TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH DAVID SPEERS, PM AGENDA
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 26 NOVEMBER 2012
TOPICS: Government response to the DLA Piper and Broderick Reviews.
DAVID SPEERS: Minister, welcome. Can I start by asking you - everyone's supported the apology that you delivered- but why was it only announced and then delivered some hours later? Why not a bit more notice so those, some of those victims who may have wanted to come could do so?
STEPHEN SMITH: Once I'd come to the conclusion that an apology was appropriate and recommended that to my Cabinet colleagues and that was agreed, I came to the conclusion for two reasons that we were best off just getting on with it.Firstly, in my experience when we've seen apologies in the past, the reaction has been, well, that was a really good thing to do, it's a shame we didn't do it years earlier, and I didn't want delay. Secondly-
DAVID SPEERS: But some days' delay wouldn't hurt-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, my worry-
DAVID SPEERS: -and you could invite some people to attend.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I'll come to that, but my worry is that if it wasn't done now, it wouldn't be done until next year, firstly. This is unlike some of the other apologies we've seen where you've had longstanding groups in the community agitating for a change of view that's important to Australian society. On this occasion, we've had people who, when they approached DLA Piper, did so for the first occasion, told their story, wanted that story to be kept confidential, don't want any publicity, want their privacy protected-
DAVID SPEERS: But not organised lobby groups.
STEPHEN SMITH: There are people with a lot in common, but they don't necessarily want to identify or self-identify. And in the end, the most important thing is the giving of the apology. In the end, the most important thing to do is to say, we acknowledge on everything that we've seen that you suffered abuse, either sexual or other abuse, which was wrong and it was inappropriate, and we're sorry for that. And underlining the fact that we are sorry for that are all the steps we are taking to try and ensure it doesn't happen again.
DAVID SPEERS: Well, let's look at those steps, in particular this task force. You've opted not to go for a Royal Commission at this stage at least. Why not?
STEPHEN SMITH: A range of reasons. Firstly, I kept open the possibility of the chair Len Roberts-Smith, the former Judge of the Supreme Court in WA, coming back to me and saying, I really need the powers of a Royal Commission to do my work on the so-called ADFA 24, which was a suggestion by DLA Piper, that-
DAVID SPEERS: We should just spell out, these are the 24 alleged rapes that took place at ADFA in the '90s that never went to trial?
STEPHEN SMITH: That's right. So if he needs, if the taskforce needs Royal Commission powers in that area, then I've made it clear today they'll be granted. I've also asked him to look particularly at the HMAS Leeuwin matter where terrible allegations were made, particularly against children. So that capacity is there to come back.
But what we're dealing with here is firstly, trying to give some individual satisfaction or some individual justice to over 700 people who are said to have plausible cases or plausible allegations. A Royal Commission is not really well suited to dealing with individual cases or individual grievances, so I wanted to get an outcome for those individuals, and that's why we've gone for restorative justice, for compensation, for counselling if required.
DAVID SPEERS: And he will able to decide whether to refer individual cases to police-
STEPHEN SMITH: That's right.
DAVID SPEERS: -military justice system on a case by case basis. Can I just ask you to clarify, you know, you mentioned there the ADFA 24, and there is a possibility that some of those involved at the time could still be in the military. What about those who may have turned a blind eye - not done enough?
STEPHEN SMITH: A couple of points. Firstly, I made clear at the press conference today that when that matter was drawn attention to by DLA Piper, General Hurley, the Chief of the Defence Force and I had a discussion. General Hurley said to me I don't feel comfortable about the notion that there might be people still be in the system who are subject to that allegation. I'd like to do some investigation of my own. So I said yes, that's appropriate - do that. So ADFIS have done some investigative work. That work is in a position to be handed over to relevant police or other investigative agencies. That same work will be handed over to Len Roberts-Smith and the task force. Now, DLA Piper said - and it expressly recommended we don't believe there should be a Royal Commission. But in this narrow area you might want to think about it. So if there is a need for coercive power, or powers of a Royal Commission then I've made it clear I'll grant them.
DAVID SPEERS: You'll grant it- what do you think this whole thing has done to the image of Defence inAustralia?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well there's no doubt that we've seen these allegations made; that's had significant reputational damage to the Australia Defence Force. But we will be judged -and when I say we, I mean Defence, the Minster, the Chief of the Defence Force, the Service Chiefs, the Secretary, and our predecessors who've been involved in this will be judged on the steps we take to make sure that this inappropriate conduct and the turning of a blind eye doesn't happen again. And today I updated not just on the response to DLA Piper, but also other work we'd been doing. The then Secretary Duncan Lewis and General Hurley effectively wrote the Pathway to Change document, that sets the new standard for not being able to turn a blind eye for dealing with these matters appropriately. Liz Broderick was there, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, the work she has done into women in ADFA and women in the ADF-
DAVID SPEERS: So we can be confident there'll be no more of this?
STEPHEN SMITH: We want to make sure that we absolutely minimise or eliminate that chance. The task force report to me will be made public to the parliament. We're going to have Parliamentary oversight of the implementation of the various strands of work. The reality is in the last 18 months since April of 2011 when we saw the so-called ADFA Skype incident, there's been more work done by me as the Minister, the Chief of the Defence Force, and the Service Chiefs than in any other period. And one of the documents I distributed today was a document signed up - not at my request but just signed up and produced by the Chief and the Service Chiefs and the Secretary, essentially saying zero tolerance, this is not negotiable, we have to do this to make sure that everyone in Defence is treated appropriately, with common decency, as befits the high standards of the ADF.
DAVID SPEERS: Just finally, Minister, on the other matter of the day, as a former lawyer, are you completely satisfied with Julia Gillard's explanation about this AWU slush fund affair, given she didn't open a file as a lawyer at Slater & Gordon. She called this or it was called the AWU Workplace Reform Association when she admitted at the time it was a slush fund for the re-election of union officials. Does any of this stand out to you as concerning?
STEPHEN SMITH: I'm absolutely confident in every answer that the Prime Minister has given. I mean, she's now done two very long press conferences, which we've seen over a period of a month or so - two previous days in question time, and today. Neither, the press gallery - not said critically - nor the Opposition today laid a finger on her. I don't know what the allegation is. What is the allegation here? And whenever that question is asked, neither a member of the press gallery nor the Opposition can say what is the allegation being made against the Prime Minister here.
DAVID SPEERS: But do you think as a lawyer, some of this was sloppy?
STEPHEN SMITH: I am absolutely satisfied with the answers that she has given.
DAVID SPEERS: Did you ever open - do any work without opening a file?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well she made the point herself this was a small piece of work - a lot of pro bono work was done for regular clients. Not the first occasion-
DAVID SPEERS: And that's normal in your experience?
STEPHEN SMITH: -that a lawyer in a firm dealing with a long-standing client who provides a lot of business to the firm would do a minor thing - or a small thing effectively pro bono.
DAVID SPEERS: Alright,Stephen Smith, thank you.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks David.