Australia — Minister for Defence on Largs Bay and C‑17 Acquisition; ADFA Skype Incident

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much for turn­ing up. Sor­ry we’re a bit late. I’m joined today by the Min­is­ter for Defence Mate­r­i­al, Jason Clare. And today, we’re announc­ing that Aus­tralia has been suc­cess­ful in acquir­ing the Bay class amphibi­ous ship the Largs Bay from the Unit­ed King­dom. This is a very pleas­ing out­come and I wel­come very much the fact that the Gov­ern­ment has been able to acquire the ship in a com­pet­i­tive ten­der process from the Unit­ed King­dom.

I spoke to my coun­ter­part, Unit­ed King­dom Sec­re­tary of State for Defence Liam Fox, on Mon­day night and thanked him for his assis­tance. As I said at the AUKMIN meet­ing in Syd­ney ear­li­er this year, we believe that Aus­tralia and the Unit­ed King­dom can do many more things togeth­er in an oper­a­tional sense, in a capa­bil­i­ty sense, and this is, in very many respects, the first example.

So it’s been pur­chased for 65 mil­lion pounds or the equiv­a­lent of 100 mil­lion Aus­tralian Dol­lars. The book val­ue was in the order of 130 Unit­ed King­dom pounds, pounds ster­ling. So we believe it’s very good val­ue for money. 

I think there are a num­ber of sig­nif­i­cant aspects about the pur­chase. First­ly, it does enable us now to move for­ward on a new and com­pre­hen­sive tran­si­tion plan to our heavy amphibi­ous [indis­tinct] Land­ing Heli­copter Docks, which we expect to start up in ser­vice in the mid­dle of this decade.

Now that we have the Largs Bay, the Bay class, which we expect to arrive in Aus­tralia by the end of the year and be oper­a­tional ear­ly next year, we can now move for­ward to a tran­si­tion­al plan to cov­er that peri­od from now till the end of the year, but also until the arrival of the LHDs.

As you’d be aware, when I was in New Zealand recent­ly, we agreed with the New Zealand Gov­ern­ment, New Zealand Defence Min­is­ter Mapp that we would work very close­ly in terms of the coor­di­na­tion of the avail­abil­i­ty of the HMNZS Can­ter­bury, New Zealand’s heavy amphibi­ous lift ship. And we are cur­rent­ly coor­di­nat­ing with New Zealand the avail­abil­i­ty of the Can­ter­bury dur­ing those times when it is pro­posed that the HMAS Tobruk go into maintenance.

In addi­tion to that, we are now look­ing very close­ly at the pos­si­bil­i­ty of fur­ther acqui­si­tions or leas­es of com­mer­cial amphibi­ous ves­sels, whether cata­ma­rans or tri­marans, to ensure that we have appro­pri­ate tran­si­tion­al arrange­ments from now until the arrival of the Bay class and also until the arrival of the LHDs. So that’s a very pleas­ing out­come. Sec­ond­ly, in pass­ing, can I just indi­cate that you’ll be aware that at the — I think at the Aval­on Air Show, I announced that Aus­tralia was mov­ing to acquire a fifth C‑17, that we have ini­ti­at­ed a process with the Unit­ed States, through its for­eign mil­i­tary sales arrange­ment, to acquire a C‑17. That is very well advanced. And I am hope­ful and opti­mistic that in the course of the next few months, we will also be able to announce the pur­chase of a fifth C‑17 for the Aus­tralian Air Force.

You would, of course, be aware, and I won’t go into the details, of the suc­cess of our C‑17 fleet, both in dis­as­ter relief in the Can­ter­bury earth­quake and also, more recent­ly, in Japan.

But what I’d like to do is to hand over to Jason to make some com­ments about the Bay class in par­tic­u­lar, I then want to make some remarks about anoth­er mat­ter which is on foot and then after I’ve done that, we’re very hap­py to respond to your ques­tions on those or oth­er issues. Jason.

