PM considers visit to US

KEVIN RUDD is considering a trip to the US, just weeks after the visit of US President Barack Obama, to talk about nuclear non-proliferation with the superpower.

While Mr Rudd’s office would not discuss the matter, his National Security Adviser Duncan Lewis told students in a lecture at the University of Canberra the trip was under consideration.

“I’ll in fact be going to the United States with the PM in, I think, it’s April,” Mr Lewis said.

The visit to the US is not locked in, Mr Lewis later clarified, but would be coming just weeks after Mr Obama tours Australia in late March.

Talk of the trip was only part of a rare and wide-ranging address from Mr Lewis, a former SAS commander who has been in the job 14 months.

One of his concerns is the financial position of the Government in respect of national security.

He said a range of economic strains, including the global financial crisis, would see a financial struggle for the likes of ASIO in the coming years.

“We are going to be fairly strapped for money,” Mr Lewis said. “It’s going to be tough. You’d be surprised if we were starting to pour substantial sums of money back into national security any time soon.”

Mr Lewis’ worries come despite years of exponential growth in the counter-terrorism and wider national security budget.

ASIO’s own submission to a parliamentary committee details the equity injections of more than $100 million it received annually in 2006-07 and 2007-08. Those injections sat alongside a budget that sits at about $400 million in 2009-10.

On top of that is the ballooning cost of building ASIO’s massive new headquarters in suburban Canberra.

The comments came as Mr Lewis prepares to travel to Pakistan – a country almost crippled by the constant threat of attack from al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

Asked for his thoughts on the Afghan war that has spread into Pakistan, Mr Lewis was frank.

“It makes me very worried,” he told the students. “I am very worried about where and how we are progressing with the Afghan issue, it’s too early at this stage to say what kind of impact the current strategy is having.”



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