PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 21764

Press Conference Parliament House, Canberra

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 23/05/2005

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 21764

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Ladies and gentleman Senator Hill and I have called this news conference to announce the full range of senior service appointments which will take effect from July of this year. As you are aware I've already announced the appointment of Air Vice Marshal Angus Houston as the new Chief of the Defence Force and he will take over from General Cosgrove in July of this year. I want to take this opportunity again of recording the thanks of the Government as I know the Australian people to General Cosgrove for the remarkable leadership that he has given to the Australian Defence Force over the three years that he's served in that position and his previous career in the Australian Army and wish him and his wife Lynne, every happiness in the years ahead.

Today I'm announcing that Vice Admiral Ritchie will retire as the Chief of the Royal Australian Navy. Vice Admiral Ritchie has served in the Royal Australian Navy for a period of 40 years. He has been Chief of the Navy over the past three years and it has been a period of intense activity. It covered the first war-like activity by the Navy since the Vietnam War, with the engagement of HMAS Anzac during the early stages of the military operation in Iraq and I would like to wish Admiral Ritchie every happiness and good health in his future life and to record my deep gratitude to him on behalf of the Government and the Australian people for his very loyal and professional service to the Navy.

I announce the appointment of Vice Admiral Russ-Shalders who is currently the Vice Chief of the Defence Force as the new Chief of the Royal Australian Navy. That will be an appointment for a period of three years.

I also announce the appointment of Major-General Ken Gillespie as the new Vice Chief of the Defence Force. He is currently the land commander and that also will be an appointment for a period of three years. He will bring very particular skills and operational experience to that very important coordinating role as Vice Chief of the Defence Force and he was previously the Head of Strategic Operations Division.

I want to announce the re-appointment for a further period of three years as Chief of the Army of Lieutenant General Peter Leahy, who's currently serving in that position. The Government believes that he's done an outstanding job as Chief of the Army over the past three years and I'm delighted to be able to announce his re-appointment for a similar period.

And I'm also and finally announcing the appointment of Air Vice-Marshal Geoff Shepherd as the new Chief of the Royal Australian Air Force. He's currently the Air Commander of Australia. He's a fighter pilot and has commanded our F1-11 squadron and that appointment is also for a period of three years.

Can I finally say that in accepting the recommendations of the Minister for Defence in these areas, the Government was reassured by the fact that at the top of each of the three services are people of great ability and I feel extremely pleased and proud of the new senior service team. It will contain a number of new faces, it will maintain a continuation of some others but it will continue the very strong team that has led the ADF under General Cosgrove's stewardship over the past three years and under Air, soon to be Chief Marshal Houston's stewardship over the next three years. I'm certain that that quality will be maintained to the full. I thank all of them for accepting the appointments, I wish them well, I assure them of the total support of the Australian Government and I know the total support and enthusiastic respect of all of the Australian people. I believe that the regard for the ADF in the Australian community is as high, if not higher than it has been at anytime in the 31 years that I've been in public life and that is due overwhelmingly to the quality of the people who've led the various branches of the services, and in particular, the quality of the men who are with me today. I'd like to invite the CDF designate, Air Marshal Angus Houston to say a few words.

AIR MARSHAL ANGUS HOUSTON:

Thank you Prime Minister. I welcome this announcement by the Government today. The Prime Minister has announced a very strong team, a team that has very strong single service credentials, most importantly in the modern environment, a team that has a very strong background in joint operations. Every single member of the team has held an important appointment in the joint arena and I think together, we bring a lot of expertise and a lot of experience to the challenging job of leading the Australian Defence Force into the next three years. I'd also like to take this opportunity to wish General Cosgrove all the best in his retirement, I think he's done a wonderful job as CDF and he is certainly going to be a very hard act for me to follow. I'd also like to thank Admiral Ritchie for the great job he has done as Chief of Navy. I think he's done a fantastic job and I wish him well in his future. That's all I've got to say, thank you very much.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister there was some comments recorded at the weekend, the Defence Minister saying that Australian troops were going to be hopefully withdrawn from Iraq within 12 months, are we putting a time table on how long troops are going to be in Iraq for?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I am sure the Defence Minister can speak for himself but I think we all hope that the job is completed as soon as possible but naturally we won't be withdrawing until the job is completed but I think that's what the Defence Minister had in mind but he might want to add to it.

SENATOR ROBERT HILL:

Al Muthanna - we sent forces there for 12 months, two rotations of six. The purpose they are there is to provide security that the Iraq security forces are unable to provide adequately at the moment. Our objective is to train a second battalion and to also improve the leadership at the brigade level and we would hope that by completion of that task that the Iraqi security forces in Al Muthanna will be able to do the job. That is certainly their objective, they want to be able to reach that standard and they are very appreciative of the fact that Australia is making a contribution.