JASON CLARE: Well, thanks, Stephen. This is a good result for Aus­tralia and it’s a good result for our region. The pur­chase of this ship will help to ensure that we’ve got the capa­bil­i­ty that we need, the amphibi­ous capa­bil­i­ty we need, for oper­a­tions, as well as human­i­tar­i­an relief in Aus­tralia and across our region, between now and the mid­dle of the decade when the Land­ing Heli­copter Dock ships arrive.

Two months ago, the Min­is­ter and I did a press con­fer­ence, here in Can­ber­ra, where we announced the decom­mis­sion­ing of the Manoo­ra. And we spoke very plain­ly about the state of our aging amphibi­ous ships.

We asked Defence to look at all options that were avail­able to fill this capa­bil­i­ty gap, and that search that was con­duct­ed and con­clud­ed that the best and most capa­ble ship avail­able was the Largs Bay. That’s why we’ve pur­sued this pur­chase so vigorously.

And to put this in per­spec­tive, ships like this don’t come on the mar­ket very often, a ship as mod­ern and new as this ship. This is a ship which is now just five years old. Its weight is about 16 tonnes, so it’s twice the weight of the Manoo­ra — 16,000 tonnes, I’m sor­ry, 16,000 tonnes and twice the weight of the Manoo­ra. And its car­go capac­i­ty is the equiv­a­lent of the Manoo­ra, the Kan­im­bla and the Tobruk com­bined, so our entire amphibi­ous fleet com­bined. It can car­ry a full range of mil­i­tary vehi­cles up to 150 light mil­i­tary vehi­cles at any time, 350 sol­diers, as well as two large heli­copters, two Chi­nook-size heli­copters. It also has a mod­ern med­ical facil­i­ty and has a float­ing dock.

Our cur­rent amphibi­ous ships, the Manoo­ra, Kan­im­bla, don’t have a float­ing dock. The LHDs do. And so the acqui­si­tion of this ship will pro­vide an impor­tant train­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty to ensure that the Navy can pre­pare for the acqui­si­tion and the oper­a­tion of the LHDs that come into ser­vice in the mid­dle of the decade.

Before we put in our bid, we did the due dili­gence that is prop­er and nec­es­sary. We asked an inter­na­tion­al com­pa­ny, TK Marine, to do an assess­ment of the mate­r­i­al state of the ship. And their assess­ment is that the ship is in good condition.

But before we con­clude the sale, we will also con­duct a full sea tri­al of the ves­sel to ver­i­fy its mate­r­i­al state. Once that’s con­clud­ed, the ship will come to Aus­tralia at the end of this year and be ready for oper­a­tions ear­ly in 2012.

And as Min­is­ter Smith has said, this is one part of a tran­si­tion plan for the arrival of the LHDs. The first part is mak­ing sure we’ve got the capa­bil­i­ty we need between now and the mid­dle of the decade. The sec­ond part is improv­ing the sus­tain­ment of our amphibi­ous ships. And that is why we have appoint­ed Paul Riz­zo to do that work for us, and he’ll report in a few months time. And the third part is mak­ing sure that Navy is pre­pared and trained ready to oper­ate the Land­ing Heli­copter Dock ships, and that’s anoth­er piece of work that still needs to be done. Minister.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks, Jason. Can I just make some remarks about the alle­ga­tions and sug­ges­tions of inap­pro­pri­ate con­duct at the Aus­tralian Defence Force Academy.

First­ly, let me pref­ace all my remarks by say­ing that this mat­ter, which rais­es very seri­ous issues of per­son­al con­duct and very seri­ous issues that go to the rep­u­ta­tion of the Aus­tralian Defence Force Acad­e­my and the Aus­tralian Defence Force itself, is the sub­ject of a Defence inquiry and also the sub­ject of an Aus­tralian Fed­er­al Police inquiry. As a con­se­quence of the Aus­tralian Fed­er­al Police inquiry, which is an inquiry into whether any crim­i­nal law of the ACT or of the Com­mon­wealth has been bro­ken, the Defence inquiry will essen­tial­ly be held in abeyance pend­ing the out­come of the AFP inquiry.

