TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH DAVID SPEERS, SKY NEWS PM AGENDA
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 6 MARCH 2012
TOPICS: Labor Party; Kirkham and cultural reviews; Enquiry Report; Comments by Hugh White.
DAVID SPEERS: Stephen Smith thanks for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Pleasure.
DAVID SPEERS: It was widely reported last week that you tried to stop the appointment of Bob Carr as Foreign Minister, that you wanted your old job back. We all expected that you would get your old job back. You in fact stayed in Canberra for the reshuffle announcement on Friday as well. Were you as surprised as everyone at what happened in the end?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I think on Monday morning I may have said to you when I was interviewed before the ballot for the leadership that when it came to reshuffles it was entirely a matter for the Prime Minister. And I've been around long enough to know that one has to wait until the press release was issued and I said that all week.
And I said all week to colleagues and when I was asked, this is entirely a matter for the Prime Minister. It's not a matter where there's some form of Ministerial veto. It's not a matter for Ministers. It's a matter for the Prime Minister, and on Friday afternoon I made my view clear.
DAVID SPEERS: But did you at some point during the week push back against the idea of Bob Carr becoming Foreign Minister?
STEPHEN SMITH: I said on Friday I'm not proposing to go into conversations I have with the Prime Minister about such matters, and nor would you expect me to. But I've seen suggestions of firmness and every conversation I have with the Prime Minister is a conversation which is professional and one of civility and dignity.
DAVID SPEERS: But is-
STEPHEN SMITH: And at all times I made clear publicly that this was entirely a matter for her, as it is.
DAVID SPEERS: Sure. But you stood aside as Foreign Minister for Kevin Rudd when he lost the leadership and wanted the job. I mean, you must have felt some sort of entitlement to go back into the position?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well there's no entitlement to a position in public life and there is no entitlement to disappointment. I'm doing the defence job. I asked the Prime Minister if I could do this job after the 2010 election. I'm very happy doing the defence job.
DAVID SPEERS: Is your heart in it?
STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely. There are a lot of big challenges. And one of the things which is on the public record was if Mr Smith is no longer the Defence Minister, is there unfinished business? Yes there is unfinished business. There are big challenges, and at no point last week did allow myself to be deflected from that. So-
DAVID SPEERS: Let's look at one of those challenges.
STEPHEN SMITH: Sure.
DAVID SPEERS: Last year it was quite a big story, the Skype affair at ADFA - the Defence Force Academy. The Commandant at the Defence Force Academy, Commodore Bruce Kafer was stood down over his role in it. You ordered a review. That was delivered to you in December. Will you now release that review and will you reinstate Bruce Kafer to his role?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well a number of things. Firstly, in the aftermath of the controversy over the so-called ADFA Skype issue, the then Vice Chief of the Defence Force directed that Commander Kafer take leave - he's still on leave. At the suggestion of the then Chief of the Defence Force, we instituted the so-called Kirkham Inquiry. We also instituted a range of other cultural reviews and also in response to about a thousand suggestions or allegations of inappropriate conduct also established through the law firm DLA Piper, a process to examine those old complaints.
We are not too far away from making public announcements on each of those things and-
DAVID SPEERS: Including the Kirkham Inquiry?
STEPHEN SMITH: Yes and as I say, we're not too far. I've been making it clear for the last few weeks that the Chief of the Defence Force, the Secretary Department and I were coming to the final stages of our deliberations on those matters and-
DAVID SPEERS: So we'll see that?
STEPHEN SMITH: We're not too far off.
DAVID SPEERS: Are you able to say whether there's anything in that inquiry that suggests that Bruce Kafer should be sacked?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I don't think it's appropriate for me to deal with that matter or indeed any of the other matters in a piecemeal way. As I say, we're not too far away from the Secretary of the Department, the Chief of the Defence Force and I from coming to final conclusions and decisions and letting that be known publicly.
DAVID SPEERS: But if there's nothing in there that's damning enough for him to be sacked, surely it's a denial of natural justice, you've had this report since December, for him not to be reinstated.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I was given a copy of the report in the middle of December at the same time I was told by the Chief of the Air Force that he and the Vice-Chief of the Defence Force needed to do further work and provide me with further recommendations, and since that time I've received further recommendations, I've received further advice. I've also had a number of discussions with the Chief of the Defence Force, and those deliberations are ongoing.
But there is more than one interest here. It is not just the interests of one particular individual, there are a range of personal interests, all of which need to be treated carefully, their legal rights respected. So it's not just a question of one particular individual, whether that's me or whether that's Commandant Kafer.
