TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH LEIGH SALES, ABC 7:30
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY AND E & OE
DATE: 14 June 2012
TOPICS: DLA Piper Review.
LEIGH SALES: Joining me now in Canberra to respond to these allegations is the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith. Minister, why did you censor the sections of this report that outline the certain abuse of many young people, as well as the likelihood that the alleged perpetrators may remain in ranking positions in the ADF?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, a number of things. I received hundreds of complaints or allegations in the aftermath of the ADFA Skype issue which your report indicated. I initiated a process which saw those allegations- and more- subject to independent review. I received the first phase of advice to me from DLA Piper in October of last year. I released some of that material in, from memory, April of this year. At every step in the process, I have underlined the seriousness of these issues, and at every stage have not, for example, discounted the possibility of a Royal Commission. So, I've treated these things very seriously from the first moment, and-
LEIGH SALES: But why did you not release this specific material that we have seen tonight?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I released enough material to make the point that these were very serious allegations, these were very concerning matters, they had to be dealt with methodically, assiduously and carefully, and that's what we are doing. More importantly-
LEIGH SALES: But what made you hold back these most serious aspects of the report?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, more importantly, in the middle of April this year - less than two months ago - I received the second phase of DLA Piper's work, which included very many more allegations, and updated its report and its advice to me. So I've been working off that report for a couple of months.
I don't think that I and the Government are too far away from making decisions on this matter, and making those decisions public, and also I don't discount the prospect that further information will be put into the public domain.
LEIGH SALES: But by keeping this particular material secret until we FOI'd it, have you given rise to the perception that you're part of a cover-up?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, absolutely not. And the material that's been provided to the ABC has been done by the independent, impartial, objective Freedom of Information decision-maker. The material was provided to you in the middle of this month because the FOI decision-maker regarded this material as material which the Government was considering. And so the ABC didn't get immediate access to those materials. But the materials I released-
LEIGH SALES: But why did you not consider this material - I really would like an answer to this question. On what basis did you decide that releasing this material was not in the public interest?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, that I had released into the public domain more than enough material and commentary to make the point that, of the hundreds of allegations which I and others had received, that there were in around about 1000 cases or 1000 allegations, on the advice I've got, over 700 plausible allegations. I'd made that point repeatedly. I have never discounted the notion of further legal or judicial investigation, including a Royal Commission-
LEIGH SALES: Okay, alright-
STEPHEN SMITH: I had released sufficient materials to underline the seriousness of that, and the further material that's-
LEIGH SALES: Okay, we've heard those points-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well-
LEIGH SALES: So let's move on. You've made those points.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, let me-
LEIGH SALES: As we've heard in Chris’-
STEPHEN SMITH: Let me make another point to you-
LEIGH SALES: Only if you're going to answer the question.
STEPHEN SMITH: The materials released today simply serve to further underline the seriousness of the matters that I've been dealing with for some considering time. And-
LEIGH SALES: Okay, let's go to the seriousness-
STEPHEN SMITH: I don't discount that more materials will be released into the future.
LEIGH SALES: Okay. Let's go to the seriousness of these matters. As we've heard in Chris's story the report says there's a risk that the perpetrators of this abuse how hold senior and middle management positions within the ADF, as do people who have witnessed abuse and did nothing. You've had that information since last October. Do you know today who those people are?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, of course not. There is a risk that that is the case. There's a possibility that that's the case. But why we are proceeding methodically and carefully with this at two levels is these are - as the papers that have been made public make clear- these are still untested allegations. Yes, there are-
LEIGH SALES: But right now are there investigations going on to find out who these people are, who are still potentially in the ADF?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, firstly, these are untested allegations and the DLA Piper report makes that clear. The second phase of work-
LEIGH SALES: It says, actually, that it's certain that many boys and young people were abused.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it says that there are 700 or more plausible allegations. That's the first point. If you want to get down to individual allegations to determine whether people are still in the system who may be the subject of those allegations, you've got to go through a proper fair process, a fair procedure, to enable people against whom allegations have been made to respond to those allegations. So we have not got down to that detail.
We have to do two things- firstly, to respond to the systemic challenges and the cultural challenges that these allegations have thrown up, and, secondly, to make sure that what are described as over 700 plausible allegations over a 50 year or more period are dealt with and investigated and assessed. Now-
LEIGH SALES: Okay-
STEPHEN SMITH: That is complex and complicated. It can't be done overnight-
LEIGH SALES: I understand that.
STEPHEN SMITH: And it can't be done as a job lot.
LEIGH SALES: I understand that. But let me put to you that the report notes that if those perpetrators are still in the ADF, they may constitute a continuing risk to the safety and wellbeing of other ADF personnel, and they may constitute a risk to the reputation and operational effectiveness of the ADF. So every day that goes by is critical, wouldn't you say?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well - and when I released the materials which underline the seriousness of all these allegations, I did it, from memory, at the same time as the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary of the Defence Force released the so-called Pathway to Change document- which sets out the changes needed in Defence's approach to cultural change.
You might recall in the aftermath of ADFA I initiated not just this inquiry with DLA Piper but a half a dozen cultural inquiries from women in ADFA done by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, to the use of alcohol and the like. And the Defence response to that, authored by the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary of the Defence Force, the Pathway to Change document, acknowledges openly - and I've tabled this in the Parliament - that in the past there has been the turning of a blind eye, in the past appropriate standards have not been met, in the past there has been a culture of not reporting. And the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary, through that Pathway to Change document, make it crystal clear that that has to change. There's a zero tolerance for inappropriate behaviour-
LEIGH SALES: Well, if there's a zero tolerance-
STEPHEN SMITH: And a zero tolerance-
LEIGH SALES: If there is a zero tolerance then why are you, as Minister, not making it an absolute top priority to find out who these people are, potentially, still in the Defence Force who are the perpetrators of this culture and this abuse?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, firstly, there are untested allegations which need to be tested. Secondly, what I am doing is to make sure that the Government's response to this matter, that Defence's response to this matter does two things- that we have systemic change to make sure we've got zero tolerance, no more turning of a blind eye, making sure that there is a culture of encouraging people to report so that these things don't occur again; but, secondly, that people who are either the victims of the perpetration of these alleged deeds, and the people against whom allegations have been made, have got a fair opportunity to put their point of view. So you can't assume-
LEIGH SALES: But how are you going to get to the bottom of that without something like a Royal Commission, that has powers to compel people to appear, and is fully independent of Defence?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, now you are essentially agreeing with the point that I've been trying to make to you for some time during this interview, which is with over 700 so-called plausible allegations not yet tested, that span over a 50 to 60 year period, it is not a one job lot solution. It's complex, it's complicated.
I don't discount a Royal Commission. Nothing more could underline the serious way in which my colleagues and I have been dealing with this matter than by me saying from day one I don't discount a Royal Commission. I'm not talking it up but that may be the most effective way of dealing with these matters.
There are other possibilities as well, which the report outlines, and which I encourage the report to make to me in terms of a vast array of possibilities, including further legal work, including a reconciliation panel, including a compensation claim system, and the like. But nothing could underline more the seriousness with which we are taking these allegations in a process that I initiated, than by me repeatedly refusing to rule out a Royal Commission to deal with this matter.
LEIGH SALES: Okay. Minister, thank you very much for making the time to speak to us on this tonight.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Leigh. Thanks very much.