So I need to just very care­ful­ly make my remarks, so as not in any way to either prej­u­dice the AFP inquiry, to prej­u­dice any sub­se­quent Defence inquiry or to prej­u­dice any pro­ceed­ings, whether those pro­ceed­ings are before a court in the ACT or a court of the Com­mon­wealth or indeed Defence dis­ci­pli­nary hear­ings. So I make that point and I under­line it.

As a con­se­quence of that, let me make some gen­er­al remarks about con­duct of ADF personnel.

First, the Chief of the Defence Force and the Ser­vice Chiefs and the Sec­re­tary of Defence will not tol­er­ate con­duct which is inap­pro­pri­ate, con­duct which is sex­ist, con­duct which vil­i­fies women or con­duct which is inap­pro­pri­ate in any way that goes to the dig­ni­ty and the civil­i­ty of work mates.

As a gen­er­al propo­si­tion, ADF Defence per­son­nel need to be very care­ful to under­stand that in the mod­ern day, the mod­ern Aus­tralian Defence Force has stan­dards, and the break­ing of those stan­dards will not be condoned.

Defence Force per­son­nel, whether they’ve been in the Defence Force for eight weeks or eight years also need to under­stand that things which are done pri­vate­ly and dis­creet­ly may well be regard­ed by the com­mu­ni­ty as appro­pri­ate, but they’re not regard­ed as appro­pri­ate either by the com­mu­ni­ty or the Aus­tralian Defence Force if they’re done in pub­lic. And we saw exam­ples of that, for exam­ple, in the Gyles report in the HMAS Suc­cess inquiry.

The point I’m mak­ing there is that in the mod­ern dig­i­tal world, you know, things that you do on Face­book, or things that you do online, or things that you might put on Skype effec­tive­ly become or are public. 

And we saw recent­ly with inap­pro­pri­ate remarks made by Aus­tralian Defence Force per­son­nel on Face­book which became pub­lic and brought the Aus­tralian Defence Force and Aus­tralia into disrepute.

So, con­duct of the nature I’ve described can­not and will not be tol­er­at­ed. As a gen­er­al propo­si­tion, the Chief of the Defence Force, the Ser­vice Chiefs and the ADF have worked very hard in recent years to bring the ADF cul­ture into the mod­ern day, so far as treat­ment of women is concerned.

It is quite clear­ly the case, which is acknowl­edged by all con­cerned, that much more work needs to be done and it will be.

Let me make a gen­er­al point. The Aus­tralian Defence Force and its per­son­nel can­not do their work effec­tive­ly in the nation­al secu­ri­ty inter­ests of the Com­mon­wealth unless there is trust in the work­place. Unless there is trust between ADF per­son­nel wher­ev­er they are. And I can’t think in the alle­ga­tions and the cir­cum­stances which have been out­lined — in those cir­cum­stances, I can’t think of a greater betray­al of trust of a col­league in the work­place than the sug­ges­tions that have been made. And once that trust is destroyed, then it is very dif­fi­cult, if not impos­si­ble, for the per­son who has bro­ken that trust to remain a Defence Force per­son­nel member.

Now, I make that gen­er­al remark with­out, in any way, com­ment­ing or aver­ring to any of the alleged facts or cir­cum­stances of this case.

What I can say is that, clear­ly, the young woman con­cerned will be under very con­sid­er­able pres­sure as a result of bring­ing this mat­ter to the pub­lic light. And as a con­se­quence of that, she is receiv­ing all of the sup­port and coun­selling which ADF per­son­nel receive at a time of dif­fi­cul­ty, and that is entire­ly appropriate.

So, this mat­ter is being treat­ed very seri­ous­ly by the Chief of the Defence Force, the Ser­vice Chiefs and the Aus­tralian Defence Force lead­er­ship, as it should be, and I regard it as a most seri­ous issue.

