TRANSCRIPT: EXTRACTS FROM INTERVIEW WITH FRAN KELLY, RADIO NATIONAL
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 29 August 2013
TOPICS: Syria; ADMM+; ADFA Skype incident.
FRAN KELLY: Australia's Defence Minister Stephen Smith is in Brunei attending the ASEAN Defence Minister's Meeting. China and the US are also there and the Minister Stephen Smith has met with the US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to discuss the issue of Syria.
Stephen Smith good morning. Welcome to Breakfast.
STEPHEN SMITH: Good morning Fran.
FRAN KELLY: British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters over night that the international community had a responsibility to take action against the Syrian Government over the use of chemical weapons even if agreement can't be reached at the UN. Is that Australia's view as well?
STEPHEN SMITH: Australia's view is we have to take this step by step. We can't turn a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons. It is a crime against humanity. It's contrary to international law and as a consequence Australia, the rest of the international community has an obligation to respond. But the response has to be in the first instance making sure that there is evidence that chemical weapons were used and I think there is now a growing view or an emerged view in the international community that that has occurred. The next step is to make sure that there is evidence which stacks up and evidence which will persuade or convince or have the international community form the view that the Assad regime was responsible for the use of chemical weapons on its own people. So we need to take that step by step. But there does have to be an international community response to the use of chemical weapons. We can't turn a blind eye to it for the reasons which William Hague outlined in the grab that you just put to air.
FRAN KELLY: You were discussing this issue I know over dinner and probably beyond with the US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and probably others last night. In terms of the evidence that is around, was Chuck Hagel discussing that with you? Are you convinced there is this evidence that it has been used and deployed by the Syrian regime?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well firstly we had dinner last night at the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Plus Meeting so it was essentially Defence Ministers meeting in the East Asia Summit format. We had our official dinner last night. I sat next to the United States Secretary of Defense and he spoke with me and with other colleagues and he formally met with the ASEAN Defence Ministers - the 10 ASEAN Defence Ministers in the course of yesterday. And the remarks that he made to us in a sense privately mirrored what he had said publicly, that from his perspective as Defense Minister he had presented President Obama with an array of options for response. But in the first instance President Obama wanted to be persuaded of the evidence and it was very important that not just United States be persuaded of the evidence but the international community generally.
And as I put it earlier I think there's a view now, effectively a conclusive view that chemical weapons were used. The question now is the evidence to draw the conclusion that it was the Assad regime who authorised and affected that. Now there is a preponderance of evidence to that effect. But in this context putting it historically, the international community is scarred by Iraq, and so we want to proceed in a way in which the evidence is there and it persuades the international community.
Now in an ideal world the response to this would be led by the United Nations Security Council but the world is not ideal, and so if the evidence does not persuade all the permanent five members of the Security Council then in Australia's view there is an obligation on the international community to look beyond that ideal situation to see what response if any is required. But again to use my expression in the modern day we can't turn a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons, particularly if that is by a regime on its own people.
FRAN KELLY: So to sum that up if the evidence is tendered but there cannot be agreement from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, it is your view as Defence Minister of Australia that the world can't turn a blind eye so Australia would support some kind of military intervention in Syria?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we also have to make sure that the international community and Australia is persuaded that whatever response occurs is a response which is consistent with international law, is proportionate and which had a basis for international need.
FRAN KELLY: What might that look like in your view - from your experience?
FRAN KELLY: Have you had any discussions, as Australia's Defence Minister of what level of Australia's support, what kind of support Australia might offer?
STEPHEN SMITH: I think in terms of Australia's role given where Syria is geographically located, no one is looking to us for if you like assistance in a military contribution and certainly no one is contemplating troops on the ground. I think that's been made pretty clear by all concerned. We have - and this is on the public record, we have Australian Defence officials who are embedded into United States Defence arrangements. From time to time they'll be involved in planning and the like but that's done consistent with our embed program and consistent with Australian domestic and international law.
So no one's looking to Australia to play if you like a military role or a military contribution but-
FRAN KELLY: So beyond boots on the ground, not Australian ships, not Australian planes, nothing?
STEPHEN SMITH: We've made it clear that in terms of Syria we would look to a contribution on the humanitarian assistance and relief front, but no one's looking to us for a military per se contribution. But on the weekend of course we take on the Presidency of the United Nations Security Council, so we will be looked at in terms of providing one of the leads to the international community for a response on this front. So that's why the Prime Minister has had discussions with President Obama and other international leaders, why Foreign Minister Bob Carr has done likewise and why I'm here of course for regional and Indo-Pacific reasons, but as you'd expect with a gathering of 18 Defence Ministers the topic of conversation is Syria and why I'm having conversations with my colleagues here as well and that will feed into Australia's collective knowledge.
FRAN KELLY: Can I just ask you briefly, we are out of time, but one of the key issues during your time as Defence Minister was the culture in Defence, sparked really by the ADFA Skype sex scandal as it was called. That case really came to fruition yesterday and the ACT Supreme Court jury found two men guilty over that. What's your comment as that case winds up? Do you think there has been any impact on the culture of Defence?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, certainly I think we've made some very good strides on culture in Defence and zero tolerance for bad behaviour. But the sentencing in that court process is not completed yet so I don't want to be drawn on that. But irrespective of the outcome of that matter, the point I made at the time was that a young woman, a young member of the Defence Force, had made a complaint that she had been sexually abused.
I made the point very strongly at the time that I thought that the response to her, the Defence response, was inadequate, that she had been let down, and as a consequence of that, and because the response to that by her and by the media and by me was not a business as usual response. We saw, effectively, an avalanche of complaints about conduct in Defence which went over decades, that saw the establishment of the DLA Piper Review, and the establishment now of the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce, headed by Len Roberts-Smith, but also most importantly, you would have seen the response of the Chief of Army a month or so ago, making it absolutely crystal clear that there is a zero tolerance from the leadership for bad conduct and bad behaviour. My own analysis is that we would not have been in a position to effect all of those things without the response that we saw at the time to a young woman in Defence not being responded to properly or appropriately by Defence, and having her character brought into play when she made a complaint about sexual assault or sexual abuse.
FRAN KELLY: Stephen Smith, thank you for joining us on Breakfast.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Fran, thanks very much
FRAN KELLY: Stephen Smith is Defence Minister, joining us from Brunei.