TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH DAVID SPEERS, SKY NEWS
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 10 JULY 2012
TOPICS: DLA Piper; turning back the boats.
DAVID SPEERS: Defence Minister Stephen Smith joins me now ahead of tonight's Community Cabinet meeting which is happening at a high school in Brisbane. Minister, thanks for joining us. Can I start by asking how much of this have you read- how much of this report have you read- and have the contents shocked you?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I have, as you'd expect, gone very carefully through this first report. I'd previously released a redacted version of the Executive Summary. We've seen recently, without my objection, the release of the Executive Summary itself, and today I've released all of the first report including some supplementary materials that I received in April, subject to some redaction, consistent with federal information legislation to protect personal privacy and the like. I've read this very carefully, but more importantly I've also received now the final version or the final report from DLA Piper, and it's that document which is now being very carefully considered by me in particular but also I'm getting assistance from the Attorney-General.
I've released this material now so that people fully understand the sensitive, the serious nature of what we're dealing with, and also the complexity so that people fully appreciate the challenges that lay ahead so far as the Government is concerned in dealing with these matters.
DAVID SPEERS: I'm just trying to get to your personal reaction to this though. You said you've gone through this in detail. There's some pretty shocking stuff there.
STEPHEN SMITH: There is shocking stuff in it, and I said earlier today that people will be shocked by it. It doesn't make for good or for pleasant reading, but I do make the point I've made before; at this stage these are allegations, they are regarded or described as some over 700 plausible allegations, so they have to be treated seriously, but allegations against people of course need to be tested and people need to be given a proper opportunity of responding to or rebutting those allegations. So they are allegations, but in the aftermath of the ADFA Skype scandal- with the tremendous publicity attached to that- and with the volume and the number of complaints that came to my office, came to the media, came to Defence itself I established this process, and we're now working our way carefully to its conclusion.
DAVID SPEERS: But this is more than just allegations against the individuals involved. This goes to the leadership of ADFA, or indeed, Defence, because it talks about no action being taken against alleged rapes, 24 alleged rapes at ADFA. That would be potentially criminal negligence wouldn't it?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I think there are a number of issues. Firstly, we have to be careful about how we proceed in the face of allegations, and that's what we're doing. Secondly, in addition to over 700 plausible allegations which need to be considered, there are systemic issues here that have to be also carefully considered. The Pathways to Change document which the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary of the Department put out earlier this year in response to a range of reviews that I instituted makes a very frank acknowledgement that in the past there has been, regrettably, a failure to meet modern day community standards.
But there's also been, regrettably in the past, something of a failure of the system to not respond appropriately to allegations or complaints, to turn a blind eye. So we have to examine not just the individual allegations, but also whether any complaints that came forward were dealt with properly or appropriately. It's not just the allegation or the complaint that is made, it is how the system responds to that. And that was, if you like, very much at the centre of the so called ADFA Skype issue; it was not just the complaint that was made, it was how the system responded to that complaint.
DAVID SPEERS: Well it's, as I say, it's not just those alleged individuals allegedly involved but others as well. But in relation to those individuals the report does say that some of them could now be in middle and senior ranks in the ADF. What's the urgency on this, on identifying those who may still be in potentially senior positions in defence?
STEPHEN SMITH: Could is a possibility, and I have, as has the Chief of Defence Force, acknowledged in recent times that is a possibility. But again, if there are people in the system against whom allegations have been made, they're entitled to put a view, they're entitled to a fair process. But as the Chief of the Defence Force has made clear when he responded to these matters earlier this year, if people have done the wrong thing they will be brought to justice.
Now, that may well be justice through the civil criminal process, it may well be justice through the military process, or it may well be through a separate or different legal or judicial mechanism including the potential of a Royal Commission. And if people are in the system and they are found to have engaged in wrongdoing, whether that wrongdoing was against another member of the ADF or whether that wrongdoing was the turning of a blind eye, then they will be dealt with, but they'll be dealt with through the prism of the Pathways to Change document which the Secretary of the Department and the Chief of the Defence Force signed up to- it’s their document- earlier this year. And that essentially says there has to be in the modern day a zero tolerance to bad behaviour, and a zero tolerance to turning a blind eye when complaints are made by members of the Australian Defence Force.
