TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH KIERAN GILBERT, SKY NEWS AUSTRALIA
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 24 MARCH 2011
TOPICS: Libya; HMAS Success - Chief of Navy Address; Afghanistan; Tony Abbott rally comments
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, thanks for your time. First of all on Libya there remains squabbling at NATO over taking command of this mission in Libya. Does this diminish the credibility of the international efforts given that there are question marks over just over who is running it?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well the United States has the lead at the moment but the United States hasn't made clear that it wants to transition to other NATO countries. I wouldn't characterise it as squabbling. Australia's view has always been that in the end, this was a matter for NATO or constituent countries. My understanding is that the United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Hague and Defence Secretary Liam Fox are inviting colleagues to London over the next few days to determine those chain of command arrangements.
But it'll be NATO or NATO members. The United Kingdom, France has made it clear that they continue to want to play a leading role. In the meantime we're very pleased that the no fly zone has been successful, it's being enforced, just as we're very pleased that there's now a naval enforcement of the arms embargo also passed by the Security Council.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay. There are a few other issues we've got to get to, the issue of the drinking culture within Navy. The head of Navy, Vice Admiral Russ Crane, is apparently addressing sailors today saying that drinking in foreign ports will be banned unless things improve. That's unrealistic isn't it, if Navy sailors are out on a ship for two months they're not allowed to have a drink when they hit the port?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well there are two things, firstly, all of this comes from the terrible examples we saw in HMAS Success, which is the subject of a report which I tabled in parliament recently. That showed terrible abuse of alcohol, both onshore and offshore, and terrible examples of sexual harassment, both onshore and offshore.
I strongly support the Chief of Navy in his efforts to change culture. Navy has a zero tolerance of the abuse of, or use of drugs. On ships, onshore, and offshore modest drinking is allowed subject to the decision of the ship commander, but we can't have Navy personnel who are ambassadors for the Navy, ambassadors for the Defence Force, ambassadors for Australia behaving badly when they're onshore leave in a port.
And the Chief of Navy's made it clear that unless there's cultural change, unless there's attitudinal change, unless there's a change of conduct, he will take such measures.
KIERAN GILBERT: But a ban wouldn't work. How would a ban work? How can you stop sailors from having a beer in a foreign port?
STEPHEN SMITH: What we want to see, sailors, Navy members, men and women, if they're proposing to use alcohol, to use it sensibly. Of course there's no alcohol able to be used when ships are on operation, but when the commander authorises use of alcohol in modest amounts on the ship, and when people are on shore, they need to conduct themselves responsibly.
We've seen examples which are not only irresponsible, they leave a terrible image for Navy, and a very bad distaste in the mouth of the Australian public. So these measures won't be required if there's a change of conduct, and a change of attitude, and a change of approach.
KIERAN GILBERT: On the issue of Afghanistan, you gave the quarterly update to the parliament yesterday on the progress that's being made, but we are heading into the spring in Afghanistan, so notoriously the fighting season. How concerned are you that the gains made will be reversed?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I said yesterday in the parliament we do have to steel ourselves now for the fighting season which commences in the spring, April or May, and we expect that the Taliban will try and push back to recover the ground that we have made in Uruzgan, but also to seek to recover the ground that International Security Assistance Force has made in Afghanistan generally. So we are expecting a tough fighting season, and we're steeling ourselves for that. We do think we've made progress both on the security front, but also on training and mentoring the Afghan National Army to take lead responsibility itself for security matters.
KIERAN GILBERT: And just one final question if I can on the rally yesterday. Tony Abbott has said he regrets the use of the language that was used. You've seen many political rallies over the years. Now he can't control what's being said, and the fact that he regrets that and has distanced himself from those comments - is that enough in your view?
STEPHEN SMITH: It goes simply to a matter of judgment. And what Tony Abbott did yesterday was, showed that he did not have the judgment to be Prime Minister of this country. He made the same mistake that John Hewson made in 1993. In the last week of the election campaign, John Hewson went to a rally a day.
That was a very substantial error of judgment. It stopped John Hewson from becoming Prime Minister. What we saw yesterday was not someone the day after expressing regret about the signs that might have been on display. What we saw yesterday was someone who wants to be Prime Minister of a country making a judgment which makes it patently and crystal clear that he's not up to the job of being Prime Minister.
KIERAN GILBERT: But most of the people wouldn't have been extremists, so isn't he just, you know, sort of supporting a cause where people are, have every right to express their view.
STEPHEN SMITH: People have every right to express their view, but people who want to be Prime Ministers of the country have to make sensible judgements. It wasn't a sensible judgment.
Tony Abbott knew exactly what he was doing. And any attempts on his part to be contrite, or to express regret, are simply just to paper over the fact that he made a very bad error of judgment, it's not the first one, it's a growing list, and they all lead to the same conclusion.