TRANSCRIPT: DOOR STOP INTERVIEW
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 6 APRIL 2011
TOPICS: ADFA Skype Incident
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks for coming down. I need to be reasonably brief, so I won't be able to be as long as I was at my press conference this morning. I want to give you an update on some of the issues either raised with me at the press conference or through your queries.
Can I, firstly, say I've had a preliminary report and advice from the Chief of the Defence Force but I've asked for further detail and further advice, and I'm expecting to get that tonight. When I'm in a position to, I'll obviously make further public comments. I expect that to be tomorrow. I equally expect that tomorrow after I've dealt with those matters, that senior officials or officers from Defence will also be available to respond to your queries.
But let me deal with a number of matters. Firstly, I thought it very important to draw to public attention that at 11 o'clock this morning the young woman concerned was subject to a hearing under the Defence Disciplinary Proceedings Act [sic] - the Defence Discipline Act[sic]. The hearing related to matters that occurred in March, entirely unrelated to the circumstances and events that we've been dealing with in the course of the day. They related to suggestions or allegations of being absent without leave, or with the consumption of alcohol. This matter was listed, on my advice, for hearing today, some days or week ago.
When I was informed of this by the CDF this afternoon - mid-afternoon, my response was swift and clear. Firstly, completely insensitive for such a hearing to be held on a day like today. Secondly, despite the fact that I'm told that the girl - the young woman, agreed to the proceedings and pleaded guilty, it seems to me in the scale of complete insensitivity to complete stupidity that this matter was allowed to proceed. And I've asked the Chief of the Defence Force to urgently advise me as to whether it is possible and open for this guilty plea and conviction to be quashed.
My reason for doing that is that it's quite clear, on her own advice to the public, that this young woman is in a distressed state and under a lot of pressure. I would not believe - and I've long been a lapsed lawyer, but I would not believe that any young person would be in a position to make clear or sensible judgements about such matters on a day like today.
The sensible thing to do was to postpone the hearing and come back to it at another day. My own view is, for what it's worth, and it may be worth nothing, is that the conviction should be quashed. That's the first matter that I wanted to draw to public attention. I think it's important that that is known.
My preliminary advice is that this decision, or conviction under the Disciplinary Procedures Act, will be reviewed in the normal course of events by a legal officer or by a senior or superior officer. And one avenue for quashing it is an error or law. My own judgement is that an error or law has occurred, but that will be a matter for others.
Secondly, can I indicate, because I've been asked in the course of the day has the young woman been granted compassionate leave. The advice I have from the CDF this afternoon is that the young woman has been granted compassionate leave but she has been asked, both by the Defence Force and by the Australian Federal Police, to make a statement to the Federal Police in advance of her taking leave. Again, that is a matter for the ADF and the Federal Police. But it seems to me to be a sensible thing for the young woman to give a statement to the Federal Police as quickly as possible, in accordance with Australian Federal Police procedures.
Thirdly, I've been asked about whether, in any way, the young woman has been vilified at the academy. I am advised that shaving cream was sprayed on her door. I have asked for further detail about that, and also whether in any way she has been vilified.
I've also asked for detailed advice about the way in which this matter was handled, so far as the Defence Academy is concerned.
As I've said, that's preliminary advice. I've drawn it to your attention as soon as I've been able to. I expect to receive more detailed advice overnight, and I fully expect that tomorrow I'll be making further remarks.
JOURNALIST: Do you think this girl was being victimised by the fact that the hearing was held today?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, no, the advice I have is that it relates to matters earlier in March, completely unrelated to these circumstances, firstly.
Secondly, that the date was set some days or week or so ago-
JOURNALIST: The fact that it went ahead today?
STEPHEN SMITH: The fact that it went ahead shows anywhere from complete insensitivity to complete stupidity.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you whether she was asked to apologise, to make some statement of personal regret mea culpa of - to the other colleagues there?
STEPHEN SMITH: I don't have advice on that, but that is part of the request that I've made to the Chief of the Defence Force because I think it's contained in materials that you yourself have put forward.
JOURNALIST: You said there's been shaving cream sprayed on her door. Is there something else that's happened as well?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, that's as much information as I have. I've asked whether there was any message associated with that, to see whether there is anything more in that matter. But I would have thought that shaving cream on someone's door is inappropriate conduct in any circumstance.
JOURNALIST: Did that happen today?
STEPHEN SMITH: Sorry?
JOURNALIST: Did that happen today?
STEPHEN SMITH: That's my advice.
JOURNALIST: Does the head of ADFA have your [indistinct]?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, as I said earlier, shortly - a few minutes ago, the head of ADFA is obviously providing detailed advice to the Chief of the Defence Force. That will also come to me. And I want to see that detailed advice in advance of making comments about suggestions that go to the handling of the matter by the Australian Defence Force Academy.