JOURNALIST: Mr Smith, you say it’s being treat­ed seri­ous­ly, but it does seem at the ini­tial out­set of these claims being made or alle­ga­tions being raised, Defence did­n’t take it as seri­ous­ly as maybe you would have liked?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I — I’m not — first­ly, I’m not sure that’s right. Sec­ond­ly, I think it’s very care­ful how we cat­e­gorise or char­ac­terise this. 

First­ly, the mat­ter was drawn to atten­tion. The Defence Force raised the mat­ter with the Aus­tralian Fed­er­al Police. I’m told the ini­tial response was a pre­lim­i­nary view that, per­haps, no offences had been — the pos­si­bil­i­ty of offences did­n’t exist or was­n’t there. And so, the ini­tial response was, in that case, ADF needs to con­duct an inquiry of its own. Sub­se­quent advice from the Aus­tralian Fed­er­al Police was that there were mat­ters which did war­rant or require inves­ti­ga­tion and that’s now on foot.

So, I think we just need to be very care­ful to care­ful­ly dis­tin­guish the pre­lim­i­nary treat­ment or assess­ment of the mat­ter and the ulti­mate deci­sion of the AFP and the Aus­tralian Defence Force.

The deci­sion of the Aus­tralian Fed­er­al Police that there are cir­cum­stances have been drawn to atten­tion which war­rant inquiry by the Aus­tralian Fed­er­al Police because they may give rise to offences either under the law of the Aus­tralian Cap­i­tal Ter­ri­to­ry or the laws of the Commonwealth.

Because of the mat­ters that have been raised, the Aus­tralian Defence Force has [break in trans­mis­sion] an inves­ti­ga­tion which may well, irre­spec­tive of the out­come of the AFP inquiry or any sub­se­quent pro­ceed­ings, which may well lead to dis­ci­pli­nary action.

JOURNALIST: Min­is­ter, you say that the young woman involved is receiv­ing all sup­port and coun­selling. What evi­dence do you — what evi­dence do you have that she’s received sup­port and counselling?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I say two things. First­ly, I rely on this mat­ter upon the advice that I’ve received from the Chief of the Defence Force and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force. And I spoke to both of those about the detail of the sup­port and coun­selling as ear­ly as this morning.

JOURNALIST: And what did they tell you?

STEPHEN SMITH: They told me that she was receiv­ing all of the sup­port and coun­selling that any mem­ber of the ADF in dif­fi­cul­ty would receive.

JOURNALIST: So you would be sur­prised and dis­ap­point­ed if you were sub­se­quent­ly to learn that that is not true?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, first­ly, I don’t know whether you’re assert­ing that, but let me make this general-

JOURNALIST: It’s a ques­tion. Would you be sur­prised and dis­ap­point­ed if you were sub­se­quent­ly to find that she, in fact, has not received coun­selling? STEPHEN SMITH: The advice I have from the Chief of the Defence Force, as ear­ly as this morn­ing, is that the Defence Force will pro­vide her, and are pro­vid­ing her, with all of the nec­es­sary coun­selling and sup­port. So, I’m pro­ceed­ing on that basis.

Let me also make a more gen­er­al point. I’ve also had sug­ges­tions made to me or my office by mem­bers of the media that a range of things have occurred with respect to this young woman. I have drawn all of those to the atten­tion of the Chief of the Defence Force and ask that he inquire into those matters.

Now, I’m not propos­ing on the basis of hearsay to aver to any of those mat­ters; that would not be appro­pri­ate. But cir­cum­stances have been drawn to my officer’s atten­tion by mem­bers of the media. I have for­mal­ly asked the CDF to inquire about those mat­ters and report to me. And I’m very happy-


STEPHEN SMITH: And I’m very hap­py — I’m very hap­py to go back to my office and say to the Chief of the Defence Force, an asser­tion has been made to me by a mem­ber of the media that she’s not receiv­ing sup­port and coun­selling. Would you please again inquire into that, which is a mat­ter I raised with him ear­li­er this morning.

