Transcript of joint press conference, Chicago
MON 21 MAY 2012
Subject(s): NATO-ISAF summit; Afghanistan; Craig Thomson
PM: I’m here today with Minister Smith, and today I’ve attended the NATO-ISAF summit. This has been an important meeting and a good discussion between partners.
Primarily, we spent the time agreeing important outcomes for the future of our mission in Afghanistan.
First we reviewed transition. We’ve agreed that we are on track and we will complete transition by the end of 2014.
We’ve increased the capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces, we’ve weakened the insurgency, we’ve hit Al-Qaeda hard and we've seen development gains in Afghanistan.
No-one is underestimating the challenges that lie ahead. But our goal of an Afghanistan that is never again a safe haven for terrorism is within reach.
We agreed that by mid-2013 we will reach an important milestone in the transition process, and that milestone is that all parts of Afghanistan will have begun transition and Afghan forces will be in the lead for security nationwide.
In Uruzgan Province, in which we work, transition begins in coming months and, as you know, we expect this process to take 12 to 18 months, and at its conclusion the majority of Australian troops will be able to return home.
Second, at today's meeting we looked beyond 2014 to the support that Afghanistan will need to safeguard and build on the progress that's been made.
Our mission after transition will change and it will evolve. Afghanistan will have responsibility for its own security. ISAF will have made a shift from its combat mission, but there will still be a continuing need for support.
Importantly, this summit has agreed to work towards a new post-2014 NATO-led mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Security Forces.
As I've said in the past, Australia will contribute trainers to this mission with a focus on the Afghan artillery school and the officer training academy.
The new NATO-led mission will focus on training after 2014. Over and above this, however, there may be some ongoing need for a Special Forces contribution for counterterrorism, and I advised today's summit of Australia's willingness to consider such a contribution under the right mandate.
I was also able to advise the meeting of Australia's new long-term partnership with Afghanistan and our increased development assistance. I announced that assistance yesterday and counter-signed the partnership agreement with President Karzai.
Third, we agreed on the importance of funding the Afghan National Security Forces beyond 2014. We called on the international community to commit to this long-term sustainment.
In recent days, the number of international funding commitments has grown and more are expected shortly.
There is confidence that the target of $1.3 billion will be reached and, of course, Australia has announced that its contribution will be $100 million per year starting in 2015.
Finally, we agreed that a political process involving reconciliation and re-integration is an important component of our path towards a stable Afghanistan.
We agreed that these processes must be Afghan-led and must be underpinned by the renunciation of violence, the breaking of ties to international terrorism, and acceptance of the Afghan constitution.
As I said when I spoke about Afghanistan back in Australia, we did not enter this conflict lightly and we do not persist in it without great care. But today's summit demonstrates that we can proceed with the transition we agreed to in Lisbon, understanding it's a difficult mission, but it is on track.
I was also pleased to attend the meeting of NATO and its core partners. It's very much in Australia's interests for NATO to contribute to global security, and for it to have strong partnerships.
For our part, Australia wants a long-term partnership with NATO. We share a common vision for global security, and a common belief in the value of international cooperation to achieve security.
Our relationship with NATO has strengthened in recent years, including through the appointment of our first ambassador to NATO, and I'm looking forward in coming weeks to welcoming the Secretary-General of NATO to Australia.
I'll turn now to Minister Smith for some comments, then we'll be happy to take questions.
MINISTER SMITH: Thank you, Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister has given a comprehensive summary of the last couple of days in Chicago, so I don't need to add to that other than to say the Prime Minister and I attended the Lisbon summit in November of 2010.
The first job of this summit was to review the transition process. We've done that and there's no doubt that transition is on track.
Secondly, we have started the process of the detailed work required for the post-2014 transition presence in Afghanistan and also the post-2014 resourcing of the Afghan National Security Forces.
In the course of my time here, in addition to attending the bilaterals that the Prime Minister has had, I've also had the opportunity of catching up with a range of my defence ministerial colleagues, including Secretary Panetta, my Canadian counterpart, Peter MacKay, our New Zealand colleagues, both the Foreign Minister and the Defence Minister who are here and, also, my UK counterpart Philip Hammond, and, as well, Defence Minister Wardak of Afghanistan.
The general view of defence ministers is as reflected by the Prime Minister's assessment of today's events.
