Wednesday 19 October 2011 - Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Committee
Senator LUDLAM: I will give you a quick preview. I have two questions, one relating to cluster munitions and the ADF and one relating to Talisman Sabre, so fit them in where you will.
Senator Feeney: Go for it.
Senator LUDLAM: Do we have the right people at the table? Okay. Last time we met we discussed cluster munitions. You outlined that the ADF had some cluster weaponry for training purposes, countermeasures and so on only, in terms of being able to disarm them and identify them and so on. Can you update the committee or provide on notice how many people are trained within our various services for dealing with these weapons?
Gen. Hurley : I do not have an answer to that precise a question, but I think they are fewer than on one hand. I will take that on notice.
Senator LUDLAM: It is not part of basic training? I am trying to get an idea of whether it is generic-
Gen. Hurley : No, I would be wrong-not fewer than on one hand. There would be EOD personnel who are trained. We have explained the purpose-
Senator LUDLAM: Acronyms, General!
Gen. Hurley : Sorry. We have explained in the past the purpose of keeping them, and that is to train our explosive ordnance disposal personnel, EOD personnel, on how to handle them, so there would be a subset of that community that could dismantle them and so forth, but we do not employ them. So, if you are asking, 'Do we have people who could take cluster munitions ensembles and put them on aircraft and so forth?' no, we do not have them-not at all.
Senator LUDLAM: No, that is not what I mean at all. They were used extensively in Afghanistan, I understand, in the early days. We have people there. Do they know how to recognise, disarm and avoid these things if they come across them?
Gen. Hurley : I will get back to you on that, but I do not think we have run into one since we have been there.
Senator LUDLAM: You have not run into one?
Gen. Hurley : No.
Senator LUDLAM: That is lucky for us.
Gen. Hurley : Not reported that I am aware of, but I will get back to you.
Senator LUDLAM: Good. Thank you very much. Could you maybe provide a bit of a brief for us on training efforts that might have taken place in the last two years on these weapons? Maybe that is a supplementary to what you have taken on notice for us.
Gen. Hurley : In the last two years?
Senator LUDLAM: Just to get a snapshot. Last time I asked the CDF whether Defence had a view on whether we need to give the US government access to Australian territory to stockpile these weapons, as is possible under the terms of the bill that is before the Senate at the moment. The CDF answered that Defence had never been approached along those lines, which is not a direct answer to the question but that was the response. He said it was hypothetical. Can you confirm for us that it continues to be the case or, if you can provide us with any more information on that issue, ever since the May budget estimates session, has Defence been approached by the US on stockpiling cluster munitions in Australia?
Gen. Hurley : Not to my knowledge.
Mr Jennings : Not to my knowledge either.
Senator LUDLAM: Great. Given that this one probably sounds like it is coming out of left field, could I invite you to take on notice to clarify that that is the case as to whatever you might have on the record. That is the stockpiling issue. The other one is the issue of interoperability, which also goes to the terms of the bill that is before the Senate at the moment. To what degree have discussions of any kind at all taken place with US government or US armed services about interoperability in the case of cluster munitions?
Mr Jennings : We have made very clear our position to the US with regard to the cluster weapons convention. So the Americans understand that we are now a signatory to the convention, that we are now passing enabling legislation and they understand the terms of the convention and how that is something that will be abided by by Defence.
Senator LUDLAM: The US has played quite a significant role in undermining that convention, unfortunately with the assistance of Australia, but I recognise that is outside of your portfolio.
Senator Feeney: We will put that down as a partisan remark rather than a question.
Senator LUDLAM: It is a statement of fact. Maybe it is a statement of partisan fact. I will leave the clusters issue there.