TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH KARINA CARVALHO AND MICHAEL ROWLAND, ABC NEWS BREAKFAST
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 15 JUNE 2012
TOPICS: DLA Piper Review.
KARINA CARVALHO: We're joined in the studio now by the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith. Good morning, thanks for being here.
STEPHEN SMITH: A pleasure.
KARINA CARVALHO: Is this further evidence that Defence is not good at investigating itself?
STEPHEN SMITH: One of the issues that the DLA Piper Review draws attention to is that we've had reports and reviews in the past, but there are questions over its implementation. These issues arose in the aftermath of the so-called ADFA Skype issue, where my office was inundated with communications, with allegations about mistreatment in the past so I asked DLA Piper, through the then Secretary of the Department, to conduct an arm’s length review. I got the first phase of that review in October last year. In March, I put out a redacted version of the Executive Summary and in April, less than two months ago, I received effectively their final report which details all of the serious and difficult issues we have to deal with and essentially says we've got about 700 – over 700 plausible allegations of abuse over a five decade period.
So what I've been, together with some of my colleagues, including the Attorney-General, have been grappling with in recent times, is how do we progress this, how do we deal with any systemic issues in Defence but also deal fairly with the people who say they are victims of abuse but also deal fairy with people who might be – against whom it might be alleged they have committed some offence or conducted some wrongdoing.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Just on that full report, why didn't you release it at the time? Why did it take an FOI request from the ABC to put in the public domain?
STEPHEN SMITH: What's come into the public domain as a result of Freedom of Information is the Executive Summary. Now, there is a whole lot more material associated with what’s come to me initially in October and more recently in April. A lot of that will, I suspect, never see the light of day, because it deals with personal allegations and personal circumstances. I put out into the public domain material that I believed underlined the seriousness of the issues that the Government had to deal with, and the seriousness with which we were treating the process that I had personally established.
And that material said you've got essentially- potentially 1000 allegations, very many of those look as though they're plausible or serious, and I asked DLA Piper, the independent law firm, to give me a series of recommendations about options, which range from essentially saying to people you should rely upon the current processes, so going to the police or going to existing authorities, all the way through to a Royal Commission. So there are two issues here, which are complex and complicated, spanning over a 50 to 60-year period. How do you deal with the individual allegations and then how do you deal with any systemic issues that are reflected by those individual allegations?
Now, we're not too far away from coming to conclusions about that, so what I put out into the public domain reflected the seriousness of all those issues and, as I said last night to the ABC, the fact that from the first day I have not discounted the possibility of a Royal Commission has served, in my view, to underline the seriousness with which these matters have to be taken.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Surely nothing short of a commission will suffice, given the extent and the horrendous nature of these allegations?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I'm not yet persuaded that that's right. As I said last night, I haven't discounted a Royal Commission but I'm not talking it up. You have a range of issues here, a 50-year period so how do you deal with allegations that go over that period; do you really want to put individual complainants through such a process- so the range-
MICHAEL ROWLAND: They might be quite happy to.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, exactly, and some might not. So the range of processes include everything from potentially a compensation scheme, to a reconciliation mechanism, to further parliamentary or judicial inquiry, whether that's a Royal Commission or some more limited form but what you don't want to do is to not put in place systems which seek to bring this to a conclusion in a relatively timely manner. It will take time, whatever decision we ultimately make.
In the meantime it is also important to make this point- all of this arose as a result of the publicity on the ADFA Skype issue. That caused me, and the then Secretary and the then Chief of the Defence Force to institute a range of reviews about culture, treatment of women in the Australian Defence Force, alcohol, the military justice system and the like. And in April of this year, we released all of those reviews including a document put together by the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary described as a “Pathway to Change,” which essentially says in the past there has been a zero tolerance for bad behaviour, in the past there has been a culture of not encouraging people to come forward, in the past there has been examples of turning a blind eye.
That's over. Zero tolerance on all of those matters and one thing I'm absolutely confident of is the strength of the resolve of the Chief of the Defence Force, the service chiefs, the Vice Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary to make sure that we get the culture right. So we're dealing here with, I think, three issues- setting ourselves up for the future so that these things don't happen again, and then dealing fairly with the individual applications, but also drawing from that what further systemic or policy changes we can make to make sure that into the future these sorts of allegations or instances don't occur again.
KARINA CARVALHO: And how will you know that the culture is actually changing?
STEPHEN SMITH: The first thing is, as I said, I've got absolute confidence in the resolve of the of the Chief of the Defence Force and the service chiefs, and every time there's inappropriate behaviour they come down on that like a tonne of bricks, making this point, which is very important: If you're in uniform, if you're a member of the Defence organisation, you're effectively representing your nation so what you do potentially reflects adversely not just on Defence but on the nation. So you have to expect in any organisation regrettably there will be instances of poor behaviour or bad behaviour.
You've got to have two things in place. Firstly, a culture which says that can't be tolerated and secondly, if wrongdoing or allegations of wrongdoing do occur, that the organisation, the institution, is well placed to deal with that. It’s that old adage, often it is not what happens it is how you respond to what happens- and I'm absolutely confident that the Chief and the various service chiefs have that attitude and want to drive that attitude and want to drive that attitude home.
KARINA CARVALHO: Stephen Smith, we'll have to leave it there. Thanks for your time.