TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH LAURA JAYES, LUNCHTIME AGENDA
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 14 MARCH 2013
TOPICS: Defence Abuse Response Taskforce; Media reforms
LAURA JAYES: Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, thanks so much for joining us. Now, this Taskforce is hearing 15 new allegations a week of abuse every week. Does this figure shock you?
STEPHEN SMITH: We've known since we initiated the DLA Piper Review that every time publicity was given to these matters generally then the system would receive more complaints. And so since the establishment of the Taskforce led by Len Roberts-Smith back in November of last year, the hotline has received over 1000 contacts and of those 1000 contacts, more than 300 complaints were allegations of new matters.
So we've done two things today. The Attorney-General and I have announced and agreed that we will extend the time of the Taskforce by six months. So that sees it working through until May 2014. But we are also putting a cut-off date in for hearing of or receiving new allegations or new complaints and that will be the end of May this year, which gives people another couple of months to consider whether they want to make a complaint or an allegation. And then the Taskforce will have a full 12 months to deal with those matters and complete its work.
LAURA JAYES: The fact that we are seeing the number of allegations and the Taskforce time has been extended by six months to 18 months, so that perhaps shows us that this problem is on a scale worse than first thought.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, you might recall that this all arose in the aftermath of the so-called ADFA Skype issue. That was very public and a lot of publicity. My office and other parts of Defence received hundreds of complaints and the Government came to the conclusion that, to deal with these matters properly, we needed to establish the DLA Piper Review.
DLA Piper presented its report to me in April of last year and I announced in November of last year, the establishment of the Taskforce to deal with these matters: to look at reparation to individual complainants up to $50,000; to look at personal apologies; counselling and to see whether matters needed to be forwarded to prosecution authorities for further work in the criminal area.
LAURA JAYES: You say this compensation or reparation of up to $50,000 is now set in stone, if you like. Can you give us an example whereby the maximum amount of compensation would be suitable?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it will depend upon the facts and circumstances of each case and it will be an officer of the Taskforce who makes those judgments or decisions. That's appropriate. So today the Attorney-General and I have announced that we've approved the detail of the so-called reparations payment scheme.
It's not intended to be compensation per se. It's to acknowledge what has occurred and to help someone move forward. And the general apology which I gave in November last year, the general apology which the Chief of the Defence Force gave last year, the feedback I've had is that it's helpful for people to move forward but in particular cases, there will be a need for a reparation payment and also a personal apology.
But we're leaving that to the Taskforce to determine on a case-by-case basis what amount should be given but it's not intended to be compensation. People won't have their rights taken away. They can, if they want to, pursue their common law or statutory rights if such things are relevant and appropriate.
LAURA JAYES: There's about 20 victims of abuse that it's believed don't want to give evidence to the Taskforce because, one lawyer says, they have concerns about DLA Piper and perhaps a conflict of interest. Is there anything you can do at this point to alleviate those concerns?
STEPHEN SMITH: I received very strong advice from the Attorney-General's Department that all of the material which went to DLA Piper, the materials about individual cases, for that to be transferred to the Taskforce had to respect privacy requirements and had to have the consent of those people who had made the complaint.
For the vast bulk of cases, that consent has been given and the materials are being transferred. People should not have any concern at all about the independence of the Taskforce. They simply need to authorise the transfer of material to the Taskforce and the Taskforce will independently assess those matters and look to the array of remedies which the Government has provided, whether it's a personal apology, a reparation payment or making a recommendation to a State, Territory or Commonwealth prosecutor that criminal proceedings need to take place.
The people should have absolute confidence in the Taskforce. There were some people who expressed concern about DLA Piper but where DLA Piper perceived a conflict of interest, a small number of matters - about 20 - were handed over to the Ombudsman for the Ombudsman to look at. Those matters have now been handed to the Taskforce. So people should have confidence in the Taskforce.
If they don't authorise the Taskforce to have access to those materials then no further action or steps can be taken.
LAURA JAYES: I just want to move onto another Government policy area. This is the media reforms. It has created a few colourful front pages, if you like, and a bit of criticism as well. Now, a Labor statesman, Steve Bracks, has expressed concern about these reforms today. He said - and I will read the direct quote to you:
Attempting to impose diversity through regulation is only likely to restrict opportunities. The market itself is an effective mechanism. Do you agree with that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, firstly, there has always been media and communications regulation in Australia and the proposals which the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, have put out are, in my view frankly, modest proposals in a small range of areas. Some of them are entirely non-controversial. So the improvements or enhancement of Australian content, the reduction of TV licence fees-
LAURA JAYES: But these are comments coming from within your own party.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, he is a former State Premier. He's entitled to his view. If that is a direct quote on the proposal that Stephen Conroy has put out, then I don't agree with his analysis. There's always been media regulations. These are modest further proposals.
I think they will have the opposite effect, which is to continue to make sure that we've got a diverse array of views expressed. Whether that's in traditional media - newspapers and TV - or in online media.
LAURA JAYES: Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, thank you.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks. Thanks very much.