TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH GRAHAM RICHARDSON, ‘RICHO’ SKY NEWS
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 7 MARCH 2012
TOPICS: Defence reviews; Submarines; Joint Strike Fighter.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: In our Canberra studio is Defence Minister Stephen Smith. Welcome to the program, Stephen.
STEPHEN SMITH: Pleasure, Graham.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Now, look, I don't know where to start because you've obviously had a big day. Now, you had a review into everything. I don't know how many reviews came down today but there are a lot of them. I can't keep up with them all but the first thing I wanted to say was this, looking at the press conference that you gave, which I didn't see all of, I'd have to concede, but I saw some of, is there an uneasy relationship between you and General Hurley? You don't seem to have the same views on everything, do you?
STEPHEN SMITH: I'm not sure that's right, Graham. I recommended him to the Prime Minister for appointment. At the time I did that, on the day of his appointment, I said I thought that he was a thoughtful man, a man of great integrity and my view hasn't changed.
And I've seen reference in the press to some difficult conversations. I said today there's a difference between a difficult conversation and having a conversation about difficult issues. There's a lot of material out there today and General Hurley, the Chief of the Defence Force, Duncan Lewis, the Secretary of the Department, and I worked our way through all of that carefully together, methodically, and we've made the announcements that we have today. So I'm very happy that I recommended General Hurley for his appointment and if I had my time again I'd absolutely do the same thing so I think people might be trying to read too much into that.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Just before I get onto those inquiries, I've been looking at an Australian Defence Association newsletter and Neil James obviously doesn't think you're not top of the pops with him, if I could just put it that way.
Stephen Smith, a study in failure. I'll just read out two quotes from this article.
The ADA considers Minister Smith has continued to put his personal party leadership ambitions ahead of proper Ministerial supervision of Australia's Defence efforts. Using spurious excuses he's postponing most of the pressing strategic and tactical development decisions until so far in the future he's unlikely to be Minister and then it says that you have clearly and deliberately neglected your Ministerial and moral duty to defend Defence Force personnel individually or the ADF collectively from inaccurate, unfair or misdirected criticism.
You're a pretty bad fellow when I read all that.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, Graham, Neil James is entitled to his personal opinion. I don't know whether his opinion is shared by the Board of Directors of the Australian Defence Association but obviously I don't share the same contemporary view of the Australian Defence Force.
I don't share the same contemporary view of the modern Australia that Neil James does and anyone who's seen his contributions would come pretty quickly to those conclusions, so he's entitled to his view.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: One of the claims he makes is interesting. He says that you apparently attempted to block General Hurley's appointment. Now, you've just told us you recommended it.
So, I mean, did you try and block it or not?
STEPHEN SMITH: That is a complete nonsense. I had a series of choices for the Chief of Defence Force, Vice Chief of the Defence and the Service Chiefs. I made recommendations to the Prime Minister and we took those recommendations to the Governor-General and the Executive Council. General Hurley was my recommendation and I thought that he would make a first-class Chief of the Defence Force and my view in that respect hasn't changed so any suggestion that I somehow tried to block General Hurley's appointment is nonsense. I recommended him to the Prime Minister and she accepted my recommendation.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well, we'll have to clear that up with Neil James at some point in the future but looking at today and seeing this review, now I must say I don't want to appear to just agree with you for agreeing's sake but I get really angry when I look at this review-
STEPHEN SMITH: Maybe, Graham, you're trying to balance up for Neil but, you know, box on
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Yes, maybe I am but I got very annoyed because I can see no argument whatsoever for the then Commandant to have continued with disciplinary proceedings against this young woman when she was under the enormous stress of the incident that had happened to her and yet the inquiry holds that point open. I just can't understand how you could possibly come to that conclusion.
STEPHEN SMITH: I said at the time, and I stand by it, I don't retreat from it one bit, that I thought that it was a serious error of judgment for unrelated disciplinary matters relating to use of alcohol and absenteeism to be dealt with at precisely the same time that we had a controversy in the public arena involving a young woman who is a potential innocent victim of an alleged serious sexual abuse.
And that might be an old-fashioned view but modern Australia we don't allow the character of a potential innocent victim of an alleged sexual assault to come into play and I said that at the time and I repeat it.
And what the Kirkham Inquiry found was that it was reasonable for Commandant Kafer to make that decision but it also finds that it would have been perfectly reasonable and appropriate for a different decision-maker to make an entirely different decision, in other words not to allow those proceedings to go ahead and it also finds, and says that it was unfortunate that Commandant Kafer and the ADFA staff didn't raise with the young Cadet, the 18-year-old Cadet or her defending officer the question of whether they wanted to proceed with them.
But I accept, absolutely accept that given the Kirkham Inquiry there's no legal basis for doing anything other than the Chief of the Defence Force and the Vice Chief of the Defence, whose decision it is, to return him to his job and he's been on leave, as you know, for about 11 months.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: I understand that and he's coming back. I repeat, I can see no argument whatsoever for continuing with those disciplinary proceedings. I just think it's pathetic but we'll move on.
The other thing I noticed with you and General Hurley, I mean, it seemed to me that he is still really saying don't go to the press with these things, we have ways within the Defence Force of handling them.
Are you confident that the way these things are handled within the Defence Force is good enough for a young woman like this to do it rather than go to the media or is it the only way you're ever going to get a fair go, by going public and making the Defence Force come to the party, drag them kicking and screaming to the proper barrier?
