TOPICS: Largs Bay and C-17 Acquisition; ADFA Skype Incident
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much for turning up. Sorry we're a bit late. I'm joined today by the Minister for Defence Material, Jason Clare. And today, we're announcing that Australia has been successful in acquiring the Bay class amphibious ship the Largs Bay from the United Kingdom. This is a very pleasing outcome and I welcome very much the fact that the Government has been able to acquire the ship in a competitive tender process from the United Kingdom.
I spoke to my counterpart, United Kingdom Secretary of State for Defence Liam Fox, on Monday night and thanked him for his assistance. As I said at the AUKMIN meeting in Sydney earlier this year, we believe that Australia and the United Kingdom can do many more things together in an operational sense, in a capability sense, and this is, in very many respects, the first example.
So it's been purchased for 65 million pounds or the equivalent of 100 million Australian Dollars. The book value was in the order of 130 United Kingdom pounds, pounds sterling. So we believe it's very good value for money.
I think there are a number of significant aspects about the purchase. Firstly, it does enable us now to move forward on a new and comprehensive transition plan to our heavy amphibious [indistinct] Landing Helicopter Docks, which we expect to start up in service in the middle of this decade.
Now that we have the Largs Bay, the Bay class, which we expect to arrive in Australia by the end of the year and be operational early next year, we can now move forward to a transitional plan to cover that period from now till the end of the year, but also until the arrival of the LHDs.
As you'd be aware, when I was in New Zealand recently, we agreed with the New Zealand Government, New Zealand Defence Minister Mapp that we would work very closely in terms of the coordination of the availability of the HMNZS Canterbury, New Zealand's heavy amphibious lift ship. And we are currently coordinating with New Zealand the availability of the Canterbury during those times when it is proposed that the HMAS Tobruk go into maintenance.
In addition to that, we are now looking very closely at the possibility of further acquisitions or leases of commercial amphibious vessels, whether catamarans or trimarans, to ensure that we have appropriate transitional arrangements from now until the arrival of the Bay class and also until the arrival of the LHDs. So that's a very pleasing outcome.
Secondly, in passing, can I just indicate that you'll be aware that at the - I think at the Avalon Air Show, I announced that Australia was moving to acquire a fifth C-17, that we have initiated a process with the United States, through its foreign military sales arrangement, to acquire a C-17. That is very well advanced. And I am hopeful and optimistic that in the course of the next few months, we will also be able to announce the purchase of a fifth C-17 for the Australian Air Force.
You would, of course, be aware, and I won't go into the details, of the success of our C-17 fleet, both in disaster relief in the Canterbury earthquake and also, more recently, in Japan.
But what I'd like to do is to hand over to Jason to make some comments about the Bay class in particular, I then want to make some remarks about another matter which is on foot and then after I've done that, we're very happy to respond to your questions on those or other issues. Jason.
JASON CLARE: Well, thanks, Stephen. This is a good result for Australia and it's a good result for our region. The purchase of this ship will help to ensure that we've got the capability that we need, the amphibious capability we need, for operations, as well as humanitarian relief in Australia and across our region, between now and the middle of the decade when the Landing Helicopter Dock ships arrive.
Two months ago, the Minister and I did a press conference, here in Canberra, where we announced the decommissioning of the Manoora. And we spoke very plainly about the state of our aging amphibious ships.
We asked Defence to look at all options that were available to fill this capability gap, and that search that was conducted and concluded that the best and most capable ship available was the Largs Bay. That's why we've pursued this purchase so vigorously.
And to put this in perspective, ships like this don't come on the market very often, a ship as modern and new as this ship. This is a ship which is now just five years old. Its weight is about 16 tonnes, so it's twice the weight of the Manoora - 16,000 tonnes, I'm sorry, 16,000 tonnes and twice the weight of the Manoora. And its cargo capacity is the equivalent of the Manoora, the Kanimbla and the Tobruk combined, so our entire amphibious fleet combined. It can carry a full range of military vehicles up to 150 light military vehicles at any time, 350 soldiers, as well as two large helicopters, two Chinook-size helicopters. It also has a modern medical facility and has a floating dock.
