TRANSCRIPT: PRESS CONFERENCE – DEFENCE REVIEWS
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 7 MARCH 2012
TOPICS: Defence reviews.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much for turning up. I’m here with the Chief of the Defence Force, David Hurley; the Secretary of the Department of Defence, Duncan Lewis.
In April last year, following the so-called ADFA Skype issue, we effected a range of reviews and a number of initiatives. They included a range of cultural reviews, treatment of women at ADFA, and in the ADF generally, the use of alcohol, personal conduct, the use of social media, employment pathways for women in the Australian Public Service in Defence, and management of complaints.
We also announced at the time the Government had decided in-principle to approve women in all combat roles, and in September of last year Cabinet formally took that decision. And that is now the subject of an implementation plan by Defence and the Government.
At the same time, the then Chief of the Defence Force and I announced an inquiry by Mr Kirkham, QC, into the so-called ADFA Skype issue and at the same time the then Secretary of the Department and I asked the law firm, DLA Piper, to examine at arms length from Defence all of the allegations that were received in the aftermath of the publicity so far as the ADFA Skype issue was concerned.
Today, the Chief of the Defence Force, the Secretary and I released the following materials which have been provided to you.
Firstly, the range of cultural reviews that I have referred to and secondly the overarching review prepared by the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary, Pathway to Change: Evolving Defence Culture. And I’ll make some remarks about that overarching response by the leadership of the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Defence Organisation.
It is a frank and sober assessment of the past. But it’s also a very constructive and positive way forward. The document, Pathway to Change: Evolving Defence Culture, makes the point that Defence culture has to change. I would not normally do this but I think this is such an important document worthy of note that I’ll quote from a number of extracts from the document.
Page one of the Pathways To Changing Defence Culture includes the following quote, effectively from the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary.
Recent events remind us that we need to ensure our people demonstrate exemplary behaviour commensurate with the nations’ expectations in and out of uniform, on and off duty. It is all too apparent that we are not uniformly good. We do not consistently meet these high standards and more worryingly our culture has tolerated short falls in performance.
We cannot be entirely satisfied with all aspects of our current culture. There are parts that serve us poorly which limit our performance, hurt our people and damage our reputation.
On page three: some people within our ranks do not live by the strong values readily accepted by the majority of our people. Our people are rightly held to higher standards and greater scrutiny than the majority of Australian society. They reflect the most noble aspects of the Australian character. But at times we have fallen far short of these standards.
At page ten: We know what constitutes good leadership, character and visions. There are occasions when we lose our moral centre and forget the tenents that we signed up when we joined Defence.
At page sixteen: understanding of equity and diversity in our organisation requires special attention. Importantly, social norms have evolved dramatically. The review findings reveal worrying attitudes that we must reshape.
And finally at page twenty-three: we will also take actions and shift attitudes and willingness to speak up when we become aware of inappropriate behaviour by a colleague in Defence.
This document will now become the essential tenent for performance, for conduct, for attitudes, and for cultural awareness in the Defence organisation. And when you read the document, you will see that the essential strategy is driving down from leadership, from the top; zero tolerance for people who don’t meet the high standards required, but also starting at the bottom, at the entry level, from day one.
Secondly, at that time as I’ve referred too, the then Chief of the Defence Force effected the so-called Kirkham review. And today, the Chief of the Defence Force and I announce the outcomes of that review.
Consideration of the report, which I received in the first instance in the middle of December last year together with advice from the chief of the Air Force and the vice-chief of the Defence Force, required very careful consideration over a period of time. Weighing the respective rights and interests of a number of people and also carefully contemplating legal rights and legal obligations.
It has been decided by the Chief of the Defence Force, the Secretary and I that the Kirkham inquiry will not be made public even in a redacted form.
The starting point that the Chief, and the Secretary and I had was that we wanted the Kirkham inquiry to be made public. Indeed, when I received advice from Defence that there were difficulties with publication, the Chief, and the Secretary and I spent a large amount of time trying to work our way through to a position where a redacted version or a summary of the report could be released.
