Doorstop interview – American Chamber of Commerce in Australia – 27 August 2015

Doorstop interview

American Chamber of Commerce in Australia

QT Hotel, Canberra

27 August 2015

QUESTION

Minister our relationship with the US is already long and deep, how do we make it even deeper?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Well we will continue to build on that very strong alliance with the US. As you’ve seen in recent developments, there is the marine rotation through Darwin, which will grow over the years, and the cooperation between our Air Force and Navy into the future. We will continue to deepen that as the focus of the world becomes increasingly on this region, both as the economic powerhouse of the world but also because of the strategic implications of that.

QUESTION

Minister, why won’t the Prime Minister rule out that he and his office pushed the Americans to ask us to bomb Syria?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Well the sequence of events, as the Prime Minister said, was that this was raised by President Obama in a conversation between President Obama and the Prime Minister. As you would expect, following that conversation there was discussions between various individuals in both countries. Subsequent to that I’ve received a formal letter from Secretary Carter asking for some further involvement, particularly by our Air Force in that area, and I am currently in the process of getting some advice from Defence about that and when that advice is finalised I will take it to the National Security Committee. So that’s the process.

QUESTION

Minister is it fair to say though that this is a request that you and the Government welcome?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Look, let’s go back to our role in Iraq. Our role in Iraq, along with a coalition of nations, is as the invitation of the Iraqi Government to bring about the destruction of Daesh and to return that country to peace and prosperity. That’s what our role is and that’s what the most important thing about all that is. That’s what the National Security Committee will be considering when it comes before them.

QUESTION

Minister, is it untrue that that broad initiative and impetus came more from the Canberra end then from Washington on this request?

MINISTER ANDREWS

As I’ve said before – and as the Prime Minister has said – this was raised with the Prime Minister by President Obama in the context of a conversation that was about other issues.

QUESTION

Minister, clearly to address this you need to have a good handle on what’s feasible and achievable for Australia in Syria and what our airpower could do there. Could you give us a rough sense of how broad and any work that the Australian Air Force over Syria might be…  how deep we might go and what role we might take?

MINISTER ANDREWS

The Australian Air Force has been playing a very significant role in Iraq. We’ve had a rotation of six fighter aircraft. They’re currently the Classic Hornets, prior to that the Super Hornets. That will rotate back to the Super Hornets later this year. They have been operating over Iraq, carrying out almost 900 missions. So that’s been on a very regular basis. In addition to that, we have a refueller aircraft that has refuelled both our aircraft and coalition planes, and we have a Wedgetail command and control aircraft providing communications support to coalition planes. To date none of our aircraft have flown across the border from Iraq into Syria. The reality is that Daesh does not respect any border that has been drawn on the map between Iraq and Syria. The request from Secretary Carter is specifically in relation to the fight against Daesh and into Syria. So the area of any further operation, should we agree to it, would be in that eastern region of Syria, specifically against Daesh.

QUESTION

Minister, Andrew Hastie said when he was in the SAS in Afghanistan he felt that the then Labor Government did not have their backs – i.e. the ADF’s back. Do you agree with that? Was that an appropriate thing for him to say?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Look, Mr Hastie is a very decorated former member of the SAS. He will make comments based on his own experiences. I’ll leave his comments to him.

QUESTION

Just on the Canning by-election, if the Coalition were to lose Canning would that have implications for Tony Abbott’s leadership?

MINISTER ANDREWS

We’re not aiming to lose Canning.

QUESTION

But would that have implications for…

MINISTER ANDREWS

Look I’m not going to speculate on the future. Our focus is on the economy, on jobs and growth for Australians and on securing them from threats overseas and threats that have infiltrated Australian. I think that’s what the people of Canning are most interested in and that’s what we will continue to promote to them.

QUESTION

There’s a suggestions that there might be an increase of American marines in Darwin. In the past there have been suggestions that US ships might make much more frequent visits to places like HMAS Stirling and that might include aircraft carriers and submarines. Can you explain any more on where this might be going?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Well starting with the marine rotation, there are currently around 1,150 marines rotating through Darwin. That’s expected to grow to about 2,500 over the next few years. We have American aircraft that fly through Australia on a fairly regular basis. We’ve had American ships here. We’ve had the very major Talisman Sabre exercise in the North of Australia just in recent weeks. That degree of cooperation will continue between Australia and America. It’s been a feature of our alliance for decades now and it will continue to be so in the future.

QUESTION

There is some discussion in South Australia at the moment that the Japanese have greatly undersold their hand with regard to selling their case to build the next submarines. Do you agree that Japanese interests have really underplayed their interests there and that perhaps now are less well placed then they ought to have been because of it?

MINISTER ANDREWS

It’s a very competitive bidding process. It’s a buyers market for submarines. The German, the French and the Japanese are all very interested in being the winning bidder. As I said, it’s going to be very competitive. They’ve got until about the end of November to get their bids in and then those bids will be carefully looked at over a number of months. But no country can take it for granted that they are going to be the winning bidder. It’s very competitive.

QUESTION

Minister what arrangements would be in place if we start air operations over Syria to rescue any of our crew who might be downed and also to stop us conflicting with many other aeroplanes the Iran and the Syrian Government who are flying their as well?

MINISTER ANDREWS

Well there will be a whole range of things that we need to take into consideration in making a decision. There will be those issues. Obviously at the forefront of any consideration is the safety of pilots and aircrew who operate over those areas. But that is something that we will be looking at. I’ll be getting advice from Defence about that and that will be squarely before the National Security Committee when we come to consider this matter.