TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 7 APRIL 2011
TOPICS: ADFA Skype Incident
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much for turning up. I just want to make some brief remarks about the matter so far as the Australian Defence Force Academy and the issue with the cadets is concerned.
I need to be brief so I'll respond to a few questions. Firstly I indicated yesterday that overnight I would receive advice from the Chief of the Defence Force.
I've received that advice overnight from the Chief of the Defence Force and also from the Vice Chief of the Defence Force who in a line portfolio sense has responsibility for these matters.
I've had the chance for a preliminary discussion with the Chief of the Defence Force and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force about these issues just now and I'll have a further conversation later in the day.
Some things have been clarified but there are other matters which require further advice and further work. Firstly, it's quite clear from the advice I've received that from the first available moment this young woman was given access to and provided with all of the necessary counselling, psychological support, peer group support and the like.
Secondly, that is very regrettably coloured by the fact that there a serious error of judgment was made in parallel tracking some minor disciplinary matters which occurred in March at the same time as this matter came to light.
Yesterday I indicated that the matter was dealt with and not preceded to the sentencing. That was the oral advice I had yesterday. The formal advice I've received overnight is that regrettably events which occurred in March, suggestions of the young woman being absent without leave and using alcohol.
She was charged with these matters on the same day that she was advised of the investigation into the so called Skype affair. And she was dealt with before a disciplinary hearing yesterday and sentenced.
She was sentenced to five days restricted, which means five days where essentially she had to remain on the Academy and docked one day's pay. I have made it very clear that parallel tracking those two matters, dealing with that disciplinary matter arising from unrelated events in March at the same time as the investigation into the so called Skype affair is somewhere between completely insensitive and completely stupid.
It's acknowledged to me by the Chief of the Defence Force and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force and the Commander of the Academy that this was a very serious error of judgment, a very serious error of judgement and regrettably that now colours Defence's handling of this whole matter.
And I'm now giving further consideration to a range of the possible systemic or general issues which have now become part of the public debate. Is the way in which Defence handles these complaints, disciplinary procedures and the like, have we got that right?
I've also previously indicated that the second Gyles report into HMAS Success will provide, I believe a very good vehicle for that to occur.
Secondly I've asked whether we are doing enough and can do more so far as the treatment of women in the workplace is concerned. I've previously said and I repeat it, that the Chief of the Defence Force and the Service Chiefs are very strongly committed to ensuring that Australian Defence Force personnel treat women appropriately with respect in the workplace.
And I can't imagine a greater breach of trust in the workplace than the suggestions we've seen. I won't make any comment on the particular case itself.
And where trust in the workplace is destroyed you have to ask the question whether a person can continue in the workplace. We are making progress but it's clearly the case that a lot more needs to be done.
And finally we do have to ask ourselves the question as to whether the review that was done into the Defence Academy last year or the year before, the recommendations and the implementation of those recommendations, whether we need to do more on that front.
Now obviously that requires careful deliberation and further discussion with Defence itself and I'm not proposing in any of these matters to either rush the judgment or to take steps which aren't sensible, orderly and given very careful and methodical consideration.
But the regrettable fact is that we have now a criminal investigation into very serious matters. That should have been the issue and no more. Because of the way in which this matter has been handled we now have very significant public issues so far as Defence's handling and conduct of this matter.
That is entirely coloured by a very, very serious error of judgment in parallel tracking this issue with other disciplinary matters. And I've made that point very clear publicly and privately and those issues that I've referred to including some of the details of this matter which have been raised publicly, I hope to be in a position to give further public advice about those matters in due course. I'm happy to respond to a couple of questions.
JOURNALIST: Does the head of ADFA have your confidence?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I've said it before and I say it again that I want to come to a concluded view about the issues that I've raised before I'm drawn on that particular point.
JOURNALIST: And who asked Kate not to apologise for going to the media?
STEPHEN SMITH: I do have very strong advice on that and the very strong advice I have is that that did not occur. That's the strong advice I have. I have very strong advice that all of the counselling and support was provided to her from day one and also very strong advice that the public assertion which is being made that she was asked to apologise or humiliate herself.
The very strong advice I have is that that did not occur. Now having said that, I make a general point. The very serious error in judgment in parallel tracking other disciplinary procedures at precisely the same time colours the public perception of all of that.
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] over the handling of this issue?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I've been asked about whether I had confidence in the Commodore who runs the Defence Academy and I've said I'm not going to be drawn on that matter until such time as I've come to a concluded view on the issues that I've referred to.
JOURNALIST: What was your reaction to the other cadets targeting her in relation to this case?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I've asked for further advice on those allegations. Yesterday it was clear and I made it public that her door had been sprayed with shaving cream. I've asked for further advice on the suggestions that she's been vilified. The preliminary advice I have is that there is no direct evidence of that but I've asked for further advice in that respect.
JOURNALIST: Do you think you could pay a price for taking on Defence so stridently?
STEPHEN SMITH: The views that I have expressed, that this matter was handled by Defence in a way which involved a very serious error of judgment. That view is strongly shared by the Chief of the Defence Force and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force. That's the first point I want to make.
Secondly, I very strongly support the Defence Force and its service Chiefs in trying to make progress on a range of cultural issues. On respect for women in the workplace. On the use of alcohol in terms of binge drinking and the need to ensure that conduct with respect to other people in the Defence Force occurs with dignity, with civility and respect.
Now for example I recently strongly supported the efforts by the Chief of Navy to make these points publicly to seamen and seawomen. It's also quite clear that more work needs to be done.
I make two general points. Firstly the Defence Force is not the only organisation or institution in Australia which has had difficulties with these matters. Just go to your nearest rugby league or Australian rules football club to know some of the difficulties that other organisations have had.
Firstly - secondly, whilst good work has been done and progress has been made there is a lot more that needs to be done. The Australian Defence Force, its personnel, have to conduct themselves in accordance with modern community standards.
That includes respect for your workmates and respect for women. There's also a more general lesson. The most recent examples we've seen of very poor conduct have all involved the use of modern technology.
People need to understand that if you go on Facebook, if you go on Skype, inevitably these things become public. And there are some things which if they're done privately, the community will accept. If they're done publicly, the community will not accept.
JOURNALIST: What are your thoughts on the written Defence Force rule that aggrieved Defence Force personnel shouldn't go to the media?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well when a individual, a young person aggrieves-
JOURNALIST: So there's a written Defence Force rule that aggrieved Defence Force personnel under no circumstances go to the media. Don't you think that's possibly hiding other things?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well let me deal with this matter. When young Australians go to the Australian Defence Force Academy, a part of the obligation and undertaking that they accept when they become members is to not raise matters with the media unless they've been given approval by their superior officers.
They also agree to abide by what are known as non fraternisation rules and that is part of the undertaking that young Australians accept and undertake when they enter the Academy.
Having said that, I've made it very, very clear that I believe this young woman did the right thing when she went into the public arena. These were such serious issues they required public attention to be drawn to them.
So I've said she's done the right thing. Now it may well be the case that in due course, disciplinary proceedings occur as a result of what she has done. I have described these very much as tenth order issues and they should certainly not be dealt with until these very serious matters and all the ramifications which follow, have concluded.
But in terms of her own conduct, in terms of drawing this to public attention, my very strong view and I've expressed this publicly and privately is that she did the right thing. I'm sorry I'm going to have to go. Thanks very much. Thank you. Thank you. Cheers.