Our current amphibious ships, the Manoora, Kanimbla, don't have a floating dock. The LHDs do. And so the acquisition of this ship will provide an important training opportunity to ensure that the Navy can prepare for the acquisition and the operation of the LHDs that come into service in the middle of the decade.
Before we put in our bid, we did the due diligence that is proper and necessary. We asked an international company, TK Marine, to do an assessment of the material state of the ship. And their assessment is that the ship is in good condition.
But before we conclude the sale, we will also conduct a full sea trial of the vessel to verify its material state. Once that's concluded, the ship will come to Australia at the end of this year and be ready for operations early in 2012.
And as Minister Smith has said, this is one part of a transition plan for the arrival of the LHDs. The first part is making sure we've got the capability we need between now and the middle of the decade. The second part is improving the sustainment of our amphibious ships. And that is why we have appointed Paul Rizzo to do that work for us, and he'll report in a few months time. And the third part is making sure that Navy is prepared and trained ready to operate the Landing Helicopter Dock ships, and that's another piece of work that still needs to be done. Minister.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks, Jason. Can I just make some remarks about the allegations and suggestions of inappropriate conduct at the Australian Defence Force Academy.
Firstly, let me preface all my remarks by saying that this matter, which raises very serious issues of personal conduct and very serious issues that go to the reputation of the Australian Defence Force Academy and the Australian Defence Force itself, is the subject of a Defence inquiry and also the subject of an Australian Federal Police inquiry.
As a consequence of the Australian Federal Police inquiry, which is an inquiry into whether any criminal law of the ACT or of the Commonwealth has been broken, the Defence inquiry will essentially be held in abeyance pending the outcome of the AFP inquiry.
So I need to just very carefully make my remarks, so as not in any way to either prejudice the AFP inquiry, to prejudice any subsequent Defence inquiry or to prejudice any proceedings, whether those proceedings are before a court in the ACT or a court of the Commonwealth or indeed Defence disciplinary hearings.
So I make that point and I underline it.
As a consequence of that, let me make some general remarks about conduct of ADF personnel.
First, the Chief of the Defence Force and the Service Chiefs and the Secretary of Defence will not tolerate conduct which is inappropriate, conduct which is sexist, conduct which vilifies women or conduct which is inappropriate in any way that goes to the dignity and the civility of work mates.
As a general proposition, ADF Defence personnel need to be very careful to understand that in the modern day, the modern Australian Defence Force has standards, and the breaking of those standards will not be condoned.
Defence Force personnel, whether they've been in the Defence Force for eight weeks or eight years also need to understand that things which are done privately and discreetly may well be regarded by the community as appropriate, but they're not regarded as appropriate either by the community or the Australian Defence Force if they're done in public. And we saw examples of that, for example, in the Gyles report in the HMAS Success inquiry.
The point I'm making there is that in the modern digital world, you know, things that you do on Facebook, or things that you do online, or things that you might put on Skype effectively become or are public.
And we saw recently with inappropriate remarks made by Australian Defence Force personnel on Facebook which became public and brought the Australian Defence Force and Australia into disrepute.
So, conduct of the nature I've described cannot and will not be tolerated. As a general proposition, the Chief of the Defence Force, the Service Chiefs and the ADF have worked very hard in recent years to bring the ADF culture into the modern day, so far as treatment of women is concerned.
It is quite clearly the case, which is acknowledged by all concerned, that much more work needs to be done and it will be.
Let me make a general point. The Australian Defence Force and its personnel cannot do their work effectively in the national security interests of the Commonwealth unless there is trust in the workplace. Unless there is trust between ADF personnel wherever they are. And I can't think in the allegations and the circumstances which have been outlined - in those circumstances, I can't think of a greater betrayal of trust of a colleague in the workplace than the suggestions that have been made. And once that trust is destroyed, then it is very difficult, if not impossible, for the person who has broken that trust to remain a Defence Force personnel member.
Now, I make that general remark without, in any way, commenting or averring to any of the alleged facts or circumstances of this case.
