TRANSCRIPT: DOORSTOP – HMAS STIRLING
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 14 June 2013
TOPICS: Return of the HMAS Toowoomba; Collins Class Submarines; US Marine Rotation; allegations of inappropriate conduct by ADF members; Howard Sattler.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, thanks very much for turning up. Sorry I'm a bit late. A number of announcements today then I'm happy to respond to your questions. Firstly, I'm very pleased to be here this morning to welcome back from the Middle-East Area of Operation, six month tour of duty, HMAS Toowoomba. So we congratulate the Commander of the ship, Brendon Zilko, and the ship's company, some 190 ship's company, for the very fine counter-piracy, counter-terrorism work that they have been doing over the last six months.
This is the 54th rotation of maritime security engagement that we've seen from Australia since the first maritime security deployment back in 1990. It was the fourth occasion on which Toowoomba itself has engaged in a six month rotation. So we're very pleased that the Toowoomba is back, after good work, but also safe and sound back at home.
A number of capability announcements today. Firstly an announcement on our Collins Class Submarines. You’ll see here, four Collins Class Submarines docked. Three are available and ready to go on operations. One is due for maintenance and we have the other two of our fleet of six, Collins and Rankin, in Adelaide for maintenance. We've been working very hard to improve the maintenance and sustainment of our Collins to make availability more certain and more regular. And we are making slow but steady and sure progress on that front.
The two announcements today on our Collins Class maintenance go to a Coles Review. You might recall that I effected a review by the United Kingdom expert, John Coles, into how we could enhance Collins Class maintenance and sustainment. One of the recommendations was to change the full document cycle from an eight year operation and then a three to three and a half year document cycle to a ten years plus two cycle. That's now been agreed and adopted. It's been adopted and implemented in a different way to that which the Coles Review recommended but it is a method of implementation which is supported by AFD, supported by Navy and supported by Defence.
So that will see, in the longer term, greater availability of our Collins Class Submarines, which is welcome. There is also an announcement on the upgrade of the obsolescence management systems in the Collins. A couple of land-based capability decisions [indistinct] increasing the review of the land systems division.
On a couple of other matters. Government announced today that the next rotation of Marines in Darwin will be 1150. That will occur next year, 2014. And it follows on from the announcement made by Prime Minister Gillard and President Obama back in November 2011. We've done two years, we are in our second year of 250 rotations. We released the social economic study a few weeks ago and we've decided that in conjunction with the United States to next year go to 1150. We are still taking each year as it comes, but our ambition remains to go to a rotation of 2500 Marines, not before 2016, but we'll take that as it comes.
We're also announcing in parallel with that that we'll in August a 1000 Marine exercise in our Bradshaw Field Training Area. Eight hundred of those Marines will come from the Exercise Talisman Saber, which we do every second year with the United States. So essentially as a trial run for the use of Bradshaw Training Area in the Northern Territory for the 1150 Marines. There will be Exercises of 1000 Marines, the 200 that we have in Darwin and 800 from Talisman Saber. That will occur in August. So that is progressing well.
Just on a couple of issues before I respond to your questions. Firstly, yesterday and today I've said publicly that I strongly support the actions taken by Chief of Army, Lieutenant-General Morrison. I've seen comparisons made between this and the ADFA Skype issue. There are two differences in my view. Firstly, I agree with General Morrison that in the ADFA Skype incident, we were dealing there with young men who had been in the system for a number of weeks. Here, terribly and regretfully, we're dealing with commissioned to non-commissioned Officers who have been in the Army for a period of years, 10 years or so. So that, in that context, makes it worse.
Secondly, the response on this occasion has been qualitatively different from the response in ADFA Skype. No one will be surprised to hear me say that I thought that that the response to the ADFA Skype incident was wanting. And it was the ADFA Skype incident that saw the Government and I effect a number of reviews which lead to the so-called Pathways to Change document, which makes the point that the leadership will not tolerate bad or inappropriate or improper or despicable conduct.
So the benchmarks now for Defence Force personnel are the Pathways to Change document, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's Review into the treatment of women at the ADF and at ADFA. So those two documents are now the benchmark for conduct. One can't now get away with improper or inappropriate conduct.
General Morrison, to his great credit, and I strongly support his action. General Morrison, to his great credit, has now set the benchmark for a zero tolerance response. In the future if bad conduct occurs, people won't only look to the Pathways of Change document, won't only look to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's Report. They'll also look to see whether the response by the Officer concerned at that time, whether it's the Chief of the Defence Force, whether it's the Chief of Army, Navy or Air Force, whether the response or an Officer down the chain of command. Is the response, the zero tolerance response, of the same measure as General Morrison. So General Morrison, to his great credit has now set that benchmark.
