MINISTER FOR DEFENCE
STEPHEN SMITH, MP
TRANSCRIPT: PRESS CONFERENCE WITH CDF
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 11 APRIL 2011
TOPICS: ADFA Skype Incident, ADFA and ADF Reviews.
STEPHEN SMITH: All right, well firstly thanks very much for turning up. I’m joined by the Chief of the Defence Force to deal with a range of matters arising from the so-called Skype incident and also some general structural reviews and reforms which we’re proposing to put in place.
Firstly, can I just deal with issues related to the so-called Skype incident and the management of that matter and can I make some remarks about that, including remarks about ADFA Commander Kafer? Firstly, Commander Kafer on Saturday was directed by the Vice Chief of the Defence Force to take leave effective from Sunday afternoon. This decision was made by the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, effectively Commander Kafer’s Commanding Officer in his best interests, in the interests of ADFA, the Australian Defence Force Academy and also in the best interests of Defence.
That was a decision which, when the Vice Chief of the Defence Force relayed to me as Minister, to the Chief of the Defence Force and to the Secretary of the Defence Force was very strongly agreed with.
As we also agreed over the weekend that it was appropriate to put in place an independent inquiry under the Defence Inquiry Regulations to enable all of the details and matters so far as the handling and management of the Skype incident are concerned and today the Vice Chief of the Defence Force will institute an inquiry under the Defence Inquiry Regulations headed by Andrew Kirkham QC.
That inquiry will deal with all of the issues relating to the management of the so-called Skype incident and the results of that inquiry will be considered when it’s completed.
This I think gives us the opportunity for a fair impartial objective and considered consideration of all of the issues going to the management of that matter. Can I just make some remarks about a range of complaints, allegations, suggestions of the management of this issue so far as Commander Kafer is concerned.
And you’ll all recall because many of you have been to my previous press conferences on Wednesday and Thursday of last week about this matter.
Firstly you’ll recall when this issue broke I was asked here about a series of allegations that have been made in respect of the handling of the matter and I said that on each of those matters I would not respond to hearsay or respond to the press conference, but go and speak with the Chief of the Defence Force, get a response, get some advice, and then make some comments publicly; For example, on suggestions that Commander Kafer had not provided or the young woman concerned had not been provided with appropriate counselling or support.
I took advice on that and received very strong advice which I made public in terms of the substance of it, very strong advice that that wasn’t the case, that she had received appropriate support, counselling, and psychological assistance from the first moment.
Equally, for example, there were suggestions that her application for compassionate or special leave had been refused.
I got very strong advice on that that was not the case and there were other issues in that same category. The point I make in that respect is that when an allegation has been made in these circumstances it is always sensible to get advice, try and get an understanding of the circumstances and respond accordingly.
Over the weekend I’ve also seen and had drawn to my attention a number of further allegations in respect of the management and the handling of this matter by Commander Kafer, including for example that she was – that one suggestion made was that she was ordered to apologise to fellow cadets. I took advice on that and reported to you publicly that was not the case. A suggestion was made over the weekend that maybe it wasn’t an order it was a suggestion.
A suggestion was also made that a Sergeant at ADFA had made derogatory remarks in her respect. I have taken advice over the weekend on those matters from the Chief of the Defence Force and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force and I have to tell you that I’ve received very strong advice that those allegations are wrong.
And very strong advice that there may not be any foundation for those assertions and having made that point I think it’s now very important that having established through the Vice Chief of the Defence Force and the Chief of the Defence Force an inquiry to be headed by Andrew Kirkham QC that we allow that process in respect of all of the allegations, suggestions, complaints, of management in respect of this matter to be left for that process.
Secondly, can I make the point that in one matter, in one respect I have been very critical of Commander Kafer. As you know whilst these matters were being investigated both by the Federal Police and by the Defence Force Investigation Service, Commander Kafer allowed matters, which had occurred in March, relating to the young woman concerned being absent without leave or using alcohol, allowed these matters to be dealt with at the same time; Indeed in the aftermath of the Skype incident becoming public.
