Minister for Defence - Interview with ABC PM program

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Senator the Hon David Johnston

Minister for Defence

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9 June 2014

RE: Japan 2 + 2 meetings, future submarine, abuse claims in Defence

MARK COLVIN: The Defence Minister, David Johnston, will have lunch on a Japanese submarine this week as he visits the country for security talks.

Senator Johnston is a fan of Japanese submarine technology and the two countries are edging closer to a deal, even though that might spark a reaction from China.

Japan's restrictive constitution limits its ability to sell its military technology to Australia, so the Minister doesn't want to be seen to be pushing his Japanese counterpart too hard.

But while he's away new concerns are being raised about the process for dealing with abuse claims in the military.

Tonight's Four Corners program includes victims expressing concerns that the perpetrators are not being dealt with.

Louise Yaxley's interview with the Minister begins with his talks with the Japanese.

DAVID JOHNSTON: We're simply working out together what we can do. But as I say I'm respectful that the pace is rather more set by the Japanese because of their constitutional situation.

LOUISE YAXLEY: How do you balance any deal that you potentially do with Japan with China's feelings?

DAVID JOHNSTON: Well you see I'm from Western Australia, you know, China is a very substantial contemporary investor into Western Australia, we're producing iron ore for them, we're producing LNG, Liquid Natural Gas. They're actually taking equity in a lot of our mining companies here in Western Australia. And so I don't see the relationship as mutually exclusive.

LOUISE YAXLEY: Is China's view a factor in deciding whether or not we go ahead with this or not though?

DAVID JOHNSTON: No, no, no, definitely not. We have a separate relationship with China. It's strong, very economically based.

LOUISE YAXLEY: So even if China sent a signal that it was really concerned about this it wouldn't matter?

DAVID JOHNSTON: Well we're - certainly we're conscious of the neighbourhood and what the neighbourhood thinks. And we would be certainly conscious and respectful of what China thought.

But this is our business, this is Australian sovereign domain. Our relationship with China is strong, it's very positive, and I think very friendly. And I think we can explain our disposition as to who we engage with and how we engage in, particularly East Asia, from a position of strength and very confidently.

LOUISE YAXLEY: While you're overseas in Japan there's further fallout from the allegations of rape and abuse in the military, with the Four Corners program. And insiders that have spoken to that program say a royal commission is the only way to get to the bottom of abuse at ADFA (Australia Defence Force Academy) in the early 1990s. What's your response?

DAVID JOHNSTON: Well firstly let me underline that the Government takes these allegations very, very seriously. But we are concerned about as a first priority is the victims. We don't want to drag the victims through some sort of process that makes them revisit the trauma that they've been through.

Now we've set up the DART, 2,400 claimants have come forward, more than $20 million in reparation have been paid, 63 matters referred to civil police.

LOUISE YAXLEY: But how can you be confident as minister that the perpetrators are being dealt with?

DAVID JOHNSTON: You listen to what General Hurley has been saying, he is very interested in ensuring that the perpetrators are dealt with, are followed up, discovered. Very…

LOUISE YAXLEY: But what's the process for that?

DAVID JOHNSTON: Well it's very difficult when you don't have any proper testimony. Now remember that the victims themselves are the ones who are often reluctant to bring these complaints forward. So the first part of the process that we've set up is the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce, the DART, get them some restorative payment. Then they can take their complaint further to the authorities if they so require.

Now, as I say, out of 2,400, 63 matters have been referred to civil police. That is a very important step, and I would expect that step to prevail also with the ADFA 24.

LOUISE YAXLEY: Some of the victims say they are serving next to people who raped them. How do you feel about that as Minister?

DAVID JOHNSTON: Well I'm very, very concerned about that, as I know, I know that the CDF (Chief of Defence Force) General Hurley is also very concerned about that. But there's not a lot we can do if the complainants do not come forward.

Now the DART is a first step. Once they have been down that path and assured themselves that it is about the victim initially, they can take the next step and come forward and make the allegations, because these are criminal allegations, there's not time factor on them, can take those allegations further.

And we are prepared and ready, and willing and able, to receive them. But they have to commit to the process.

LOUISE YAXLEY: Now are you then worried that because the victims are reluctant there remain people serving in the military as officers who shouldn't be there?

DAVID JOHNSTON: I am worried about that, as I know General Hurley is. And we are looking for ways to remediate that situation lawfully.

That is, we can't unilaterally start to punish people when we don't have formal allegations. This is the problem we are confronting.

LOUISE YAXLEY: Is a royal commission then the answer?

DAVID JOHNSTON: I don't believe it is because most of the victims I think, the victims that I've been hearing, have said they do not want to go through a royal commission process. If there was a strong body of people saying 'yes, we want to go through a royal commission process' I think that is a significant event. But they have not done so.

And the reason they have not done so is because most of them want to put this behind them and get on with things.

I am concerned that there are people with these allegations over them still in Defence. I am very interested to hear the way forward with the ADFA 24 particularly. And I should underline again that those complainants can bring their complaints forward to the DART and they will be dealt with. If the victims are unwilling to commit to that process, it makes it very, very difficult.

On the other hand, of course, we have to balance that up in an occupational workplace safety environment, where if there is repeat offenders out there we need to take action.

The first step is the DART and we need to let the DART do its work.

LOUISE YAXLEY: So there could be another step beyond that?

DAVID JOHNSTON: Well there might be. And just bear in mind there are 63 matters before civil court. So it's not just the Defence Force that's dealing with these. The civil police force has 63 complaints that it's proceeding with that I understand.

MARK COLVIN: The Defence Minister, David Johnston, speaking to Louise Yaxley in Canberra.

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