TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH LYNDAL CURTIS, ABC 24
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 14 JUNE 2011
TOPICS: ADFA and ADF reviews; Labor Party.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Stephen Smith, welcome to News 24.
STEPHEN SMITH: Pleasure.
LYNDAL CURTIS: We heard more allegations on Four Corners last night about mistreatment in the Defence Force. Are they more of what you - what the people you've set up to hear this have already been hearing or is it a step up in seriousness?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well they're very serious allegations; very concerning and they've already been referred to DLA Piper, previously DLA Phillips Fox. You might recall that after the so-called Skype affair when my office received very many allegations or complaints. I thought it was very important to establish an arms length independent process so that's occurring and DLA Piper are going through all of the allegations that have been aired publicly and privately to give me a report as to the best way forward. The tentative cut off date for complaints is the 17th of this month but any complaints received after that time of course we'll deal with sensibly. But it's a matter now of assessing each of those individual complaints and doing it calmly and methodically to make a judgement about the best way forward.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Is the best way forward at the end of that process going to mean moving to some sort of further say a police inquiry or will you need another more serious inquiry such as a judicial inquiry at the end of that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I haven't ruled out any of those options. There may be a need for further legal or judicial inquiry. It may be that the best approach is individual case by case treatment. It may well be that a process where people simply get the opportunity of telling their story so that the system or other individuals can apologise and express sorrow to them is also a viable way forward. But what I wanted to do in the face of very many allegations was to in the first instance have each of the allegations independently assessed. We may well discover that a number of those have previously been exhaustively considered not just by Defence but by other authorities. To then work out what is the best way forward, I've not ruled out further legal or judicial inquiry and I've not ruled out for example the possibility that there may be some Commonwealth liability in a number of cases.
LYNDAL CURTIS : Because at the centre of this is not only the claims about a culture at least in parts of the Defence Force but there's also the people who are making the allegations. Is there anything you can do for them, any sort of counselling you can offer? You talked about the possibility of Commonwealth liability?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well again I think we've got to take it just step by step and calmly and methodically work our way through those range of alternatives and one of the people last night on Four Corners essentially saying I don't need compensation but what I might need is someone to say to me is sorry. So the notion of some system where people can tell their stories and where other people might just want to simply turn up and say look, years ago I was involved in things, if I had my time again I wouldn't have done it. That may well be a therapeutic process. But I don't want to prejudge; I'm not tilting the lever in any particular way, I haven't come to a conclusion. In the face of a large number of public and private allegations, it was important to start with an objective assessment and we're working our way through that.
LYNDAL CURTIS: You've just recently announced the change in the Defence Force leadership, are you quite convinced the new leadership is as committed as you are to reforming the force?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, as was the old leadership. I mean I think one of the things which is not perhaps broadly understood is that in the case for example of ADF and Defence generally there's been a very strong commitment by the current Chief of the Defence Force Angus Houston and the current Service Chiefs to improve cultural matters, to improve conduct and that very strong view is shared by the new Service Chiefs.
I've made the point before that how you conduct yourself if you're a member of the Australian Defence Force, whether you're in uniform or out of uniform, whether you're in Australia or overseas, it does run the risk of doing reputational damage to Australia. So, appropriate conduct is required and that's a very strong view shared by the current and the future leadership of the Defence Force.
LYNDAL CURTIS: You're back in Canberra for a two week sitting of parliament; the caucus will today debate a motion on live cattle exports to Indonesia. We've also had one of the senior caucus members, Doug Cameron talk about wanting more from the mining industry under the mining tax. Whether it's more money or more jobs, is this the start of caucus flexing its muscle?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well caucus has always been the master of its own destiny so we'll meet this morning. There may well be a discussion on the live export trade but the Minister will have the opportunity to indicate to the caucus the steps that have been taken since the caucus last met.
So far as the Mineral Resource Rent Tax is concerned, Martin Ferguson has made the point earlier today that we went to the last election with an agreement with the minerals resources industry and a commitment to implement legislation. He has published draft legislation in the last week or so and we fully intend to progress that through the parliament.
Individual members of caucus and the caucus itself are entirely open at any point in the cycle to raise matters for debate or to come to a conclusion. But again it's always - one's always best I think - it's a bit like a national conference to the ALP, you're always best off making your assessment after the conference or the meeting rather than before.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Because in this parliament, it's a minority parliament, it's not only the individual votes of independents you have to make sure you have, it's the votes of your own caucus isn't it, and in that way caucus may have a bigger say than it had before.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I'm not sure that's right, I mean caucus members always have the inalienable right to stand up at a caucus meeting and put a point of view so that point of view is not predicated on the base of a vote you have in the parliament, it's your caucus membership that entitles you to do that and ever since I've been a member of the caucus. From time to time, as you'd expect, we have, you know, frank and robust debates about particular issues. Caucus members are perfectly entitled to express their views in caucus strongly and firmly and on a regular basis people do, including from time to time myself.
LYNDAL CURTIS: You spoke on the weekend about John Fawkner's speech on Labor Party reform, say you've always believed that unless you modernise the makeup and framework of the party then you'd be left by the wayside, the question though is how you do that. Do you have any ideas about how the party should be changed?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I'm attracted to the notion of having registered ALP supporters with whom the party can communicate. We can email our policy positions, we can email them with speeches and we can also email them for requests for help and I would also give registered ALP supporters a part in a say in local pre-selections.
I think one of the - there are a range of fundamental factors which have seen Australian society change in the last quarter of a century. We've had effectively quarter of a century of continued economic growth so we're a much more prosperous society even though some people are under financial pressure we're a more prosperous society and so the traditional attachments to institutions has lessened or loosened, whether it's a political party or another institution society.
Secondly modern communication means. People are probably better off sitting back watching ABC24 at 7.30pm on a Monday night rather than going to a branch meeting in terms of the information that they can get. People these days get their information electronically, online and the like. Branch meetings can't compete with that so how do we adjust to the modern communications to the modern world? These are challenges that the party has to adapt to and we can't continue to essentially have as our structure an industrialised society of the 19th and 20th century.
LYNDAL CURTIS : How then would that make those people who you may be communicating with electronically feel part of the process, give them a say apart from perhaps in pre-selections in the party's policy positions?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well what you might discover is that if you're communicating with people electronically or online on a regular basis you might encourage some of those to actually join up and become fully fledged members. But how do we start a conversation with the vast bulk of people in the community who look to the Labor Party on a continuing basis as the political party that they want to represent them in a state or federal parliament, but at the same time have some engagement or activity with it.
And in the modern world I've been attracted for some time to the notion of registered ALP supporters. We can communicate with them directly and the quid pro quo for that is giving them a say in a local pre-selection. Now you may want to weight that so that a branch member or a trade union affiliate to the party has a weighted vote. But we've got to I think quite laterally about these issues otherwise the central point that John makes is right which is unless we adopt and adapt to modern circumstances you do run the risk of falling by the wayside.