In the end we came to the conclusion that that was not possible for a couple of important reasons. Firstly, as you would be aware, there are criminal proceedings on foot in the ACT courts and secondly, the inquiry report itself deals extensively with personal conduct by a number of people. And the conclusion we came too was that it would potentially prejudice the wellbeing of individuals concerned if it were released.
Accordingly, we’ve released today a statement which deals with the findings of the Kirkham inquiry and I’ll deal with those now.
In terms of non-publication, I just make the point in passing that in the course of our deliberations of this matter since April of last year, the Defence Force Ombudsman advised me and the Chief of the Defence Force that we would need to be very careful bearing in mind the welfare of individuals if we were to release the Kirkham inquiry.
In relation to specific allegations made in the media, the inquiry found that the Commandant did not order or advise the female Officer Cadet to apologise to cadets in her division for having gone to the media. The female Officer Cadet was offered counselling in her meeting with the Commandant. No Sergeant has spoken defensively to the female officer cadet on leaving the Commandant’s office. The female Officer Cadet was not abused by cadets in morning assembly on 6 April. No speech of apology was cancelled because of the volatile mood of cadets and fears it would fuel anger directed at the female Officer Cadet by fellow cadets. And the female Officer’s Cadet room was not plastered with shaving foam.
Those of you who followed this issue at the time will recall that when those allegations were put to me in public, generally at press conferences, I either said I had advice which was to the contrary or strong advice to the contrary and that those matters would be investigated. They have by the Kirkham inquiry and those founding’s have been made.
So far as Commandant Kafer is concerned, as you would recall in April of last year, 9 April, he was placed on leave from ADFA by the then Vice-Chief of the Defence Force and served in a different Defence institution in Canberra.
I made the point publicly that I thought that the Commandant had made an error of judgement in allowing unrelated disciplinary matters to be dealt with at the same time as the so-called Skype issue became public. From a very important point of principle in my view, namely, that one should never inadvertently or advertently allow the character of a potential victim of an alleged sexual assault to be brought into play. And that’s why I strongly said at the time, and I resile from it in not one iota, that that was an error of judgement.
At the time, the then Chief of the Defence Force made the same comment that he thought it was an error of judgement and I subsequently received advice from the then Vice-Chief of the Defence Force and now Chief of the Defence Force that he also believed it was an error of judgement.
In the event, the Kirkham inquiry has found that the way in which Commandant Kafer and ADFA staff dealt with that matter, was a reasonable approach. The finding of Kirkham also says that a different decision maker might have made a different decision and also says that it was unfortunate that Commandant Kafer did not discuss with the Officer Cadet, with Kate, or her Defending Officer the question of proceeding with the disciplinary matter.
In the event, after very serious consideration by the Chief of the Defence Force and I and the Secretary, the Chief of the Defence Force has come to the conclusion that there is no legal basis in the Kirkham inquiry for not returning Commandant Kafer to ADFA and that will occur this week.
There are no legal grounds for continuing to leave him in a position unassociated with ADFA. Indeed, the Chief of the Defence Force has legal advice that if he is not returned to ADFA the Chief runs the risk of being subject to legal proceedings to reinstate him.
Finally, at the time you will recall that as a result of the publicity and the controversy surrounding these matters, a range of allegations of sexual or other abuse were received by the media, by me and by Defence.
The law firm DLA Piper was asked to examine those allegations at arms length from Defence, and the allegations of sexual or other forms of abuse came from over 1000 people. In October last year I received from DLA Piper volume one of their report and today I’m releasing extracts from that in a redacted version following on from advice of the legal team at DLA Piper and the Secretary of the Department of Defence.
As of October last year, when the first part of the review was presented, the review had identified allegations from 847 people which fell within the review’s terms of reference. These involved allegations across every decade from 1950; the earliest date of alleged abuse is 1951.
Following further work and assessment, the review team advises me this week that there are allegations from 775 people which fall within the terms of reference, and I’m advised by the review team the overwhelming majority of those 775 allegations are plausible allegations of abuse.
As a consequence that part of the review which I have released deals with the various options that the Government now has in terms of dealing with those allegations when they are formally presented to me, and that will occur in the course of this month.