Finally I was asked this morning on Perth radio what I thought of Howard Sattler's contribution yesterday. Howard Sattler has been suspended from his radio station - that's appropriate. Howard, frankly, should think about giving the game away. I can't recall any public figure who was subject to the sort of questioning on radio that the Prime Minister experienced yesterday. I certainly can't think of a Minister, and I certainly can't think of a former Prime Minister who was treated in this shabby, disgraceful way in an interview on radio.
Howard, frankly, should think about not just his suspension from his radio station, he should, frankly, think about giving the game away. In the past he has criticised me for refusing to appear on his radio show. Well, I rest on my judgement.
I am happy to take your questions.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the Army has a systemic problem?
STEPHEN SMITH: I made it clear yesterday and today that we are dealing here, not just with the old phrase, 'a few bad apples', but a long standing entrenched, systemic cultural issue which has to change.
Our work on this started in our response to the ADFA Skype incident two years ago - two and half years ago - where we instituted a range of reviews. That saw two documents which are now the benchmark test and the policy of Defence and the Government - the Pathways to Change document and the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Liz Broderick's report firstly into ADFA and secondly into the treatment of women in the ADF generally.
They are now the benchmarks and there is zero tolerance for inappropriate behaviour. And the only way, in the end, that culture will change will be by firm and strong leadership from the top, which the Chief of the Defence Force, the Vice Chief, the Secretary and the Service Chief shares, and then by institutionalising these attitudes in our training and educational arenas and venues, and that is what is now occurring.
JOURNALIST: Mr Smith, Defence says it’s been proactive and forthright on this issue, but wasn't it the case that Defence was only forced to go public on this because the New South Wales Police were about to send a brief-
STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely not. When General Morrison became aware of this he spoke to the Chief of the Defence Force and he spoke to the Secretary of the Department. He then briefed me. He and I had a number of discussions about it, and I strongly supported his approach. From the first moment, General Morrison's view and advice to me was that he wanted to go public on this matter and he wanted to go public on this matter because he thought, and I agreed with him, that that was the best way of sending a signal to people who, in the Defence Force, have misbehaved in the past or who are thinking about inappropriate conduct. The best signal was for him to go public in the manner in which he did.
Now he has the following difficulty which is he has to be careful about the legal advice that he has and the fact that investigations are ongoing. But General Morrison wanted to go public on this as soon as he possibly could. I strongly supported that.
I also strongly supported the view that it was much more preferable for the Chief of Army to be at the front line on this rather than the Minister because that sends the signal that the leadership of the Defence Force get it, the leadership of the Defence Force will not tolerate in any way inappropriate, improper or despicable conduct.
So the Chief of Army and the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary have been at one with me on this issue. General Morrison went public on this at his own volition at a time of his choosing when he was available to do so. If he had had his preference, he would have gone earlier.
JOURNALIST: Would this have ever have seen the light of day, would it ever have been investigated if it hadn't been for the New South Wales Police investigation?
STEPHEN SMITH: Yes. This was a subject of an Australian Defence Force Investigative Service. It was a joint-
JOURNALIST: Before the New South Wales Police were investigating it?
STEPHEN SMITH: It was a joint investigation. As soon as the Chief of Army became aware of this, he briefed me and he said, one, I want to go public on this. This conduct, this alleged conduct, is despicable, it's disgraceful, and I'm not going to tolerate it. And you've seen his response. No one can question his commitment or his passion. He has made it absolutely crystal clear that if you engage in bad behaviour in the Defence Force, you will be punted. You will be punted.
JOURNALIST: So Defence - so New South Wales Police - sorry Defence were investigating this before New South Wales Police?
STEPHEN SMITH: I don't know who started it, but the Australian Defence Force Investigative Service became aware of this. They briefed the Chief of Army. When the Chief of Army was briefed and he'd discussed it with the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary of the Department, he then came to me. He sat down with me and he said, I have been advised of these terrible things. I want to go public.
So any suggestion - and I don't know, frankly, where this is coming from - any suggestion that General Morrison has somehow been forced to make these matters public is a complete nonsense. He came to me - if he had had his way he would have made this public in April or May. He made it public as soon as he was in a position to do so on the basis of the advice that he'd received from ADFIS and the legal advice he had received. He didn't want to prejudice the investigation.
So don't be under any illusions here. What has changed in the two and a half years since ADFIS? The response to ADFIS - the institutional response to the ADFA Skype scandal was wanting. It was lacking. And I have made my view of that crystal clear. We instituted, as a result of that, the Government instituted a range of reviews culminated in the Pathways the Change document. That means there's now zero tolerance. And anyone who's seen General Morrison out there in the last 24, 36 hours could not question his commitment, could not question his passion, could not question his zeal in wanting to stamp out this conduct.