I very strongly said that I believed that that was an error of judgment, a serious error of judgment, because what that did was it put into play potentially a victim of a serious sexual abuse, penalised or being punished; An innocent victim of a serious sexual abuse having her character or conduct put into question. And I strongly object to that.
There was a time in Australian society when frankly that was the norm and Australian society over the last 20 or 30 years has fortunately moved a very long way from that.
So when I saw a circumstance arise where Commander Kafer had allowed the parallel tracking or the dual processing of disciplinary matters unrelated to the Skype incident, I took very strong objection – and made that objection clear and I do not resile in any way from that. A serious error of judgment was made.
And you may have seen on Friday me indicating – on Thursday sorry, me indicating that I’ve received formal advice to that effect from the Vice Chief of the Defence Force and the Chief of the Defence Force that it was a serious error of judgement.
So that is the only occasion on which I have made my view clear about a conduct via Commander Kafer.
And I’m now very confident that we have a system in place which will enable all of these suggestions about his handling of the matter – the management matter – to be dealt with in a fair and impartial way.
From a personal perspective I’m told, not just by the Chief of the Defence Force, but by the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, but also by others that Commander Kafer is a good officer, is a good bloke, but that can’t fall for consideration when I have to make judgments about what I believe is in the best interests of the Australian Defence Force Academy and the best interests of the future of the Defence Force and that is why I was critical of the handling at the same time of non-related disciplinary matters.
Let me now – and I believe you’ve received some of the paperwork – deal with some of the broader issues which the Secretary and the Chief of the Defence Force and I will now progress through the Department and the ADF and ADFA.
Firstly, I’m announcing today that Ms Elizabeth Broderick, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, acting on behalf of the Australian Human Rights Commission will lead an examination of the treatment of women at the Australian Defence Force Academy.
She’ll also review progress of the existing strategies in place so far as the Australian Defence Force generally is concerned using as her base for study in that area the good work done by the Chiefs’ Women’s Advisory Group which includes Pathways to Leadership for Women in the ADF and in Defence.
As well – and the detail of this will be provided subsequently – we’re also moving through the Secretary and the Chief of the Defence Force to institute reviews in other cultural change areas, whether it is use of alcohol and binge drinking, whether it is use of social media or whether it is what I describe as the representational effect of adverse conduct – in other words, whether you’ve been a Defence Academy Cadet for a number of weeks or a Defence Force personnel for a number of years, you effectively represent the Defence Force, you effectively represent the nation and adverse consequences flow from inappropriate conduct.
There are, I think, three other issues that I draw to attention. Firstly, so far as women in the Australian Defence Force are concerned, the Chief of the Defence Force and I, in consultation with the Minister for Defence Personnel Warren Snowdon, have asked the Chief to bring forward the implementation of a matter which I as Minister for Defence, and Warren Snowdon as Minister for Defence Personnel, very strongly agree with in principle, as does the Chief, the Secretary and the Service Chiefs – namely, that when it comes to women in the Australian Defence Force, including in combat roles, that opportunity for women should be determined on the basis of physical and intellectual capacity, not on gender. And so the Chief of the Defence Force will bring forward that very important matter which goes to women in combat roles, will bring forward that matter as a matter of priority, and Warren Snowdon will be involved in the implementation of that program, as he will the other matters I have referred to with respect to personnel issues, including drinking, use of alcohol, use of social media and the like.
Finally, there are two other issues that I will touch upon. Firstly, I have asked the Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force to prepare – the independent Inspector General – to prepare for me a report and advice on the relationship and interchange between civilian and military law and to ensure that the delays of timely response often caused by the interaction between civilian and military law are addressed. Very often we see – as we do in this particular instance – see not just a police criminal inquiry but also a Defence inquiry, and we need to better manage the relationship between those two. And the Inspector General will report to me in that respect, and that will complement the work Commissioner Gyles is doing as part of his second report in the HMAS Success inquiry.
Finally, and very importantly, in the course of the last week or so, as there has been concentrated public attention on these issues, a range of suggestions, emails, phone calls, faxes, complaints about previous abuse in the Defence Force or failure to manage properly complaints of abuse, a range of circumstances like that have been drawn to my attention, drawn to public attention through the media or arrived at the Defence Department itself. We need to very carefully, exhaustively and methodically deal with all of those complaints and the Secretary of the Department of Defence will commission external legal advice to start a process of considering all of those matters to enable the government to receive advice and give consideration to how any of those complaints might warrant further consideration. And, in saying that, all options will be on the table and I don’t exclude a further legal or judicial look at some of those issues.
