Stephen Smith MP
Minister for Defence
TOPICS: Libya; Release of the HMAS Success Commission of Inquiry Report
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Minister, good morning. Firstly, what's your reaction to the escalating crisis in Libya?
STEPHEN SMITH: It's very difficult to make a clear judgement from afar, particularly given the inability of international media to broadcast what's actually occurring. But there are a number of important points. Firstly, as is always the case, we want these matters to be resolved peacefully. So we obviously want people's rights of protest to be respected.
We are indicating to Australian nationals who are there that they should leave safely if they're able to do so by commercial travel. We changed the travel advice in the last 24 hours to do not travel. So any Australians who are there, and we have about 75 registered Australians, should leave. But we want this issue resolved in a peaceful way, respecting the rights of the Libyan people.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Back home today, you're tabling the findings of an inquiry into sexual misconduct by crew members on the HMAS Success in 2009. Can you paint us a picture of the sort of culture that existed on board that ship?
STEPHEN SMITH: Yes. I'll table in the Parliament later this afternoon an edited or redacted version of Commissioner Gyles's Report dealing with matters on HMAS Success, one of our supply ships, in March to May of 2009.
It's a very disturbing Report. It's not a good read. It's confronting. It deals with inappropriate conduct, both onshore and offshore, a tribal culture, a breakdown of discipline, effectively, a breakdown of command and conduct bringing Navy into disrepute, particularly in the area of inappropriate conduct, so far as women are concerned, and inappropriate conduct, so far as sexual approaches and sexual attitudes to women is concerned.
So Commissioner Gyles deals with all of these matters. I'll release the Report and later today the Chief of the Defence Force and the Chief of Navy will outline the response, because it's very important that we're transparent on this issue and let the public know of the problems. But also it’s important that we outline to the Australian public what we're doing to make sure that these bad attitudes, bad approaches and bad cultures are broken down. It's inappropriate and unacceptable conduct, and behaviour and attitude in the modern Navy and in the modern day.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Well, how convinced are you that since 2009 the Department has been able to do that, has been able to reverse this culture?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, a couple of things. Firstly, it's clearly the case that there were these very disturbing problems on the Success itself. But the Chief of Navy in 2009 initiated a new program, a program called New Generation Navy, which seeks to bring Navy, at every level, effectively, into the modern day. And it's a good program and he's to be complimented for it.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Is there still a way to go though?
STEPHEN SMITH: Oh, absolutely. I mean, there's no doubt about that. And one of the reasons that I want to be public and transparent about this Report, I do need to be careful about the detail, because there are accusations or suggestions of inappropriate conduct by individuals and their rights need to be respected.
But publishing the Report will of itself, we think, be a positive contribution, just drawing attention to people that one has to conduct oneself appropriately, that your conduct offshore can bring the Navy into disrepute, and you have to treat your fellow sailors with respect, dignity and civility.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: What is your assessment of how women are treated in the Defence Force?
STEPHEN SMITH: When you read this Report, you will be disturbed. It shows an inappropriate attitude, inappropriate conduct. Indeed, Commissioner Gyles refers to predatory sexual practices, and that is completely unacceptable.
Now, more generally, we are pleased with the progress that we are making in the Defence Force. So we need to keep it into perspective. Very much of this Report is almost exclusively about HMAS Success. We need to be careful to make sure we don't have such attitudes or tribal culture throughout Defence. But the Chief of the Defence Force, the Chief of Navy, the Service Chiefs generally are working very hard to make sure that our Defence Force personnel have the correct approach, the correct professionalism, the correct leadership skills.
It's also important, I think, to make this point. Whilst Navy is going through some difficult times, both with amphibious heavy lift ships and with the HMAS Success, it's not the case that we only ever see bad news. We saw, for example, in Christmas Island the tragedy there, terrific heroism by the crew of HMASPirie. On the weekend, not known by many people, the crew on HMAS Bathurst, when they brought to Christmas Island an asylum seeker boat, did so in seas that were category six or category seven. A terrific act of heroism. And we saw the great work that Navy do or did during the floods, in the response to the floods.
So it's not all a bad news story. Yes, we do focus on our difficulties and we put in place policies and arrangements to make sure that these sorts of activities don't occur again. And, of course, one of the consequences will be individual disciplinary proceedings, and the potential for individual disciplinary proceedings against people who are viewed to have conducted themselves inappropriately.
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