TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH KARINA CARVALHO, ABC NEWS BREAKFAST
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 8 MARCH 2012
TOPICS: Defence reviews; Facebook; British soldiers
KARINA CARVALHO: The head of the Defence Force Academy will return to work this week now that an inquiry has cleared him of any wrongdoing. For more, Mr Smith joins us from Canberra. Good morning. Thank you for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Pleasure, Karina.
KARINA CARVALHO: Now, Commodore Bruce Kafer will take up his role again later this week. Why won't you give him your public support?
STEPHEN SMITH: I accept absolutely the findings of the Kirkham Inquiry. I accept absolutely the decision of the Chief of the Defence Force and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force to return Commander Kafer to ADFA. There's no basis, no legal basis, given the Kirkham Inquiry's report, to not take him off leave and return him to his job and that's a matter for the Chief and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force but I do not resile in any way from the comments I made at the time which is I simply believe it's wrong in principle and an error of judgment to bring into play the character or conduct of the innocent victim - an 18-year-old innocent victim of an alleged serious sexual abuse and I don't resile from that.
KARINA CARVALHO: Do you believe that Bruce Kafer is the correct person to be leading the Defence Force Academy?
STEPHEN SMITH: As a matter of law that is not a matter for me. That decision is a matter for the military chain and line of command. It's a matter for the Chief of the Defence Force and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force and, as I said yesterday when the Chief and the Secretary of the Department and I announced a range of outcomes and released a range of reports, I've got absolute confidence in the Chief and the Vice Chief and the Service Chiefs, to make the necessary judgments about where military personnel serve.
So it's not a matter for me. I accept the findings of the Kirkham Inquiry which were essentially that it was not inappropriate for Commander Kafer to continue with unrelated disciplinary proceedings but it also found that a different decision-maker could have made an entirely different decision, namely to stop those proceedings.
It also found that it was unfortunate that Commander Kafer did not have a discussion with the 18-year-old Cadet and the officer representing her about those proceedings, obviously hinting at the fact that if that discussion took place there may have been a different outcome.
But I accept absolutely those findings. I accept the decision of the Chief and the Vice Chief but the point I made at the time, which is it is wrong to bring into play the character and conduct of an innocent victim of an alleged serious sexual assault. We have moved away from that a long time ago in Australian society.
I might be old-fashioned but you don't bring the conduct, unrelated conduct, character, of an 18-year-old victim of an alleged serious sexual assault into play.
KARINA CARVALHO: But, Minister, if you had faith and confidence in Bruce Kafer, wouldn't you say so publicly?
STEPHEN SMITH: It's not a matter of me having confidence in him. It's not my decision. It's a decision of the Chief of the Defence Force. He and the Vice Chief, his Commanding Officers, have made a decision. That is absolutely open to them given the Kirkham Inquiry.
I made the point yesterday that when the Chief and I and the Secretary of the Department discussed this, together with a range of other very difficult issues facing Defence and defence culture, that there were risks associated with returning Commander Kafer to ADFA, that the potential was that the controversy might follow him and follow ADFA but time will tell.
KARINA CARVALHO: Minister, is this likely to further the divide between the military and the political? We've seen this fractured relationship go on for some time now.
STEPHEN SMITH: That's not right. I mean, you should not ascribe to the Chief of the Defence, the Vice Chief and the Service Chiefs, you should not ascribe to them views that you see from commentators or from retired service personnel.
What we did yesterday when we announced the findings of Kirkham; when the Chief and the Secretary tabled the Pathway to Change document showing there needed to be substantial cultural change and zero tolerance for inappropriate conduct; when I release, in part, details of 775 plausible allegations of sexual and other abuse over a long period of time in Defence, we did that together and I'm very pleased with the document that the Chief and the Secretary tabled yesterday about the need for cultural change, the need to accept, frankly, that in the past Defence has not met the highest standards required; accept frankly that in the past there has been sometimes a tendency to turn a blind eye to inappropriate conduct. Those days are over and inappropriate conduct will now be viewed through the prism of the Pathway to Cultural Change document prepared and tabled yesterday by the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary of the Department.