And why does he want to do that? Firstly, the conduct is repugnant. But secondly, it adversely reflects on the thousands of men and women in the ADF who do good deeds and good work everyday.
JOURNALIST: What can you tell us about the decision to increase the number and timing of US Marines in Darwin?
STEPHEN SMITH: We made it clear when we announced this, when the Prime Minister and the President announced this back in November of 2011, that we would start with a six month rotation of 200 to 250 and that we would step that up over a period of years, looking at about 2016-2017 to 2500. So last year and this year we've got a rotation of 200-250. We instituted a study on what we thought was the next increment - 1100. Social and economic impact assessment - we did that. I released that a few weeks ago. That essentially shows positive economic and social impacts and we've announced formally today that we'll go to 1150 in 2014. We still have has our ambition to go to 2500, a full Marine taskforce group in due course, but that won't be before 2016 or 2017. But as we announced at the time, we'll make those decisions and make those judgements as we go each year.
JOURNALIST: So you don't anticipate it would have a negative impact on the Darwin community?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, I don't. The social and economic impact statement was clear. I know there are a small number of people who are worried about conduct. I think the worst conduct we've seen so far from the Marines in Darwin has been a speeding fine and a parking ticket. But people should understand, and I've spoken to the Marines commanding Officers and to the commanding Officers at United States Pacific Command. They leave their Marines in absolutely no doubt that there's a zero tolerance for them so far as conduct is concerned when they're in Darwin and the Northern Territory.
JOURNALIST: Just on the Howard Sattler issue. You said that you hadn't heard of Minister or Prime Minister being treated so disrespectfully. Why do you think Julia Gillard was the target of those kind of comments?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, you'd have to ask Howard. I mean, frankly, you'd have to ask Howard. I mean, what was he thinking. But I, frankly, thought that it was disgraceful, showing a complete lack of respect for the Office and for the Office holder. I don't know of anyone else who's been subject to that sort of treatment so far as on radio in an interview when they've occupied the Office of Prime Minister, or indeed any Ministerial office.
It was shabby, disgraceful. I don't know what Howard was thinking, but as I say to you, I have not appeared on Howard's show for a period of time, and that's a reflection of my own view about his judgement. Howard, frankly, should think about giving the game away.
JOURNALIST: Mr Smith, you're saying you don't know if it was the New South Wales Police or Defence's internal investigation mechanisms that picked up this latest scandal. We know that the Skype scandal was essentially picked up by the media and that's how the ball got rolling with that one. Isn't it important to find out if it was New South Wales Police who picked up on this or Defence internal investigation-
STEPHEN SMITH: Every day of the week there are joint investigations between commonwealth agencies and State Police - every day of the week. The key point here is, you know, yes there has been terrible conduct, despicable, disgraceful conduct. The key point here, in my view, is what has been the response? And there has been an ADFIS investigation, which is ongoing. That's occurring in cooperation with the New South Wales Police.
More importantly than that, the Chief of Army, on his own volition, in consultation with the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary of the Department has come to me saying, this is despicable, this is disgraceful, I want to stamp it out and I want to go public and say to personnel in the Army and the Defence Force that you will not get away with this sort of shabby treatment of your colleagues. That's the end of it.
JOURNALIST: But if it was New South Wales Police doesn't it.
STEPHEN SMITH: It doesn't matter.
JOURNALIST: -the last two biggest scandals were broken both - were uncovered by someone other than Defence's internal investigation mechanisms. Doesn't that suggest that maybe you need to look at-
STEPHEN SMITH: Sometimes an investigative force, whether it's the Defence investigative force or a Police investigative force, sometimes they kick over a rock and discover something. Other times information is given to them. The key difference here between the ADFA Skype incident and now is that between ADFA Skype and now and, I said at the time, and I say again, the institutional response by Defence to the ADFA Skype incident was wanting. It was lacking.
That is why I made very robust remarks at the time - and I'll come back to those - and instituted a series of review culminating in a range of things. The Pathway to Change document, which now says all of the leaderships sign up to zero tolerance. The Sex Discrimination Commissioner's report into the treatment of women in ADFA and the ADF. And the DLA Piper Review, which uncovered a range of serious abuses, sexual and otherwise, in Defence, over a period of five decades, which has now seen the establishment of the Defence Abuse Taskforce, chaired by Len Roberts-Smith.
I make this point. At the time I made my robust remarks at ADFA Skype, some commentators, some people out there, criticised me for so doing. I don't see that criticism today because the steps that I took, the steps that the Government took, the steps that I then took in conjunction with the leadership of the Defence Force have proven to be correct and General Morrison's response yesterday reflects that absolutely.
Okay. Good. Thanks. Cheers.