TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH FRAN KELLY, ABC BREAKFAST
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 12 APRIL 2011
TOPICS: ADFA Skype Incident, ADFA and ADF Reviews.
FRAN KELLY: Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, is in our Parliament House studio. Minister, welcome to Breakfast.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you, Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Minister, before we get to the reviews you've announced, can we just settle something? Has Commodore Bruce Kafer been disciplined and stood down while the review of this incident's carried out?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, no, he's being directed by the Vice Chief of the Defence Force who is, essentially, his command line officer, the person who, to use my parlance, has line portfolio responsibility for him.
He's been directed to take leave. He was directed on Saturday, during the weekend, to take leave effective from Sunday. And as-
FRAN KELLY: Is that a disciplinary absence though? Is that an absence as a disciplinary action?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, it's a decision that the Vice Chief made because he thought it was in the Commodore's best interests. I also thought that it was in the best interests of the Academy and the best interests of Defence for him to stand aside from the Academy, which would then enable us to do the inquiry that you've referred to, the Markham inquiry.
So he - and as I said at the press conference yesterday with the Chief of the Defence Force, he'll be on leave for a period of time. But then, it's opened quite appropriately for the Vice Chief to get him to do other work and other activity if he wants to, if they come to that arrangement. But-
FRAN KELLY: What I'm trying to get at-
STEPHEN SMITH: -the Commandant-
FRAN KELLY: -is did you demand that the Commodore be disciplined and step aside, while this inquiry-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I was asked a question last week, which was put in - the same question, effectively, whether I had confidence in him and I said I wouldn't be drawn on that because we needed to be in command and control-
FRAN KELLY: I think that's a different issue. What I'm asking you-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, okay. Well let me-
FRAN KELLY: -is did you ask that he be stepped aside as a disciplinary action?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, what I wanted to see was an outcome where the Defence Force and the Government responded to the serious issues which had been raised. Now, he's not my employee. As I've said in a command structure, he comes under the control of the Vice Chief. so, the Vice Chief had to make a decision about what would occur, if anything, to the Commandant - to the Commodore - the Commander, effectively - of the Academy.
When the Vice Chief advised us that that was his decision, that had my full support and the full support of the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary of the Department, because it provided a vehicle for enabling a serious, mature and calm consideration of all of the issues associated with the so-called Skype incident, and also gives the Commodore, himself, some respite.
FRAN KELLY: Sounds like there was a bit of a struggle over - tussle over discipline-
STEPHEN SMITH: No, no, no. Look-
FRAN KELLY: -of authority here.
STEPHEN SMITH: -I don't put it in that way. We, from the moment this matter became a public issue, the Chief of the Defence Force and I, and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary of the Department from - essentially, from Thursday - Wednesday, Thursday of last week, have been working together through a series of difficult and complex problems. And what was announced yesterday has got - as the Chief himself said, as I said - all of our full support.
I think it deals with the issues that, in the public eye, were very serious issue of - very serious issues of concern in terms of the handling of the Skype matter. We've now got Mr Kirkham QC to deal with those matters, plus the broad ranging stocktakes, audits and reviews of whether it's treatment of women in the academy itself or the pathways for women in the Defence Force generally.
FRAN KELLY: But-
STEPHEN SMITH: Plus the other cultural matters that we're looking at, in particular, binge drinking and use of social media.
FRAN KELLY: But in terms of your suggestion that Commandant Kafer step aside for a while, because you thought that was in the best interest of the Academy, what was it in your view that Commodore Kafer had done wrong, with this handling of this issue?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, all of last weekend, yesterday, I said two things. Firstly, whenever an allegation was made, or a complaint or an assertion made about his handling of the so-called Skype incident, I said, I'll take some advice on that, try and make a judgement about the facts, and respond to you, which I did, to the media.
The one area where I was very critical of the actions of the Commandant, Commodore Kafer, was when he allowed the processing, or the parallel tracking at the same time of the coming to light of the Skype incident, of matters, disciplinary matters, from March, unrelated to the Skype incident, dealing with, or related to, use of alcohol, and absent without leave by the young woman concerned.
I very strongly criticised that in public last week, and again yesterday, and I'll do so today, if you want me to, because what that did was essentially put the perception about that the young woman who is potentially the innocent victim of a serious sexual abuse, was herself being punished, and her own character and conduct in unrelated areas, being drawn into attention.
And I very strongly believed then, and believe now, that it was the right thing to make that point publicly, because that was a perception which threw us back to a very bad time in Australia's history, when that was the norm.