Now, all of that’s a lengthy opening statement. I make no excuse for that; there’s a lot of ground to cover. Detail of the cultural change and the audits and the stock take is in the lengthy press release for you and it makes clear that further detail in that respect will be provided in the near future. But I welcome very much the decision by the Human Rights Commissioner and the Sex Discrimination Commissioner to essentially conduct a review and a stock take and an audit of the treatment of women at the Australian Defence Force Academy in first instance. She will be assisted by a small group of men and women who’ve got relevant experience in that respect and then look at the work that’s been done so far as treatment of women and leadership paths and roles for women in Defence generally is concerned.
Can I finish on this general point: the Chief of the Defence Force, the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, the Secretary of the Department and the Service Chiefs themselves are absolutely committed to appropriate conduct by Australian Defence Force personnel, and there is a zero tolerance for adverse conduct. We need to ensure that everything that we are currently doing is effective but also learn whether there’s more that we can do, and that is the essential rationale for involving the Sex Discrimination Commissioner. We’ll also take the opportunity of learning from other institutions in Australian society who have had comparable problems, whether it’s the AFL or the NRL.
Now, I’m very happy, as is the Chief, to respond to your questions. I’m in no hurry, so we can do that in an orderly way.
JOURNALIST: Minister. You’re not the first Minister to say that there’s zero tolerance for adverse conduct, particularly in ADFA. Bronwyn Bishop said exactly the same thing when she called a very similar review some 13 years ago. There have been, I count six or seven since the 1960s into bastardisation, sexual abuse and these sorts of things that are seen in ADFA and throughout the forces. It seems it happens every five years and then we get back to this point where allegations are made and we have another review and inquiry.
Why will this one be any different and why will this lead to change?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, firstly can I say firstly that the substance of your question has a lot of validity to it. That’s the first point. Secondly, what I as Minister, what Angus as Chief of the Defence Force, what Ian Watt, as Secretary of the Department would want to do is ensure that everyone in Defence understands that; now, that’s the first point.
We are seeking to drive cultural change. I am frankly very pleased with the good work that Angus and the Service Chiefs have done. There are two aspects to it. Firstly, any good work that’s previously been done, because of recent events that will not be the public perception, so we need to counter that perception. There’s only one way we can counter that perception; by essentially having an external examination as to whether there’s more that we can do. But just like the AFL, just like the NRL, the Australian Defence Force will potentially into the future confront incidents of poor or adverse behaviour. Culturally we need to ensure that members of the Defence Force understand that there will be no tolerance for that, and we need to educate and effect cultural change. That’s one of the reasons, for example, why you’ll find an express reference to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner also having a look at the recruitment aspects and the curriculum aspects so far as the Australian DefenceForce Academy is concerned. I think the Chief has done a lot of good work in this area. He has a very effective Women’s Advisory Group, but the time has come for external review.
Am I asserting, or would any minister assert, that we will get a perfect record into the future? No, we’re dealing with human beings. But we need to drive home that inappropriate conduct in uniform or as a representative of the Australian Defence Force brings with it serious adverse consequences, and when people make the mistakes, they suffer the consequences of their mistakes. One of the points I’ve made generally is that the single biggest challenge for Defence is what I describe as personal and institutional accountability. When mistakes are made there needs to be personal and institutional accountability. That’s what we’re doing so far as the Skype incident is concerned and that’s what we’re seeking to do so far as the reform and the cultural program is concerned.
