Stephen Smith MP
Minister for Defence
TOPICS: HMAS Success Commission of Inquiry, Bombings in Moscow
PETER CAVE: The Chief of the Defence Force has received the first report from a commission of inquiry he ordered almost a year ago into an alleged navy sex scandal in 2009, involving crew from HMAS Success.
Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston has released a short statement saying it's clear to him, on his very quick review, that the report raises very serious issues about individual accountability and broader cultural and institutional issues. He says it will take time to analyse the detailed findings of the 400 page report.
The report is also in the hands of the Defence Minister Stephen Smith. He's joined us and he's speaking to Alexandra Kirk.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Mr Smith, good morning.
STEPHEN SMITH: Good morning Alex.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Before we discuss the report's findings, if we can first go to the breaking news of the Moscow bombing. How concerned are you that terrorists are hitting major airports?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we know that terrorism, or extreme acts of violence are regrettably a terrible factor of modern life and that's why the Australian Government and the international community do everything they can to minimise the chance that these terrible events occur. But in the first instance, on this matter we are primarily concerned about any adverse consequence for Australians and our officials in Moscow are very urgently trying to make sure that no Australians have been involved in this terrible atrocity.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Have you been able to find out if any Australians have been caught up?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well at this stage, no. Obviously, we condemn absolutely this terrible act. It's an act of extremism and of violence. We have, of course, great sympathy and offer our condolences to the families of the victims and for the Russian people. But our officials are not just in contact with officials in Russia, but are also making contact with the local hospitals doing their best to satisfy ourselves that no Australians have bean caught up. It's very early days. Anyone who had a friend or a relative who was in Russia at the time, they can make direct contact and if they can't make direct contact with the people concerned they should let our consular officials know.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: You've just received a 400 page report into alleged sexual misconduct on HMAS Success in 2009. The incidents have been described as centring around a predatory culture of coercing junior female sailors into having sex, with allegations that sailors kept a sex ledger and allegations of a long running culture of bullying aboard the ship. The Defence Chief, Angus Houston, says it's up to you whether the report is made public. Will you release it?
STEPHEN SMITH: I propose to release it, but I have to be careful and sensible about that. There are a number of issues. Firstly, there are issues of individual personal conduct and accountability. Individuals concerned have rights of process, so I need to be very careful not to, in anything I authorise to be published, trample on anyone's rights of due process.
But there are broader issues of culture and also institutional issues. They go to discipline in the Navy. They go to so-called tribal culture on the Success itself and potentially more generally. But also some institutional questions about the way in which Defence conducts these commissions of inquiry, investigates matters, and they'll be the subject of a second report from Commissioner Gyles.
But I want to be as transparent as humanly possible and that's why I'm proposing to make what I've received from the Chief of the Defence Force, via Commissioner Gyles, public as soon as I can, in as comprehensive a manner as I can.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: When will that be then?
STEPHEN SMITH: My predecessor, John Faulkner, as Minister, gave an undertaking to the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence that that committee would be kept fully informed. The Parliament comes back in a week or so and I'd like very much to be in a position to make the material public to assist the deliberations of that Senate Committee. So I'm thinking in terms of a matter of weeks. But the most important thing is not to do anything which would prejudice the rights of individuals concerned.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: What's the main finding?
STEPHEN SMITH: I'm not proposing to go into that. That will become clear when I release this first part of it. But to be blunt about it, it doesn't make good reading either about the individual - the suggestions of individual conduct, nor the suggestions of discipline, nor the suggestions of a particular type of culture.
To its credit, the Navy, the Chief of Navy, the Chief of the Defence Force and the entire command structure have zero tolerance for such unacceptable behaviour. The Chief of Navy instituted a New Generation Navy program in 2009 and we're very pleased with the progress that's making. So we very much have a no tolerance approach for the sorts of behaviour that we've seen referred to, but we do need to be very careful and deliberative about the way in which we make Commissioner Gyles' report public. But it is important we are transparent and I'm proposing to do that as soon as I can.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Time and time again successive Defence Chiefs and ministers have said that they'd be stamping out unacceptable behaviour. It's still going on. Last night the Seven network aired allegations of bastardisation. Can you ever stamp it out?
STEPHEN SMITH: We certainly have a zero tolerance attitude, but in the end you're dealing with human-beings and like all of us we have faults. What we do want to do is our best to minimise those and do our best to make sure it doesn't become part of an institutional part of culture. And we want our Defence force, whichever stream it is, Navy, Air Force or Army, to treat each other with civility and dignity. But, yes, we do have bad examples from time to time. The one you referred to aired last night will be exhaustively investigated.
But we want people in the services to treat their colleagues with respect, with civility and dignity and that's the way in which the Australian Defence Force and its personnel have built up over a long period of time, a first class international reputation for the way in which it conducts itself and we want that standard to continue.
But it's not all bad news. We have, for example, very good news about the way in which our Navy personnel have conducted themselves in the recent rescue off Christmas Island. So yes, we get bad examples from time to time, but we also get regular examples of very good work and great heroism, whether it's Christmas Island rescue, or the Queensland or Victoria floods.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Minister, we'll have to leave it there. Thank you very much for joining AM.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Alex. Thanks very much.
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