The reviews findings and the individual allegations need to be dealt with care and considered methodically. Indeed, because the allegations have been considered at arms length from Defence, Defence is entitled to test those allegations.
This will be a matter which falls not just for Defence and for the Minister for Defence. There are cross-government implications here. The Attorney-General has already been provided with a copy of the first volume of the report to commence the job of detailed consideration as to how the Government will respond. And in the materials before you see that they range from advising people to rely upon existing processes to the calling of a further judicial inquiry, or a Royal Commission, or some form of compensation scheme, or apology scheme, or reconciliation processes.
Finally before handing to the Chief and subsequently to the Secretary of the Department, there are two great challenges now arising as a result of this body of work.
Firstly, there are a couple of matters of unfinished work. The Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Liz Broderick, is due to handle her report in to women in the Australian Defence Force generally, not restricted to at ADFA, to the Government in the course of this year.
And secondly, we await DLA Piper’s final report dealing with those 775 allegations and as I say the current advice I have is that the overwhelming majority of those are described as plausible allegations.
The challenge from here in my view is effecting the cultural change identified in the work done by the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary.
And secondly, how Defence and the Government generally responds in a considered, timely and orderly way to the DLA Piper allegations due to be presented in the course of this month.
I’ll ask the Chief to make some remarks and the Secretary will make some remarks and then we’re happy to respond to any questions.
DAVID HURLEY: Minister, thank you. A national survey during the last federal election found that Australians rate the Australian Defence Force the most trusted organisation in the country. We're proud of this and we're proud of our international reputation for excellence.
But no organisation can maintain such a place of respect if it fails to maintain its standards and behaviours as high as humanly possible.
Defence, and in particular the ADF, has had a mirror in the former six reviews held up to it over the past 11 months. As any of us normally do when we look into a mirror, we see strengths, and we see flaws.
There is no doubt that a review has drawn attention to Defence's many strong points, strengths we must maintain. The reviews have pointed out however that there are serious issues that we must address.
The Pathway to Change: Evolving Defence Culture we are releasing today, describes the challenge that Defence faces, and how we intend to meet that challenge. The Secretary and I accept that we are accountable for the overall success of this cultural reform program, but we are both realists, and realise this plan is not a quick fix.
The type of deep and far reaching reform we are seeking will take time and a sustained effort from all Defence staff over many years. But make no mistake, we are committed to tackling our cultural challenges at their source.
We have already started work to implement some of the recommendations arriving from the review into the treatment of women at the Australian Defence Force Academy that was released in October. This week for example, in the beginning of the new year at ADFA we have begun a new residential support officer program at ADFA.
Under the scheme, junior officers in their final year will provide the live-in supervision of peer support for cadets. As Defence members we understand that we are quite rightly held to higher standards and greater scrutiny than the majority of the Australian society.
And while we strive for a clean record, if things do go wrong we must be able to demonstrate that we have the moral courage to act and the ability to respond in an appropriate and timely manner. The Australian Defence Force and the Defence organisation of the future will embody our cultural intent where we'll be trusted to defend, proven to deliver, and respectful always.
I'll let the Secretary speak to the DLA Piper review, but in regard to the Kirkham inquiry, I'd like to thank Mr Kirkham for his very thorough inquiry. I'm pleased that the Minister and I are able to make this announcement today in relation to the outcomes of that inquiry.
We will now move within the Department to respond to the Kirkham's findings. Thank you.
DUNCAN LEWIS: Minister, thanks very much, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. From my point of view, today's an important opportunity for change and for reform within the Defence organisation.
The Pathway to Change, this document here that we've handed out this afternoon, this is the centrepiece of how we are going to go forward from here. It covers the response to the cultural reviews and the way in which we are going to in a coordinated way approach these issues, and I'll speak to a couple of specifics in a moment.
The CDF- as he has already said- he and I are both completely committed to this process. And we're going to work together to reform the Defence organisation and shape its culture into the future. That is a major undertaking as you would appreciate. We want to transform Defence into a more adaptive, innovative, and agile organisation.
