ABC AM – 5 March, 2015

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Yesterday the Prime Minister moved on another of the Government’s barnacles by raising the pay offer for defence personnel from 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent.

This follows the announcement of an increased military commitment to Iraq with the deployment of a further 300 troops.

To discuss this, I’m joined in the studio by the Defence Minister Kevin Andrews.

Minister, good morning.

KEVIN ANDREWS:

Good morning Michael.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Julie Bishop earlier expressed concerns that the executions in Indonesia could have wider implications. We have a good but it has to be said, sometimes fractious defence ties with Indonesia.

How would the executions of Andrew Chan and Myran Sukumaran effect these do you think?

KEVIN ANDREWS:

Well, as you say we have an important strategic relationship with Indonesia and we’re going to remain countries close to each other in terms of geographical proximity forever, so we have to be mindful of that.

Our concentration at the moment is trying to have their lives spared and we will continue to do that. The Prime Minister is trying to speak again to the president of Indonesia today and we will continue that and that will be our efforts over the next whatever number of days it takes to continue those efforts to spare their lives.

As to ramifications, well we would have to consider them if and when the executions occur.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Because it is a- it can be a fairly rocky relationship at time, can’t it?

KEVIN ANDREWS:

Look, it has been from time to time over the years but it’s in Australia’s long term strategic interest to ensure that we have the best possible relationship with Indonesia.

These sort of events don’t help that but nonetheless, we will continue to do what we can, especially for the two individuals.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Okay, on defence pay. You have raised it from 1.5 to 2 per cent. It doesn’t seem to have won over Jacqui Lambie, though, who says the feedback she’s been getting hasn’t been good and it’s not enough to guarantee her Senate vote.

KEVIN ANDREWS:

Well, I spoke yesterday to a variety of individuals, the Australian Defence Association, the defence family’s welfare groups, etc, the RSL – they all said that they were pleased with the increase from 1.5 to 2 per cent.

They also recognise that as the Intergenerational Report will explain today, that Australia is still in a very difficult economic situation and in the end, we have to balance these two things up.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

And civilian defence workers say that it’s unfair that there’s now going to be yawning pay gap between them and the uniformed defence members – 20,000 public servants offered just 1 per cent with deep cuts to leave and entitlements. Is it fair?

KEVIN ANDREWS:

Well, the negotiations for the civilian defence employees are underway at the moment. That’s a negotiated process which is entirely different to what happens with the uniform members of military.

The uniformed members of military are basically given a decision by a tribunal. But we think that there is a special compact between the Australian people and the members of the Australian Defence Force. We should recognise that and we believe that the 2 per cent is the right and appropriate amount at the current time.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

But not necessarily with the bureaucrats?

KEVIN ANDREWS:

Well, as I said, that negotiation is ongoing at the moment, and the Secretary of Defence was obviously the responsible person for that ongoing negotiation and we’ll see what the outcome is.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Okay, now we have increased- we have announced we will be increasing our deployment to Iraq. The coalition, including Australia, has to be said spent tens of billions of dollars training the Iraqi army after 2003 pretty much to no end, as it turned out.

What gives you the confidence that this will be any different?

KEVIN ANDREWS:

Look, that’s a good question, Michael, and it’s a question I asked myself of the senior military personnel in Australia. And the answer was that that training really didn’t get completed, that there was a lot of basic training but the sort of advanced and high level training which we are planning to be part of with this new deployment didn’t happen at that stage and so it left the Iraqi army in less of a situation to be able to take on Daesh when it eventually occurred.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

I mean, John Howard in 2007 said the training and mentoring of the Iraqi forces has been a key element of Australian support for Iraq ever since 2003, so to suggest that it wasn’t completed or that we weren’t actually doing that much, this would seem to suggest that wasn’t the case?

KEVIN ANDREWS:

Well, I can only repeat what I was told as late as yesterday when I asked these questions in another detailed briefing about Iraq, and our military leaders basically said yes, there was training at that stage but it didn’t leave the Iraqi army sufficiently equipped at the high levels they needed to be.

And that’s what we’re doing, we’re not going in and doing sort of basic Kapooka-type training for new recruits in Iraq. We’re doing that higher level training.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

The Iraqi army after that period did end up being pretty good at some things – including persecuting and torturing the Sunni minority, for instance. Is there a danger that we could add to the sectarian conflict by further enhancing the mostly Shia-led Iraqi military?

KEVIN ANDREWS:

Look, the reality is that ultimately there has to be some sort of political compromise or political outcome in Iraq. There are a number of different groups; there is the Shia, the Sunni, the Kurds and others. The future must lie in some sort of outcome which is a compromise if there’s going to be peace in that region.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Could we just turn quickly to the submarines? You’ve called it a competitive evaluation. Aren’t you just playing word games here? Is it a competitive tender process or not?

KEVIN ANDREWS:

I’m advised there’s never been a tender in the normal sense of the word for a submarine anywhere in the world, and if we were to do that, it would take some four to five years which would add another four or five years of delay on top of the six years in which the Labor Party didn’t make a decision – which would lead to a major capability gap for Australia in terms of our defence and security in the second half of the 2020.

So this is a rigorous process. It will involve the Japanese, the French and the Germans, which have submarines- the capacity to build submarines of what we’re looking for but it will also have, as one of the components, a maximising of Australian industry involvement.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

And when could we expect a decision?

KEVIN ANDREWS:

I would hope this process will take probably in the order of about 10 months so I’m hoping that early next year, we’ll be able to come to a decision.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

Okay, Kevin Andrews, thanks very much for joining us.

KEVIN ANDREWS:

Thank you Michael.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

And that’s Kevin Andrews, the Defence Minister.