TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH DAVID LIPSON, SKY AM AGENDA
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY AND E & OE
DATE: 15 JUNE 2012
TOPICS: DLA Piper Review; Nick Reece
DAVID LIPSON: A very short time ago, I spoke to the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, and started by asking him why the report was restricted in the first place.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, what's been released through Freedom of Information is an executive summary of the first phase of the report that came to me in October last year. In March of this year, I released a redacted version, an edited version of the Executive Summary, and I did that so that people were aware of the seriousness with which we were taking these matters, but also to outline the array of options. The Executive Summary's been released by - under FOI legislation requirements. That's not a matter for me. I don't object to it going out. The material I released underlined the seriousness with which we were dealing with these issues and the seriousness of the issues themselves.
DAVID LIPSON: But it didn't really unveil the full extent of these allegations. For example, it showed that abuse of children was not just a one-off. This is the new version that we've got and as the censored version seemed to indicate.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the Executive- all that have been released is the Executive Summary. There is very much more material, very much more information, some of which may be made public by me in due course, but very much of which I think won't become public because it deals with individual personal allegations and circumstances. So, a small amount of material that's come to me has been released either by me or by Freedom of Information legislation arrangements.
The material that's been released by me underlined the seriousness of the issues and the way in which the Government might move forward on the- on how to deal with these issues. Everything from relying upon existing processes to a Royal Commission. The material released overnight under freedom of information legislation simply reinforces that. And I have at all times indicated the seriousness with which we are treating these matters. I don't think we're too far away from coming to conclusions. And, in the end, the most important thing will be the decisions and the judgements that - judgements that the Government makes about how we deal with what are described as over 700 plausible allegations over more than a 50-year period, and what more we need to do in terms of the systems and the culture in Defence to make sure that these sorts of allegations don't arise into the future.
DAVID LIPSON: So, is a Royal Commission inevitable?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, I don't regard it as inevitable at all. One of the difficulties - one of the complexities that we have been grappling with is we've got over 700 allegations that are described by the independent review as plausible. They go over a 50 year period. So, how do we deal with those- they can't, in one sense, be done as a job lot. They are at the moment- whilst they're described as plausible- untested allegations. So, there's a fair process that needs to be gone through as well. People who have made the allegations may not want to go through a Royal Commission-type process. People against whom allegations have been made are entitled to put their point of view, indeed, to rebut those allegations.
So, dealing with what is, effectively, a five decade period throws up complexities.
DAVID LIPSON: But a Royal Commission seems like it is something you're certainly not discounting.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, one of the things that I have done since I initiated this process - and remember that in the aftermath and in the midst of the so-called ADF Skype issue, my office was inundated with complaints and allegations. I established, with the then Secretary of the Department of Defence, this independent process, so that all of those allegations could be dealt with. And in every step in the process I've said we're dealing with these matters methodically, carefully, and at every step in the process, I've said, I don't discount a Royal Commission.
But a Royal Commission is one option, but other options include, essentially, a reconciliation-type process, a compensation process, dealing with some matters under existing processes, whether they're police or military justice processes. So, the Executive Summary, a redacted or an edited version of which I released, and the materials released overnight outline all of those potential options for Government and I've made it clear, effectively from day one, that we are considering all of those options.
DAVID LIPSON: Senior officers, some of them still serving, are suspected of being involved in this very serious abuse. What's being done to ensure that no further harm is done?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, a couple of things there. Firstly, as I say, these are untested allegations. Yes, there is a risk, there is a chance, there is a possibility that some serving ADF - Australian Defence Force personnel- may be the subject of allegations. But they're entitled at some point to rebut those allegations, to be involved in a fair process which enables them to put their point of view. But the Executive Summary and the report draws attention to that possibility. But we can't rush to judgement because that would trample over people's rights. At the same time, we need to make sure that those people who still remain in the system, or who are outside the system, either retired or left the Defence Force, who have made allegations, that they are given appropriate support and the like.
But one thing I'm absolutely convinced of is that the Secretary of the Department of Defence, the Chief of the Defence Force and the service chiefs are absolutely at one in their resolve to make sure that the culture in Defence changes. In the aftermath of the Skype issues, we initiated a range of reviews. This was one of them. In April of this year, the secretary of the department and the Chief of the Defence Force released what is described as a pathway to change document, where it makes clear that in the past there has been inappropriate behaviour. In the past, there has, from time to time, been the turning of a blind eye. In the past, there has been a culture of not reporting these matters. And now, the Chief and the Secretary and the service chiefs saying, that culture is over, there's a zero tolerance, we have to support people who bring forward complaints or allegations.
So, I'm absolutely confident in the resolve of the chief and, you know, his service chiefs to deal with these matters into the future. What we have to do is now deal with allegations that have come to us over a preceding 50-year period, and what that also means for further changes that we might want to make in the systems and the structures in Defence.
DAVID LIPSON: Okay. Well, just while I have you, Nick Reece has resigned as the Director of the Prime Minister's political strategy team. A day later, we learn that he was also the author of a so-called dirt file that was circulated among Government MPs. Are those two incidents related?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I don't - one, I don't know; two, I don't believe so. I haven't seen the materials that you refer to. Mr Reece has indicated that he's going to go back to Melbourne where his family are based and take up a university position. Just as a general proposition, so far as examining the conduct of Members of Parliament is concerned, I think there are two areas where people are entitled to focus on. One is, we are all required as members of Parliament to declare our interests, so there's a registry of interest. The public and other parliamentarians are entitled to see that and make judgements about members of Parliament's conflict of interest, perceived or real, and their conduct. And secondly, prior inconsistent statements have always been up for grabs by political opponents and the media. That's the sort of scrutiny that's been going on for a long time.
DAVID LIPSON: So, you don't think that what he did - what - the document that he authored would necessarily lead to him having to resign?
STEPHEN SMITH: I haven't seen the document. My understanding is, he's made a judgement about his family, and his children, his personal circumstances. What he does is a tough job. It's a tough job being a political staffer. His family are in Melbourne. He's going back to Melbourne. I'm not - I don't believe the two things are related. I haven't seen the materials. I think it's important just to underline, as a general proposition - I think that a Member of Parliament’s family or private life is out off bounds, but people are entitled to look at the interests that they disclose in the parliamentary register, which is a requirement, and secondly, as you would know, as a working journalist, inconsistent statements or statements that people have made in the past, whether it was a week ago or decades ago, has always been up for grabs and able to be put back to people in future years.
DAVID LIPSON: Stephen Smith, thank you.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks David, thanks very much.