DAVID SPEERS: Even before this inquiry got underway though you were particularly critical of Commodore Kafer for allowing the 18-year old girl at the centre of this whole issue to face a disciplinary hearing on a separate matter when she was in the middle of all of this. You said at the time that it was - quote 'Either in the realm of inappropriate, insensitive or completely stupid to hold such a hearing'. Is that still your view?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I don't resile from anything I said at the time. I made a very strong public point about what I regarded as the inappropriateness of putting the character of the potential innocent victim of an alleged sexual assault into play, and I don't resile from anything I said at the time. But having said that, we're now dealing with, in a sense, different issues. We have asked Mr Kirkham QC to do his enquiry, he's done that. We are not too far away from final conclusions and announcements about those, but I'm not proposing-
DAVID SPEERS: But if that report finds that it wasn't completely stupid will you apologise yourself?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well as I say I'm not proposing to deal with it piecemeal, we'll deal with it as a job lot, just as I'll deal with the various cultural reviews, whether that deals with use of alcohol in the ADF or use of social media or the fact that our defence force personnel represent their nation. I'll deal with all of those, not piecemeal but as a job lot.
DAVID SPEERS: A couple of other matters just quickly. A Special Forces soldier by the name of Lazarus Lewis was accidentally shot through the chest by his own weapon more than 12 months ago in Afghanistan. He's still suffering post traumatic stress disorder, lung damage, but he is still waiting for the enquiry report, he hasn't seen it himself, he's also waiting for a medical discharge. Is that good enough?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well firstly it's a very sorry circumstance and our thoughts are with him, he's been wounded in action, so that's a terrible thing for him and his family. The inquiry into his wounding is ongoing, that's an enquiry which in the normal course of events would not come to me, inquiries with respect to fatalities come to me for potential public release. But this is an inquiry report which will go to the Chief of Army and subsequently to the Chief of the Defence Force. So that inquiry is ongoing.
DAVID SPEERS: Should they hurry up and give it to him though?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well every enquiry that we do needs to be done exhaustively and methodically, you've drawn attention to some of the circumstances of the wounding, and I'm not proposing to comment on the detail, but it does require careful attention. He's also said publicly that following the wounding while he was convalescing he was either bullied or harassed, and the Chief of Army is making sure that those allegations are also investigated. Irrespective of the circumstances of a wounding of one of our soldiers in Afghanistan or elsewhere they should not be subject to such bullying or harassment if indeed that has occurred.
But that is also the subject of investigation, but obviously I want this matter to be drawn to a conclusion as quickly as possible, including his own personal circumstances, his medical position and the like. But I do just make the point that the circumstances surrounding his wounding were complex and they need to be dealt with carefully so that his interests and his rights are protected but also the interests and rights of other soldiers involved are also protected.
DAVID SPEERS: And just finally, Minister I can ask you to respond to the criticism that you faced from a leading strategic analyst Hugh White, he says you've been a disappointing Defence Minister, he says you haven't done a good enough job explaining big programs in defence and explaining our ongoing role in Afghanistan and why we're still there. What do you say to that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well Hugh has a different policy on Afghanistan. Hugh's policy on Afghanistan is that he would withdraw our troops immediately. The Government's policy and my approach to Afghanistan is that if we were to do that we would then again see the risk of Afghanistan and the Afghanistan Pakistan border area becoming a breeding ground for international terrorists.
Now the problem Hugh has is that Hugh's a commentator. Commentators don't get much currency if they agree with government, so he's entitled to his view, but the starting point on Afghanistan is that Hugh has a different policy, if he wants to change the policy he should run for office.
DAVID SPEERS: I think his argument is that we'll end up leaving here and it won't be any different, Afghanistan to when we went in.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well time will tell, but we are confident that we are on track, the transition in Uruzgan to Afghan led security responsibility at least by 2014, but as I've been saying and the Prime Minister has been saying for some months, we expect now that that will be earlier.
The international community remains absolutely committed to transition and also to a long term engagement with Afghanistan so that we have a sustainable security environment in Afghanistan. Now that's our ambition, that's our aspiration, and to do what Hugh White would want us to do, which is to rip out our troops now today, would do nothing other than to ensure that Afghanistan again became a breeding ground for terrorism, putting citizens, innocent citizens in the United States, in Europe and South East Asia at risk.
DAVID SPEERS: Defence Minister Stephen Smith thank you.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks, David. Thanks very much.