TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH KATH ROBINSON AND PAUL HENRY, CHANNEL 10 BREAKFAST
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 8 MARCH 2012
TOPICS: Defence reviews.
KATH ROBINSON: Defence Minister Stephen Smith, he joins us now. He's been in the job for one year during this turbulence.
Minister, you're very unrepentant over your treatment of the ADFA head, Bruce Kafer, who you stood down at the time of the Skype scandal. He's been exonerated by these findings. Why shouldn't you apologise to him? You publicly called him stupid.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, firstly, he wasn't stood down by me. He was placed on leave by his Commanding Officer, the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, to enable the so-called Kirkham inquiry to take place, together with the range of inquiries that you've referred to.
The Kirkham inquiry found that his conduct was reasonable, but it also found that a different decision-maker could have made an entirely different decision. It also found that it was unfortunate that Commandant Kafer didn't raise with the 18 year old Cadet and her Defending Officer, or her representative, the question of unrelated disciplinary proceedings taking place at the time of the controversy over the Skype incident.
I made the point then, and I make it now, it's wrong in principle, in my view, to bring into play the character of a victim of an alleged sexual assault at the time that alleged sexual assault is being investigated or at the height of a controversy. It takes us back to-
KATH ROBINSON: But isn't it important to apologise to someone in order to restore confidence in the Defence Force that you need to work with and lead?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the decisions we made yesterday, the announcements yesterday were worked through by me, the Chief of the Defence Force, and the Secretary of the Defence Force. In the end, it's a matter for the Chief of the Defence Force and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force in terms of who they appoint to various positions within the military. That's not a matter for me, nor should it be.
I absolutely accept the findings of the inquiry, and absolutely accept that there's no legal reason, no legal basis for Commandant Kafer not to go back to ADFA, and that's occurring. But I made a very strong point at the time that we shouldn't bring the character of an innocent victim of an alleged sexual assault into play. And I stand by that, I don't resile from that for one moment.
PAUL HENRY: You've said, Stephen, that the Defence Force culture has to change. Do you stand by that now?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, absolutely. And it's not just - yesterday, there were two significant long term issues that Defence and the Government now has to face. Firstly, was a report-
PAUL HENRY: I'm aware of that. Sorry to interrupt you but we just don't have that much time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Sure.
PAUL HENRY: I'm aware of that and we've publicised that extensively. If the Defence Force culture has to change, do you believe that Commandant Bruce Kafer is the type of person to have at the top of the Defence Force who can oversee those changes?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, in my view, he made an error of judgement. But as the Chief of the Defence Force said yesterday and I said, there's no basis why he can't go back to ADFA. There's no legal reason why he can't go back to ADFA.
PAUL HENRY: No legal reason-
STEPHEN SMITH: I said though-
PAUL HENRY: No legal reason, Minister, but he's going back to the same job where he made, in your own words, an error of judgement, stupid decisions. Is he the sort of person that's going to be able to preside over the kind of changes that you think have to happen?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the type of changes that have to happen are now set out in concrete by the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary of the Department in the pathway to cultural change that they released yesterday, which said, in the past, Defence hasn't met the highest standards-
PAUL HENRY: No.
STEPHEN SMITH: -that it needs to. There's been a blind eye turned to failure to meet those standards and that has to change. But he, in my view-
PAUL HENRY: But all of the people who turned a blind eye in the past, who've turned a blind eye in the past are still in charge of the cot case, aren't they?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the Chief of the Defence Force, the Vice Chief, the Service Chiefs and the Secretary are at one with me in zero tolerance for inappropriate behaviour or conduct. In my view, Commandant Kafer made an error of judgement.
He's generally regarded as a good officer. There's no legal basis or reason for him not to return to ADFA. I said yesterday, there are risks associated with him going back, because it may well be the controversy follows him and ADFA. But that's a judgement which, in the end, the Chief of the Defence Force made. But I don't take a backward step from the very strong point I made at the time that it's wrong in principle to bring into play the character of the-
PAUL HENRY: Yes.
STEPHEN SMITH: -innocent victim of an alleged serious sexual assault and I won't repent from that.
PAUL HENRY: Well, it's easy to say the words, isn't it, but it's much harder to actually effect change. And I'm putting it to you now that the people that are running the Defence Force don't buy into the change that you want to see.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, that's not right. The Chief, the Vice Chief, the Service Chiefs, and the Secretary are at one with me in understanding that we have to effect that change, and that's laid out by the reports released yesterday.
PAUL HENRY: All right. Are you aware that some are saying there is internal outrage at the way you've handled this and are continuing to handle it?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I've seen comments from people outside the Defence Force. What I rely upon are the conversations, the advice, the decisions that I make, together with the Service Chiefs. Now, you shouldn't take from the comments of others outside the system that go to the relationship that I have with the Chief, the Secretary and the other Service Chiefs.
We have to deal with a range of difficult issues and we deal with those carefully, methodically, thoughtfully, and we made the decisions that we announced yesterday.
KATH ROBINSON: Defence Minister Stephen Smith, thanks for your time this morning.