We'll also, in my view, in the long term be judged on how Defence and the Government deals with the fact that as a result of all of the publicity from the ADFA Skype incident we saw 1000 allegations of alleged abuse. They've now been assessed. We've now got, on the advice from the independent law firm DLA Piper some 775 allegations. I'm told the vast bulk of those are plausible allegations about serious abuse starting in 1951 and going through as late as last year.
Now, we have to deal with that in a sensible and mature way but that's going to be a difficult challenge for Defence and the Government.
KARINA CARVALHO: And I want to ask you about that in a moment but just going back to the Kirkham Inquiry, you've had that report since December. Why did it take you almost three months to release the findings?
STEPHEN SMITH: I received the report in the middle of December, the 13th, from memory, together with advice from the Chief of the Air Force who, by then, was the inquiry Commissioning Officer, that a lot of work needed to be done by him, by the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, to deal with the issues that the Kirkham Inquiry threw up and since that time I've been working progressively through that with the Chief of the Defence Force and others.
There is not only one interest in the Kirkham Inquiry. There is the interest of other individuals concerned, including the 18-year-old cadet.
I mean, we have the interests of a range of people. Yes, there is Commander Kafer. There are also two young cadets, one of whom has now left the service, who are the subject of serious criminal charges. There are four other cadets who may well be the subject of disciplinary proceedings after those criminal trials have come to an end and we've got the cadet herself, the 18-year-old cadet who has not been at ADFA since April of last year. She's now at a defence establishment in Queensland and her career has effectively been disrupted.
So these are not, in my view, good outcomes and that's why we worked through very carefully, very methodically, and together, the Chief of the Defence Force, the Secretary and I, all of these issues and you saw the outcome yesterday: the release of the Pathway to Change document which will become a seminal, long term document, in my view the prism through which all inappropriate conduct in defence will now be viewed-
KARINA CARVALHO: So, Minister, you're saying you're dissatisfied then with the Kirkham Inquiry and its findings?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, I've said repeatedly, yesterday and today, I absolutely accept the findings of the Kirkham Inquiry but we have ended up, frankly, in a sorry situation where we've got the lives and the careers of a number of people either put on hold or ended as a result of the so-called ADFA Skype scandal but that is just one incident that we've seen over the years in Defence. We now need to confront substantial cultural change but also confront the fact that by the end of this month I'll receive a report from an independent law firm about 775 allegations, the vast majority of which are said to be plausible, about sexual and other abuse over a long period of time within Defence and how Defence and the Government responds to that, in my view, will be one which will have lasting ramifications and create a long term perception about how Defence and the Government of the day has responded to the need for cultural change.
KARINA CARVALHO: And I promise we will get to that but just quickly, how would you describe your relationship with Commodore Kafer?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it's not a relationship that I have. I have a relationship with the Chief of the Defence Force, with the Vice Chief of the Defence Force and the Service Chiefs, all of whom I recommended for appointment to their positions, and obviously a relationship with the Secretary of the Department.
KARINA CARVALHO: In order to change the culture, though, within the military, do you not need to have a relationship with the man who runs the Defence Force Academy where the youngest and brightest of Australia's young military elite are trained?
STEPHEN SMITH: He has a relationship with his Commanding Officer who is the Vice Chief of the Defence Force and he has a relationship with the Chief of the Defence Force to whom he is ultimately responsible but the review that we released yesterday, the various reviews that we released yesterday, obviously have implications for ADFA.
We've already seen a review by Liz Broderick, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, on ADFA and the sum total of that report which was tabled in the Parliament at the end of last year is that over the years good progress has been made but there's more that needs to be done and that's the essential tenor of all of the reports and reviews that were tabled yesterday, whether it's use of alcohol, whether it's personal conduct, whether it's social media and the like.
KARINA CARVALHO: And why did you choose to release at the same time as the findings from the Kirkham report? Why did you choose to release these interim findings from DLA Piper?
