Stephen Smith MP
Minister for Defence
TOPICS: HMAS Success Commission of Inquiry, Bombings in Moscow
KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me from Melbourne I have the Defence Minister Stephen Smith for his reaction. Minister thanks for your time this morning. I know we've got another issue to talk about, the report into the alleged misconduct on HMAS Success, but first of all your reaction to the bombing in Moscow overnight.
STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly our thoughts and our condolences are with the Russian people and the friends and the families of those who have been killed, some 35 killed and between 50 and 100 injured.
But our priority at the moment other than condemning a terrible atrocity and having great sympathy and sorrow for the Russian people, is to make sure that no Australians have been caught up in this terrible event.
Our officials in Russia, in Moscow are working very hard with Russian authorities to try and make sure that no Australian has been caught up in these terrible events and that includes a search of local hospitals but we'll need a bit more time for that to run its course.
But at this stage we've got no information that would suggest that any Australian has been caught up in these terrible events.
KIERAN GILBERT: If there are any Australians who are concerned about relatives, what should they do? Does the Government have a service for them?
STEPHEN SMITH: In the first instance they should try and make direct contact with their family member or loved one or their friend if they were worried that a family member may have been in the vicinity in Moscow, or travelling in or around Moscow at that time, try and make direct contract.
If they can't make direct contact they should then contact the Foreign Affairs and Trade consular service which is in Canberra working very closely with our officials in Moscow of course. It's just after one o'clock Moscow time so it's the early hours of the morning there but people should try and contact their loved ones direct and if they don't have success on that front they should then contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade consular service.
KIERAN GILBERT: And what advice do you have as to who might be responsible for this attack at this early stage?
STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly from afar and so early in the events I'm not proposing to be drawn on that or leap to any conclusions. You would have yourself seen, as other people have seen and heard, Russian authorities this morning referring to the possibility of separatists from Chechnya. This is often the case in such terrible events in Russia itself, but we shouldn't be leaping to conclusions.
What we do of course do is to condemn absolutely such extremism and such violence and such terrorism as it is aimed as it could only have been, at ordinary people going about their business whether as tourists or whether as business people.
So it was aimed to cause maximum damage to ordinary people going about their everyday lives. So it's a terrible atrocity and we condemn it absolutely but let's let the dust settle before coming to a conclusion about who or what may be responsible.
KIERAN GILBERT: Let's change focus now onto the report into the alleged sexual misconduct aboard HMAS Success. The chief of the Defence Force in releasing this first part of the report says he has serious concerns. What's your response?
STEPHEN SMITH: The Chief of the Defence Force made available a copy of Commissioner Giles's report to me on Sunday. He received it from the Commissioner earlier in the month.
It's my responsibility to consider the public release of that report and I propose to release it but I need to be very careful about that because the report goes not just to personal conduct and personal accountability, it also goes to cultural issues, either on the Success itself or potentially more generally through Navy. It also goes to some institutional matters such as the way in which Defence conducts enquiries of this nature.
I want to be as transparent as humanly possible and to be blunt about it, to use an Australian expression, the report does not make pretty reading. Also my predecessor Senator Faulkner undertook to keep the relevant Parliamentary Committee, the Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Committee fully informed and I'd like to be in opposition to provide that Parliamentary Committee with as much detail as possible.
So I'll look at a release of the report in whole or in part as early as I can, but I need to bear in mind, that because the report goes to some aspects of individual conduct, individual accountability, I need to be careful that people's rights aren't trampled on and they have their rights and due process is respected.
KIERAN GILBERT: The Chief of the Defence Force says the final report's going to be due mid-year. These alleged events took place between March and May '09. It does seem a long time to come to a resolution to this and why is the report being released in stages? Is it an attempt at damage control?
STEPHEN SMITH: No. The release of the report or the compilation of the report is in the first instance, a matter for Commissioner Giles. He's of course a former Federal Court judge and also acted after his retirement in the Federal Court as a judge in the Supreme Court of New South Wales.
So the structure of the report has been entirely a matter for him. He's indicated that the report will come in two stages; the report that has recently been received goes to essentially the personal conduct and the events surrounding the deployment of the Success in Asia over March, April, and May of 2009.
His second report will go to. It's quite clear I think from a reading of the first report that Commissioner Giles believes some of the institutional matters; how we conduct Commissions of Inquiry that there is more and better work that we can do there.
But we're trying, whether it's the Chief of the Defence Force, the Chief of Navy, to be as transparent as humanly possible. This is not a good news story and it doesn't make pretty reading. But we do need to be careful to take account of individual people's rights.
The report goes to not just individual conduct, on and off the ships - so on shore and off shore, but also goes to matters of discipline, goes to matters of authority, goes to issues of keeping the Navy in high regard so far as the public is concerned.
But it also goes to cultural issues, including a suggestion there may have been a so-called tribal culture on theSuccess and questions of potential intimidation of individual sailors. So there are serious issues here that we need to address and we're proposing to do that in an exhaustive but also in a careful and sensible way but in a way in which we make the report as public as possible both through the parliamentary process but also generally.
KIERAN GILBERT: That's got to be the most concerning part of it doesn't it, the fact that there allegations of cultural problems in the Navy, and I suppose the final question I need to ask you as well is, Minister, how soon will we get the report? You said as soon as humanely possible, what are you talking, weeks or months?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I'm talking days and weeks not weeks and months. The Parliament goes back in a week or so as you know. I'd like to be in a position to be able to provide the Parliamentary Committee with some information as quickly as possible.
More generally, yes, any report like this which goes to bad conduct or potential bad culture is important and we need to address it. But to its credit the Navy, the Chief of Navy, in 2009 instituted a program, described as New Generation Navy, which has as its aim a raising of standards in these matters, a change of attitudes, a better culture.
The Chief of the Defence Force, the Chief of Navy, the other Chiefs of Service have zero tolerance for bad behaviour and bad conduct in these areas, whether it's harassment, whether it's bullying, whether it's use of alcohol and drugs, there's zero tolerance and we need to ensure that the very high international reputation that Australian Defence Force personnel have acquired over the years of doing their job professionally, of treating people with dignity, and civility and respect, continues.
And that's why there's a zero tolerance for such matters, and it's not always that we see bad news stories. So far as the Navy is concerned for example, we saw yesterday the report about Christmas Island which made it clear that Navy personnel had conducted themselves, not just very well but had conducted themselves in very terrible circumstances with a higher degree of professionalism but also with a high degree of courage and heroism.
So yes, from time to time we get bad news stories but we also see very good stories about Defence personnel, whether it's acts of heroism or just doing good work for as we've seen over the Queensland and Victoria floods recently.
KIERAN GILBERT: Defence Minister Stephen Smith, appreciate your time today. Thanks for that.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much.
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