JOURNALIST: Delaying the hearing - today's hearing is one thing, but why have the allegations quashed? What reason is there for that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, no, I'm saying that she pleaded guilty today. My own judgement, for what it's worth, is that I'm not sure that a person - a young woman, an 18 year old, given the pressure she's under, would have been in a good position to make sensible lawful judgements about her own future.
If I was acting on her behalf, before a federal court, I would ask the federal court to quash that on the basis of an error of law because the person concerned was not in a position to enter sensibly a plea. And on that basis I describe the decision to go ahead with a hearing unrelated to the events that we've discussed today as completely insensitive so far as she is concerned as an individual, but also stupid in fact and in law.
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] if it was an act by ADFA to silence this girl or to intimidate her-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I've asked - the hearing came as a surprise to the Chief of the Defence Force, as it came as a surprise to me. In the great scheme of things, these are low level or low order matters. It's entirely possible that these matters - and in the normal course of events they would be - were made by officers down the line.
The Chief of the Defence Force certainly did not know about it. So I have asked, as part of the advice to come to me, the decision-making process in that respect.
JOURNALIST: Did she get the compassionate leave only after and because of [indistinct]?
STEPHEN SMITH: I don't believe that's the case. The advice I have is that she put in a request for compassionate leave. That-
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible question]
STEPHEN SMITH: That request was granted subject to her satisfying the request of the AFP which is to complete a statement of the events.
My own judgement is that it's a sensible thing for her to make her statement to the Federal Police as quickly as she can.
In terms of the granting of compassionate leave, that's a matter for officers and the relevant authority at the academy itself. I wouldn't propose to interfere with that or disturb that but-
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] that she was knocked back for compassionate leave.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the advice I have is she's been granted compassionate leave subject to-
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] initially knocked back, that she was initially knocked back-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, as I've said - as I said to you today in respect of a number of matters, I'm dealing here with the outcome, not a blow-by-blow as to what transpired.
The advice I have from the Chief of the Defence Force, which I unreservedly accept, is that she's been granted compassionate leave subject to her making a statement to the Federal Police. That sounds to me to be a sensible thing. It seems to me to be sensible to give her compassionate leave and it seems to me to be sensible for her to speak to the Federal Police as quickly as possible.
JOURNALIST: But the blow-by-blow matters because the blow-by-blow goes to the judgements being made at ADFA. And [indistinct] compassionate leave [indistinct] first attempt to get it, a deeply distressed young woman who wants to go away and be with her family. She's got knocked back at ADFA…
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, let me respond to you in this way. If it's not already on your list, I'm happy to add it.
JOURNALIST: Minister, Defence has got a well-earned reputation for making life very difficult for ministers that take it on. How determined are you [indistinct]?
STEPHEN SMITH: Look, I am as determined as the Chief of the Defence Force is, as the Chief of Navy is, as the Chief of Air Force is, as the Chief of Army is. I mean, people should not be under any illusions that my reaction is strongly shared by our military and Defence leadership. And I believe that the chief and the service chiefs are doing a very good job in trying to do two things: to change bad and poor culture where we find it, firstly; and, secondly, to make the Defence Force a much more attractive career and an attractive opportunity for young women.
And when we have these very terrible examples, whether it's the HMAS Success, whether it's activity on Facebook; when we have these terrible examples, that sets those efforts back. But it doesn't deter either me or the Chief of the Defence Force or the Chief of Navy, Air Force or Army to make this very strong point. The Australian Defence Force and its personnel have to reflect modern day community standards; how they treat their workmates, how they treat and deal with women. And if they don't do that, and if they do it in public, then they run the risk of people making judgements that they are not fit to continue in the service of the nation or in the service of the Defence Force.
And it's not just me who has made that point. It's also the Chief of the Defence Force and the chief of the respective service.
I'm going to have to go shortly but…
JOURNALIST: But what prospects does this young woman have of a lengthy career in ADF [indistinct] that's happened? Realistically speaking, does she have a career ahead of her?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, as I say, I take this step by step. I'm not seeking to foretell the future. That's the first point. Secondly, the Chief of the Defence Force and I want to make sure that she is dealt with in a proper, in a sensitive and an appropriate way. That's why the Chief of the Force has been very, very conscious of making sure that appropriate counselling and the like has been provided to her, as it appropriate. And that's why both of us, frankly, have reacted in the way that we have to this hearing going on this morning because it shows a complete lack of sensitivity and a complete lack of thought.
JOURNALIST: Minister, what message can you give mums and dads whose children are attending ADFA?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the message I give is that when terrible matters are drawn to attention, and I'm using that phrase generally because I don't have the luxury as others do of prejudging guilt or innocence in these matters. When these terrible matters are drawn to attention, you repeatedly and consistently find the minister of the day, the chief of the day, and the service chiefs of the day not condoning it but absolutely condemning it, which we do.
Thanks very much. Thank you.