TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH JON FAINE, 774 MELBOURNE
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 8 MARCH 2012
TOPICS: Labor Party; Defence reviews.
JON FAINE: Stephen Smith, the Defence Minister has called in, and Mr Smith, good morning to you.
STEPHEN SMITH: Good morning, Jon.
JON FAINE: Is this why you had to stay in the Defence portfolio, instead of being moved to Foreign Affairs, because you had to manage this crisis?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it's entirely a matter for the Prime Minister to make the allocation of portfolios, I made that clear last week, it's not a matter for the exercise of any discretion of Ministers, but entirely a matter for the PM and-
JON FAINE: I understand that, but was it her opinion or yours that you should see this through?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I said at the time, entirely a matter for the Prime Minister, firstly, secondly I also said last week that there's a lot of unfinished business in Defence, cultural-
JON FAINE: This is that unfinished business, is it not?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, cultural change is one thing, as all of the reports that were released yesterday make clear, but it's also transition in Afghanistan, capability, budget matters, there are a lot of challenges, it's a portfolio I asked for in 2010, and I'm very happy to meet those challenges.
JON FAINE: You can't make omelettes without breaking eggs, so are you going to have to push through the resistance that we're seeing even this morning still, to cultural change within the ADF?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, there's no resistance from the Defence leadership. Yesterday one of the documents that was tabled was a document essentially called Pathway to Cultural Change, produced by the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary of the Defence Department, supported by the Service Chiefs. It's a frank assessment about weakness in the past, about Defence not having always kept to the highest standards, about a blind eye having been turned on occasions on the need for Defence to not just adhere to the higher standards, but also understand that the world and Australian society has changed in a diversity sense, and that's a very good prism through which any inappropriate conduct now needs to be, and should be and will be viewed.
It's a zero tolerance, and so that's a very good document going forward. It's not going to happen overnight, but we've now got a very good reference point and I strongly support it, it's produced by the Chief and the Secretary, and supported by the Defence leadership.
JON FAINE: Retired General Jim Molan on AM this morning, had this contribution to make to the debate.
JIM MOLAN: I reckon that we, that the Australian public, deserve better than what we saw today, we need a Defence Minister that can run the Department and that is the equivalent of the two men of great integrity and achievement that were standing beside him, seeing him up there, I was so uncomfortable compared to those two men, he continually spoke about holding Defence to a higher standard of behaviour than the general population. Well, I believe that applies to him. Every Australian should question Stephen Smith in how he does his job.
JON FAINE: A higher standard? Are you asking Defence to maintain a higher standard than the rest of the community?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well firstly, Jim's entitled to his view, he's a retired Defence personnel, he's entitled to his view. But people shouldn't ascribe to him the views of the current Defence leadership, firstly.
Secondly, when I talk about Defence needing to stick to a higher standard, it's because Defence Force personnel, Defence organisation people represent the country, represent the nation, and there are adverse repercussions for the nation if there's inappropriate conduct.
Now the highest standard is not a point that I make in isolation, when you read the report, the Pathway to Change, produced and tabled by the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary, they say Defence has to keep a higher standard than the rest of the community. So it's not me imposing a standard on Defence, it's an analysis, it's a view that the leadership of the Defence Force now applies to the Defence Force generally.
Now in terms of Jim's general comment about the Australian public taking an interest, yes, the Australian public should take an interest in the need for cultural change in Defence. Yes, the Australian public should take an interest in the way in which Defence and the Government responds to one of the issues yesterday, which is driving through that cultural change, but also, how do we respond to the fact that we now have over 700 plausible allegations of prior abuse, sexual and other abuse, in the Defence Force, over the period going from 1951 to 2011.
JON FAINE: All the way through, sure, we've just spoken to Catharine Lumby, before you joined me on the program this morning, about a parallel experience that's been gone through and undertaken in the world of men's professional sport, particularly the AFL and the rugby league, do you see the parallels?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I think when Defence establish some of these reviews, which was done at the time with the former Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Huston, one of the things that was done when we looked at a range of cultural issues, whether it was treatment of women, whether it was personal conduct, alcohol abuse, was to go through some of those experts like Catharine, to learn from the experience of other organisations, and that is now the challenge for Defence.
But I again make the point, yesterday we saw a Pathway to Change document which is an overarching document that covers all of those various reviews-
JON FAINE: But change requires that people actually do things differently, change requires change, you can't keep going the way you were, paying lip service to change, that won't work.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well firstly, I don't think it's fair to Defence, or generally to say there's been lip service. Every report and analysis, whether it was the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Liz Broderick into ADFA, whether it was use of alcohol, whether it was personal conduct, whether it was social media, there's a strand through all of those which essentially says, over the years Defence has made improvements, yes, we have made progress, but there is-
JON FAINE: Made them, or pretended to make them?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, no, made them, but there is a long way to go, and the overarching document produced by the Secretary and the Chief, now provides the prism through which all of those issues now need to be handled and dealt.
JON FAINE: Okay, I've only got a few minutes before the news Minister, and you've got important committee meetings to go to, alcohol is the elephant in the corner of the room. Every report that's been done, points to a booze culture in the ADF, in the academies, at high rank, in the mess, at the ranks. You have another problem, a separate parallel, but related problem, and until you deal with that, I'll submit to you, you can't make progress on the other.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, alcohol and use of alcohol, or abuse of alcohol, is one of the issues, and that was one of the reviews that we established and that was produced and tabled yesterday, and yes, there are a range of measures there that need to be adopted, including making sure that alcohol in the Defence Force is priced appropriately, and that there's no financial incentive, you know, to buy up and drink up big-
JON FAINE: But that's always been a feature of military life.
STEPHEN SMITH: It has, and the report yesterday makes it clear that that feature has to change.
JON FAINE: And then, I'm watching ads on TV at the moment, we're promoting a lingerie football league coming to Australia.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I'd have to confess Jon, I've been focusing on Defence matters, I haven't been looking out for ads-
JON FAINE: I understand you wouldn't be, and I'm not expecting you to be, but the point I'm making is clear, as a culture, we have a problem, we can't talk about it seriously, and expect something to happen at one level, whilst commercially the marketplace is going in the precise opposite direction.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I'm not sure that that really is an accurate reflection of the modern Australia, and the contemporary view that Australians have about conduct in their society.
JON FAINE: And that's the debate we have to have.
STEPHEN SMITH: And yes, and in the context of that debate, it is absolutely essential that Defence reflects modern day community standards.
One of the points made in the Pathway to Change document yesterday produced by the Chief and the Secretary, Defence needs to understand that the world has changed; that we're a much more diverse society, and community standards have changed, and they need to be reflected-
JON FAINE: Thank you, minister, I'll have to leave it there-
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks, Jon.
JON FAINE: Defence Minister Stephen Smith, in the national capital.