Every member of the Defence organisation needs to understand the content of these reviews that you have been handed today, and to take serious stock of how we relate to one another in the workplace, and how we relate to the community at large. We have to retain what is good and we have to actively redress what is not.
We'll start the journey today, but it will require continued effort everyday as we move forward with this process. It is a journey and it's going to take some time as I think the CDF has mentioned. I want to emphasise the fact that the Defence organisation, both the military and the public service component, is comprised of highly talented people who are doing difficult jobs in very challenging circumstances. They do it well and I'm very proud of the organisation that we lead. I'm very proud of the people that are in the organisation.
Nonetheless the reviews released today show that we have some problems that need fixing. These problems are real. They can't be dismissed as unremarkable or aberrant behaviour. And I want to cite a couple of examples just to give you a bit of a flavour of the kind of thing that we will be engaging in at the early stages of this journey.
First of all, the preparation of an evidence-based alcohol management strategy, an important piece of work that is beginning shortly.
Secondly, all policies relating to the use of social media, the internet, or cyber-activities are to be reviewed, including the review and the changing of the guidelines around those media.
I will shortly issue an explicit statement to senior leaders and staff to reinforce the importance of gender diversity, and to build a sustainable workforce. And finally, a new rotation program for senior women at the senior executive service band two and three within the APS component of the Defence Department will be commenced.
I should add that in connection with this particular matter that Ms Carmel McGregor who is currently the Deputy Public Service Commissioner has agreed to come over to join the senior leadership group of Defence, and Carmel will start work next week as the Deputy Secretary for personnel policy and plans within the Department. Carmel was the author of course of one of those reviews that you have there, the pathway for women in the APS within the Defence organisation.
Carmel will of course be able to implement some of the measures, all of the measures that she has put into the report. So I'm looking forward to her joining the team.
Just a couple of remarks on DLA Piper. This is a very important review and it represents a very substantial opening of issues that are alleged to have taken place in Defence, as the Minister said, since the 1950s.
As you would expect, over a 60 year period, there have been a large number of allegations made. The initial part of the report is in my view unpleasant and sobering reading. And I want to today make it clear that the DLA Piper report is a compilation of plausible allegations, including some extremely serious allegations of criminal acts, but they are allegations and all of these allegations need to be tested and examined and we are going to do that in the next phase.
You can imagine that faced with the number of complaints, investigation, particularly of the more serious matters, will take some time.
The DLA Piper report also raises questions about how Defence complaints are managed and addressed, and we are going to look at that too, particularly when we receive volume two of the report, which we expect to see, as the Minister says, later this month.
Not all of the matters will be able to be addressed within the Defence organisation. I fully expect that a legal and investigative process will be required, at least in part, outside and beyond the Defence Department. And we will begin to address these matters on receipt of volume two.
There seems to be an expectation that the resolution of the DLA Piper review allegations will be a rapid process. That is not the case. It won't. I anticipate that in particular the more serious cases will take a considerable amount of time to resolve and in particular, of course, with 775 complainants, then I do expect that just the sheer volume of that workload will take some time.
Thank you very much.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, thank you very much, Chief, and Duncan.
Now, we're very happy to respond to your questions. We can do this in an orderly way, so we don't need to shout or talk across each other. Michelle?
JOURNALIST: Could ask the Chief firstly for clarification. I think the Minister said that you made the decision about reinstating the Commandant and yet the written material spoke about the Vice Chief - Deputy Chief, whatever, making that decision. Could you clarify that?
And, secondly, on the question of you getting legal advice that you could be subject to legal action if you didn't restore him, why did you get that advice? Did you ever think of not restoring him, given this report?
DAVID HURLEY: Thanks Michelle.
In relation to the findings of the inquiry in terms of no case to be found against Commandant Kafer, it's my overall responsibility in the Defence Force for management of personnel, but he comes under the Vice Chief's chain of command, so it was essentially a direction of the Vice Chief to use the report [indistinct] and act it. So there's a bit of loose terminology. We apologise.
