TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY AND E & OE
DATE: 13 June 2013
TOPICS: Allegations of improper conduct by ADF members.
STEPHEN SMITH: Okay, well thanks for turning up. I'll make some brief remarks about the allegations of improper conduct that we've seen aired today by the Chief of Army. Of course, I will be limited in what I am able to say. I won't in any way add to the detail of that which the Chief of Army has made public, but I do want to make some general remarks.
Firstly, I very strongly support the strong and decisive action taken by the Chief of Army in this matter. The Chief of Army briefed me when he became aware of these despicable allegations. And from the first moment, I had absolute confidence in his proposed handling of the matter, in his zero tolerance of any conduct in the Australian Army, indeed in the Australian Defence Organisation, which falls below the standards required.
And I strongly support his public statements today which say that we're not here dealing with a few bad apples, we're dealing here with a systemic and cultural issue which the Army, the Australian Defence Force, and the Australian Defence Organisation, needs to continue to very strongly address, and to address that head on.
And the Chief of Army has made it absolutely crystal clear that any conduct which falls below the high standard expected of members of the Army, or the Australian Defence Force, will put a member of the Army at risk of suspension. And today the Chief of Army has indicated that he has suspended three members of the Army, has initiated action today to suspend five more, and the investigation effected by the Australian Defence Force Investigative Services, and the New South Wales Police, is looking at up to 90 members of the Australian Defence Force, or the Australian Defence Organisation.
The Chief of the Army has made it clear that he sees this as a more serious incident of alleged improper conduct than the so-called ADFA Skype matter. And I agree with his analysis that one is able to say that because in the circumstances of ADFA Skype, we were dealing with young men in their first weeks in the Australian Defence Force. Here we are dealing with commissioned officers, and non-commissioned officers, who have had years of service.
In the aftermath of the ADFA Skype matter, I initiated a series of reviews which culminated in two very important documents: the first is the so-called Pathways to Change document, which is now the bible for the Australian Defence Force. And that document says zero tolerance for inappropriate or improper conduct, zero tolerance for inappropriate or improper conduct when it comes to the treatment of women, or attitudes to women.
The second reference point is the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's review into the treatment of women in the Australian Defence Force. And what the Chief of Army has made clear today, supported by the Chief of the Defence Force, supported by the Secretary of the Department, supported by the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, and the other two service chiefs, what the Chief has made clear today is that if you fall below the standards required of those two documents, then you are at risk of being suspended from the Australian Defence Force. The Government very strongly supports this approach.
In the aftermath of the ADFA Skype incident, when we initiated these cultural reviews, the Government made it clear that working with the leadership of the Defence Force, the Chief of the Defence Force, the Vice Chief, the Secretary, and the three service chiefs, that the Government itself would have a zero tolerance approach to these matters.
Now, as the Chief of the Army has made it clear, investigations continue, and further announcements will be made in due course, and further action will be announced in due course. We should let those matters effectively attend to themselves.
In the meantime, I'm very pleased that the Chief of Army has made it absolutely crystal clear that he strongly supports the innocent victims in this matter, and he has ensured that the victims who are known to the Australian Defence Force Investigative Service, and the New South Wales Police, and Army have been contacted and appropriate support given to them.
He has also, in my view today, been a tremendous exponent of zero tolerance to bad, inappropriate, improper, despicable conduct. And there is a very important reason not just to the Australian Army for that to occur, but also to the Australian Defence Force generally. I am sure that today there will be thousands of men and women in the Australian Army and in the Australian Defence Force who will be shocked, horrified, by the allegations that have been made.
That does terrible reputational damage to the great work that the vast majority of members of the Army do, does terrible reputational damage to the great work that the vast majority of members of the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Defence Organisation do generally.
So those people in the Army, in the Defence Force, in the Defence Organisation who do not meet these high standards will not be tolerated because in the end they do reputational damage to their mates, to the Army, to the Defence Force, and indeed to the nation.
We should never let our Defence Organisation personnel forget that when they wear a uniform, not only are they representing Army or Air Force or Navy, they also represent their country.
And zero tolerance to bad behaviour is something which I strongly support, which the Government strongly supports and we welcome very much the actions taken by the Chief of Army today, those actions taken with the full support of his Minister and the full support of the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary of the Defence Department and the Vice Chief and the service chiefs.
I'm happy to respond to a few questions, but as I made clear at the outset, there is a limit to what I can say in terms of detail and you saw that earlier today with the Chief of Army himself.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, in the aftermath of the ADFA Skype incident, we initiated a range of reviews into cultural attitude, conduct and performance throughout the Australian Defence Force generally. And all of those reviews came to a similar conclusion - that whilst there had been improvement of attitudes to women, that there had been improvements in culture over the years, there was still a lot of work to be done.
And the benchmark was set with the Pathways to Change document, and the benchmark was set with the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's report, firstly on ADFA and secondly on the ADF generally, so far as treatment of women in ADFA and treatment of women in the ADF generally were concerned.
What the service chiefs have made clear since the receipt of those reports is that we now engage and embark upon a two-stage process. One is firm and strong leadership from the top, where inappropriate, improper, bad, despicable conduct will not be tolerated. But secondly, where the correct attitudes, where the right approach, we're looking after your mates in the workplace, whether they're men or women, that these attitudes are part of our training and education programs and are part of the culture.