JOURNALIST: So would — if you were to learn, or if you were to inquire and sub­se­quent­ly to learn that the com­modore, who is the com­man­dant of the A… at ADFA did not in his meet­ing with the young woman involved offer, describe any avenue towards coun­selling sup­port, and there was none at all avail­able to her in the course of that meet­ing which is, you know, the pri­ma­ry meet­ing by the com­modore out there — the com­man­der out there in charge and with respon­si­bil­i­ty to that young woman, would you find that a dis­turb­ing event?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well first­ly, I’m not an inves­ti­gat­ing offi­cer. I’m the Min­is­ter for Defence. And I take my respon­si­bil­i­ty for the admin­is­tra­tion of that which occurs in Defence. That’s the first point. Sec­ond­ly, I’m very hap­py to take that asser­tion back to Defence and say a fur­ther asser­tion has been made by a mem­ber of the media about the way in which Defence have han­dled this mat­ter so far as its rela­tion­ship with the young woman is con­cerned, and to get advice on that point. 

I’m not propos­ing to respond to your asser­tion or your hearsay or your sug­ges­tion or com­ment. That in my eyes would be inap­pro­pri­ate. Let me make this gen­er­al point. We will have here a young woman who is under very con­sid­er­able pres­sure because of the cir­cum­stances which she has detailed and because of the focus that she and this issue will be under by the media. 

I’m not com­plain­ing about that. She will be under con­sid­er­able pres­sure, and I would want and expect that all of the sup­port that can be giv­en to her should and would be giv­en to her. 


STEPHEN SMITH: Just han… just- 

JOURNALIST: ‑any pun­ish­ment vis­it­ed upon this young woman because she went to the media, if there was any sanc­tion­al pun­ish­ment against her because she went to the media. 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well she is also a mem­ber of the ADF, and she is to con­duct her­self in accor­dance with the require­ments of mem­bers of the ADF and the Defence Force Acad­e­my, and it may well be that in terms of what she has done, that she may well have to respond in due course to her own conduct. 

That is entire­ly a mat­ter for the nor­mal Defence procedures. 

But let me make this very impor­tant point. If that is to occur it will occur sub­se­quent to the inves­ti­ga­tion of this very seri­ous mat­ter which is qual­i­ta­tive­ly dif­fer­ent in every respect from any sug­ges­tion that the young woman con­cerned may not have fol­lowed appro­pri­ate Defence pro­ce­dure either by so-called break­ing of frater­ni­sa­tion rules, or by draw­ing the mat­ter to the media’s attention. 

Can I say I regard those as very much tenth-order issues. There is a very con­cern­ing, seri­ous and dif­fi­cult alle­ga­tion which needs to be inves­ti­gat­ed by the Aus­tralian Fed­er­al Police, which needs to be inves­ti­gat­ed at the appro­pri­ate time by the Aus­tralian Defence Force per­so… by the Aus­tralian Defence Force. In the mean­time the young woman con­cerned is enti­tled to — and will receive — all of the sup­port that can be giv­en to her as is appropriate. 

Now hang on — now, there are oth­er, I’m very hap­py to stay here until we’re fin­ished, but there are oth­er peo­ple want­i­ng to have a go.

Up the back. 

JOURNALIST: [Indis­tinct] HMAS Suc­cess and this lat­est ADFA sit­u­a­tion, are you aware in the past two years of oth­er sit­u­a­tions or alle­ga­tions of sex­u­al mis­con­duct with­in the ADF, and if so how many? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I’m not propos­ing to deal with the last two years, I’m very hap­py to take the detail of that on notice and respond for my peri­od of time as Minister-

JOURNALIST: [Inaudi­ble question] 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well as a gen­er­al response the Chief of the Defence Force and the Ser­vice Chiefs and the Sec­re­tary and the Min­is­ter of the day want Aus­tralian Defence Force per­son­nel to con­duct them­selves in pri­vate and in pub­lic in an appro­pri­ate man­ner. And I’ve had regret­tably more than one instance drawn to my atten­tion where a mem­ber of the Aus­tralian Defence Force per­son­nel on its face has appeared not to con­duct them­selves in an appro­pri­ate manner. 

