TRANSCRIPT: Interview with Lyndal Curtis, ABC24
TRANSCRIPTION: Proof copy E&OE
DATE: 6 March 2012
TOPICS: Inappropriate use of Facebook; Privacy Commission Inquiry; Kirkham Inquiry and Cultural Reviews; Labor Party.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Stephen Smith, welcome to ABC News 24.
STEPHEN SMITH: Pleasure.
LYNDAL CURTIS: If I could ask you first about a couple of stories that 7.30 have been running, the first is a story on an Army Facebook site where there were hateful posts directed at Muslims, homosexuals and women soldiers. Is the problem not just the views expressed on the site but the fact that people in the military still hold these views?
STEPHEN SMITH: I think there’s three things here- firstly, the Chief of Army, both on the 7.30 Report and generally, was very strong in his condemnation of that material which he described as appalling and as repugnant. I share those views. Neither he nor the Chief of the Defence Force nor the leadership of the Defence Force have any tolerance for that activity. That's the first point.
Secondly, we have to have a zero tolerance when it comes to members of the Defence Force because they represent our nation and represent our country, and whether, if you like, it's the same proportion in the Defence Force as in other parts of society, to me is not the test. The test is you're representing your nation; what you do has adverse consequences and you suffer the consequences accordingly if you're doing the wrong thing.
LYNDAL CURTIS: So it's not good enough-
STEPHEN SMITH: And finally, it's just another example of people using or getting engaged in social media and discovering to their regret that what they do in social media runs a risk, invariably, of becoming public. And this is one of the issues that we are now confronting in terms of the culture of the Defence Force and appropriate or inappropriate conduct and behaviour.
LYNDAL CURTIS: It may be the case that a similar section of the broader population holds such views. How then do you take people from the broader population into the Defence Force and tell them not to hold those views?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it has to start at the beginning; it has to start at entry levels and it has to also start from the example or the leadership at the top. And whether it's the Chief of the Defence Force, whether it's the Chief of Army, none of the senior leadership have anything other than a zero tolerance for this behaviour.
And a lot of good work has been done in the past, but it's clear that more work needs to be done, and this'll be evidenced by the range of cultural reviews which we will publish shortly, and just as importantly, Defence's overall response to these cultural reviews, whether it's use of social media, whether it's representing the nation in uniform, whether it's use of alcohol and the like.
LYNDAL CURTIS: 7.30 also reported on a Privacy Commission inquiry into the release of sensitive personal details of up to 80 soldiers at Townsville's Lavarack Barracks, including medical information, discipline records, psychology reports.
Now, this happened some months ago, as I understand it, but do you believe that problem was adequately dealt with?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, firstly, it was drawn to Army's attention on something like 15 November last year, and within 24 hours it was taken down. So the response in that sense was good, but the fact that that material had been essentially an open access for possibly a number of months is obviously a bad thing.
So what's currently occurring is that there's an investigation by Defence, by the Chief of Army, into why that lapse occurred, and is it a lapse, and we have to make sure it doesn't occur again.
Secondly, the soldier concerned, the Private concerned, has also made the point, I think on the 7.30 Report, that as a result of his private circumstances and details effectively being made public, he's been the subject of some harassment or inappropriate behaviour. That's also being investigated by the Chief of Army because we don't want that to occur either.
More importantly, Defence understands that a lapse has occurred here. We want to find out why but also we're cooperating with the Privacy Commissioner and the information experts in government to make sure that we understand the reasons why it occurred and make sure it doesn't happen again.
LYNDAL CURTIS: You've talked about a number of reports that are underway into Defence Force culture. You've been reportedly sitting on a report into the Skype scandal at the Defence Force Academy. For procedural fairness for the commandant of ADFA who was stood down, should that report be released now?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I got the report in the middle of December, from memory about 13 December, together with advice from the Chief of Air Force and the Vice-Chief of Defence, that they needed to do some substantial work before we'd be in a position to make decisions and judgments.
Two days later, I was criticised for sitting on the report, so I'll take criticism for sitting on the report with a grain of salt.
The Chief of the Defence Force, the Secretary and I, are not too far away from coming to final conclusions and being in a position to make those matters public. But I make this point: we're not just here dealing with one particular individual, whether it's Commandant Kafer, whether it's me, we're dealing with a range of individuals where their welfare and their rights need to be respected.
