MINISTER FOR DEFENCE
STEPHEN SMITH, MP
TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH TONY EASTLEY ABC AM
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 7 APRIL 2011
TOPICS: ADFA Skype Incident; Interview with Adair Donaldson.
TONY EASTLEY: The 18-year-old female Defence Force cadet at the centre of a webcam sex scandal was reportedly told by her superior that she needed to apologise to her colleagues for humiliating them by going to the media with her complaints.
The young woman went public earlier this week after she learnt that she was secretly filmed having sex with another cadet, and the video was broadcast to six fellow male cadets in another room. Her claim was carried by Channel 10. The handling of the case has angered the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith. He says his advice now is that that didn't happen.
That - we'll hear from him in a moment. The Defence Minister is not alone in wondering about the culture of the Australian military. Solicitor Adair Donaldson has a background of 23 years as an army reservist, specialising in legal affairs. He's trained soldiers in cultural and behavioural issues.
He argues Defence culture regards the training as a joke and that view is held by participants and some top brass, according to Mr Donaldson. He stresses that his decision to speak out is a personal one and he does so as a private citizen. He's speaking here to AM's Simon Santo.
ADAIR DONALDSON: Whether it be harassment or whether it be a sexual assault, alcohol, drugs, et cetera, I don't think that it is as advanced as the ADF would like us to believe.
Indeed, I think that what has happened now is it's rather - the training is seen as mandatory or compulsory and I don't believe that members are participating in the training in the hope of bringing about change or to understand the issues. They're doing it because they have to do it.
REPORTER: Is that the attitude of the cadets themselves, the students, the would-be officers?
ADAIR DONALDSON: Well, I can't comment about the cadets. What I can comment on is the attitude generally, what I have found of members in the ADF. And personally from my perspective what I've seen over the last 14 years, where we see incidents occurring all too regularly.
Whether they're involving sexual assault or whether they're involving issues with e-mails, whether they be drink driving, these incidents are happening all too regularly and what the ADF response is generally is that, hey, we're going to do a board of inquiry, we're going to do an audit, we're dealing with these issues.
I think the time for audits; I think the time for inquiries is over. I think what we really need to do is just say now, listen we do have an issue, okay, we do have an issue. It's not unique the issue that they've got because so many other employers throughout Australia are facing the same issues. But it's the way that they're dealing with it and I don't believe that they're dealing with it appropriately.
REPORTER: How do they deal with it, typically?
ADAIR DONALDSON: Generally, the training consists of mandatory training, which all members of the ADF have to undergo each year and quite frankly that's death by PowerPoint, as far as I'm concerned. I don't think that it involves interactive discussions amongst the members that will get people talking and acknowledging these issues to start wanting to taking ownership.
I think if you have a look at an organisation such as the NRL, you know that the National Rugby League had issues, I suppose, back when a - when the Coffs Harbour incident happened. To their credit David Gallop came out back then and said we've got an issue, let's fix it.
And certainly, from that day on they took on a very different attitude in relation to their training, which was more about getting players to understand what the issues are and then get them to come up with the solutions.
At the moment, what it would seem to be is that the ADF is simply wanting to impose solutions and, you know, it's fire and brimstone: you are going to do this or this is what we're going to do to you. Rather than getting the members to understand and appreciate the significance of these social issues.
REPORTER: Qualities like mateship and solidarity are often spoken of in the context of the military. Do they get in the way in your opinion when it comes to education in these matters?
ADAIR DONALDSON: Yes, I'm a strong supporter of the ADF. Mateship and solidarity are incredibly important with the job that the Australian Defence Force is doing. But that also has side effects as well.
Because if you take those issues of mateship and solidarity and sticking up for your mates and all those sorts of things, if you take that outside of the barracks and you take that into a nightclub or you take that into other social situations it does lead or can lead to problems.
The situations that we see with Defence members getting into fights from time to time, and you talk to Defence members and they say, well listen, I've been taught to look after my mates. If my mate's in a problem, I'm going to go to his defence. That's all well and good, but they also have to understand the risk that they're placing themselves in by doing that and they're facing - their career's at risk.
TONY EASTLEY: Lawyer and army reservist, Adair Donaldson, speaking to AM's Simon Santo. Joining us now on AM is the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith.
Mr Smith, good morning. We'll come to Channel 10's apology claims in a moment. We've just heard from someone involved intimately in the ADF, albeit in a private position, speaking there telling us that the ADF doesn't handle issues like this seriously. What are your comments to that?
STEPHEN SMITH: I think, Tony, that there are really three issues now that I've got before me. One is the way in which this particular case is being handled and there's an AFP, Australian Federal Police, investigation on foot, for the potential for criminal charges. So I need to be careful in terms of how I respond to that.
Secondly, there is a way in which the Defence Force Academy and the Australian Defence Force has handled its response to this particular matter, and I asked for advice from the chief of the Defence Force, and I've received that advice overnight. And I haven't had, given the hour of the day, the opportunity to discuss it yet with the Chief of the Defence Force and the Vice-Chief, but I'll do that in the course of the day.