In terms of the second aspect, when we worked our way through the report, looked at the number of issues that were raised there by Mr Kirkham, we just needed to be clear. I think that as we came, because it was a difficult journey, the birth of this thing, to make sure we had crossed all the t's and dotted the i's in relation to the findings. It is subject to review. And that was the process we went through.
JOURNALIST: Minister, does Commandant Kafer enjoy now your full confidence? And CDF, how does the chain of command tolerate, as a matter of process, ministers, even to this day, who pass judgement on what are judgement calls by military officers?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I'll go first and respond to both of those.
Firstly, the more important question and the more important analysis is that Commandant Kafer has the confidence of the Chief of the Defence Force and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force. That is the first point.
And as Minister for Defence, I have absolute confidence in the Chief of the Defence Force, the Vice Chief of the Defence Force and the Service Chiefs to make the appropriate judgements, so far as chain and line of command personnel matters are concerned.
The advice I have, which would be of no surprise to you because it is sensible advice, is that in the end, these are not matters for me, they are matters for the Chief and the Service Chiefs. So in the end, the decision is one for the Service Chiefs to make.
I made a very strong point that I believed that Commander Kafer had made an error of judgement by allowing the character of the potential innocent victim of an alleged sexual assault to come into play.
Now, I might be old fashioned, but I won't countenance that. We then established the Kirkham inquiry and the Kirkham inquiry has essentially said that there is no legal basis for not returning him to his position.
As a consequence of this controversy, we have seen Cadet Kate leave ADFA in April of last year and not return. She is in a Defence establishment in Queensland. We have got two Cadets, one of whom has left the Defence Force, subject to criminal charges and we have four Cadets who are currently at ADFA whose ultimate fate, in terms of Defence discipline, will depend upon the outcome of those criminal inquiries.
So we have had a very serious incident at ADFA and we have had to deal with it. And what dealing with that issue has thrown up are the more general issues that we have presented to you today.
When the Chief and the Secretary and I discussed the outcomes of Kirkham, we had a number of lengthy and considered discussions. I have seen reference in the press to a difficult conversation. There's a difference between a difficult conversation and a conversation about a difficult matter.
And in the end, we came to the conclusion that whilst there might be some risks in returning Commandant Kafer to ADFA, some risks to him personally because the controversy may follow him, some risks to ADFA because the controversy may follow ADFA and some risks to the Defence Force generally because of those factors, in the end, there was no basis on the part of the chain of command from not returning him to his position, and that is what has occurred.
Now, we have worked our way through this very carefully. In the end, the decision was effectively one for the Chief and the Vice Chief, as he has explained. And it is one which we have worked through very carefully after consideration of all the legal and other issues associated with the report.
DAVID HURLEY: I think it would be fair to say, look, my authority under the Act is quite clear, in terms of positioning of individual persons and managing people within the ADF, but to think I can do that in isolation and not in consultation or discussion with the Minister, when such a delicate issue and as you said a controversial issue like this has arisen, we'd be in the wrong space.
So there were ramifications that we had to consider that may have affected the ADF out of this, and that's the discussion we had.
STEPHEN SMITH: Sorry, just one here and then Hugh at the back and then Brendan.
JOURNALIST: Mr Smith, you keep referring to making - that you've made a strong point that Kafer made an error of judgement. I put it to you that you went slightly further than that when you said: I very strongly believe the holding of such a hearing today in the aftermath of these events is not only inappropriate, insensitive and wrong, it is almost certainly faulty in law and then it is either in the realm of inappropriate, insensitive or completely stupid to hold such a hearing on a day like today.
And do you stand by those remarks?
STEPHEN SMITH: I do not resile from any of those remarks. In the event of the two disciplinary procedures that Officer Cadet Kate was subject to, one was subsequently quashed and the other was affirmed or endorsed. That is the first point.
Secondly, I make no apology for making in public the very strong point that I thought it was an error of judgement to allow the character of the potential innocent victim of an alleged serious sexual abuse to be brought into play. And if the same circumstances arose tomorrow or if comparable circumstances arose tomorrow, my position on that matter would be exactly the same.
