ASHLEIGH GILLON: Minister, thank you for your time. Firstly, can you clarify for me the quotas that have been discussed today- are they mandatory or aspirational?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner has recommended that to get greater recruitment, greater retention and a greater number of women into senior leadership positions we do need to really not on what she calls the trickle-up effect, but we do need to take positive action.
So whether you describe them as targets or quotas or affirmative action, the Government and the Chief of the Defence Force agree with that analysis. So we have said we agree with the recommendations, we accept them in principle, and I've given the Chief of the Defence Force and the Service Chiefs now the job of going away to work through the detailed implementations. So yes we'll have targets, but we've got to work through that detail.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: But again, are they mandatory, or is there something you just hope - goals that you hope can be met?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, we will set targets, and those targets will be looked at, at least on an annual basis. One of the, I think, significant practical reforms is the suggestion from the Commissioner that we have a section on women in the ADF annual report - a companion document to the annual report. So from here on in every time the Defence annual report goes out there will be an accompanying document which is women in the Australian Defence Force. So we'll be able to see on an annual basis, the progress we're making, or indeed, the lack of progress.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Okay. So you're not going to be mandatorily saying though that those quotas need to be met each year. Those are things that you're going to set and then have people work towards as opposed to forcing certain quotas; that certain numbers of senior officers need to be women for example.
STEPHEN SMITH: We'll set targets, we'll set quotas. I don't want to have a semantic argument, but the point that
ASHLEIGH GILLON: It is quite a difference though, isn't it, as to whether they're mandatory or aspirational?
STEPHEN SMITH: What's our objective here- our objective here is to make sure that women are treated completely equally in the Defence Force, and that is not just for equality or gender reasons, it's also because in the modern world, to be an effective Defence Force if you don't treat women equally then your capability and your operational effectiveness is reduced.
So in the long-term, we don't want to rely upon targets or quotas or mandatory arrangements. What we want to rely upon is the fact that we get women in numbers coming into the Defence Force in a sufficient, critical mass that over a period of time, it will naturally occur in the Defence Force, as it now naturally occurs in other spheres of Australian society.
When I first started in public life, we had neither seen in Australia a woman Premier or woman Prime Minister and only a small number of women Ministers. Now we see it every day. And that's where we will end up in the Defence Force. Will we need to take some special steps along the way- yes we will, and targets or quotas will be part of that.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: So in the meantime, this sort of affirmative action that you're talking about, does that mean that when it comes to recruitment and promotion, those processes - that if there's a male candidate and a female candidate with the same qualifications that the female will be chosen for that role?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well in the end that'll be a matter for the Chief of the Defence Force and the Service Chiefs. But the thrust of the report and the thrust of our acceptance of it is that yes, that will be the case. The Commissioner talks about meritorious appointment, and we don't want to disturb that. We're not interested in appointing people to positions that they are not capable of effecting.
So we want to have a merit-based system, but we want to make sure that we do everything we can to maximise the opportunity of women to join the Defence Force in the first instance through recruitment, to stay in the Defence Force and that's why there are range of recommendations which go to work and family balance, but then to be promoted into senior levels where they are able strategically to do their job.
And that's why one of the recommendations is to say that we should no longer look simply to the combat roles as being the area from which personnel should be chosen for strategic leadership roles.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Didn't most of the women though that were spoken to during this inquiry, didn't most of them say that while they'd like to be treated equally, they didn't want to be treated preferentially, therefore, didn't support this sort of positive discrimination that you're talking about?
STEPHEN SMITH: That was a view expressed by some of the people the Commissioner spoke to.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: It was a majority, wasn't it?
STEPHEN SMITH: She said it was a majority view, but she also said and I agree with her - she also said that she disagreed with that analysis.
So there are two views. There's one view which says to treat women equally, you treat them exactly the same as men and over a period of time nature will take its course and you'll end up with perfect equality and practice. The Commissioner says and I agree with this analysis, and we've seen this in other areas of Australian community activity - that unless you do special and particular things to help break through that logjam, you won't make progress.
And so over the last two decades, where Australian society has changed enormously in terms of the equal role of women, we have seen one or two per cent increase in the number of women who joined the Defence Force and significantly poorer outcomes of senior leadership. So we accept the view that we need to take special steps.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: But this sort of positive discrimination was already in place in the ADF wasn't it, in the '80s and the '90s. Many regard that as a bit of a flop. How can you guarantee that the disharmony created by positive discrimination practice then won't be repeated now?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I don't see any previous report in Defence which is of the same comprehensive nature as this one. And we now have in the modern Defence Force for the modern defence organisation we've now got three definitive reports through which we now need to look at Defence: in the cultural area in terms of personal conduct, use of alcohol, use of social media, personal conduct. We have the Pathway to Change document which was the conclusion of all the reviews that we did in the aftermath of the ADFA Skype issue.
That's a document created by the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary, and we now look through that prism. And that says in the past there has been a turning of a blind eye to inappropriate conduct and lower standards. That's gone.
So far as treatment of women are concerned we now have this pathway which essentially says unless you treat women equally in the Defence Force; unless you have a greater number of women joining, a greater number of women in senior roles, the capacity of a modern defence force to do the things you need to do strategically in the modern world. And thirdly, we have in terms of making decisions and being held accountable for decisions, we have the Black Review which institutionalises personal accountability.
There hasn't been a series of reports or reforms of that nature in Defence's history. We now have all of these in the table in the space of the last 12 to 18 months, and that's the prism through which the modern defence force will now operate. And most importantly, all of those things are strongly supported by the Chief of the Defence Force and his Service Chiefs and the Secretary. Indeed, on this report, they were very closely involved in working with the Commissioner to see the final product.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: We hope you achieve results, Minister. Thank you for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much.