TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH KIERAN GILBERT, SKY NEWS
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 8 MARCH 2012
TOPICS: Defence reviews; British soldiers.
KIERAN GILBERT: The ongoing fallout of the ADFA Skype scandal and the implications for the military into the future, with more than 700 plausible allegations of abuse emerging throughout this process and with more allegations, undoubtedly, expected to emerge over coming weeks and months.
I spoke to the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, a bit earlier in the morning, and I began by asking him why have the ADFA inquiry in the first place if he's not going to accept all of the inquiry's findings.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I do accept the findings and the findings provide no legal basis for Commandant Kafer to not go back to ADFA, and that's what's occurring.
But people need to clearly understand where this started. It started with the innocent victim of an alleged sexual abuse from which criminal proceedings have flown, and my very strong view that it's inappropriate to bring the character or the conduct of the innocent victim of an alleged sexual abuse into play and that's what occurred.
Now, Kirkham found, as the Chief of the Defence Force and I said yesterday, that the decision by Commandant Kafer to proceed or to allow the disciplinary proceedings to continue was appropriate. He also found that a different decision-maker could have taken an entirely different view, in other words, stop the unrelated disciplinary proceedings, and that it was unfortunate that Commandant Kafer did not discuss the disciplinary proceedings with the 18 year old cadet and the officer representing her.
KIERAN GILBERT: But you say Kirkham found it was appropriate that the Commodore pursued the disciplinary matters and you described it as inappropriate, insensitive, completely stupid, and almost certainly faulty at law. There's a very big divergence there, isn't there?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well-
KIERAN GILBERT: Either you're wrong or Kirkham's wrong.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, as I say, Kirkham said that the decision that Commandant Kafer made was appropriate, but equally, a different decision-maker could have made a different decision. But-
KIERAN GILBERT: He said it wasn't an error of judgement and you clearly believe it was.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I-
KIERAN GILBERT: So who's wrong here?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I-
KIERAN GILBERT: Is Kirkham wrong?
STEPHEN SMITH: I accept absolutely the findings of the Kirkham inquiry which provide no legal basis to prevent Commandant Kafer from returning to ADFA. That's the decision that the Chief of the Defence Force has made.
But I absolutely stand by the comments I made at the time, which I repeated yesterday effectively, and repeat today, that it is wrong in principle, when you're dealing with an 18 year old innocent victim of an alleged serious sexual assault, to bring her character and conduct into play. Now, the reason…
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay. So that's your view-
STEPHEN SMITH: No, no, but
KIERAN GILBERT: -but Kirkham says there was no error of judgement. So, is the QC wrong in that finding, in your view-
STEPHEN SMITH: Kirkham-
KIERAN GILBERT: -because you clearly disagree with it.
STEPHEN SMITH: I accept the findings, firstly. Secondly, Kirkham also says-
KIERAN GILBERT: You can't accept the finding that there's no error of judgement, and then you stand by the suggestion that it was inappropriate, insensitive. They're not compatible.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I have a strong view that it's wrong, in principle, to bring the character of the innocent victim of an alleged sexual assault into play. It takes us back to the bad old days in Australia where people were allowed to bring the character of the victim into play and make suggestions, you know, it was all her fault. Now, that's my strong view-
KIERAN GILBERT: So, Kirkham's wrong then in his suggestion-
STEPHEN SMITH: No.
KIERAN GILBERT: -that there's no error of judgement.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, Kirkham says three things. He says that the decision by Commandant Kafer to allow the proceedings to continue was appropriate. He also says that a different decision-maker could have made an entirely different decision, namely stop the proceedings, and that it was unfortunate that there wasn't a discussion between Kafer and the Officer Cadet-
KIERAN GILBERT: What more can he do though?
STEPHEN SMITH: Just let me finish. And there wasn't a discussion between Kafer and the Officer Cadet about the proceedings continuing.
Clearly, if that discussion had taken place, what the Kirkham inquiry is hinting at is that there may have been a conversation which saw those proceedings stopped.
Now, I accept the findings. The Chief of the Defence Force, after discussion with me and the Secretary, has made a decision to send Commandant Kafer back. I said yesterday that one of the considerations he took into account was there are risks associated with that. Risks that the controversy will follow the Commandant, risks that the controversy will follow ADFA and risks to [indistinct]
KIERAN GILBERT: But what about him though, because you criticised him. His career is on hold for one year. The inquiry exonerates him. Still no apology. What - how do you - well, as far as how he feels, what do you think - I mean, what else can he do?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, firstly, he was placed on leave by the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, now the Chief of the Defence Force, who made it clear yesterday that it would have been unsustainable to have an inquiry into the events at ADFA with him remaining at the helm. So, that was the decision made by his Commanding Officer.