We are on track to transition. We are starting the planning at the correct point in the cycle for the post-2014 presence.
The Prime Minister, in the course of her remarks, used the phrase ‘difficult’, and to steal a phrase the Prime Minister has used in the past, whilst this conference has been successful, while transition is on track, there will be difficult days ahead and we should not pretend otherwise.
Thank you, Prime Minister.
PM: Okay, we're happy to take questions. We are peering out into a bit of darkness, so we'll do our best to recognise people.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you mentioned this new relationship you've got with NATO. Looking down the track a few years in the future, how do you see this new - I suppose, this new form of alliance working and in what areas?
PM: Well, security threats are increasingly global and so it makes sense to have global partnerships as we look to combat those security threats.
In the modern age, of course, we're talking about terrorism, about cyber-security, about piracy. These are all international security threats, and one in which us, having partnerships with organisations like NATO, can strengthen us and strengthen them.
JOURNALIST: Could you explain a bit more about the 2013 midway transition agreement that's been made going from a combat to a supporting role. What will that mean for Australians in Uruzgan?
PM: The mid-2013 milestone is the point at which all of Afghanistan will be in transition and will have moved to Afghan security leadership.
With tranche three going into transition where Uruzgan Province is, around 75 per cent of the country will go to Afghan security leadership. In mid-2013, 100 per cent will go to Afghan security leadership.
At the end of 2014, what you see is the end of the current mission, the current combat mission, and a move to a different set of circumstances where the Afghan people are providing for their own security. But that doesn't mean that there will be no role for outside help and assistance.
We'll still be there providing training assistance. There will be a NATO-led mission to train and advise and assist. And as I've indicated consistently, we are leaving open the prospect that there may be some continuing role for Special Forces.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, did you have time to catch up with US President Barack Obama today? If so, what did you talk about, and did you discuss the Pakistan supply line issue?
PM: I did have a brief discussion with President Obama. I'd have to say it was more a catch-up between mates than anything else. We did have a very brief discussion about circumstances in the global economy.
JOURNALIST: But are you confident, after your talks with President Zardari, and we also hear President Obama has now had a brief meeting with him as well, are you confident - did you take away from that that supply lines will be re-opened?
PM: Well, President Zardari said to me yesterday and, indeed, said at today's meeting - so effectively said it publicly - that he had directed officials to work on this issue, what's referred to as the GLOC issue, which is the blocking of supply lines out of Afghanistan into Pakistan.
So given he's indicated that publicly, one would hope that there will be progress made.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, we hear ongoing reports of corruption with the Afghan army. Are you confident that it can maintain control (inaudible) after 2014, provide security?
PM: Look, this is not without severe difficulties and challenges, you're absolutely right. But all of the reports to me from our people working in Uruzgan province, is that the Afghan National Army is increasing in numbers and increasing in capability.
General Allen reported to the NATO-ISAF summit today for all of Afghanistan what his perspectives are as the ultimate commander, and his perspective is that the security forces are growing in number and capability.
He pointed, for example, to their response when there were security challenges in Kabul in relatively recent times.
So, in those circumstances, are there difficulties? Yes there are, but the professionals who are there on the ground day-to-day are telling us that the forces are growing both in number and capability.
MINISTER SMITH: Sorry just - Prime Minister, perhaps I could just add to that answer.
MINISTER SMITH: The Afghan National Army is currently of a size of just under 340,000. It'll grow to a surge force of just over 350,000 and General Allen's advice, and this is consistent with the advice I get from the Chief of the Defence Force and our officers in the field so far as Uruzgan is concerned, that that growth is not just a numerical growth, it's also a steady growth in capability.
In our case in Uruzgan, that's reflected by the fact that all of the provinces transitioned in the third tranche.
Over a period of time after 2014, that surge Afghan National Army force, or numbers or numerical strength will decline, it'll be a gradual drawdown, ending up, at this stage, with an Afghan National Army force of in the order of 220-230,000.
So our analysis, our advice and the view from General Allen and others is that there is a ongoing growth in capability and the numerical strength getting to the surge force of just over 350,000 is occurring more quickly than was previously anticipated. We expect that to arrive at that point at about October this year, which is a few months earlier than otherwise expected.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister-
PM: Yes, Mark.
PM: Look, I've seen a summary of Mr Thomson's remarks to the Parliament. I haven't had the opportunity, as you would imagine, to do more than that. I've been focused on the NATO-ISAF summit.
