TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH David Speers SKY News PM Agenda
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 6 APRIL 2011
TOPICS: ADFA Skype Incident
DAVID SPEERS: Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, found himself in the uncomfortable position again today of having to spell out the sort of standards that are and are not acceptable in today's modern military.
It follows another sex scandal in Defence; this time it's ADFA, the Australian Defence Force Academy here in Canberra, involving an 18 year old female cadet, who had sex with a male colleague, only to find out some days later that it had been secretly filmed on a web cam and sent via Skype to six other cadets watching in a nearby room.
The Australian Federal Police initially decided not to investigate but they are now and Defence will also hold an investigation. The girl at the centre of this affair was understandably upset and went to the media yesterday.
ADFA CADET: It was like my whole world just came crashing down around me. I actually threw up. I had to be asked to be excused from the interview because I was so - it made me physically ill.
[End pre-recorded segment]
DAVID SPEERS: Questions remain though as to what sort of support and counselling this girl received. The Defence Minister and the Prime Minister expressed their frustration and anger today.
STEPHEN SMITH: The Australian Defence Force personnel, the attitude of its individual members, and its cultural or collective attitude, needs to reflect the modern Australia.
JULIA GILLARD: I've got a lot of respect for Australians who decide to dedicate their lives to the Australian Defence Force and there should be no one who makes that decision and then has their trust abused and their dignity subject to assault.
[End pre-recorded segment]
DAVID SPEERS: Well the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, joins me now. Minister thanks for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Pleasure.
DAVID SPEERS: You've been demanding, I understand, further answers on this matter throughout the course of today. What more can you now tell us about exactly what happened and in particular what sort of support this girl has received?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I was asked at my press conference earlier today a number - about a number of issues, which I undertook to raise with the Chief of the Defence Force to get a report from him and then to respond publicly.
I've had a preliminary report from the Chief of the Defence Force, but I've asked for further information and further advice and further detail, which I'm expecting to get tonight. So I hope also to be in a position to make some further remarks tomorrow.
But there is one very concerning new aspect, which I need to bring to public attention immediately. Today at 11 o'clock the young woman concerned was subject to a hearing under the Defence disciplinary proceedings. This related to events in March, which were suggestions or allegations of being absent without leave and drinking. And a scheduled hearing, which was set some time ago, was held this morning.
I very strongly believe that the holding of such a hearing today in the aftermath of these events is not only inappropriate, insensitive and wrong, it's almost certainly faulty in law.
The young woman was asked whether she proposed to plead guilty or plead her innocence. She pleaded guilty. She said she was happy to go forward with the proceedings today. I have asked the Chief of the Defence Force to urgently examine the capacity of the Defence Force to quash this matter. On her own admission she is in a deeply distressed state. It is either in the realm of inappropriate, insensitive or completely stupid to hold such a hearing on a day like today.
DAVID SPEERS: All right, well if it is completely stupid, as you say, and I think few would disagree, who made this stupid decision?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well as I say, I'm in a position to make some matters available to the public today but this is one of the aspects where I've asked for further advice from the Chief of the Defence Force. It was news to him, as it was news to me, when this came to light. I was advised by him at about three o'clock this afternoon. So given the nature of the charges, which in the normal course of events, would be regarded as quite minor, it's almost certainly the case that this matter was dealt with at a lower level or a low command level.
But having said that, anyone who was looking at the seriousness of events as they have unfolded, the very clear distressed state of the young woman concerned, would not have held these matters today, irrespective of whether the woman concerned said that she was happy to go on with it.
DAVID SPEERS: Surely the head of ADFA, the commandant in charge, would have known that this disciplinary hearing was going ahead today and should have stopped it.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I'm not in a position to confirm that but I very much want to be in a position to confirm that one way or the other in-
DAVID SPEERS: But you're the minister. Why can't you clear this up this afternoon? Who has not answered that question for you?
STEPHEN SMITH: As I said at my press conference, there are a couple of very important issues to bear in mind here. Firstly, we are dealing with matters that are the subject of an Australian Federal Police inquiry. They may well lead to charges and there is, as well, a Defence investigation which may well, if not certainly, lead to disciplinary proceedings.
DAVID SPEERS: But that's separate to the decision on this hearing today.
STEPHEN SMITH: It is separate to the hearing today which was set in train as a result of events in March, completely unrelated to this. My point is it should not have gone on today.
Now, I said at my press conference I very much take these matters step by step and proceed in the full knowledge of the facts. I've asked precisely the same question. I'm expecting to get an answer in the very near future. And when I've got-
DAVID SPEERS: But you've said though-
STEPHEN SMITH: And when I've got that answer, I will of course make that public, just as I have today made public something which was not in the public arena earlier today but something which I think is very important for me to draw to attention and to say my own very strong view is that that guilty plea on a disciplinary charge today should be quashed.
DAVID SPEERS: Will it be?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I've told the Chief of the Defence Force I want his urgent advice as to the capacity for that to occur.
DAVID SPEERS: But he couldn't give you an answer on that?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, the preliminary advice is that the decision, or the guilty plea, will be reviewed by a legal officer and subsequently by a commanding officer.
DAVID SPEERS: Does that seem crazy to you?
STEPHEN SMITH: No it doesn't because the basis for that review will be an error of law. My own pers… I've long been a lapsed lawyer, and people who have the responsibility for doing these things under the Defence Discipline Act will make their own judgments. But my own view is that if a person who is in a distressed state as a result of the events that have transpired enters a guilty plea, that almost certainly a higher court would say we don't believe that person was in a fit state to enter a plea, this matter should be quashed and dealt with again.
