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Defence Force on Afghanistan, cluster bombs and Wikileaks

Estimates & Committees
Scott Ludlam 2 Jun 2011

FADT Committee 30 May 2011

Senator LUDLAM: This question relates specifically to DMO because I presume you are the ones procuring or finding cluster munitions. Can you confirm for us that Defence wants to be able to purchase and retain live cluster munitions for training and I presume disarmament purposes?

CHAIR: That is a Defence question.

Senator LUDLAM: If that is the case, is it something you have been asked to procure, provide or locate?

Lt Gen. Hurley: I have come along in my VCDF guise rather than in my cluster munitions guise. Someone behind me might have some notes, but I do not have them on me. I recall in the hearing that we did report to the committee that we hold a small number of cluster munitions and subelements for training purposes.

Senator LUDLAM: Do officers at the table have the Cost of defence: ASPI Defence budget brief 2011-12?

Dr Gumley: Yes.

Senator LUDLAM: I ask you to turn to page 115, figure 3.14 and some of the commentary that surrounds that.

Senator Feeney: So we are looking at the section entitled 'The feasibility of plans for Force 2030'?

Senator LUDLAM: That is right, and the graph at the bottom of page 115. In the paragraph above that, ASPI indicates, 'Although Defence no longer discloses its long-term investment plans, an official provided a snapshot of planned DMO spending as at February 2011.' I am interested to know whether the official provided those snapshots, as ASPI calls them, in an official capacity.

Dr Gumley: I provided that at a conference. We took the forward estimates data and showed the four years out, and a bit of an extrapolation beyond that. What I was doing at that stage was just using some administrative data to indicate how lumpy some of the future demand could be. If I recall, I also said at the conference that there would probably be some smoothing as we do future second-pass approvals because you do not really want to create a massive peak in demand for industry because they would not be able to cope with it. So it was used as a series of 'what if' discussions.

Senator LUDLAM: Thank you; that is helpful. The graph that I am referring to would seem to indicate some kind of peak because there is a 107 per cent spike mostly made up of unapproved major capital programs out to 2016-17 financial year. Given that there is apparently another white paper on the way by 2014, is that spike actually realistic? On what basis have those conclusions being drawn?

Dr Watt: There is another white paper due under the terms of the 2009 white paper in 2014 from the government. The government announced that it would have a white paper every five years. That is probably a good practice in an area like defence. It is very hard for any of us sitting here to say exactly what the next white paper will find. In five years we have moved on. Strategic service answers do shift a little bit here and there. Unless the white paper changes either the strategic outlook or our response to the strategic outlook, I would say that the force structure may change a little bit but you would not expect it to change a lot. There are several presumptions there: strategic outlook changes, response changes, best set of appropriate platforms and capabilities to meet that. They can change. When you set something like a defence white paper you would hope not that yougot it in every respect right in five years time, because that is asking an enormous amount, but that you got the broad trajectory and sense of direction right.

Senator LUDLAM: I will take this up after the dinner break when we have the CDF and the other officers back at the table. I understand that there has been a fair bit of discussion today along the lines of: we have got no chance at all of meeting the objectives that were set out in the defence white paper.

Senator FEENEY: I do not think that is how we would characterise-

Dr Watt: I do not think it is. I think you can say that no matter who is at the table that view will not change.

Senator LUDLAM: Thank you. I will take that up after the dinner break.

Senator LUDLAM: I would like to traverse a couple of different areas. I will start with a simple one. A defence task force did an investigation into the release of WikiLeaks Afghanistan related documents from 25 July to 26 October 2010 and found that the leaked materials did not clearly have a significant adverse impact on Australia's national interest or security. Is Defence still examining the documents relating to the Iraq War? I thinkthere were about 400,000 documents dropped subsequent to that study. Is there an ongoing investigation into that or has it concluded?

Air Vice Marshal Houston: I do not know anything about us looking at documents that relate to the Iraq War-if I could take that on notice and come back to you.

Senator LUDLAM: If you could.

Mr Jennings: I can answer that. Yes, there was an investigation into the Iraq documents that were put up on the WikiLeaks site and, as you say, there were some 470,000 of them from memory. That investigation was conducted at the end of last year and completed during the course of the caretaker period, as a matter of fact. Essentially, what we did for the purpose of that investigation was to search on a range of terms against the 470,000 documents which identified for us all of the documentation which related to Australia, the ADF presence in Iraq or related items. On the basis of that, we concluded that there were no operational implications which arose from the material which related to the Australian involvement in Iraq. In effect, we closed off on that investigation last year.

Senator LUDLAM: It sounds quite similar to your findings-and I have got a press release here from 26 October 2010 where you were making very similar conclusions from your analysis of the Afghanistan documents. What was the nature of the warning that you got or the cooperation you got from the United States government; and were you given assistance of any kind of advance warning that that material was about to be made public?

