TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH Graham Richardson, “RICHO” SKY Australia
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 13 APRIL 2011
TOPICS: ADFA Skype Incident; ADFA and ADF Review.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: I watched you last week in the first blush of all this drama. I've known you a long time; you're a placid person, I don't really ever see you lose your temper, but you looked pretty close to losing it last week.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I'm basically a mild-mannered sort of fellow - Clark Kent. My mother taught me to – generally - be polite in public and in private. But that doesn't mean that I don't have strong views, or that when I want to be firm, I can be firm.
I wasn't angry. I wanted to make a very important point that we'd had a young woman who, potentially, was the innocent victim of a serious sexual abuse and because of dealing with non-related disciplinary matters at the same time, it threw up all of the old terrible spectacles of the victim being punished and the victim's character, in a sexual abuse issue, being called into consideration. And I just think that is so wrong.
It used to reflect an attitude in Australia; it doesn't reflect the modern Australia. And a line had to be drawn in the sand and I did that, and I'm not proposing to walk back from that line at any time from here into the future.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Have you had any dramas with Defence Chiefs though? Because this is an issue that's gone around a long time. I go back a few years, you had that bastardisation drama at the same institution. Now, it was pretty bad that bastardisation. They were doing some real harm. It took a long time to stop that, and now you've got another incident there that there just doesn't seem to be much change in culture.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, at the Academy itself back in the 1990s, there was a very big review which did draw attention to very serious concerns in the areas that you've spoken about and a review was done, changes were made and recently, 2009 - 2010, an assessment was done in house, by the Academy, led by Commodore Kafer about the effectiveness of that. The report or the recommendation or the assessment essentially said we've come a very long way, we've made some substantial progress, but there were a number of areas where it was acknowledged there were ongoing difficulties and no surprise where they were. One was in sexual conduct, one was in alcohol use or binge drinking and the third was in military justice. So - and they're all the issues, in a sense, that have been thrown up by the most recent activity.
Now, I've said publicly, and I've said at a very lengthy press conference with the Chief of the Defence Force, from the moment this issue arose we've effectively been working hand in glove from the middle of last week. The Chief of the Defence Force, the Vice Chief of the Defence Force - who has effectively - line portfolio or command responsibility for the Commander at the Defence Academy - and the Secretary of the Department working through a series of difficult issues. They are difficult issues. They need to be confronted, both in respect of the Skype incident itself, but also the systemic or more general issues both within the Academy and Defence Force itself. That's why I've asked the Sex Discrimination Commission to have a look at the treatment of women in the Academy and generally, but also to do a stock-take, an audit on - externally, effectively, on all of the things that we are facing in terms of cultural challenges, whether it's binge drinking, whether it's use of social media, whether it is people just behaving badly in uniform.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Yet, one of the points that arises from that - and it's one of the things, I must say, that's offended me the most - is that this young woman was basically sent to Coventry. She was ostracised at the place and, you know, all these stories of having shaving cream squirted under her door and that sort of thing. I mean, it just seems to me that they don't get it. If Kafer really did say to her - and I think there's a fair chance he did, because this young woman comes out of this with a fair bit of credit, I think - this line about they're angry with you, you've got to talk to them. I find all that staggering.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, firstly, he's been directed, the Commodore's been directed by the Vice Chief to take leave pending an objective assessment into all of these matters by Mr Kirkham QC. So he's effectively stood aside. That's a sensible thing, it's in his interests, it's in the Academy's interest and it's in the interests of, in my view, the Defence Force and the reputation of the Defence Force.
But, we've now got an objective process where all of these complaints, allegations and circumstances can be examined in the cold light of day. Now, other than the issue of a very serious mistake of - a very serious mistake, a very serious error of judgment of parallel tracking or dealing at the same time with non-related matters - which has coloured, in my view, the whole management and treatment of this issue. Other than that I've been very careful in public, at a number of press conferences when suggestions or allegations have been made to say that's an allegation about his handling of the matter; I'll take that on notice, I'll get some advice and come back. And a range of matters where suggestions have been made, I've put on the public record that, for example, the very strong advice I have is that a refusal to give leave didn't occur, very strong advice that she was granted compassionate leave at her request, very strong advice that counselling and support was given to her from the first moment. I've said that up front, openly and frankly at press conferences. But now that we've got an official inquiry, I think we're best just leaving those issues to enable careful and calm consideration of them.