DAVID SPEERS: Can I ask you though, this isn't just about past issues. The DLA Piper review did find a document on the ADFA website called Lego Lingo; it was full of sexist and racist lingo. It's now been taken down, but the fact that this was there when they began their inquiry, how does that reflect on the leadership at ADFA?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well it doesn't reflect well. There's no point beating about the bush in that respect. But one of the inquiries or reviews that I instituted in the aftermath of the ADFA scandal was not just this external reference to the independent law firm DLA Piper, it was also the use of social media, including the use of Facebook; including the use of digital and modern media. And people are now growing to understand-
DAVID SPEERS: But on the leadership at ADFA, do you have confidence in Commandant Bruce Kafer who has been reinstated there at the helm?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I have confidence in the Chief of the Defence Force, and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force who are in the chain of command to whom Commandant Kafer is responsible to. Now I'm not going to retread over old ground. I made my view-
DAVID SPEERS: But this isn't old ground. You have been critical of him in the past, and now you're agreeing this finding that there was a document full of sexist and racist lingo doesn't reflect well on the leadership at ADFA. Is this a further blow to Commandant Kafer?
STEPHEN SMITH: I don't characterise or categorise it in that way. The fact that is was there was unfortunate, and I'm not proposing to do anything other than say that it was regrettable, it shouldn't have occurred, it shouldn't have appeared. I made my view clear about the way in which ADFA and Commandant Kafer responded to the so-called ADFA Skype issue. And I have not taken and won't take a backward step so far as that is concerned. But we're dealing here with separate issues, and there is nothing I have seen which would cause me other than to proceed on the basis that the Chief of the Defence Force, the Vice Chief of the Defence Force exercising their chain of command and chain of control authority are ensuring that ADFA is managed well and is attentive to, and attune to these difficulties which aren't just addressed to ADFA, they are addressed to all of the ADF.
And the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's report, Ms Broderick's report which deals with ADFA essentially says that there have been substantial improvements made in the management of ADFA on these cultural issues, but that more work and more progress needs to be done. Now, we're yet to see her final report into all of the Australian Defence Force, but my instinct is that I expect that she will say much the same thing about the Defence Force generally, that in the past there has been inappropriate or bad treatment of women within the system. That has improved, but we're not at the end of that journey.
DAVID SPEERS: Minister, just a final question if I can on a completely separate matter. You and other Ministers have been ramping up criticism of Tony Abbott over his plan to turn back the boats. You today suggested he was not fit for office because of this plan. In the past though, both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have commented in favourable terms about what the Howard Government did in turning back the boats.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the Howard Government instructed the Navy to turn back the boats in a limited number of occasions during a limited period between effectively 2001 and 2003. The current Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Griggs was engaged in that process, and he's given evidence of Senate Estimates which refers to one successful exercise he was engaged in and an unsuccessful exercise. It has become crystal clear that from a small number of boats that were turned back to Indonesia, that the people smugglers no effectively people on board to disable the boat, and so you immediately go to essentially a rescue situation. It's that rescue situation which places not just asylum seekers at risk, but places maybe personnel at risk, and the qualitative difference in the last few days has been I think, two things: Firstly, Tony Abbott refusing to have the courage to look the President of Indonesia in the eye when he met him in Indonesia and tell him face-to-face, person-to-person that this was his policy.
And secondly, his bald-faced admission that this was a dangerous practice, but that Navy and Navy personnel could effectively cop that. Now to my mind, that is irresponsible. To my mind, that doesn't show the necessary judgement required of a person to be the Prime Minister of this country. He's running for the Office of Prime Minister, he should have had the courage to say to President Yudhoyono face-to-face, this is my policy and suffer the consequences so far as Indonesian diplomacy was concerned. And he shouldn't simply turn a blind eye to the fact that the current Chief of Navy, the former Chief of the Defence Force, Admiral Barrie, have all said that to engage in this practice is to put personnel, to put Australian Defence Force personnel at risk. He's doing that knowingly- that is irresponsible. To my mind, that renders him not a fit and proper person to discharge the high office of Prime Minister.
DAVID SPEERS: Right, Defence Minister Stephen Smith. We'll let you go and good luck with that Community Cabinet meeting that's going to take place in the school hall there behind you. Thanks for joining us this afternoon.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks David. Thanks very much.