What I can say is that, clearly, the young woman concerned will be under very considerable pressure as a result of bringing this matter to the public light. And as a consequence of that, she is receiving all of the support and counselling which ADF personnel receive at a time of difficulty, and that is entirely appropriate.
So, this matter is being treated very seriously by the Chief of the Defence Force, the Service Chiefs and the Australian Defence Force leadership, as it should be, and I regard it as a most serious issue.
JOURNALIST: Mr Smith, you say it's being treated seriously, but it does seem at the initial outset of these claims being made or allegations being raised, Defence didn't take it as seriously as maybe you would have liked?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I - I'm not - firstly, I'm not sure that's right. Secondly, I think it's very careful how we categorise or characterise this.
Firstly, the matter was drawn to attention. The Defence Force raised the matter with the Australian Federal Police. I'm told the initial response was a preliminary view that, perhaps, no offences had been - the possibility of offences didn't exist or wasn't there. And so, the initial response was, in that case, ADF needs to conduct an inquiry of its own.
Subsequent advice from the Australian Federal Police was that there were matters which did warrant or require investigation and that's now on foot.
So, I think we just need to be very careful to carefully distinguish the preliminary treatment or assessment of the matter and the ultimate decision of the AFP and the Australian Defence Force.
The decision of the Australian Federal Police that there are circumstances have been drawn to attention which warrant inquiry by the Australian Federal Police because they may give rise to offences either under the law of the Australian Capital Territory or the laws of the Commonwealth.
Because of the matters that have been raised, the Australian Defence Force has [break in transmission] an investigation which may well, irrespective of the outcome of the AFP inquiry or any subsequent proceedings, which may well lead to disciplinary action.
JOURNALIST: Minister, you say that the young woman involved is receiving all support and counselling. What evidence do you - what evidence do you have that she's received support and counselling?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I say two things. Firstly, I rely on this matter upon the advice that I've received from the Chief of the Defence Force and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force. And I spoke to both of those about the detail of the support and counselling as early as this morning.
JOURNALIST: And what did they tell you?
STEPHEN SMITH: They told me that she was receiving all of the support and counselling that any member of the ADF in difficulty would receive.
JOURNALIST: So you would be surprised and disappointed if you were subsequently to learn that that is not true?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, firstly, I don't know whether you're asserting that, but let me make this general-
JOURNALIST: It's a question. Would you be surprised and disappointed if you were subsequently to find that she, in fact, has not received counselling?
STEPHEN SMITH: The advice I have from the Chief of the Defence Force, as early as this morning, is that the Defence Force will provide her, and are providing her, with all of the necessary counselling and support. So, I'm proceeding on that basis.
Let me also make a more general point. I've also had suggestions made to me or my office by members of the media that a range of things have occurred with respect to this young woman. I have drawn all of those to the attention of the Chief of the Defence Force and ask that he inquire into those matters.
Now, I'm not proposing on the basis of hearsay to aver to any of those matters; that would not be appropriate. But circumstances have been drawn to my officer’s attention by members of the media. I have formally asked the CDF to inquire about those matters and report to me. And I'm very happy-
STEPHEN SMITH: And I'm very happy - I'm very happy to go back to my office and say to the Chief of the Defence Force, an assertion has been made to me by a member of the media that she's not receiving support and counselling. Would you please again inquire into that, which is a matter I raised with him earlier this morning.
JOURNALIST: So would - if you were to learn, or if you were to inquire and subsequently to learn that the commodore, who is the commandant of the A… at ADFA did not in his meeting with the young woman involved offer, describe any avenue towards counselling support, and there was none at all available to her in the course of that meeting which is, you know, the primary meeting by the commodore out there - the commander out there in charge and with responsibility to that young woman, would you find that a disturbing event?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well firstly, I'm not an investigating officer. I'm the Minister for Defence. And I take my responsibility for the administration of that which occurs in Defence. That's the first point. Secondly, I'm very happy to take that assertion back to Defence and say a further assertion has been made by a member of the media about the way in which Defence have handled this matter so far as its relationship with the young woman is concerned, and to get advice on that point.
I'm not proposing to respond to your assertion or your hearsay or your suggestion or comment. That in my eyes would be inappropriate. Let me make this general point. We will have here a young woman who is under very considerable pressure because of the circumstances which she has detailed and because of the focus that she and this issue will be under by the media.