STEPHEN SMITH: Because in the aftermath of the Skype incident in April of last year the then Chief of the Defence Force and I announced a range of initiatives and reviews, the cultural reviews that I've referred to, the capacity for women to take a role in all parts of combat, the Kirkham Inquiry and also because with the controversy and the publicity associated with the ADFA Skype issue I received, the media received, Defence received a large number of allegations about previous abuse, some thousand allegations.
So all of the things that I dealt with yesterday, together with the Secretary and the Chief of the Defence Force, were all of the things which were initiatives or decisions made in April of last year in response to the so-called Skype affair.
I dealt with them as a job lot, so to speak, at the time and we dealt with them together, the Chief of the Defence, the Secretary and I, as a job lot yesterday.
There are two pieces of outstanding work. One is the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's study into the treatment of women in the Defence Force generally and the final DLA Piper report dealing with those allegations I've referred to and which I'm expecting to receive by the end of this month.
KARINA CARVALHO: Minister, you yesterday referred to a zero tolerance approach but just last week we saw that Facebook page which had sexist and racist comments from ADF members posted on it. Is a Royal Commission needed to get to the bottom of this cultural malaise within the Defence Force?
STEPHEN SMITH: Just on the Facebook issue, I was very pleased and very strongly support the Chief of Army who went on the 7.30 Report on the ABC and said that he found that repugnant, that he was appalled by it, he was investigating it and anyone who was a Defence Force personnel who had breached Defence Force principles would be dealt with. So I was very pleased with the Chief of Army's response.
The DLA Piper report or the extracts from it yesterday essentially go through the range of possible responses by Defence and the Government to those large number of plausible allegations, from dealing with them through existing processes, or further judicial or legal inquiry or a Royal Commission or, indeed, some compensation mechanism or some apology or reconciliation mechanism. All of those options now fall for consideration by me and the Government.
I've already provided the Attorney-General with the complete first part of the DLA Piper report because we need to deal with this issue seriously but also methodically.
KARINA CARVALHO: And also in a timely fashion. When is an announcement likely as to a Royal Commission, a public apology and compensation?
STEPHEN SMITH: We've got to take it step by step. As I say, I expect to receive the final report from DLA Piper by the end of this month.
The allegations haven't been tested. Defence does need to have some opportunity to test those allegations but also to put a view to me about the various options before us and then the Attorney-General and I need to sit down to work our way forward.
But the two lasting, significant challenges as a result of all of the work we did yesterday, in my view are making sure that the Pathway to Cultural Change report, produced by the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary of the Department, that that is implemented and adhered to, that it is the prism through which we view any future inappropriate conduct and, secondly, how does Defence, how does the Government respond to that fact that we've got over 700 plausible allegations of serious sexual or other abuse going through a period starting in 1951 through to 2011?
That's a significant challenge for Defence and for the Government but we will apply ourselves sensibly and methodically to that.
KARINA CARVALHO: Minister-
STEPHEN SMITH: It's not going to be done overnight but it will be done appropriately.
KARINA CARVALHO: We're running out of time and very quickly I just wanted to ask you about the six British soldiers that have been killed in Afghanistan and questions again being raised about Britain's commitment to the cause in Afghanistan. Where's Australia's mission at?
STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly, can I just take this opportunity of expressing my condolences to our British colleagues. I took the opportunity late last night of asking our High Commissioner in London to relay my personal condolences to my British counterpart, the Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond. It's a terrible incident.
The roadside bombs, the IEDs have been and continue to be a constant danger and so it's a terrible tragedy. We've been well-served by our own Bushmaster protected vehicle but in terms of Afghanistan generally, the British Secretary of State for Defence has this morning essentially said what Australia's been saying. We believe we're on track for transition out of Afghanistan by 2014 or earlier. We've got to hand over responsibility for security matters to the Afghan National Security Forces. We don't want to be there forever. We can't be there forever. But we do need to ensure that we leave the security forces of Afghanistan in a position to maintain stability.
We don't want Afghanistan to again become a breeding ground for international terrorists putting innocent civilians at risk, whether that's in Europe or the United States or in south-east Asia.
KARINA CARVALHO: Stephen Smith, thank you very much for your time this morning.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks, Karina.