JOURNALIST: Minister, on the subject of Commander Kafer, can you just detail the nature of the leave? Is this just for the period of the Kirkham review? Is it on some other-
STEPHEN SMITH: Sure. He has been directed by the Vice Chief of the Defence Force to go on leave. That direction was issued on the advice I have and the discussions I’ve had with the Vice Chief on Saturday, effective from Sunday afternoon. So he is effectively on leave from the Academy and he will remain on leave from the Academy until such a time as these processes have come to their conclusion and there’s been an opportunity for consideration of them and it would not be appropriate to speculate in any way about that. But let me say this; on the basis that Commander Kafer is regarded on my advice as a good officer, it is, in my view, entirely appropriate for the Vice Chief, who is essentially his Commanding Officer, to contemplate, after a short period of leave, what work he might be able to do in other areas.
It is appropriate that he through his leave stands aside from the Defence Force Academy at this time but it’s also appropriate if he is able to do so to contemplate with the Vice Chief of the Defence Force other work in a different area. As I say all the reports I have is that he is a good officer. But we have to focus in this area as the Vice Chief has done formally in directing him to go on leave what is in his best interests, what is in ADFA’s best interests, and what is in Defence’s best interests and the duration of that leave will fall for consideration after the processes that I’ve referred to.
JOURNALIST: So Minister what-
STEPHEN SMITH: Sorry, there was one here. Michelle.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask the Defence Chief in this process-
STEPHEN SMITH: And then we’ll come to-
JOURNALIST: Before he was given that order, was Commander Kafer given the opportunity to explain his position because like what the Minister says the main thing he seems to have done wrong or controversially was letting these two issues track together?
Did you give him that chance to put his side of the story and secondly, the young man at the centre of all this, what’s happened to him? Is he continuing as normal in the academy while all these various investigations go on?
ANGUS HOUSTON: Well taking the second question first, that individual is still at work. He is going through his studies. And-
JOURNALIST: Is that appropriate?
ANGUS HOUSTON: Well I think so, yes, we don’t jump to conclusions. We need to go through a process. And when that process is complete judgments will be made and appropriate action will be taken to hold the individual accountable.
Now in terms of Commodore Kafer’s leave, the Vice Chief had extensive discussions with him about the circumstances. You would be aware that in these circumstances it’s very stressful for Commodore Kafer and his family. He has been subject to abusive and offensive phone calls and the like and the environment is such that it is important that he go on leave in the best interests of himself, and as the Minister said the organisation. I think it’s absolutely essential in the circumstances that that happened.
STEPHEN SMITH: Sorry, there was just one here, and then I’ll come over to - but before I do that can I just, Michelle, add to the Chief’s response. We’ve been dealing here together, the Chief, the Vice Chief, the Secretary and I, effectively since Wednesday or Thursday of last week, with very difficult issues. Difficult issues that go to the management of a particular incident which is the subject of a Federal Police and a Defence inquiry and investigation and secondly, what this throws up more generally for the future of the Force and we’ve been working through these painstakingly together since Wednesday or Thursday of last week.
And just as this is a very difficult time for the young woman concerned this is also now a very difficult time for Commander Kafer. I accept and acknowledge that.
And when the Vice Chief indicated that he had decided to direct him to go on leave I thought that that was a very sensible decision which enabled two things. It enabled Commander Kafer to go to one side to prepare whatever submissions he might want to make to the inquiry that has now been instituted, but also to enable a period of respite for the Academy. People would remember that there was a very substantial review of the Academy back in 1998 and in 2009-2010. An update or stock take of that was effected by Commander Kafer himself and one of the things that is regarded as very good work that Commander Kafer has done is the quality of that review. That review points to ongoing challenges in sexual conduct, military justice, and use of alcohol. So clearly we need to do more work there.
But I very strongly believe that it’s in his interests, in the Academy’s interests, and in Defence’s interests for the matter to be dealt with now with an independent and impartial process where all of the views articulated about the handling and management fall for objective consideration.
Just one here.
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] follow on from Michelle’s question – well why is it appropriate for, you know, Commander who even though [indistinct] being guilty of no crime [indistinct] decide yet the cadet who may well in the end be guilty [indistinct]-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I’ll go first and let Angus go second.
Firstly as Minister for Defence and as Chief of the Defence Force, neither of us have the luxury, unlike others, of leaping to conclusion about guilt or innocence. Neither of us have that luxury. That’s the first point.