As is invariably the case in these matters the advice I got answers some questions but raises other issues, and I'm happy to discuss those.
Thirdly are the more general systemic issues. I think we do have a problem in terms of the way in which Defence deals with or tries to deal with disciplinary matters and the second Gyles' report into HMAS Successwill provide us some helpful advice in that respect.
But now I think I'm also seized with the general systemic issue as to whether we need to do more or adopt different approaches or attitudes in terms of making sure that all Australian Defence Force personnel understand that in the modern day they have to conduct themselves consistent with community standards, and that includes what they do online, on Skype or on Facebook.
Because when you're dealing with the modern digital world, what you do there invariably and inevitably becomes public.
TONY EASTLEY: All right you've got a real handful of problems in front of you. Are you confident that the ADF gave police the full details at the outset of this case?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the advice I have is that the initial response or advice from the Australian Federal Police in the ACT was that it didn't disclose anything at the ACT or Canberra level which would warrant an investigation. Subsequent advice from the AFP was that there were issues which required investigation and that's now under way.
So the initial advice from the Australian Federal Police was we don't think this warrants an investigation. I-
TONY EASTLEY: -But then they learnt something else, didn't they?
STEPHEN SMITH: I expressed my scepticism when I was told about that. I'm not asserting that my scepticism had any cause or effect.
But the substantive issue we're now dealing with is that the Australian Federal Police, with the full cooperation of the Australian Defence Force, are conducting a serious criminal investigation into matters that have been drawn to public attention.
TONY EASTLEY: Are you convinced though the ADF gave the AFP the right advice? That's the question really.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the ADF drew the matter to the Australian Federal Police's attention from the first moment. That's my very strong advice, and the initial response from the AFP was that these matters didn't warrant investigation in the ACT in Canberra.
Subsequent advice was there is a need for investigation because there may well be offences under Commonwealth legislation. So the effect of all of that is that there's a serious criminal investigation under way. I think that is appropriate.
TONY EASTLEY: Let's take these parallel cases that we're going on. The young woman had this problem, she went public with it. There was the complaint also that she had - a charge she was facing, that was dealt with at the same time. Are you happy that those - that was handled parallel?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, absolutely not. This is really a very serious error of judgement, and the advice I've got from the Chief of the Defence Force and the Vice-Chief of the Defence Force, who has effectively line portfolio responsibility for these matters, is that it is acknowledged, including by the Commodore at the Academy, that allowing other disciplinary matters against the young woman concerned, which arose from events in March, unrelated to the so-called Skype matter, that allowing that to be parallel tracked was a very serious error of judgement-
TONY EASTLEY: -By whom?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, by the Commodore and by Defence, and I made that point yesterday. It was somewhere in the range between being completely insensitive and completely stupid and I could not be stronger on that. It's acknowledged that was a serious error of judgement.
The problem for the Academy and the problem for Defence is that that now colours everything else which has occurred. I have very strong advice for example that the young woman concerned was given every support in terms of counselling, peer support and psychological assistance.
The problem for Defence and the perception of handling it is that allowing these two issues to be parallel tracked throws up the perception that other disciplinary matters were used in a way which would impact upon or reflect upon the young woman concerned in the context of these very serious allegations that had come to light.
TONY EASTLEY: Does the Commodore share - have your confidence?
STEPHEN SMITH: I indicated yesterday and I indicated today that I want to go very carefully step by step through this matter. I'll have a conversation in the course of the morning with the chief of the Defence Force and the Vice-Chief of the Defence Force about a range of issues thrown up by the formal advice I have, and so I will take that, as I say, step by step.
The other conversation I want to have and the other careful process I want to go through is what is now required for some broader response to the cultural systemic problems. The ADF clearly has made progress. But there is much more that needs to be done and that very strong view is shared by the Service Chiefs, as it should be.
TONY EASTLEY: If I can take you back to solicitor Adair Donaldson, and his claims about the systemic issues facing the ADF, it's interesting to see that not one woman is listed in the leadership group in the ADFA. Does that surprise you?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it neither surprises me nor encourages me-
TONY EASTLEY: -Is it time that a woman was in amongst the leadership group at the Academy?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, what we want to do, and what the Chief of the Defence Force wants to do and the Service Chiefs want to do, is to make sure that Defence is an attractive career opportunity for young women and incidences like this set that back, there's no doubt about that. But it's absolutely essential that Defence at every level is an attractive place for people in the workforce.
It is not part of the modern Australia to treat your fellow workmates in any manner other than civility and with dignity. People can't vilify women because they're women, or be sexist. And I made the point generally that the general circumstances thrown up by the Skype issue, I can't think of a worse example of a betrayal of trust.
And if you betray trust in the workplace you'd have to start asking the question are you able to continue in that workplace? So I very strongly want and the Service Chiefs want Defence to be an attractive environment for women to work in, because that reflects the modern Australia.
TONY EASTLEY: Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, thanks for joining us on AM.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks, Tony. Thanks very much.