TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH NEIL MITCHELL, 3AW
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 12 APRIL 2011
TOPICS: ADFA Skype Incident, ADFA and ADF Reviews.
NEIL MITCHELL: Stephen Smith, good morning.
STEPHEN SMITH: Good morning, Neil, how are you?
NEIL MITCHELL: I'm okay. It's reported today in The Australian that the head of Defence, Angus Houston, threatened to resign at the weekend in a meeting with you. Is that right?
STEPHEN SMITH: That's absolutely untrue, it's absolutely baseless. I provided The Australian last night, together with the Chief of the Defence Force a comment, we said precisely that and frankly, the speculation by the senior journalist concerned is not worthy of him. No such conversation or suggestion took place.
The Chief of the Defence Force, the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, the Secretary of the Department and I, since the middle of last week, have been working painstakingly through a series of difficult issues and the result that you saw yesterday was agreed and supported by all of us.
NEIL MITCHELL: Is the-
STEPHEN SMITH: So it's a baseless story, Neil.
NEIL MITCHELL: Is there disagreement though on whether the head of the Defence Academy should be removed?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, no, absolutely not.
NEIL MITCHELL: Okay.
STEPHEN SMITH: It's the Vice- in a command structure sense, he is the Commandant. The Commodore is responsible to the Vice Chief of the Defence Force and of course, ultimately the Chief of the Defence Force. So, he's not my employer, if I can use that description.
And the Vice Chief of the Defence Force over the weekend, on Saturday, directed him that - to go on leave - directed Commodore Kafer to go on leave, effective from Sunday afternoon.
And when the Vice Chief reported that to the Chief, the Secretary and I, we all fully supported it, because it enabled us to then move to the inquiry which we announced yesterday.
Could I just make this point quickly?
NEIL MITCHELL: Yeah.
STEPHEN SMITH: The same journalist yesterday had a front page story in the same newspaper saying that, you know, Monday, there'll be a crisis meeting to discuss the Commodore's future. Well, the action that was taken by the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, with the full support of the senior leadership that I've mentioned, occurred on Saturday with effect from Sunday.
NEIL MITCHELL: Okay. Well, just a couple of other quick issues.
The former head of the Army, Peter Leahy, writing today in the Fairfax papers, says the male cadet at the heart of this problem is, quote, a grub and should be discharged. Do you agree?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, first, I'm not going to be drawn on pejorative comments. That's the first point. Other people, you know, may have the luxury of-
NEIL MITCHELL: Yes.
STEPHEN SMITH: -making conclusions about guilt or innocence. Let's just let - let me just say this. Firstly, he is the subject of a very serious criminal investigation by the Australian Federal Police, as are other cadets there. That's the first point.
Secondly, he'll also be the subject of military - of military disciplinary investigation. That's held in abeyance or suspense, pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.
NEIL MITCHELL: Yeah.
STEPHEN SMITH: And yes, he's at the Academy. He has continued to do his work. He is under supervision. Indeed, all of the cadets in that category are under supervision.
And the Australian Federal Police have advised the Defence Force that they are perfectly happy with that outcome, because it means they're under supervision and they're available to help the police with their inquiries, effectively, at any moment.
NEIL MITCHELL: Okay. Now we - if we just move to women in combat, why has this come up now? Is it related to what's going on at the Academy? Are you trying to send a message here to the Defence Force?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, we had to deal with a difficult issue with respect to the Skype incident, and I've announced that yesterday-
NEIL MITCHELL: Yeah.
STEPHEN SMITH: -together with the Chief of the Defence Force. But we wanted at the same time to take the opportunity of saying, look, we understand that there are issues here. We've made - the Defence Force has made progress on treatment of women, on trying to counter that. You know, conduct and bad culture, whether its binge drinking or treatment of people in the workplace.
So, there are a range of programs already in place. We wanted to, effectively, do a stocktake, not just in the Academy and the Sex Discrimination Commissioner will do that, but also, more general-
NEIL MITCHELL: So this, in a sense, is linked? The decision we're going through now is linked.
STEPHEN SMITH: What in terms of that particular announcement, I mean, as I said at the press conference, you know, you could have effectively - Stephen, you could have left this and made a big announcement on another day.
NEIL MITCHELL: Yeah.