But the mistake, the fundamental mistake of allowing other, non-related matters to be dealt with at the same time, literally on the day after these issues became public - and she deserves great credit for making them public, in my view, absolutely deserves great credit for making these public - but to deal with those other matters the day after it became public was to put a perception that the innocent victim of a sexual abuse, the potential innocent victim of a sexual abuse was herself being punished and her conduct being called into question. Now that, to me, is anathema and could not be allowed to go unremarked by any Minister interested in the public interest.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: But if you look at the public interest in all of this, that public interest has been there a long, long time. And you're not the first bloke to sit in that chair - there have been plenty of Defence Ministers, I've known quite a few of them - no one was ever able to shift the culture. Can you?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I'm not going to be able to do it by myself, that's the first point. Secondly, I do genuinely believe that the Chief of the Defence Force and the Service Chiefs have made a lot of progress on these fronts. The Chief of the Defence Force, for example, has had effectively a women's advisory group for some time, which has included the Sex Discrimination Commissioner and a range of other people who've had experience in getting men to understand the need for sensible relationships-
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: That hasn’t met for a year, though.
STEPHEN SMITH: -who've worked-
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: A full year.
STEPHEN SMITH: -who've worked with the AFL or the NRL as they have confronted similar issues. So work's been done.
There are two points, I think. Firstly, any good work that was done that raised the reputational standing of the Defence Force in that area has been completely shredded by recent events, so we have to effectively start again. And secondly, we do need, in my view, to do external reviews in these - all areas to make sure that what we've done is right, but obviously to also have a very serious look at what more we can do, particularly given experience of the NRL and the AFL.
I've said publicly and privately, for the Australian Defence Force and the services, this is very much their NRL moment. There has to be external review, there has to be external help and we have to proceed on the basis that what has - the image, the spectre that's been thrown up is inconsistent with modern Australian community values, and we have to drive home the cultural change.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: We also have to be real, and one thing that does disturb me when I look at all this, you can correct me if I'm wrong, there is a rule that bans sexual contact between the males and females at the Academy.
STEPHEN SMITH: Sure.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Is that true?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, there's what's called the fraternisation rule. And the fraternisation rule is that for a particular period of your early service there you're not allowed to fraternise with your classmates. Now-
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: What does fraternise mean, exactly?
STEPHEN SMITH: It means go behind closed doors and have more than a conversation, that's what it means. It means what young people have been doing-
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Plenty of scope.
STEPHEN SMITH: That's right and almost certainly, Graham, almost certainly honoured in the breach for time immemorial.
It is potentially the case that the young women concerned has broken those fraternisation rules, and I've said they are very much tenth order issues.
But you've also got at the Academy large numbers of teenagers, young men and women. And whilst we have to treat the Defence Force as special and separate and different, there are similar problems for large collections of young men and women in universities and residential colleges, and in the high profile sporting areas where you've got groups of young men of comparable ages having to deal with these challenging issues.
There's one other point I'd like to make, and that's this: in the course of this we've seen thrown up into public view a whole range of suggestions or allegations that in the past very bad events occurred - whether it was humiliation, whether it was bastardisation, whether it was abuse, sexual or otherwise - which either were covered or not properly managed or dealt with. And it's very important - and I've made this clear - each of those allegations or suggestions, whether they have come to my office, whether they've been printed by the media, whether they've gone to Defence itself, have to be exhaustively dealt with. And that's another matter I announced yesterday where we are putting out for external review by independent lawyers a process of looking through all of those complaints to give me advice about what, if anything more, I or the Government needs to do in response to those issues. And I've made it very clear that of course I leave open the possibility of further legal or judicial activity in that area.