As I've said many times in Australia before I left, it's not for the Parliament to be judge and jury here.
JOURNALIST: From what you've seen though, (inaudible)?
PM: Look, it's exactly the same as I would have said to you last week in Australia, it's not for the Parliament to be judge and jury.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you say that Parliament shouldn't be the judge and jury. You've already decided that he shouldn't be sitting in the Labor caucus. Now Craig Thomson's mounted his defence in Parliament, what's it going to take for you to welcome him back?
PM: Look, I made a decision. I explained at the time I made it about respect for the Parliament and there was an accumulation of issues here involving Mr Thomson and Mr Slipper, and so I made a decision about Mr Thomson's further participation in the Labor Party and Labor caucus, so I continue to believe that that's the right decision.
As for the specifics involving Mr Thomson, I've said consistently these will be dealt with by an appropriate court at the proper time. Mr Thomson denies these allegations. He's entitled to his day in court and ultimately he'll have it.
JOURNALIST: So there's no certainty that returning him to the Labor caucus would bring the Parliament into disrespect?
PM: Well, there's no possibility of me changing my mind, so the question doesn't arise.
JOURNALIST: But there's no certainty either of these matters actually going to a court. So, in the circumstances where they didn't, the judgment would have to be made by you as to whether he was able to come back or not.
PM: Look, it's my understanding and I'm happy to be corrected by you, but it's my understanding of the Fair Work inquiry report that it was Fair Work's intention for a number of matters related to the Fair Work Act to be the subject of Federal Court proceedings.
As to any other form of proceedings, of course, I'm not aware. Those matters are still in investigation, as I understand it, but the likely court proceedings I refer to are the ones coming from the Fair Work inquiry.
JOURNALIST: And you want to see those all played out before you'll make any call on bringing him back to the Labor caucus?
PM: Look, I've made a call and I'm not intending to revisit it, but I also put the view to you today exactly as I would have if we were in Australia last week or the week before, it's not appropriate for Parliament to set itself up as judge and jury.
JOURNALIST: Do you have confidence in Fair Work Australia, or do you share Mr Thomson's view, as stated in Parliament yesterday, that the Fair Work Australia report (inaudible) was, quote, “selective” and “biased”?
PM: Look, I'm not going to engage in commentary about Mr Thomson's statement. Fair Work Australia is an independent agency doing its job.
JOURNALIST: Did Mr Thomson wait too long to make his statement? Did you wish he'd made it-
PM: It's a matter for Mr Thomson.
JOURNALIST: But do you have confidence in Fair Work Australia?
PM: Look, it's an independent agency doing its job
JOURNALIST: So you're happy with them?
PM: Well, all I can say to you is it's an independent agency, it's doing its job.
Clearly, Mr Thomson is intending when these matters come before a court and I think, from the Fair Work inquiry report they're likely to, to contest matters relating to the investigation. That's a matter for Mr Thomson.
JOURNALIST: Do you share his criticism at the way the media has dealt with this whole issue? He was quite brutal about sections of the media.
PM: Look, I've seen a summary of his statement to the Parliament and I'm not going to engage in a critique of individual bits of it.
Mr Thomson put his, you know, statement to the Parliament, he chose to do that, it was a decision for him. At the end of the day, it's not for the Parliament to set itself up as the court here or as jury here. There are proper processes and those proper processes should be gone through.
PM: Look I'm, you know, Mr Thomson's had his say and now the proper processes have to be worked through.
PM: Look, I'll…
JOURNALIST: Do you feel for him?
PM: I haven't seen the statement being given, I've seen a summary of it, and, you know my comments are as I've just given them to you.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just back on Afghanistan for a moment.
PM: Alright, we'll make this the last question.
PM: We certainly made our decision and publicly announced it because we thought the very fact that, you know, our nation was making so clear what we were prepared to do, that that in and of itself would have a demonstration effect, if you like, for other nations that were considering making a contribution, and I have, during the course of my various discussions with leaders at this summit indicated that Australia's made its decision, made its contribution, announced it publicly and it is important for all to make appropriate contributions to sustain the Afghan National Security Forces.
As I said in my intervention during the summit, we haven't invested this much and lost as much as we've lost to not now do the appropriate thing to sustain Afghan National Security Forces beyond 2014.
Thank you very much.