TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS ULHMANN, 7.30 REPORT
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 7 MARCH 2012
TOPICS: Defence Reviews.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Stephen Smith, welcome.
STEPHEN SMITH: Pleasure Chris.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Isn't it reasonable now for Commodore Kafer to expect an apology from you?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I fully respect the decision by the Chief of the Defence Force and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force to return him to his job following the findings of the Kirkham Inquiry.
The Kirkham Inquiry found that, Commodore Kafer had dealt with the matter appropriately, but also made the point that a different decision could have been made and it was also unfortunate that the matter hadn't been discussed with the Officer Cadet, Kate, and her officer representing her interests.
I made a very strong point at the time that I thought it was wrong, I thought it was an error of judgement, to bring the character of a potential innocent victim of alleged sexual abuse into play, and I stand by that, I don't resile from that. The decision has been made by the Chief of the Defence Force after a long consultation with me and with the Secretary of the Department, and I fully respect that, and Commodore Kafer will return to work in the course of this week.
CHRIS UHLMANN: You said his actions were inappropriate, insensitive, wrong, completely stupid and almost certainly faulty at law and most of the things that you said were wrong, so why don't you apologise?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well two of the matters that were dealt with at the same time, two unrelated disciplinary matters, one was quashed and one was upheld.
I am not going to resile from what I did and said. I might be old-fashioned, but I simply don't believe it is appropriate to bring the character of an innocent victim of an alleged sexual abuse into play. Now I draw no reference or inference to ADFA or Commodore Kafer or ADFA staff, but when I grew up and trained as a lawyer, it was still some common practice in Australia when we found the victim of an alleged sexual abuse to somehow try and blame the victim. I have a very strong view on that and I won't resile from it.
CHRIS UHLMANN: You certainly did. You trained as a lawyer and you tried Commodore Kafer in public. In fact, you put this into the public domain. It was you that said in an interview, 'there is one very concerning aspect which I need to bring to public attention immediately,' before you talked about the disciplinary hearings and then condemned him, it appears without evidence, so, surely you owe him an apology?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, that's not right. It's clear factual circumstances that at one o'clock on the relevant afternoon, Channel Ten contacted ADFA and asked about the disciplinary matters-
CHRIS UHLMANN: Behind the scenes?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I think that they're always intending to go to air Chris. They didn't win a Walkley Award because I did a doorstop so-
CHRIS UHLMANN: When they went to air though, they went with your comments, which were confirming them and going beyond that, condemning the man and putting the Vice Chief of the Defence Force in the position where he have to stand him down.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, Channel Ten had a story which was at the peak of the ADFA-Skype incident. Unrelated disciplinary matters were dealt with on that day. I was told about it after the event, I was told about it after Channel Ten got the story and my reaction was to make my view known publicly; I don't resile from that view.
What we've seen arise from those circumstances, are the reviews which we've released today, including a [indistinct] report into Pathways to Cultural Change, which will now be the basis upon which the Defence Force has to conduct itself.
It's not a document prepared by me, it's a document prepared by the Chief and the Secretary, and it makes the point that high standards in the past have not been met, there has been a culture of turning a blind eye to failing to meet those standards and now, from today, there is zero tolerance in the Pathways to Change document, set out by the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary.
CHRIS UHLMANN: It's a very important document and one of the people who will be in the forefront of trying to implement it will be the Commandant of the Australian Defence Force Academy, and that's now going to be Bruce Kafer, do you have confidence in him?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I was asked that question today and it's not a question of whether I have confidence in him, it's a question of whether the Chief of the Defence Force his Commanding Officer and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, his Line Commanding Officer, have confidence in him. And as a result of the Inquiry and report, they have confidence to return him to his work because there is no legal basis to stopping that or no legal basis for not doing that. And I have absolute confidence in the Chief of the Defence Force, the Vice Chief of the Defence Force and the Service Chiefs, all of whom I recommended for appointment to deal with their responsibilities, in terms of appointments, under the Defence Act. I have absolute confidence in them to make the correct judgements.
CHRIS UHLMANN: But Minister, you had no hesitation in declaring no confidence in this personally, and now you won't declare confidence in him personally as he takes up this very important appointment.
STEPHEN SMITH: What I said was that I believed he had made a serious error of judgement by dealing with unrelated disciplinary matters, dealing with absence from leave and use of alcohol at the same time as there was in the public arena, allegations of serious sexual abuse against the woman concerned-
CHRIS UHLMANN: Well one last point on this. Do you think that as a result of the ADFA affair, that the leaders of the Australian Defence Force have lost confidence in you?
STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely not. People are entitled to their views but the Chief of the Defence Force, the Secretary and I, worked through these issues very carefully; Worked through not just the Kirkham issues and agreed the findings that we released today, worked through very carefully, the Pathway to Cultural Change and all agreed that, and worked through very carefully the proposed response to the DLA Piper Review, which potentially sees us being in receipt of some 775 plausible allegations of sexual abuse over a long period of time. So, contrary to the assertions of others we have been dealing with these matters carefully methodically and together.
CHRIS UHLMANN: On those 775 allegations, would you consider, it is floated at least in the report, a Royal Commission to try and sort your way through them?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we have to take it step-by-step. In the aftermath of the publicity and the controversy surrounding the so-called ADFA-Skype issue, I, Defence, the media, were inundated with allegations of prior sexual abuse.
The advice I've got from DLA Piper, who we asked to assist these matters at arms length from Defence, is that of the original 1000 allegations that we received, the current advice is that we've got some 775 allegations, the vast majority of which they regard as plausible allegations of sexual abuse or other abuse. So were expecting to-
CHRIS UHLMANN: Some of them criminal?
STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely; potentially serious criminal allegations, but we've got to take it step-by-step. I'm expecting to receive their final report by the end of this month.
What I released today were none of the individual examples, but the suggestion of how the Government and Defence might respond, including relying upon current procedures to a Royal Commission but also notions of apology, compensation and reconciliation.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Given the length of time and the number of cases which is plausible some of them, as you say, potentially criminal, how can you say that this is not a systemic problem in Defence?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I don't say that, and nor does the Cultural Pathway published today, effectively written by the Chief and the Secretary. That document says that Defence and its personnel are required to keep very high standards and in the past those standards have not been met. In the past there's also been a culture of effectively turning a blind eye to not meeting standards. From today there is a zero tolerance, and that's good for Defence and good for Defences reputation. It also very clearly makes the point that the modern day community standards and attitudes to diversity and equity have changed dramatically and Defence needs to respond to that.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Minister, briefly, are you confident that things are improving under your watch?
STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely. I think that we have made progress. I think that the document that the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary have produced will in time be regarded as a seminal document. That document and all the other cultural reviews say we made progress but we need to do much more. Whether its use of alcohol, treatment of women, personal conduct, and the like. But the two great challenges now are implementing the Pathway to Cultural Change document which sets out the new standards, the new arrangements, but also how we deal with, both Defence, and as a Government, to deal with now some 775 plausible allegations of abuse and misconduct in the past.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Stephen Smith, we'll leave it there thank you.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Chris, thanks very much.