STEPHEN SMITH: I think when the dust settles on today's releases the pathway to cultural change that was produced by General Hurley, the Chief of the Defence Force, and Duncan Lewis, the Secretary, I believe that will be a long term, enduring, seminal report.
That essentially says that in the past Defence has not met the high standards required of it and that needs cultural change. It also says that in the past there's effectively been an acceptance of not meeting those standards, in other words, turning a blind eye.
It also says that there has to be effectively zero tolerance and people have to be encouraged to come forward when they see their colleagues engaged in inappropriate activity so I'm absolutely confident that's a first-class report. It's very frank about the past but it's a good pathway for the future and I've got every confidence that General Hurley and Mr Lewis will implement that to the full but that's one of the big challenges.
But in the past we've seen people say I went to the media because I wasn't confident that my complaint would be heard internally. We have to ensure there's much more confidence in those internal proceedings and that's effectively one of the points that the document released today brings to the fore.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Okay, if we can move on. Obviously when governments are looking for savings it seems to me that they never really look at Defence and yet Defence is a place where you can get them
When I look at a lifetime in politics, I look at the ongoing saga of just say one example, our submarines, we've spent massive amounts of money for things that have never really worked, haven't we?
STEPHEN SMITH: We've had long term, enduring, serious maintenance and sustainability issues with the Collins Class submarines. They haven't been in the water enough and at the end of last year I released the first part of a review that I commissioned with John Coles, a UK expert, because we've got to get that on track and we've got to get that on track before we move too far down the planning for our Future Submarine fleet. So that's been a longstanding issue and we've got to get our submarines in the water in a much more efficient and effective way.
But in the last budget Defence made a substantial contribution to the Government's budget bottom line, returning three to four billion dollars over the forward estimates years for that purpose and I've made it crystal clear that in the course of this budget, as the Government moves to a surplus in 2012-'13, we have to expect that Defence will make a further contribution but we won't allow that contribution to adversely impact on our operations overseas, whether it's Afghanistan or East Timor or the Solomon Islands and we have to be very clear-sighted about the capability that we need into the future.
Now, that's a big challenge but I think we're up to it.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: There are other big issues, obviously strike fighter aircraft are becoming an increasing problem because you can never be too certain of their development and, of course, the cost always blows out, doesn't it? Every time we have a cost estimate, it's a joke, you know, multiply by five and you might get near the end result.
STEPHEN SMITH: I've made it clear that we are committed legally to receiving two Joint Strike Fighters and we expect to get those in the United States for testing and training purposes in 2014. We've also indicated we'll get another 12 but I've made it clear earlier this year that we'll make a judgment in the course of this year the timetable for those and I've also made it absolutely clear that, given the delays in the Joint Strike Fighter project, that a judgment I'll make this year after an exhaustive analysis is whether we are at risk of a gap in capability so far as our air combat capability is concerned.
And [indistinct] risk at all then we will move to fill that gap and Super Hornets is an obvious option so we're looking very closely at that. The United States has pushed out or pushed to the right, to use the jargon, the purchase of some 180 Joint Strike Fighters and essentially the approach that we have adopted is now mirrored by the approach that the United States has adopted after the President put his draft budget to Congress in the last month or so.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Okay, a question that just seems to me to be obvious but no one seems to ever have an answer. So many of our soldiers in Afghanistan have been injured by these improvised explosive devices that go off by the side of the road. Obviously the troop carriers that we are having our carried in around Afghanistan don't resist these IEDs. Is there any way that we could build something that'll make these blokes safe while they're just driving along?
STEPHEN SMITH: That's actually not right, Graham. We've been using the Bushmaster produced out of Bendigo in Victoria. The Bushmaster is an absolute lifesaver and last year I announced we'd get over 100 more. We're also looking at further purchase of Bushmaster.
The Bushmaster, unlike the protected troop carrier or personnel carrier that other countries, use have been resisting the IEDs, resisting the roadside bombs. It is the case that because of the force of the explosions we're now worried in the long term about injuries, particularly brain injuries, long term head injuries, but the Bushmaster, Australian produced, has been an absolute lifesaver so far as the anti-IED protection has been concerned.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: All right, last question. Julia Gillard's got you twice, hasn't she? I mean, you had to move over to Defence out of Foreign Affairs for Kevin Rudd and now you've been moved o for Bob Carr. How's your relationship with the boss?
STEPHEN SMITH: Very good. I asked to do this job after the 2010 election. I'm still doing it. There's lots of unfinished business. Some of it we dealt with today.
I've seen some references in the last week or so to Ministerial vetoes. There are no Ministerial vetoes for portfolio allocations. It's a matter entirely for the Prime Minister.
Of course we had a number of conversations. Every one of those conversations was, as you'd expect, professional, civilised, and courteous. In the end she made the announcement about Bob.
I don't have any entitled to be disappointed. There are no entitlements in public life. I'm very proud and very pleased to be sitting around in a Labor Cabinet, in a Labor Government, trying to good works and good deeds on behalf of our nation so I get on with the boss just fine and I'm looking forward to Bob arriving.
I've known him for a long time, not quite as long as you, but he'll be a terrific Foreign Minister and I'm looking forward to working very closely with him.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Stephen Smith, thank you very much.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks, Graham, thanks very much.