So there have been some important issues as we work through the report that Mr Kirkham QC did in this matter. But we're not too far away from final conclusions and announcements with respect to the Kirkham Report, but we're also not too far away from announcements with respect to the array of cultural reviews that I referred to earlier, which were commissioned at the same.
And I'm also expecting before the end of this month the final report from the law firm DLA Piper, which was set up, given the avalanche of allegations that were made in the aftermath of the so-called Skype affair, about previous instances of inappropriate behaviour in Defence.
I've always been of the view that these were best treated as a job lot, particularly Defence's response to the so-called cultural reviews.
LYNDAL CURTIS: You say that the Skype report isn't just about one person, but Commandant Kafer has had - has been stood down since April last year. That's a very long time. If the report does exonerate him, should he be immediately reinstated?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I'm not proposing to deal with any of these questions piecemeal. I'll wait until we, as I say, make final decisions and make those known publicly.
But Commandant Kafer was placed on leave by his commander, who was the then Vice-Chief of the Defence Force. He put him on leave. That was not my decision. That was the Vice-Chief of the Defence Force's decision and it was done out of his interests, the interests of ADFA and the interests of the Defence organisation generally.
Now, what follows from the Kirkham Report and the considerations by the Secretary of the Department, the Chief of the Defence Force and I, as I say, we're not too far away from.
But there are also other interests. There are, for example, two cadets who are facing proceedings before ACT courts. We have to be very careful of that and we also have to be very conscious of the wellbeing and welfare of other individuals involved.
LYNDAL CURTIS: If I could move onto your ministerial portfolio, were you at any time after Kevin Rudd resigned from the foreign affairs job offered, or was it suggested to you that you would get your old foreign affairs job back?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I said from Monday of last week on, as I have said whenever these circumstances arise, that the allocation of portfolios is entirely a matter for the Prime Minister. And as I said on Friday when the Prime Minister made her announcements, it's entirely a matter for her. Of course I had a conversation or conversations with her about portfolios, but you wouldn't expect me to make those public and I'm not proposing to.
But at all times, both publicly and privately, I've said what I've said in all of my time as a frontbencher, either in Government or in Opposition, it's entirely a matter for the leader, in this case, entirely a matter for the Prime Minister.
And I've got no cause to be disappointed. I asked the Prime Minister if I could do the Defence job after the 2010 election. I'm doing the Defence job. We've got a lot of challenges and I very much enjoy trying to meet those challenges, dealing as we are with Australia's national security interests.
LYNDAL CURTIS: But you were Foreign Affairs Minister at a time when Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister. He was seen as maybe overshadowing your role a bit because of his keen interest in foreign affairs. You then had to effectively stand down from the job because it was promised to him after the 2010 election.
It's not unreasonable to expect you might like the job back, is it?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, in my experience, Prime Ministers generally do overshadow Foreign Ministers, and more so these days as Prime Ministers and Presidents play and pay a much greater role in international affairs, given the instantaneous communication that we now have. So you know, no prize for making that point.
As for the rest, I'm very happy to leave it to commentators and very happy to leave it to the history books. I said to all concerned that these were entirely matters for the Prime Minister. Indeed, I said, I think publicly on a couple of occasions, I've been around long enough to know that when you're dealing with reshuffles, you should wait until the Prime Ministerial press release hits the fax machine or hits the email, and that's what I did. And it wasn't a surprise to me. I suspect it was a surprise to others. That's probably because they're young players, not experienced old hands.
LYNDAL CURTIS: The Prime Minister spoke to Bob Carr, offered him the post on the Thursday morning. When did you find out that Bob Carr was going to be given foreign affairs?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, that would cause me to do something I've told you that it's not appropriate for me to do, nor would you expect to trap me into that, which is to go into the detail of conversations I might have had with the Prime Minister. It's entirely a matter for the Prime Minister. Bob Carr is going to be a terrific Foreign Minister. I very much look forward to working with him, as we will, because Foreign Ministers and Defence Ministers work closely together.
I've been Foreign Minister both with Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard as Prime Minister and I've been Defence Minister with Julia Gillard as Prime Minister, and I've always worked closely with either my counterpart Foreign Minister or Defence Minister as the case may be. And Bob will be very good. I'm very much looking forward to working with him.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Stephen Smith, thank you very much for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much.