There is and every press conference I have, or interview that I have done in this matter, I’ve made precisely that point, that it’s inappropriate for me to be drawn in a way which comments upon guilt or innocence, which comments upon assertions made about the matter subject to a Australian Federal Police inquiry and I’ve caveated [sic] before all of my remarks and made them general, as you would expect.
So neither of us has the luxury of prejudging guilt or innocence, that’s the first thing. Secondly, one of the issues that the Gyles’ Report on HMAS Success and also any number of Defence investigations have thrown up is the relationship and the exchange between military law and civilian criminal law.
And one of the things I want the Inspector General to look at is not just as the press release makes clear the way in which people who complain are treated, so they’re not victimised and the like, is that interrelationship.
When might it be possible for action to be taken under Defence disciplinary arrangements in advance of a conclusion being made about a police investigation, let alone a potential criminal court matter.
ANGUS HOUSTON: If you check the record from last week when I did that very quick doorstop at the AFP headquarters and then again when I talked to Deborah Snow, I emphasised that this was an abhorrent set of circumstances that we have just observed.
I also suggested that we needed to let the investigations go and we needed to give all involved natural justice and due process. Now that’s exactly what’s happening right across the board. And I feel very, very passionately about this because over my six years as CDF, there have been many occasions when I have observed circumstances where that hasn’t happened and somebody has got it horribly wrong.
We need to proceed on the basis of the facts that have been fully tested in a robust process – that’s exactly what’s in prospect now – and then we only make judgment at that point. It’s very important that we all do that.
JOURNALIST: But you made the judgement. You said that it was abhorrent.
ANGUS HOUSTON: Yeah, I know.
JOURNALIST: And secondly you know that this is a breach of discipline leaving aside the whole legal thing.
ANGUS HOUSTON: Michelle, I made a judgment that the circumstances described to me were abhorrent. That’s the judgment I made and if you check the record that’s what I said.
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible question]
STEPHEN SMITH: Hang on. There’s no. I’ve got Karen here. Then – Karen and then Bonj[sic] and then Ross.
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible question]
STEPHEN SMITH: All right, Bonj, you’re up.
JOURNALIST: Well the central fact, even going on Deborah Snow’s article doesn’t seem to be in doubt here and the boy that approached his superiors is described as courageous; Is there a double standard going on here?
ANGUS HOUSTON: No, no. The young fellow that if you like reported these circumstances is to be applauded. There’s no doubting that at all. But the circumstances as described – the, what I will call the Skype incident, are abhorrent. There’s no other word for it. Now in terms of what happened, how it happened and all the rest of it, I do not have any definition on that. Those things are under investigation. I will not do anything that will undermine due process and I will wait until we get the facts before I assign responsibility or accountability to a particular individual. That’s the way our system works – as you all know.
STEPHEN SMITH: Can I just – I’ll add to that, and then I’ll go to Karen or Ross.
In my own case, the one very strong judgement I have made and articulated was that it was a serious error of judgement to allow other disciplinary matters not related in any way to this incident to be dealt with. Why did I react so strongly on that and not follow the path that I had followed in respect of other matters which I have detailed to you earlier? Because that threw into very stark relief very serious issues of a potential innocent victim of a sexual abuse herself becoming the victim and having her character and her conduct not related to that particular potential incident brought into consideration, to which I strongly object. And that’s why I made that point of principle. It was in my view the right thing, the right judgement to make, the right thing to do, the right thing to say, and if I had my time again, I would do exactly the same thing in as equally strong terms.
JOURNALIST: Well, you may have just answered my question, but I wanted to take you to that point. You’ve justified your intervention on the question of timing of the unrelated proceedings, but last week, as I understand it, you went further and you said that the proceedings, the result of the proceedings should be set aside.
Now, given that there was this timing issue and it had already been undertaken, couldn’t you be accused, either in reality or in terms of perception, of having politics-
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, what-
JOURNALIST: -cut across-
STEPHEN SMITH: What I-
JOURNALIST: -military justice?