I'm not complaining about that. She will be under considerable pressure, and I would want and expect that all of the support that can be given to her should and would be given to her.
STEPHEN SMITH: Just han… just-
JOURNALIST: -any punishment visited upon this young woman because she went to the media, if there was any sanctional punishment against her because she went to the media.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well she is also a member of the ADF, and she is to conduct herself in accordance with the requirements of members of the ADF and the Defence Force Academy, and it may well be that in terms of what she has done, that she may well have to respond in due course to her own conduct.
That is entirely a matter for the normal Defence procedures.
But let me make this very important point. If that is to occur it will occur subsequent to the investigation of this very serious matter which is qualitatively different in every respect from any suggestion that the young woman concerned may not have followed appropriate Defence procedure either by so-called breaking of fraternisation rules, or by drawing the matter to the media's attention.
Can I say I regard those as very much tenth-order issues. There is a very concerning, serious and difficult allegation which needs to be investigated by the Australian Federal Police, which needs to be investigated at the appropriate time by the Australian Defence Force perso… by the Australian Defence Force. In the meantime the young woman concerned is entitled to - and will receive - all of the support that can be given to her as is appropriate.
Now hang on - now, there are other, I'm very happy to stay here until we're finished, but there are other people wanting to have a go.
Up the back.
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] HMAS Success and this latest ADFA situation, are you aware in the past two years of other situations or allegations of sexual misconduct within the ADF, and if so how many?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I'm not proposing to deal with the last two years, I'm very happy to take the detail of that on notice and respond for my period of time as Minister-
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible question]
STEPHEN SMITH: Well as a general response the Chief of the Defence Force and the Service Chiefs and the Secretary and the Minister of the day want Australian Defence Force personnel to conduct themselves in private and in public in an appropriate manner. And I've had regrettably more than one instance drawn to my attention where a member of the Australian Defence Force personnel on its face has appeared not to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner.
The most notorious of those are all found in the Gyles report, a copy of which you'll recall I tabled in the Parliament.
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] do you believe there is a systemic problem within the-
STEPHEN SMITH: What I have said is that I think the Chief of the Defence Force and the service chiefs and the Defence leadership are on the right track in trying to ensure that the culture of Australian Defence Force personnel is respectful of people in the workplace, is respectful of their work colleagues, and that in particular applies to women.
There have been a range of initiatives which have sought to make the Australian Defe… an Australian Defence Force career more attractive to women. I want to see more women in the Australian Defence Force. I want to see more women in leadership positions. I want the Australian Defence Force's culture and composition to better [indistinct] the Australian community.
And that includes modern day standards about the treatment of women with civility and dignity.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about [indistinct] Minister.
STEPHEN SMITH: Just-
JOURNALIST: -in September 2009 you were aware of the woman who complained that her drink had been spiked, and she was videoed and photographed performing sexual acts while she was, quote-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well firstly I wasn't Minister for Defence in 2009. One, I wasn't Minister for Defence in 2009. Firstly. Secondly, I'm very happy to take that on notice and provide you with a response but I'm not proposing as I think is an appropriate response, not proposing on the run to aver to a matter the facts of which I don't have readily at hand at a period when I wasn't the Minister.
But I'm very happy to take it on notice and have my office respond to you.
Just one here.
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] sexist culture that's ingrained within ADF that needs changing?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well what I have said is that the Australian Defence Force personnel, the attitude of its individual members and its cultural or [indistinct] attitude needs to reflect the modern Australia. The modern Australia that I see is not an Australia which allows women to be subject to sexist conduct, which allows women to be vilified, and which puts women in a position where there is a complete betrayal of trust between a woman and a work colleague or a professional colleague.
JOURNALIST: Minister, are you concerned that this girl has been turned from the victim to the villain at ADFA. The cadets are, you know, berating her. I mean [indistinct] -
STEPHEN SMITH: Well can I again say firstly, again by way of hearsay through members of the media it's been suggested to my office that that may have occurred. I've asked the Chief of the Defence Force to inquire about that and report to me.