STEPHEN SMITH: You know, why are they joint? Well, there are two reasons. Firstly, you know, we were dealing with serious issues, not just at the Academy, but into the long term about the treatment of women and the value and the worth placed on women in the Defence organisation and the Defence Forces.
And the Chief of the Defence Force's very strong view, and it's also the Government's very strong view, because we made the point in the previous Parliament that in terms of access to women in the Defence Force for jobs they can do, currently, they can do about 93 per cent of roles. What they're effectively excluded from is the combat role-
NEIL MITCHELL: Yeah.
STEPHEN SMITH: -whether it's infantry, whether it's some aspects of Navy and Air Force. And that does two things. It excludes them from activity on the basis of sex or gender. Very strong principle or policy point is that we believe, as does the Chief of the Defence Force and the Chief of the Services, that that judgement should be made on the basis of capacity and capability on the basis of your physical and your intellectual capacity.
NEIL MITCHELL: So, would you imagine then, we could see women in the frontline-
STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely.
NEIL MITCHELL: -within a reasonably short time?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I'm not putting a timetable on it. What we've brought forward is - I've asked the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Warren Snowdon, to bring the implementation of it forward.
His predecessor, Greg Combet, announced this was our approach in the last Parliament. But to use the jargon, there's a lot of work needs to be done on the matrix. In other words, on how do you make the judgement about physical and intellectual capability.
But what we are aiming at is to make open to women those roles currently excluded from them.
One of the reasons we announced it yesterday, in terms of bringing forward the implementation, was this very important point: because women are excluded from those roles, they are also, effectively, excluded from some of the senior leadership positions in the services. And by opening this up to women in the longer term, then women will be able to have aspirations - legitimate aspirations, leadership aspirations for all of the leadership positions in the force.
NEIL MITCHELL: So, in that sense-
STEPHEN SMITH: [Indistinct]
NEIL MITCHELL: In that sense, it's sending a message to the Defence Forces isn't it?
STEPHEN SMITH: Oh, absolutely. But if the message - can I make this point? Everything that we announced yesterday, strongly supported and agreed between the Chief of the Defence Force, the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, the Secretary of the Department and me representing the Government. But it does send a very strong message on a whole range of things.
Women in the workplace have to be treated with civility and dignity. If you're going to aspire to represent the Defence Force, either as a cadet or as a troop on the ground, if you engage in adverse conduct, there are consequences which follow. And we-
NEIL MITCHELL: Okay.
STEPHEN SMITH: And whether that's using social media, which inevitably becomes public, or binge drinking or the like, you represent the force, you represent the nation. If you engage in bad conduct, adverse consequences follow.
NEIL MITCHELL: And just finally, and very briefly, we're getting a lot of messages from serving soldiers and recent - and soldiers who've served - well, Defence personnel who've served recently, saying they're concerned about how men would react to women on the frontline, that men might treat them differently. Are you concerned that men in the frontline could d… treat with women on the frontline differently?
STEPHEN SMITH: Neil, in your noble profession and my noble profession, there was a time when men said, you couldn't possibly imagine a woman radio host and you could not possibly imagine a woman Minister or a woman Prime Minister. We've long since moved past that, because the modern Australian community says people are entitled - whether you're a man or a woman, you're entitled to have a fair go, based on your ability and your capacity, not on your sex or gender.
NEIL MITCHELL: I really appreciate you taking the time. I know it's very busy. Thank-
STEPHEN SMITH: No, that's right. I've got to duck back to a - Neil, could I just say one thing before you go-
NEIL MITCHELL: You're not going back to Cabinet are you?
STEPHEN SMITH: I - well, I can't tell you that, I'm technically not allowed to say-
NEIL MITCHELL: [Laughs] Yeah, sorry.
STEPHEN SMITH: -that I ducked out of such a meeting.
NEIL MITCHELL: [Laughs]
STEPHEN SMITH: The other day - I mean, I've been dealing with some very difficult issues with the Defence Force, particularly how we work through the difficult Skype issues and the other day I heard you compliment me for the effort I was making. You're a hard taskmaster, Neil, you didn't need to do that. I just want to say that, in the context of dealing with some difficult issues, that was very much appreciated and I thank you for it.
NEIL MITCHELL: Well, thank you. I think you've handled it decently. Thank you very much for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Neil, thanks very much.