STEPHEN SMITH: Sure. Now, I-
JOURNALIST: Didn’t you go too far on that point?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, I don’t believe so. But let me respond to your question. I understand the point. I said last week that faced with these circumstances where a guilty plea had been accepted and a sentence meted out that I’d long been a lapse lawyer, but my own view was that in the circumstances of a young women, barely 18, under enormous pressure, having told the Australian public that she had become physically ill, quite rightly, when the circumstances were outlined to her, under enormous pressure, that my own judgement was that that would effectively be wrong in law and faulty in law for a tribunal or a court to accept a plea in those circumstances.
Now, I may be wrong about that and I said that last week. I might be wrong. There is a formal process which will now be gone through which will see that guilty plea that conviction and that penalty formally reviewed as part of a legal process. The Chief of the Defence force has indicated to me that she will be formally and properly and well-represented in that matter and that matter will be reviewed in that way and it may come to a different view than the view that I have expressed as a long lapse lawyer.
I am very happy for the cards to fall where they do, but I make this strong point; Some people have suggested to me, and I’ve seen this in public, that the young woman concerned agreed for it to go ahead. My own judgement is, firstly, I’m not sure she would have been in a fit state to make a sensible agreement about such a matter going ahead, first point. Second point, the mere fact of that unrelated matter going forward the day after the Skype incident had become public, in my view, created a perception which coloured everything else in the handling of this matter.
JOURNALIST: Is it-
STEPHEN SMITH: Because-
STEPHEN SMITH: Because it essentially created a perception that the potential innocent victim of a serious sexual abuse was herself being victimised and punished and, secondly, that her character and conduct on unrelated matters was being called into question.
JOURNALIST: Is it still your view, on the strong advice that you have received, that there has been no vilification at any time of the Air Force cadet, the female at the centre of this?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the view that I’ve expressed on that is as it – the view that I have on that is as I expressed it on Thursday of last week. There has been and there is advice to me of an instance of vilification, i.e. smearing her door.
JOURNALIST: But beyond that physical evidence, all the words-
STEPHEN SMITH: I-
JOURNALIST: -that have been spoken - the Commander, you say, has received abusive phone calls.
STEPHEN SMITH: No, I didn’t say that.
JOURNALIST: Yet is it-
STEPHEN SMITH: I didn’t say-
JOURNALIST: Is it credible to suggest that the Commander can receive abusive phone calls but that the 18-year-old female has had – received no abuse or vilification? Is that credible?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, firstly, the Chief indicated, as he’s advised me earlier, that the Commander himself has received abusive phone calls. In terms of any vilification or potential vilification of the young woman concerned, I now very squarely want that issue examined by the inquiry which we have established.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask the CDF-
JOURNALIST: -see, it’s a very broad-
STEPHEN SMITH: Sorry, Mark. One behind you, and then – we’ll deal with people who haven’t asked questions first, and then come back.
JOURNALIST: I know you touched on this in your statement, but on a personal level are you concerned that there are a number of senior serving military officers who are allegedly involved in rape and serious assault at ADFA?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, let me respond in the manner in which I did earlier. One of the things the publicity has caused and I’ll just respond to an earlier issue over here; Last week and again today I very strongly support the actions of the young woman in making this public and bringing it to public attention. But one of the things which the making public of this issue has caused has been a large number of emails, phone calls, faxes, letters to my office, to Defence and to and in the media about suggestions either of abuse or of poor handling or management or processing of complaints or allegations of abuse.
The most important thing in that respect now is to make sure that there is an objective, impartial process which deals with, methodically, all of those suggestions. As I indicated earlier, the Secretary of the Department will give that task to an external group of lawyers through each and every one of those allegations, which range from anonymous to very extensively detailed, to give advice to me and my ministerial colleagues to enable the government to make a judgement about whether, if at all, any of those matters should be taken forward and, as I said earlier, I don’t discount further legal or judicial work in that respect.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask the CDF, I think there were five separate inquiries announced today into Defence and obviously it becomes a big issue of reputation for the Defence Forces and an ingrained belief over the last week that there are systemic cultural problems in the Defence Force.
Could you give us your view of that? Are there systemic cultural problems in the Defence Force with treatment of women and discipline? If not, what is the state of play and what do you see as the challenges, what needs to change?
ANGUS HOUSTON: Well, first of all, we have worked very hard on women, increasing the participation of wome