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Major General Cosgrove Press Conference Transcript


PETER COSGROVE: Ladies and gentlemen, I'll make some introductory remarks. First of all I thank the Base Commander for the hospitality of the Base. Secondly, by acknowledging the presence of Commodore Mark Bonza [phonetic] who is the senior [indistinct] in Australia, has also been one of the [indistinct] commanders of the support activities here in Darwin and out at Tindal over the last three months.

Today I'm supported by [indistinct] Commodore Guy Robertson [phonetic] who until yesterday was one of INTERFET's commanders. He commanded the combined Naval component which at one stage have the biggest fleet in the southern hemisphere as part of its capabilities. And on my right-hand side Air Commodore Bruce Wood who was the Australian commanding the combined air component, again a huge fleet of aircraft supporting the operation and important men today to help me in what I was [indistinct] particularly here in Darwin.

My opening statement is really just to tell you that while your questions will no doubt talk about East Timor, there are two very important things to note. First and foremost, although Operation Stabilise, international operation mounted over five months ago in bringing urgent assistance to the East Timorese has [indistinct] and the international force East Timor as a result has been dissolved, two-thirds of Australians remain in East Timor as part of United Nations, and included in that number is a small or smaller figure, 400 of those 2000 are logistic troops who are assisting the transition of the United Nations [indistinct] to a contract arrangement for its logistics.

That's the first point I'd like to make. The second point is many, many people throughout Australia in the Defence organisation assisted Operation Stabilise, both the Australians and the other nations which were part of the operation. A large number of those are in the Northern Territory, as you would know, and it was my specific desire today to reach out to some of those people and to say a very profound "thank you" to those people in the Defence organisation in the Northern Territory and especially in Darwin for their tremendous work supporting the operation in a hugely professional and effective way. I'll just have that opportunity in two meetings, I [indistinct] everybody.

I'd also like to thank the people of the continent for their actual support, both in material terms and in the way they've managed to support our morale in a very important operation for Australia. People in the Top End are hugely defence-conscious, that's shown through, but are also great Australians, and we were privileged to have their support.

That's all I wanted to say, ladies and gentlemen, and I'm available for your questions.

QUESTION: Have you [indistinct] for the time being. What are your feelings today?

PETER COSGROVE: Well, I'm [indistinct] to see that they are now in a much better position than they were five months ago. They are - peace, they are at peace, their security is assured and they can get on with rebuilding their lives. So there is a certain sense of satisfaction there, huge pride in the achievements of the cause, especially in our wonderful Australian servicemen and women, and I guess some relief. The general cost of the operation has been kept fairly low. Our expectations really, it could have been a quite bloody operation, and we are relieved that the human cost to East Timorese to servicemen and women in the international force and even to those elements [indistinct] to us has been kept low.

QUESTION: [indistinct] our future role in the security of East Timor, are those [indistinct]

PETER COSGROVE: Geography is eternal, there is no [indistinct] that Australia will maintain a [indistinct] interest in the general welfare of the new East Timorese State, and I am sure that extends to [indistinct] hoping that they can achieve satisfactory defence and security arrangements in their whole fabric of international relations.

QUESTION: Should we be prepared to go back in there again [indistinct]

PETER COSGROVE: That is a hypothetical question which is - although it's an important one, is very much a matter for Government, but I think is probably nothing that we can answer at this stage. We're really at this stage simply looking to be the best neighbour we can be in their rehabilitation.

QUESTION: How have you been able to keep down the huge costs? [indistinct]

PETER COSGROVE: I think we were lucky, we always have to say that, but I'm also very ready to pay tremendous tribute to the discipline, the training, the patience of the servicemen and women who were involved in the operation from all countries, 22 different contributing countries, and not least amongst those the magnificent Aussies who every day were performing incredible acts of [indistinct] and their training actually proved to be of the sort that we'd all be very proud of.

