Transcript of doorstop interview, Chicago
SAT 19 MAY 2012
Subject(s): Afghanistan; NATO-ISAF Summit
PM: I’m here in Chicago with Minister Smith and we will be attending a major international summit on the future of Afghanistan.
We came to Chicago from Townsville, where we had the opportunity to speak to some of our soldiers who will soon be deployed in Afghanistan. We were able to give them the thanks of the nation for everything that they do.
And they represent the first deployment that, building on the work of earlier deployments, will see the province we work in, Uruzgan province, go into transition.
Here at this summit we will be in a meeting of NATO and ISAF countries – countries that have troops in Afghanistan. We’re here following the Lisbon summit two years ago, and we will have the opportunity to review progress since Lisbon.
In Lisbon the decision was made about transition in Afghanistan, and we will have the opportunity to review how the strategy of transition is playing out.
Progress is being made in Afghanistan. Already, two tranches have gone into transition, and the third tranche, including Uruzgan province, will go into transition in coming weeks.
The security situation is changing on the ground. Al-Qaeda has been dealt a hard blow, and the insurgency is on the back foot. And aid and development is being done and making a difference, and tomorrow I will have the opportunity to meet with President Karzai, and to discuss that aid and development work.
Now these gains are real, but they are also fragile. There remains a lot of work to do, and we will be focussed on that work at this summit.
Australia comes here with three objectives. First, we want to see at this summit a review of transition and a mapping out of transition until the end of 2014. And in particular we want to see a milestone adopted where all of Afghanistan goes to Afghan security leadership by mid-2013.
Second, we want the summit to focus on what will happen after 2014. After 2014 the nature of the mission and engagement with Afghanistan will change. The Afghan National Security Forces will be providing security for the people of Afghanistan across their country.
But support will still be needed. We have already indicated that we will stay engaged in training support, including supporting the artillery school and supporting army officer training in a UK-led initiative.
We will also stay engaged in aid and development work, and with President Karzai tomorrow I will be signing a partnership agreement which deals with our aid and development, our trade and investment links, and our people-to-people links for the future. And we have left open the possibility of a role for special forces, subject to there being the right mission and the right mandate for them in Afghanistan.
Third and finally, our objective for this summit is that we see appropriate decisions made to sustain the Afghan National Security Forces beyond 2014. In order to secure everything that has been gained, the Afghan National Security Forces need to be able to do their job.
Australia has already pledged support – $100 million a year from 2015 – to support the Afghan National Security Forces, and we will be urging other nations to play their part in providing that support.
As well as directly attending the NATO-ISAF meeting on Afghanistan, we will have the opportunity to attend a NATO core partners meeting. Australia’s engagement with NATO is broadening. Of course Afghanistan is central to our focus, but our engagement is broadening across a series of fronts, including cyber-security, terrorism, piracy, and we will have the opportunity to talk with NATO representatives about that at the NATO core partners meeting.
And then I will have the opportunity too to meet with a number of other leaders who are here. I’ll be able to catch up with President Obama, and I will have formal bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom; Chancellor Merkel of Germany; I will have the opportunity to meet the newly elected President of France; I will also have the opportunity to meet with the President of Pakistan, amongst others.
So we’ve got a big few days of work in front of us, but it’s good to be here in Chicago for what will be a vital international summit on Afghanistan.
We’re happy to take your questions.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, when you meet with Francois Hollande, what will your message be to him about his plan to take out his troops early?
PM: Well I’ll have that meeting tomorrow, so I’ll speak more about that meeting afterwards than before.
Clearly President Hollande has given the French people a commitment about what he will do with combat troops, but there are more ways of supporting the work in Afghanistan and I will be speaking to him about that.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, in respect of your meeting with President Karzai, you mentioned that there are other things that Australia can do beyond 2014 as well as the money that’s going to go to aid and security. Presumably you're talking there about what special forces or other military advisers we might put there. That would require an invitation, would it not, from him. Is that something you’ll be talking to him about tomorrow?
PM: My main purpose with President Karzai will be to talk about progress and the outlook for transition in Uruzgan province. We will enter a partnership agreement. We have been a considerable provider of aid and development monies to Afghanistan. Afghanistan is one of the poorest nations on earth.
And so aid and development matters to lift people out of poverty, but of course it also matters in the security context, which is, it is easy for the Taliban, for insurgents, to make a pitch to local people if local people are not seeing any progress on the basics of life, on having employment, on having access to healthcare, being able to see their kids going to school.
So we will be signing a partnership on aid and development. We will also deal with people-to-people links, and the prospect of trade and investment. Afghanistan needs to build an economy which will sustain the Afghan people, and I will be speaking to President Karzai about that, and it’s in the agreement.
President Karzai is well aware from my earlier discussions with him that Australia will continue to play a training role beyond 2014. He’s aware of our engagement in the artillery school, and the commitments we've made to the UK-led army officer training.
You’re right, a question for this summit broadly is under what mandate people continue to be engaged after 2014, and that will be the subject of discussion at the summit.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just back on the French decision, are you saying it won’t make a difference or will it, on the ground in Afghanistan?
PM: Look, I will have the discussion with the new President tomorrow so I don’t want to pre-empt that discussion.
JOURNALIST: What’s your advice on that?
PM: I’m just making the simple point that there’s a number of ways of being engaged in Afghanistan, and supporting Afghanistan at this time as we move to Afghan security leadership and in the days beyond 2014.
JOURNALIST: Could I turn to a domestic matter if I can, the reports back home about childcare, that you're about the announce a way of keeping childcare fees down, is that something you’re looking at?
PM: Look, I’ll let my friends back home deal with all of those questions. As you'd be aware we've been in transit for the best part of 24 hours, so I think others back in Australia are better positioned to talk to you about that.
JOURNALIST: But can you tell us, will you be watching and listening to Craig Thomson’s statement in Parliament while you’re here?
PM: Look, I’ll be focussed on the work here at the summit.
JOURNALIST: Has the dark cloud over the Parliament gotten darker with allegations against Senator Heffernan?
PM: Look, I’m not intending, given particularly we’ve been in transit for the best part of 24 hours, to be talking to you today about matters involving Senator Heffernan and obviously for issues involving Craig Thomson.
I've dealt with those questions in Australia before I left.
JOURNALIST: Just going back finally to the French question. Are you saying that where countries, for example, may be scaling down their military engagement, there are a number of other ways they can do it? Would you imagine that therefore there’s a potential quid pro quo there, that countries that are disengaging militarily may be able to stump up some more money for this fund that we’re kicking money into as well?
PM: There’s a variety of ways of supporting Afghanistan, a variety of ways of supporting training in Afghanistan. We’re there, engaged in a mission of training to increase the capability of the Afghan local forces as they move into security leadership and ultimately full responsibility for the security of Afghanistan.
So ways of being involved in training, ways of being involved in aid and development work, ways of engaging with Afghanistan which will support it at this time. I’m not going to pre-empt a conversation with the incoming President of France.
Thank you very much.