And that will take some time, but the starting point in my view is zero tolerance for inappropriate conduct, and that zero tolerance has been displayed by the Chief of Army today.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I think it does enormous reputational damage to the Australian Defence Force. The vast majority of people in the Australian Defence Force or the Australian Defence Organisation do great work on behalf of the nation. And the Australian people admire that. The Australian people have long admired that. So this sort of despicable conduct, disparaging treatment of women, this does enormous reputational damage to the Australian Defence Force and the Defence Organisation generally, and that's why there is zero tolerance for it.
It reflects adversely on the great work done by the vast bulk of members of the Defence Force and it is inconsistent with the approach, the attitude and the standards that the vast bulk of members of the Defence Force have and carry with them. But as the Pathways to Change document made clear, as the reviews by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner made clear, this cannot be discounted on the basis of a few bad apples. There is a systemic cultural issue here which is now being forcefully addressed by the Government, but in some respects more importantly, by the Chief of the Defence Force, the Secretary of the Department and the service chiefs.
JOURNALIST: What sort of ramifications would this have for women wanting to join the Army at this point? Do you think that, you know, the Skype was one matter that concerned recruits with a few weeks experience, this concerns more experienced members of the ADF.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, one of the things that we saw in the aftermath of the ADFA Skype incident was of course hundreds of allegations that were made to me and to others which culminated in the DLA Piper Review, and has seen the establishment of the Defence Abuse Taskforce chaired by Len Roberts-Smith.
And so what we saw as a direct consequence of the ADFA Skype issue were the two reports - the two benchmark reports I have referred to. But also the sure and certain knowledge that over a long period of time, there had been instances and examples of abuse that had to come to an end.
But what this does to the Army, to the Air Force and Navy, the service chiefs, all of whom are seeking to encourage more women to join, this is a backwards step. This will discourage women from thinking about either joining the Army, the Air Force or the Navy or continuing their career.
Now, to his credit, the Chief of Army wants to increase the number of women in Army. Currently, as a rule of thumb, you've got about 14 per cent of women in the Australian Defence Force full time complement. You've got about 18 per cent in Navy, you've got about 15 - 16 per cent in Air Force, and you've got about 10 per cent in Army.
All of the service chiefs want to increase that percentage, and the Chief of Army has gone to the United Nations and made that point at a United Nations meeting on gender diversity and participation of women in the armed services.
So it's in Army, Navy and Air Force's interests to increase the number of women in the services. In the modern world where military capability is not just physical prowess, but intellectual prowess, technical prowess, you can't ignore 51 per cent of the workforce. And so there are now women in the Australian Defence Force who are doing high quality, high class work.
We have opened up to women all of the combat positions, so that there are no exclusions simply on the basis of gender, but a capacity to engage in any role in the Defence Force dependent upon your intellectual, psychological and physical prowess.
So there are no exclusions now to women taking part fully in all aspects of the Army, Navy or Air Force.
But instances like these set back the sensible approach to increase the number of women in the services. But I make this point that I regard as the most important point; it's like life generally, it is not what happens, it's how you respond to what has happened.
And here, whilst some terrible things have occurred, the response - which is the action taken by the Chief of Army - lets all of Army and all of the Australian Defence Force and the Australian public know, that these things will not be tolerated.
They won't be tolerated by the Chief of Army, they won't be tolerated by the Chief of Navy, they won't be tolerated by the Chief of Air Force, they won't be tolerated by the Chief of the Defence Force, and they won't be tolerated by the Government. Which is why we strongly support the robust action taken by the Chief of Army today, and strongly support the ongoing implementation of the documents I have referred to, and strongly support the ongoing work of the Defence Abuse Task Force chaired by Len Roberts-Smith.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it's a failure of culture, it's a failure of culture. And that failure has been there not just for weeks and months or years, but for decades. And that is what we are now confronting. And that failure of culture is reflected by the complaints and the allegations of serious sexual and other abuse, by members of the Defence Force stretching back to the 1950s.
So it's a failure of culture and conduct over a long period of time. And over the last two years, in my view, both the Government of the day and the services, led by the service chiefs, have done more to confront that long-term cultural deficiency than has ever previously been the case.
JOURNALIST: Do you anticipate, potentially, victims who haven't already come forward, you know, in light of these allegations. Do you anticipate others will come forward [indistinct] call for them to say something?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the cut-off date for allegations to the Defence Abuse Taskforce was the 31st of May, so that avenue is closed. But in my experience whenever there are public revelations or instances drawn to public attention of this ilk, then more people in the community will say publicly or make contact to either my office or to Defence itself, or to other institutions in Australian society that they themselves have been the subject of abuse in the past.
JOURNALIST: Would any of the victims [indistinct] be eligible for compensation?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, let's - we've got to take it step by step. There are allegations of despicable conduct, and there are clearly here innocent victims who have been spoken to by the Chief of Army, and who are receiving every support, and that's absolutely appropriate. But let's take it step by step.
Thanks very much, thank you.