Now I did not want that perception to gain foot, or gain hold, because I thought that would not be in the interests of the Academy, and certainly not be in the interests of the future of the Defence Force.
FRAN KELLY: Okay, Minister, apart from the investigation into this particular scandal, and how it was handled within Defence, there's also an investigation into other claims of abuse brought forward. Has your office received complaints of abuse and bullying, since this incident became public?
STEPHEN SMITH: Yes, my office has received very many either emails, faxes, contacts and the like, as has the Department of Defence itself, and a number have been raised or reported in the media-
FRAN KELLY: How many, how many instances?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, just as I said yesterday, I'm just not in a position to count them, but the most important thing in my view is this, there have been suggestions, allegations, complaints made of incidents of abuse in the past, or failure to properly handle allegations or suggestions of abuse or vilification, bullying or intimidation.
Now the first thing that's very important to do is to make sure that methodically we work through all of the complaints that have been received, whether by my office, or by Defence itself.
Now it's also important in my view that just as some of the other reviews we're doing are external from Defence, it's very important in this case, that those matters be dealt with external from Defence as well, and so the Secretary of the Department will commission an external legal team to go through all of those suggestions and allegations that have been made, to see - to make a judgement about them, and then to advise me, to enable me to discuss and recommend to my ministerial colleagues, in particular the Attorney-General, whether there's anything more we need to do about any or all of those allegations, and as I said yesterday, I do not discount the need or the appropriateness for further legal or judicial work on that front.
FRAN KELLY: Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph has written that four senior serving officers, senior serving officers, have been accused of raping and bashing fellow students at ADFA some years ago, and that an official complaint was handed to Defence about these officers in 2008. What's your reaction to that news, and have these officers been investigated by Defence yet?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well firstly, I've seen that story in the Telegraph, that is as much as I know, that's the first point.
Secondly, obviously that is a classic illustration of a matter that needs to be handled in the way in which I have just outlined, it's a very serious allegation, and we need to ensure that that is dealt with by an external legal team in the first instance.
FRAN KELLY: To your knowledge, has it been dealt with already, I mean Defence apparently have had this complacency-
STEPHEN SMITH: Fran, I've seen the Daily Telegraph, you know, literally in the last half an hour, I've seen the headline, I haven't read the story, I wouldn't be proposing to make comments about it. I'm not aware of the detail, the history or the background, and in any event, the substantive response is that that complaint will be dealt with in the manner in which I've outlined, which I think is as a starting point. The most sensible way of handling any number of complaints, from anonymous, to ones where there are detailed accounts of instances, they've all got to be handled in a methodical, sensible way, which will enable me, together with my relevant colleagues, to make a judgement about whether any further legal or judicial action needs to be taken.
FRAN KELLY: Minister, you've also announced yesterday that you think that all roles and functions in the Defence Force should be opened up to women, including front line combat operations. This was first recommended a decade ago, not much has happened, that I'm aware of, perhaps I'm wrong on that, has there been a hold-up, and why the hold-up, on this one?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I think a fair bit has happened. Firstly, over that period, the Chief of the Defence Force and his Service Chiefs, have very strongly come to the view that it's the correct thing to do, that's the first point.
Secondly, the government previously, in the last Parliament, made it clear that as a matter of policy or principle, we wanted that outcome to be effected.
What I did yesterday, with the very strong support of my ministerial colleague, the Minister for Defence Personnel, Warren Snowden, and also the strong support of the Chief, was to say, we want to bring the implementation of this forward.
The essential starting point is, we believe, as does the Chief of the Defence Force, that what you do in the forces should be determined by your physical and intellectual capability or capacity, not simply on the basis of sex or gender.
There is a lot of work that's been done, to use the jargon, on the matrix of how you calculate or apply the physical and intellectual capacity, but what we want to do is to bring it forward, and implement it.
That'll do two things, firstly, women currently have access to about 93 per cent of roles or activity in Defence, they're effectively excluded from the front line activity, and also from particular activity in the Navy and Air Force, we think that they should have access to all of those roles on the basis of their capacity, not to be denied on the basis of their sex, but importantly, as in the future they have access to those roles, it opens up, in a leadership sense, all of the leadership roles for women in Defence, the Defence organisation, and the Defence services themselves, and that's an unambiguously good thing.
FRAN KELLY: Stephen Smith, thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks, Fran, thanks very much.
FRAN KELLY: Stephen Smith is the Minister for Defence.