JOURNALIST: Sorry, just quickly, that those comments, particularly the reference to stupid, could have actually been potentially the subject of legal action themselves?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, that's entirely a matter for other people. I stand by everything I did and said at the time.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you, are you satisfied now that on matters of both judgment and fact Kirkham has got it right? If I may also ask did Kate personally give evidence to the Kirkham inquiry?
And if you'll indulge me a third question, if you like, do you now accept that Commandant Kafer has been utterly exonerated by the Kirkham inquiry?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, in reverse order. The findings indicate that all of the allegations made against Commandant Kafer in the media in the aftermath of the so-called Skype incident were found to be baseless and not true and I have detailed those and they are detailed in the materials.
And you will recall at the time because some of them and this is not said critically, some of them were raised by your own media organisation. I said at the time in respect of the ones that I have listed, that I either had advice or strong advice to the contrary, but it would be subject to investigation, which it was.
Secondly, my understanding is that despite the opportunity to give evidence, Kate did not give evidence. That's a matter for her and her legal adviser.
And in terms of your first question I continue, as I have indicated, to regard the placing of the character of a potential innocent victim of an alleged serious sexual abuse into play as being wrong and an error of judgement. And that occurred when unrelated disciplinary matters were dealt with at the same time as the so-called Skype affair became public. Now, I stand by that.
Now, the Kirkham inquiry, and it's detailed in the materials that we provided to you, says that Commandant Kafer, his Deputy and the staff at ADFA did not make an error of judgement when they dealt with these matters but that a different decision-maker could have made an entirely different decision. In other words, it was open to the decision-maker to not proceed with those disciplinary matters.
Mr Kirkham has also, as is detailed in the papers, made the point that it was unfortunate that neither Commandant Kafer nor ADFA staff raised with Officer Cadet Kate and her defending officer the question of proceeding with those matters.
Now, that's there for you to see. I stand by what I did and said at the time. But the Chief and I have both indicated to you that on the basis of that report there's no legal basis for Commandant Kafer to not return to ADFA and indeed, on the contrary, if he didn't return to ADFA there would be a risk of legal action to require him to be so reinstated.
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] from the point of the initial investigation there was confusion when it went to ADFA, when it went to the Australian Federal Police as to whether there was the wrong information came back, that there was no criminal potentiality in what was being alleged.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it's on the public record, both from Defence and from the Australian Federal Police that the initial advice from the Australian Federal Police was that there didn't seem to be circumstances which would warrant investigation. That advice was revised and changed. Now, that matter is not the subject of a finding by Mr Kirkham.
JOURNALIST: Just to clarify this entirely, is Commodore Kafer owed an apology by anyone involved in this process?
And the second thing is, I think, Duncan Lewis referred to the DLA Piper allegations being sobering - unpleasant and sobering reading. Is it possible criminal charges might flow out of the investigations [indistinct]?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, as I indicated earlier and in the materials provided to you, Commandant Kafer will be returned to his post by week's end, and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force will deal with those details. That's the first point.
Secondly, so far as DLA Piper is concerned, as both the Secretary and I have said, the advice that I have from DLA Piper is that of the allegations raised in the context of the aftermath of the Skype issue - originally some 1000 allegations, we've now got, I am advised, some 775 plausible allegations covering the period from 1950s to as late as 2011.
We'll be in receipt of those and they need to be carefully considered and tested. But because of the potential large volume of those, we need to look at the way in which we will deal with those. And that's the material that I have distributed to you today in terms of every option from existing processes to Royal Commission.
But, as the Secretary has said, it is clear that some of the so-called plausible allegations deal with the possibility of serious criminal offences, and that's why they need to be tested.
JOURNALIST: Firstly to the Minister and then a question to both the Chief and the Minister.
How can it be an accurate reflection if the Kirkham inquiry never actually interviewed Kate? How can you actually say for some of the allegations, for example no speech of apology was cancelled, the female Officer Cadet was not abused by cadets. How do you know if you haven't actually interviewed the person who made the allegations because all you're relying on therefore is hearsay and other people talking about it, when you actually haven't interviewed the person who made the allegations? Firstly, is that a flawed basis for an argument?
And the second question for both of you is w