Again I'm not proposing to respond to any of those suggestions. That would not be appropriate at this stage.
As a general proposition I believe that any vilification of a member of Defence Force is inappropriate.
This young woman has raised a very serious allegation. The allegation that she has raised is now the subject of an Australian Federal Police inquiry.
I believe the raising of the allegation was appropriate. I believe the AFP inquiry is appropriate. I also believe it's appropriate that we allow those formal processes to take their course, and in the meantime it is very important that this young woman is given all the support - and counselling - and help that she requires, and that includes her being treated with civility and dignity by her workmates and her colleagues.
JOURNALIST: Just one more. The thing is the concern is that if she didn't go in the media, this would not have been raised again by the Defence Force to the Australian Federal Police.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I don't believe-
JOURNALIST: And they might - the allegation is that they might, they might have just got a slap on the wrist.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I don't believe that that is a correct analysis.
I saw for example a talking point note over the weekend which said this is a matter, not for the Australian Federal Police.
The advice is that that it doesn't disclose any possible breaches of the law.
I queried that and said I've long been a lapsed lawyer, but I'm not confident that is right.
JOURNALIST: Well only half an hour before I did the interview with the Commandant of ADFA, they had new legal advice that said that it could be, that they could be charged under Commonwealth-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well this is precisely the point that I'm making. I said earlier initial advice from the Australian Federal Police in Canberra was that they didn't believe that the circumstances that had been drawn to attention raised a matter which warranted investigation for breach of the criminal law, either of the Australian Capital Territory or of the Commonwealth.
When I saw that view asserted to me I queried it.
The AFP looked at the matter again. And I'm not suggesting they looked at the matter again as a result of my response when I saw the talking point, but when they looked at the matter again they came to a formal conclusion that the matter warranted investigation. I believe the decision by the AFP to investigate this matter in the circumstances that I've been made aware of was, and is, appropriate.
JOURNALIST: What day was that did you get the talk [indistinct] or did you make that contact?
STEPHEN SMITH: It was over the weekend. I'm happy to check whether it was Saturday or Sunday.
JOURNALIST: That's why the girl went to the media because she thought they were going to [indistinct] the AFP were not going to investigate it.
STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly, you assert that. I don't know whether that's true. I'm dealing here with some very important fundamentals. I'm dealing here with an issue which has got very serious personal accountability issues associated with it, which is now the subject, as it should be, of an Australian Federal Police inquiry.
The Australian Federal Police made its own judgement on the basis of the information it had been provided with. And I believe it was appropriate for the AFP to make that decision and to commence its inquiry.
That's the first point. Secondly, I haven't spoken to the woman concerned and I wouldn't. I don't know what motivated her to go to the media - or elements of the media.
I make this fundamental point. I believe the public airing of this issue in all of the circumstances was appropriate. I don't believe that the young woman concerned should be viewed poorly or dimly as a result of bringing this matter to public attention. That's a separate issue from whether in due course, as a lower order issue, there may be some ramifications so far as the young woman's concerned, as a result of the rules that she is obliged to comply with, so far as being a member of the Australian Defence Force Academy is concerned.
I'm dealing here in fundamentals. I'm not dealing in hearsay; I'm not dealing in allegations made to me at a press conference. I'm dealing in fundamentals.
What are the fundamentals? A very serious issue going to personal conduct has been raised. That raises very serious issues about the reputation of the modern Australian Defence Force. It raises conduct which - whilst not referring to or reflecting on this particular matter, it raises standards of conduct which are not acceptable in the modern Australian Defence Force. It is the subject of an Australian Federal Police inquiry. That, in my view, is appropriate. It will also in due course be the subject of an Australian Defence Force inquiry. That is also appropriate. And, in the meantime, the woman concerned should be treated with all of the civility and dignity that people can muster. And she should be given all the support that is required or necessary.
And any of the assertions or allegations that have been raised with me or my office either here or earlier in the day, I have or will raise with the Chief of the Defence Force to him to inquire and respond to me, in respect of those matters.