JOURNALIST:

Minister Hill, Senator, how long do you think it will be now before we hear about the air warfare destroyer decision?

SENATOR ROBERT HILL:

Well that's a Whole of Government decision that will be made in the not too distant future. I said publicly that advice has reached me from my Department; it therefore goes into Cabinet process and as soon as Cabinet's made a decision, we will obviously make an announcement.

JOURNALIST:

Minister are you concerned by the survey in today's Australian that showed the members of the Defence Force feel unloved?

SENATOR ROBERT HILL:

You mean that they wanted more money and less hours? So they're not all that different from the rest of the Australian community.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

SENATOR ROBERT HILL:

No, well both recruitment and retention have been very good in recent years. I think its fair to say that it is getting a bit tougher, you know as result of the very strong economy and the fact that these people are very well qualified for a whole range of jobs in the broader community but I suppose in many ways my feedback has been that to the contrary, that they've enjoyed the deployments. Most people who join the Defence Force want to go on operations, they've had that opportunity, they've done an exceptionally good job and they feel very proud about what they've achieved. But you know whilst salary levels are set by an independent tribunal which is the way the Defence Force likes it, we do have to be aware of the fact that it is a very competitive labour market and we've got to ensure that the Defence Forces are properly remunerated for the very difficult challenges that we give to them. We think...

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] trying to recruit and re-pay people and the numbers have actually dropped so how can you say that retention and recruitment have been successful?

SENATOR ROBERT HILL:

Well if you look at the statistics over the last few years, recruitment has been quite strong, the difficulties have been in specialist areas and that particularly relates to the strong economy and retention has been at a higher level than what it was for some time. So we have actually been going through quite a good period in that regard but nevertheless, we've a record low unemployment, we have to watch that very carefully. You know we are still planning to grow the Defence Force further, we confirmed in the last election that we still need to grow the army by about another thousand, simply to complete the commitments that the government's already made in relation to introduction of the armed reconnaissance helicopter and capabilities of that type. So we will be vigorously competing in the labour market for the skills that we need and you know recognise that in a time as I said of very low unemployment, it's a challenging task.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] .. CDF how he sees the forces attracting people into a career and keeping them there?

AIR MARSHAL ANGUS HOUSTON:

Well we are looking very closely at recruitment and retention and clearly there is always a focus on what we might be able to do other than what we have been doing already, certainly there are challenges there and I think I will leave it at that at this stage.

PRIME MINISTER:

Could I just add for information that last week before I had any specific knowledge of what was in the.... the Australian this morning, I wrote to Mrs Kelly as Minister Assisting Defence, asking her for an update on current recruitment and retention levels. I expect to personally receive a report on that very soon. I do want to underline the point that Robert Hill made and that is that in a strong economy, I won't put it any higher than that, a very strong economy, with full employment and extremely competitive salaries, it's always a challenge to retain highly qualified ambitious people in the Defence Forces and that is something that the Government has to keep in mind and the relevant bodies have to keep in mind when they are setting remuneration levels. We have to meet the market if we are going to retain a high quality Defence Force.

JOURNALIST:

All of that suggests that there may be a case for better remuneration to attract more people?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we have a process for dealing with that, I just wanted to flag the point that you have to be realistic. The other point to be made is that it, as can be made in relation to other occupations where the career aspirations of your wife or husband are also important and act as perhaps as a greater constraint that may have been the case 30 or 40 years on the commitment - applies to doctors going to the country, it also applies to military people who get constantly shifted around. And all of those things are working in a particular direction and they make the job of retaining people all that much more challenging. I have to endorse Robert Hill's comments though that the men and women I've struck in the ADF over the past few years are always happy when there's some kind of deployment. Thank you.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard...

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes? Then we must go because I don't want any of you to catch a cold in this Canberra winter.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, has the Government come up with a plan yet to help the country's farmers?

PRIME MINISTER:

We're having a Cabinet meeting this afternoon. We meet Cabinet normally in the afternoon; it's one of those secrets I'm amazed we've been able to keep for so long, but we altered the schedule, when Parliament sits Cabinet now meets in the afternoon. That probably means we'll get a whole lot of quorums call on us this afternoon.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't know Michelle, all I can say is it will be discussed this afternoon, it will be discussed sympathetically and sensibly. There is a case for some further assistance but it's got to be done in a constructive manner and it's got to be done in a manner that's seen to be fair for the rest of the community. I think there's a lot of community sympathy for Australia's farmers, they're vital to our nation and I'm moved very much, and I know my colleagues are, by the plight of so many of them. This is a terrible drought, some of the old stagers I met on Friday said it's the worst they can remember and that goes back to the 1940s.

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 21764