KIERAN GILBERT: But do you feel for him, because he's had his career on hold, you're not apologising-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well-
KIERAN GILBERT: You're not even expressing confidence in him.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I've absolute confidence in the Chief of the Defence Force and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force to make these decisions.
But look, I feel for all of the players in this matter. Let's just stand back.
We've had an incident at ADFA. We've got an 18 year old victim of an alleged serious sexual assault. She hasn't been at ADFA since April of last year. She's now at a Defence establishment in Brisbane. Her career has been placed effectively on hold as well, and she's been so upset, as you would expect, by these matters that she wasn't in a position to give evidence herself to the Kirkham inquiry.
We've got two young cadets, one of whom has left the force, subject to serious criminal charges. The second one remains at ADFA.
We've got four young cadets at ADFA who may well face the prospect of disciplinary proceedings after those criminal trials have been heard.
So, this has not been a happy incident-
KIERAN GILBERT: All right.
STEPHEN SMITH: -for all concerned.
KIERAN GILBERT: Is there anything in the report - because you're not releasing it in its entirety - just to clear it up for people that would suggest you're not doing that because there's criticisms of you.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well-
KIERAN GILBERT: Because that has been suggested around the place.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, that's what-
KIERAN GILBERT: Do you reject that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely. And I said yesterday that the Kirkham inquiry is not inquiry into me. It doesn't deal with-
KIERAN GILBERT: But are there any adverse findings-
STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely-
KIERAN GILBERT: No criticisms of you?
STEPHEN SMITH: There is no mention of me in the report. It's not a report about me.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay. Well, let's move on because there's a few other issues and big issues.
Seven hundred and seventy-five plausible allegations of abuse. Likely to be many more aren't there?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it's an important point that you've now gone to, because without the controversy over Skype and ADFA and the young Cadet, Kate, we would not have see the outpouring of allegations [indistinct] to the media, to Defence.
One of the initiatives after the ADFA controversy was to send all of those allegations to the law firm, DLA Piper, to assess them independently.
Now, the advice I have, which I released yesterday, was of the original 1000 allegations, over 700 are within the terms of reference and over 700 are said to be plausible allegations of serious sexual or other abuse in Defence over a period from the 1950s until as late as last year.
Now, this is a very significant challenge for Defence and the Government to deal with when I get the final report by the end of this month.
KIERAN GILBERT: Would your preference be for a Royal Commission to deal with this once and for all, rather than other options that might see it-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well-
KIERAN GILBERT: -roll out for years and years and years?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, yesterday, I put out the various options that DLA Piper had suggested as part of their first report, ranging from relying upon existing procedures, to compensation under the Defence arrangements, to judicial inquiry or a Royal Commission or some form of apology or reconciliation tribunal. All of those options have to be on the table.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay. There's just a couple of issues. I know you've got to get going.
You've faced a lot of criticism from the Defence community. Does this reflect an increasingly dysfunctional relationship that you've got with Defence or do you wear it as a badge of honour that you're standing up to them? Because, clearly, in the past, Defence have dominated their Ministers.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, firstly, I have a very good and close working relationship with the Chief of the Defence Force, the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, the Service Chiefs and the Secretary-
KIERAN GILBERT: But you know there's a lot of criticism of you within Defence.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, people should not take the comments from people who are outside the Defence Force, who are not part of the leadership of the Defence Force, they should not take those comments and criticisms and ascribe them to the current leadership.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay. Well [indistinct] a reality more broadly within Defence that people are angry at you, they feel that you had hung Kafer out to dry.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, people are entitled to their opinions, but people-
KIERAN GILBERT: A lot of people in Defence.
STEPHEN SMITH: -should not take the views of commentators and ascribe them to the views of the leadership of the Defence Force.
KIERAN GILBERT: One last issue, a very sad issue, six British soldiers killed in an explosion in the Helmand Province. What does this say about where things are at in Afghanistan when these attacks - one of the worst for British forces in the operation - continue?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it's a terrible incident. Last night I asked our High Commissioner in London to relay my personal condolences to my British Defence counterpart, Philip Hammond.
It's a terrible explosion. We've known that the IED danger, the roadside bomb danger in Afghanistan remains a very high danger. But the comments from my British counterpart overnight are the same as mine, which is we're on track for transition in Afghanistan to hand over to Afghan-led security responsibility by 2014, in our case in Uruzgan perhaps earlier. The key thing is to hand the job to the Afghan national security forces. We don't want to be there forever and we're on track to do that.
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, appreciate your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you, thanks very much.