JOURNALIST: So can I just ask you, in terms of ADFA itself? Can you express yourself, standing here; entirely satisfied with the way that ADFA has handled this matter since it came to their attention last week?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, let me respond in the same way that I have before. I'm not proposing to respond on the basis of hearsay suggestions that have been made about that matter.
JOURNALIST: No [indistinct] your judgement. Are you entirely satisfied with your understanding of what has taken place that ADFA has dealt with this matter since it came to their attention last week in an entirely appropriate way?
STEPHEN SMITH: Those who know me know that in matters like this and generally, I proceed step by step. A number of issues have been raised with me or my office by members of the media about the handling of this matter. I have asked the CDF, the Chief of the Defence Force, to inquire about those matters and report to me. When I've got that report, I'll form a judgement and once I've formed a judgement, it may or may not be appropriate to make that judgement public. I'll deal with that, step by step.
JOURNALIST: Minister [indistinct] the situation of HMAS Success, and again yesterday, the victims at the centre of these incidents has felt that they've gone as far as they can with Defence and have had to go to the media to resolve their problems. Now, that obviously indicates that there's some serious issues with the culture of cover up within Defence.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, let me deal with HMAS Success. There are two HMAS Success reports. The first one that I tabled in the parliament recently. A second report from Commissioner Gyles which goes to the way in which the ADF, the Australian Defence Force, deals with these matters when it is confronted with them. And I am very much anticipating receiving that report because I think Commissioner Gyles will give us some helpful advice as to how we can improve those proceedings.
It was quite clear in the case of the Success that the investigation part of this matter was not well handled. That's quite clear from Commissioner Gyles' first report. And I think Commissioner Gyles will give us some very helpful advice about how we can improve these matters generally.
JOURNALIST: [indistinct] how many more cases are there going to be until you get this information? I mean-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, let me make this comment. I've spoken about modern Australian community standards. The Australian Defence Force is not the only organisation in Australia, is not the only part of the Australian community, where individual personnel from time to time might fall short of those standards. Some people might say, from time to time, it includes members of my noble profession or the media. So let's keep this thing in its context.
The Chief of the Defence Force, with the full support of the Minister of the day and the Government, wants to ensure that we have a culture in the Australian Defence Force which reflects the modern day, particularly as that relates to the treatment of women. That is a very good thing.
Have we made progress in recent times? Yes, we have. Is the Australian Defence Force perfect on that front? No, it's not. There's more work to be done. But let us keep all of the examples we've had of ADF personnel falling short of those standards in their proper context.
The context of this matter is a Australian Federal Police inquiry into alleged conduct of a number of young cadets at the Defence Force Academy. Is the issue concerning? Yes, it is. Does this issue raise very concerning aspects of Defence Force reputation or reputational issues? Yes, it does. Am I treating this matter seriously? Yes, I am. Am I making sure that every aspect of it which is raised with me is dealt with formally and appropriately and reported to me? Yes, I am.
As I've said earlier to the earlier question, I'll take it step by step in a proper, thorough way.
JOURNALIST: Minister, have there been any changes in processes of how the Defence Force deals with such complaints since Success?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, because we're awaiting the second report from Commissioner Giles to look at the matter across the board.
There was one here.
JOURNALIST: Can you tell us what's happened to the cadets involved in this at the moment? Are they still going to classes as normal? Have they been pulled out?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the advice I had this morning is that they are conducting themselves in accordance with what their class mates are all conducting themselves this morning - turning up to class and doing their work. That's the advice I have.
JOURNALIST: Commodore Kafer said yesterday that if criminal charges or criminal convictions are found against any of the cadets involved in this, that that could lead to the termination of their military careers, in other words, they could get the sack if it becomes a matter of criminal charges or conviction. You seem to have indicated today that there is a lower threshold for the ending of their careers, that it doesn't require criminal charges, if it is found that the facts are supported. What is the threshold for these guys to get the sack [indistinct]-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, firstly, I'm only speaking in general terms because unlike others, I'm not proposing, I'm not proposing, to pre-judge an Australian Federal Police inquiry, I'm not proposing to pre-judge any decision of any court, either of the ACT or of the Commonwealth, nor am I proposing to pre-judge any disciplinary procedures that might occur under the A