DAVID SPEERS: Can I ask you this, Minister: at this point in the afternoon, on what you know, do you have full confidence in the head of ADFA?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I am waiting to receive responses to the questions that I have asked of the Chief of the Defence Force. He is working very closely with the commander, or the head of the Australian Defence Force Academy. And I want to follow that process, and I'm not proposing to be drawn on the way in which the matter has been handled in advance of the advice responding to all of those issues, from the Chief of the Defence Force.
DAVID SPEERS: You're not willing to express confidence until you get those answers?
STEPHEN SMITH: I want to take this step by step. This is a deeply disturbing matter. It not only goes to individual conduct which may be the subject of charges, it goes to Defence's reputation and standing. It also goes more generally to a point I've made before - not linked to the circumstances of this case but more generally - that when members of the Defence Force do things in public, and in the modern day we need to proceed on the basis that if you do something online on Skype or Facebook, inevitably there is a risk or a danger it becomes public. If you do something inappropriate in public, you will suffer the consequences.
DAVID SPEERS: Let's go back to the initial incident. When it happened, the young woman at the centre of this wasn't aware that it had been webcast and sent over Skype for other cadets to watch until another cadet raised the matter. An investigation was launched and an investigating officer came to get her statement.
From that point, did she receive support and counselling, and what is she receiving today?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the advice I've got - again, it's the preliminary advice from the Chief of the Defence Force, but it is essentially that she has been offered and received counselling, offered and received psychological support, offered and received chaplaincy report[sic]. She's also received what is referred to as peer group support where people of her age, her intake at the academy are offering her support. So, on the basis of that advice…
DAVID SPEERS: But was that offered initially, or has this only just happened?
STEPHEN SMITH: My advice is that has been occurring since this matter came to light.
DAVID SPEEERS: So can you understand her decision to go the media?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well in the end that's a matter for her. I made the point earlier today, I am very confident that her decision to draw this to public attention was the right thing to do.
DAVID SPEERS: Because she could face disciplinary action over that in the future.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well she, as a cadet, she, like every other cadet at the academy, agrees when they enter the academy to be subject to certain rules and regulations. One of those-
DAVID SPEERS: But you don't want to see her face disciplinary action for going to the media.
STEPHEN SMITH: -one of - well, one of the restrictions, agreed restrictions are what's called fraternisation and there's clearly a potential that that's been breached.
The second is access to the media with the - only with the approval of a senior officer. Now on its face, those two things may well have been broken. But I certainly am not critical of the young woman for bringing this matter to public attention. Without-
DAVID SPEERS: [Indistinct] of any disciplinary action against her for that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well as I said earlier today, I regard those things as very low order matters. I think the woman herself, the young woman herself has made public statements that she understands she may well have done things which are in breach of the obligations, or the undertaking that she gave. But I-
DAVID SPEERS: But in the circumstances?
STEPHEN SMITH: In the circumstances, I don't regard those as important. What I do regard-
DAVID SPEERS: So will you also be saying to the CDF don't discipline her for that?
STEPHEN SMITH: No. I will-
DAVID SPEERS: Or you don't think she should be disciplined.
STEPHEN SMITH: -I will let that procedure takes its own course. I'm not - I'm neither an investigating officer, nor a disciplinary officer, when the matter today of the hearing of a disciplinary charge, the Defence Discipline Act[sic] - for earlier events, completely unrelated - this was drawn to my attention, my instinct was very quick and very clear - it shouldn't have occurred. It was insensitive. My own personal view, for what it's worth, and it may be worth nothing, is that faulty in law, a person should not have been put in that position and it's no defence, or excuse to say she agreed to it. You have to make a judgment about whether a young person, in these circumstances, is in a position to make sensible judgments on her own part.
DAVID SPEERS: This is the third time, as minister, you've had to deal with an issue of bad behaviour, appalling behaviour, within Defence. It does, once again, raise the question about the culture within Defence and attitudes towards women. How concerned are you about that culture and what does it do to efforts to try and recruit more women?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well obviously its terrible publicity for Defence. It does terrible reputational damage. But nonetheless I'm very supportive and have a lot of confidence in the work that the Chief of the Defence Force and the Service Chiefs themselves are doing to change culture, to make sure that women have every opportunity for roles in the Defence Force, including leadership roles.
But importantly, that Defence Force personnel understand that in the modern day you have to treat your work mates, your colleagues, your professional colleagues with respect and civility and dignity. And the circumstances generally outlined, as I put it today, I can't think of a worse betrayal of trust in the workplace. And once you-
DAVID SPEERS: Does that particularly concern you that this is as [indistinct] for the Defence Force Academy which is supposed to be training future defence leaders?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well on the one hand you've got people who have been in the academy for a number of weeks. This message applies to people who have been in the Defence Force, or the academy for a day, as it does to people who have been there for a decade. It is not appropriate to treat your work mates badly. It is not appropriate to treat women with disrespect; to deal with women in a sexist way. And to deal with women in a way where complete trust is broken down in the workplace. And if you break down that trust, then you have to ask the question, a person who has torn up that trust, the person who has betrayed that trust, is that person a person fit to continue in the service of the nation in the Defence Force.
DAVID SPEERS: Defence Minister Stephen Smith, we appreciate your time and look forward to further updates as you get more information on this.
Thanks for joining us.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thank you very much.