Mr Jennings: I would need to take on notice the question of advance warning. I do not have a memory of anything significant from the US government in relation to that. What we did know, because it had been public for some months before it actually went up onto the WikiLeaks site, was that WikiLeaks had expressed an intent to release this material, so there was a widespread expectation of that material coming online and we were certainly prepared for it in advance of its release.
In terms of the assistance we received from the US during the course of the investigation, we were assisted inasmuch as the US provided us with a more easily searchable database of the material that was leaked. I do not know if you actually saw the material as it was presented on the WikiLeaks site but it was, in effect, impossible to search on their site in large order terms the 470,000 documents, but we were able to access a database that was more searchable and that was what we essentially used for our investigations.

Senator LUDLAM: Thank you for that. Is Defence still participating in the WikiLeaks task force-it was called a virtual task force last week? Have you got any formal role in that?

Mr Jennings: Yes, we do.

CHAIR: Just hold on there, Mr Jennings, we have applied a policy very rigorously of sticking to matters arising out of opening statements. There was nothing in the opening statements by either CDF or the secretary relating to WikiLeaks. There is an appropriate place to raise WikiLeaks but it is not at 10 o'clock at night when we are on opening statements.

Senator LUDLAM: It is only 10:00 o'clock at night because I have been waiting around all day.

CHAIR: That is right: everyone has been waiting, but we are on opening statements, not roving all over the place.

Senator LUDLAM: Was Afghanistan mentioned in the opening statement?

CHAIR: Afghanistan, yes,

Senator LUDLAM: I thought it might be; I will move on. ASPI have conducted a number of public opinion polls on what Australians think about the Australian force commitment to Afghanistan. I realise that you do not conduct any part of your operations there on the basis of opinion polls but I am wondering, first of all, whether you analyse them at all; whether it has any bearing at all, for example, in when you are helping personnel reintegrate after a tour in that country?

Air Vice Marshal Houston: We are aware of the surveys and we obviously take a look at them but, in terms of using them to work on our people who come back from Afghanistan, no, we do not do anything like that. We get them and have a look at them.

Mr Jennings: And take note of them. We look at that information but I do not really think it has a bearing on policy proposals that we might put to government.

Senator LUDLAM: And specifically on the question of when people come home?

Mr Jennings: I do not believe so.

Senator LUDLAM: I want to go to the way that our aid budget is spent in Afghanistan. I will put some of these questions to AusAID but I am specifically interested in the way the ADF is obviously very intimately involved in the disbursement of aid funds in the area where Australia is operating. A piece by Brendan Nicholson in the Australian on 25 May outlined that $252 million was spent on Afghan aid projects over the last four years in Afghanistan and, of that, about $215 million was spent on the net additional cost of ADF personnel, support and associated costs. What I am trying to do is untangle exactly which part of the aid budget is directly disbursed by the ADF. Is it even possible to untangle whether those figures are correct or not?

Mr Jennings: The ADF does not disburse aid. It certainly does not disburse any aid which would be accounted in the AusAID budget. That is not a function which the ADF undertakes in Afghanistan.

Senator LUDLAM: Okay, so you would dispute the figure. The point of that article-and I realise that you do not have it in front of you-was that about $215 million was being spent more or less directly by the ADF and not necessarily by aid organisations in the traditional sense.

Mr Jennings: The only thing I can think of which might conceivably be a part of that presentation is the contribution Defence makes to the Afghan Army Trust Fund, a fund designed to provide additional capability in the training of the Afghan National Army. But there is no aid funding disbursed through the services of the Australian Defence Force.

Dr Watt: My memory of the article has, I am afraid, faded. The Australian government has foreshadowed a contribution over five years to the Afghan National Army Trust Fund of US$200 million. That number is not all that far from Mr Nicholson's number. He may be referring to that; I am not sure. Equally, the ADF and the Australian government spend money in Afghanistan on facilities, for example. I am not sure whether that is what Mr Nicholson has in mind. We would be happy to take the question on notice and see if we can get you an answer. But, as Mr Jennings said, we are not usually involved in the disbursement of aid expenditure, though that does not rule out some peripheral involvement by us. The other thing is that the expenditure we disburse does not usually fall under the definition of aid.

Senator LUDLAM: No. That is what I thought.

Mr Jennings: We would be happy to take it on notice and see if we can sort it out.

Senator LUDLAM: I would appreciate that. And you are right: that figure of US$200 million does sound like it is going to land pretty close to the figure of $215 million cited in the article.

Mr Jennings: It could be. It depends on the exchange rate that we operated at. We are happy to look at it.

Senator LUDLAM: Can you update us on what, if any, risk assessment is undertaken prior to reconstruction project implementation by Australian government agencies operating in Afghanistan, particularly projects initiated and implemented by the Australian Mentoring Task Force, formerly known as the Provincial Reconstruction Task Force?

Lt Gen. Hurley: At the present time the mentoring task force is not undertaking any reconstruction or development. That is primarily handled by the provincial reconstruction team at the moment. In precise detail, are you asking whether we do any formal risk assessment in terms of impact on community or about the risk of the threat to our people undertaking the job? I am not quite sure what aspect of risk you are talking about.