QUESTION: [indistinct] the Top End, the city of Darwin [indistinct] Darwin-based troops. What role will this city continue to play in [indistinct]

PETER COSGROVE: Well, I don't know precisely because that's very much a matter for the United Nations, for Australia as one of the United Nations that has its troops in East Timor, and I guess for the administration of Darwin. But again geography is a tell. This is the nearest comprehensive supply base for the area, and I can only imagine who will continue to be a very [indistinct]

QUESTION: Given the Defence budget cuts that you've had over the years since the Second World War, do you think Australia really has the wherewithal to mount these sort of expeditions?

PETER COSGROVE: Well, you be the judge. We've just mounted one of the most successful peacekeeping operations ever. We supported 22 nations in one way or another, some more than others, in a comprehensive way which has built Australia's reputation sky-high. Now, we did that with [indistinct] but every defence force will always want more money. But our job is to maximise the effect we get from what we've got. I think we've done that this time. In terms of more money, that's a matter for Government, and all we'll do is make best use of what they give us.

QUESTION: Are you looking forward to seeing your family?

PETER COSGROVE: Very much. At 3.30 this afternoon I believe there may be some - these senior people [indistinct] members in Sydney, but the most senior will be my wife.

QUESTION: Have you spoken to your wife?

PETER COSGROVE: Yes, frequently. That's one of the lucky things of being a boss, I had a phone, and I shouted myself a call a day to make sure all was well at home.

QUESTION: Many see you as a hero. How do you [indistinct]

PETER COSGROVE: No, not at all. I'm just - well, I was actually very lucky to be in a particular job whereby it was logical that I be given this task, and I've been supported by wonderful people. I'm a bit like the monkey riding the elephant around the circus ring, he's tremendously dignified but then he thinks he's in charge.

QUESTION: You were greeted last night and [indistinct] this morning by some Vietnam vets who told me that they were there because [indistinct] home-coming [indistinct]

PETER COSGROVE: I was moved. It was, as you know [indistinct] and they've been out here for some time. They were thoroughly soaked. I would describe them all as [indistinct] with legs, holding up the big [indistinct] and what could one do but be moved. It was a very touching moment, and I hope I managed to greet them all. They're great people, but they are also just part of a community which has given us the most wonderful support.

QUESTION: What problems do you envisage with the transfer over to UNTAET [indistinct]

PETER COSGROVE: Well, there will always be teething problems, but I'll have to tell you that it's a powerful force with a good leadership, and I'm very confident that they will maintain a security position [indistinct] They have to because the East Timorese rely [indistinct] I'm confident that if they behave with great vigour, energy and capitalise on the security position we've handed over to them, it's all roses, you know, in the security sense, for East Timor.

QUESTION: What happens to you now?

PETER COSGROVE: I've got a job to go to. I'm going to be the [indistinct] Commander [indistinct] which is [indistinct] Army title. It actually puts me for duty in Sydney. I have responsibilities around the nation for the Army's combat troops, so I hope to be a frequent visitor to the Top End.

QUESTION: [indistinct] some of the top brass [indistinct]. Have you been able to [indistinct]

PETER COSGROVE: Well, I hope I'm not one. No, I haven't seen that report and, you know, any time there's reports on Defence [indistinct] I'll be looking forward to having a look at that one

QUESTION: Would you contemplate offers in the private sector?

PETER COSGROVE: No, not at all. I've got two or three years before I expect to get a [indistinct] and a nudge in the ribs to move over, and so I'll have to spend those in uniform.

QUESTION: [indistinct] in politics?

PETER COSGROVE: Absolutely not, I'm a soldier. Well, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much indeed, and if I could say one thing [indistinct] Chiefs of Staff [indistinct] put on the air. I'd like to commend the media as a role in this whole operation in the highest possible terms. Sincerely and seriously, the media have been a huge factor not only in the success of the INTERFET mission but I think in the saving of East Timor, and in the due attention to the international community for its rehabilitation. I thank the media's close attention for their accurate reporting, their scrutiny of us has kept us transparent and accountable. I'm delighted with the INTERFET outcomes, but I'd like to pay tribute to the media whose interest in us has always been welcomed and has kept us focused on ensuring that we maintain a credibility internationally that is so vital for an international force. So from this force commander to - I could call you friends in the media - my sincere thanks. Thanks, ladies and gentlemen.

* * End * *

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