties there in recent times as you would know. But there we've got two priorities. The first one is to make sure that the gap which has emerged is filled so we have a capability that's appropriate in the run up to the arrival of the LHDs, Landing Helicopter Docks, which will come from Spain and be up and running by the middle of this decade, 2015-2016. I'm in conversation with my UK counterpart, Defence Secretary Liam Fox about the possibility of leasing or purchasing of A-class from the British, and also recently when I was in New Zealand had very good discussions with Wayne Mapp, the Defence Minister from New Zealand, about closer cooperation on the use in the region of their amphibious lift ship, the HMNZS Canterbury.
In addition to that we are looking at further options. All options are effectively on the table so far as amphibious lift is concerned and I hope in the near future to be in a position to make some announcements about that. But we treat the two separately. We haven't had comparable challenges in our air capability. And we're making the adjustment today in light of experience we've had in the efforts we've put forward this year, in the face of disasters both onshore and offshore, that picking up another C-17 is the perfect match for our airlift capability.
QUESTION: What was the thing that convinced you that it was needed?
STEPHEN SMITH: Its capacity. It has much greater capacity than the C-130s, and its capacity to go further distances. We are a leading nation in the Asia Pacific. People look to us for assistance and disaster relief, whether it's earthquakes, whether it's tsunamis, whatever it is in our region. So it gives us a capacity to fly longer distances with greater and larger cargos on board. So, for example, the C-17 can effectively transport an operating theatre, half a dozen ambulances, or as I said earlier five or six Bushmasters.
QUESTION: When will you replace the Caribou, Minister? When are you due to make a choice on that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I never get into the detail of what we propose to do into the future with that definition. The Caribou has served us well but we need to work through our options on a replacement. So Jason may want to add, but we take these things step by step. I've made the point repeatedly as Minister for Defence, it's very important that we get our acquisition and capability procurement right. So we take it step by step.
QUESTION: Do you expect the Joint Strike Fighter to be delivered on time, and are you concerned about any possible capability gap?
STEPHEN SMITH: We're of course transitioning from the F1-11s through to the classic Hornets, the Super Hornets, and the F-35, the Joint Strike Fighter.
When Secretary Gates was in
There are two things which are very relevant for
We remain confident that the Joint Strike Fighter will be delivered in accordance with our scheduled timetable, and will prove, in conjunction with the classic Hornet and the Super Hornet to be a very good fit so far as our strike and control of air capability is concerned.
QUESTION: How closely is
STEPHEN SMITH: As I've said generally about
But this is the century of the Asia Pacific, the rise of China, the rise of India, the rise of the Asiatic economies combined, that has significant influences in our part of the world, in our region, but also internationally. And so the bilateral relationship between the great powers of the
But we're confident that these changing influences can be managed, and confident that
QUESTION: Is the way it's going about it at the moment… [indistinct]?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well
In terms of budget and finances, the 2009 White Paper sets out our Force 2030, sets out our budget rules, and sets out our Strategic Reform Program. That is a big challenge to the Australian Defence Force and to the Australian Government, but we are on track to meet those ambitions. And I've made the point repeatedly, for the first time in the modern era, perhaps ever, we now have those external parameters around our Defence budget.
What we need to do is to improve the internal rigour, particularly in the acquisition and procurement area. And we've seen in recent times a number of difficulties and problems emerge in the Defence acquisition area, and we'll see some lag effects.
My predecessors and Jason's predecessors have made substantial changes in trying to manage risk in the Defence acquisition procurement area. With the first class and second class approvals and the Projects of Concern, we believe we've made a range of improvements to minimise the risk, but in Defence acquisitions, dealing with difficult projects, strategic intentions down the track, and use of cutting edge technology, we always have these challenges, but we need to manage risk much better.
QUESTION: Minister, are you concerned that industry will desert the Government over the carbon tax?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet, have been out today making remarks about that. We have put out our proposal. We've made it clear we want to do that in close consultation with industry and with the community.
What is very apparent to all concerned is that in the end, if we want to face up squarely to the challenges of climate change, we have to put a price on carbon, and we have to move to an emissions trading system, that's a market solution. In my experience, at the end of the day industry always much prefers a market solution, but if we are to make progress on climate change, if we are to make progress on reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, we need to put a price on carbon, we need to move to an emissions trading system, and that's what we're doing.
QUESTION: [Indistinct] support local industry?
STEPHEN SMITH: Look, in the end, what industry wants to do will be a matter for industry, and what the Australian community's judgement is in the end will be a matter for the Australian community, but we believe that we have to face as a nation, squarely up to the challenges of dangerous climate change, and the only effective way of doing that is to place a price on carbon and to move to an emissions trading system and a market based approach, which in my experience, industry would much prefer, than alternative mechanisms.