Senator LUDLAM: For example, to ensure that civilian populations are protected against reprisal or attack, so I guess I am looking for an overarching risk assessment, yes-threats to Australians but in the broader context.

Lt Gen. Hurley: In terms of the way they are operating at present, any projects are done in deep consultation with the local community leadership and personnel in the region and so forth to ensure that we have buy-in from the local community, they understand what is required and we are listening to what they need to be done. So, in that sense, it is about making sure that whatever work we do can be done within a community that is receptive of the activity that is being considered and appropriate protection can be provided for personnel doing the work. There are a series of those things happening up and down from the road construction to activities in the Chora Valley and throughout the region. I think people go to great lengths to ensure that what we are doing is community supported, which is one of the best risk mitigations we can have.

Senator LUDLAM: The example I have is a 2009 study by CARE, the Afghan Ministry of Education and the World Bank entitled Knowledge on fire: attacks on education in Afghanistan. It demonstrated that schools that were conducted by military provincial reconstruction teams were more vulnerable to attack than other schools. Are you aware of that piece of work or the phenomenon that it documents?

Lt Gen. Hurley: Not personally, no.

Senator LUDLAM: That is one example that I have to hand of what risk management or risk assessment might contribute to the decision to fund and build one project or another.

Lt Gen. Hurley: I cannot comment on it other than to say there are thousands and thousands of children in Afghanistan at school now who were not at school before 2009. It may be so that they become more of a target, but it is not preventing the Afghan people from turning up to the schools.

Senator LUDLAM: But they are more likely to be attacked when they get there.

Lt Gen. Hurley: That is someone else's assessment; I cannot comment on that. I do not know the basis for it and I have not seen their statistics.

Senator LUDLAM: I commend that report to you then. Recognising that you obviously have not read it-

Lt Gen. Hurley: Would you give me the title again.

Senator LUDLAM: It is called Knowledge on fire: attacks on education in Afghanistan. It is a study from 2009 by CARE, the Afghan Ministry of Education and the World Bank. It is two years old now.

Lt Gen. Hurley: Thank you.

Senator LUDLAM: Can you clarify whether funds from the US Central Commander's Emergency Response Program to Oruzgan Province are allocated and in fact spent in the province? Is that program familiar to you?

Lt Gen. Hurley: We will have to take that on notice. I do not have any detail here.

Senator LUDLAM: If you could. While you are taking that on notice I am interested to know whether those funds are made available to Australian Defence Force personnel or to anybody that we have in Oruzgan.

Dr Watt: Is this a US program?

Senator LUDLAM: It is, called the US Central Commander's Emergency Response Program-CERP. I put a couple of questions before to DMO on oil use in Defence and they were a bit unwilling to help out, so I am hoping you can. We had quite an extensive discussion in 2009 about Defence fuel consumption and what that does to your budget bottom line. You indicated at the time that Defence used about 450 million litres of various categories of fuel per year, which is about one per cent of the nation's total fuel usage and amounts to about 1.6 million tonnes of CO2 just in Australia. You were not willing to estimate what our overseas emissions were. I wonder if you can update the committee on Defence's fuel use, both in terms of the dollar bottom line and the number of litres, with similar figures that you provided a couple of years ago.

Dr Watt: I will ask our CFO if he can help you.

Senator LUDLAM: He probably thought he was done for the day, but here is a tricky one.

Dr Watt: A good CFO's work is never done.

Mr Prior: Unfortunately, I do not have the litreage at hand with me tonight. In terms of the dollars, I do not have the exact number in front of me at the moment either. From recollection, it is in the order of $400 million to $500 million a year that we spend in total. I would have to get the precise figures for you.

Senator LUDLAM: If you could.

Dr Watt: We are happy to come back to you with any updated numbers that are available. That might help.

Senator LUDLAM: Thank you. I would appreciate that. Last time I think there was some unwillingness to go into too much detail in case that exposed some secret business about the kind of fuel that we used, but you did give us a broad breakdown of category of fuel. And I would appreciate it if you could give us the cost. Also, I assume CO2 emissions are going on notice for the morning.

Dr Watt: We will look at that.

Senator LUDLAM: I am interested to know whether there is any kind of fuel efficiency drive or whether this issue hits home at all, with the fact that world oil prices are on the rise.

CHAIR: No, Senator, not on opening statements.

Senator LUDLAM: Is fuel use not an appropriate subject for budget estimates?

CHAIR: It might be, but not on opening statements. Opening statements are those statements addressed to the committee by the CDF and the secretary. My memory is there was no reference to fuel usage.

Senator LUDLAM: I encourage the CDF to make some reference to fuel usage in his next opening statement. Chair, I wonder whether this is an appropriate time to also ask the questions on cluster munitions I sought to ask earlier in the day.

CHAIR: Cluster munitions is expressly identified in program 3.1.

 Senator LUDLAM: I cannot wait. I will come back to those tomorrow.

CHAIR: We will come to it tomorrow. The secretary's office will advise your office when we get close to 3.1. I know you do have an interest, Senator.

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