TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH LYNDAL CURTIS, ABC 24
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 7 JULY 2011
TOPICS: HMAS Success, Gyles Report part 2; CEO of DMO, Dr Stephen Gumley; Afghanistan.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Mr Smith, welcome to News 24.
STEPHEN SMITH: A pleasure.
LYNDAL CURTIS: We'll talk first about HMAS Success. You tabled the second part of what's been a damning report. It details problems with the way the sailors who were pulled off the ship were treated. Effectively, were they not given due process?
STEPHEN SMITH: That's right. Commissioner Gyles examined the way in which the sailors were treated and he came to the conclusion they weren't given fair process. And he recommended it and both the Chief of the Defence Force and Chief of Navy have accepted the recommendations, that the sailors concerned receive an apology and also that there be compensation and those discussions about compensation will occur with their - the relevant sailors' legal representatives.
LYNDAL CURTIS: It's an apology from the Chief of the Defence Force, and, as you say, compensation. While the report says those sailors should be called to account for their wrongdoing, it also says that they suffered injustice and serious personal consequences, the timing and manner of the landings amounted to a very public humiliation and they were not given reasons for the landing for months. So the compensation could be substantial, couldn't it?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we'll wait and see. There's no point trying to second guess that.
But the second report from Commissioner Gyles, the focus is on how did Navy, how did Defence, respond to the allegations, how did it deal with them. And the answer is, not well.
His third report will canvass those issues generally. In other words, how can we do it better? But it's quite clearly the case that in the response, in the handling, people's individual rights were traduced and there has to be regard and respect given to that, and that will come in the form of the apology, which has already been delivered and compensation.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Are you troubled, though, that even in putting together his report, Roger Gyles says he's far from satisfied he was told the truth about the initial decision to send an Equity and Diversity team as the first action after the allegations were made?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, he goes through those issues in this particular case, dealing with particular individuals. I have to say I think as a general proposition we'll get more benefit from his final report, which will deal with those issues in general.
But I must say that the initial decision to engage the so-called Equity or Diversity team is one which with the benefit of hindsight wasn't the right or the best starting point.
But I want to see his final report because the first report so far as HMAS Success was concerned dealt with terrible and very inappropriate conduct, alcohol, sexual intimidation or abuse and other inappropriate conduct off the ship. And all of those recommendations have been adopted, are being implemented and the new Chief of Navy is driving the new generation navy reforms through with vigour. And that report, as this one, will be carefully looked at to see whether disciplinary proceedings or other proceedings need to occur.
But I have been worried for some time about the interface between the way in which we deal with these complaints and issues when they arise. And both Commissioner Gyles third report, which I'm expecting before the end of the year, and the work I've asked the Inspector-General of Defence to do about the interrelationship between Defence disciplinary matters and our civilian laws, will also be helpful in that respect.
LYNDAL CURTIS: If I could go to another issue on what's been a busy day for you so far, the head of the Defence Materiel Organisation Stephen Gumley has resigned. He's one of the highest paid public servants. You paid tribute to him in the House, but can you really say his tenure was an outstanding success?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, at any time of procurement, or any period of time when you're dealing with procurement, you're going to have successes and you're going to have difficulties. He is one of the most highly paid public servants in Canberra because he has one of the most difficult jobs.
He did it for seven and a half to eight years. That's a long stint. And when he spoke to me earlier this week, when he spoke to the Defence Materiel Minister, when he spoke to the Secretary of the Department, one of the points he made was that having decided to retire, he thought it best just to make a clean cut.
He has been responsible for making the Defence organisation a stronger organisation now than it was when he started some seven and a half to eight years ago. He has presided over the Defence Materiel Organisation becoming an executive agency, and he has successfully managed some very big projects; whether it's Bushmasters, whether it's C-17s, whether it's Abrams tanks.
But on anyone's watch in procurement there'll be challenges and difficulties but what occurred on his watch was also his implementation of a range of very important reforms, which we're now seeing the benefit of.
So he's done a very good job in difficult circumstances and after seven and a half years in that job he's entitled to a decent farewell, and I hope he gets one. Because we've certainly had confidence in the work that he was doing and he has put us in a better position than when he started.
LYNDAL CURTIS: You've recently announced some new rules for procurement. There's also speculation that the DMO will be subsumed into Defence. Is that the case?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I wouldn't get too far ahead of ourselves, but I've made it clear that we're going to have another two waves of reform in the course of the next period.
I will respond in the near future to the Rizzo report on our amphibious difficulties and also respond to the Black Review on accountability and governance. It’s quite clear, and this was one of the things I think Dr Gumley had in mind - that when I respond to the Black Review on governance and accountability that there will be changes which have implications for DMO, but they'll have implications for Defence generally. And one of the points that Dr Gumley has made is that this may well be a good time for a new leadership team in the DMO to deal with those reform processes as well.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Is it possible to say that he disagreed with the direction you made-
STEPHEN SMITH: No, no I don't think that's fair or fair on him. He's been doing a very tough and difficult job and doing it well in those difficult circumstances for seven and a half to eight years. That's a long stint. And there just comes a point in the cycle where you say, well, the time's now come to move on, and that's essentially what he's done.
LYNDAL CURTIS: The Opposition's made it clear today that there would not be bipartisan support if DMO was to be subsumed into Defence. Will the Opposition's view have any bearing on what you decide to do?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well again, people shouldn't get ahead of themselves. People will see very clearly when I release my response, the Government's response, to the Black Review, and that will occur in the near future.
Precisely what changes I'm proposing to make in terms of structure, in terms of accountability, in terms of governance. And I, last week I gave a speech on - at a Defence and Industry Conference. There was a lot of speculation about what would be in the speech. Not much, if any of it, was well founded, so my advice to people is patiently wait for the Government's decision and my announcements, and then make your judgements about the outcome and the reforms, don't make your judgements on the speculation.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Finally, you gave another update on the progress in Afghanistan to the Parliament. This week we've seen another soldier die, Sergeant Todd Langley. Is the price the soldiers are paying worth the effort?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the price that the soldiers and their families pay is a terrible one. These are terrible and tragic blows for individual families. But the point that the former Chief of the Defence Force and the current Chief of the Defence Force has made is they are professional soldiers who volunteer for the task and they volunteer on more than one occasion.
But we continue to very strongly believe it's in our national interest to be doing what we're doing. It's in our national security interest. We're working under United Nations mandate. We're part of the 48 international community strong security force and we believe that we are making progress to transition to Afghan led responsibility by 2014.
We can't be there forever. We don't want to be there forever. We have to transition to the Afghan forces and we believe we're making good progress on training them up and mentoring them to do that task.
LYNDAL CURTIS: And your message to the public was essentially be patient because progress is being made?
STEPHEN SMITH: My message to the public was we know that when there are fatalities it's a terrible blow to the nation. It sends a shudder through our community. And people ask the obvious question, you know, why are we there? Well the Government strongly believes we're there in our national interest. We believe that in the last 18 months through the surge from the United States, from NATO and ISAF and through the very good work of our Special Forces, that we have degraded the Taliban's capacity.
They are now trying to strike back, which we predicted and expected, both in high profile propaganda type attacks but also on the ground.
But we've also seen the early signs of approaches for political rapprochement or political talks. I have often said our mission in Afghanistan won't be affected or met by military means alone. There also has to be a political strategy. The Taliban won't come to the table unless they're under military pressure, and we continue to believe that we've made ground on that front and we want to continue to apply that military pressure.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Stephen Smith, thank you very much for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much.