The most noto­ri­ous of those are all found in the Gyles report, a copy of which you’ll recall I tabled in the Parliament. 

JOURNALIST: [Indis­tinct] do you believe there is a sys­temic prob­lem with­in the- 

STEPHEN SMITH: What I have said is that I think the Chief of the Defence Force and the ser­vice chiefs and the Defence lead­er­ship are on the right track in try­ing to ensure that the cul­ture of Aus­tralian Defence Force per­son­nel is respect­ful of peo­ple in the work­place, is respect­ful of their work col­leagues, and that in par­tic­u­lar applies to women. 

There have been a range of ini­tia­tives which have sought to make the Aus­tralian Defe… an Aus­tralian Defence Force career more attrac­tive to women. I want to see more women in the Aus­tralian Defence Force. I want to see more women in lead­er­ship posi­tions. I want the Aus­tralian Defence Force’s cul­ture and com­po­si­tion to bet­ter [indis­tinct] the Aus­tralian community. 

And that includes mod­ern day stan­dards about the treat­ment of women with civil­i­ty and dignity. 

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about [indis­tinct] Minister. 


JOURNALIST: ‑in Sep­tem­ber 2009 you were aware of the woman who com­plained that her drink had been spiked, and she was videoed and pho­tographed per­form­ing sex­u­al acts while she was, quote-

STEPHEN SMITH: Well first­ly I was­n’t Min­is­ter for Defence in 2009. One, I was­n’t Min­is­ter for Defence in 2009. First­ly. Sec­ond­ly, I’m very hap­py to take that on notice and pro­vide you with a response but I’m not propos­ing as I think is an appro­pri­ate response, not propos­ing on the run to aver to a mat­ter the facts of which I don’t have read­i­ly at hand at a peri­od when I was­n’t the Minister. 

But I’m very hap­py to take it on notice and have my office respond to you. 

Just one here. 

JOURNALIST: [Indis­tinct] sex­ist cul­ture that’s ingrained with­in ADF that needs changing?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well what I have said is that the Aus­tralian Defence Force per­son­nel, the atti­tude of its indi­vid­ual mem­bers and its cul­tur­al or [indis­tinct] atti­tude needs to reflect the mod­ern Aus­tralia. The mod­ern Aus­tralia that I see is not an Aus­tralia which allows women to be sub­ject to sex­ist con­duct, which allows women to be vil­i­fied, and which puts women in a posi­tion where there is a com­plete betray­al of trust between a woman and a work col­league or a pro­fes­sion­al colleague. 

JOURNALIST: Min­is­ter, are you con­cerned that this girl has been turned from the vic­tim to the vil­lain at ADFA. The cadets are, you know, berat­ing her. I mean [indis­tinct] -

STEPHEN SMITH: Well can I again say first­ly, again by way of hearsay through mem­bers of the media it’s been sug­gest­ed to my office that that may have occurred. I’ve asked the Chief of the Defence Force to inquire about that and report to me. 

Again I’m not propos­ing to respond to any of those sug­ges­tions. That would not be appro­pri­ate at this stage. 

As a gen­er­al propo­si­tion I believe that any vil­i­fi­ca­tion of a mem­ber of Defence Force is inappropriate. 

This young woman has raised a very seri­ous alle­ga­tion. The alle­ga­tion that she has raised is now the sub­ject of an Aus­tralian Fed­er­al Police inquiry. 

I believe the rais­ing of the alle­ga­tion was appro­pri­ate. I believe the AFP inquiry is appro­pri­ate. I also believe it’s appro­pri­ate that we allow those for­mal process­es to take their course, and in the mean­time it is very impor­tant that this young woman is giv­en all the sup­port — and coun­selling — and help that she requires, and that includes her being treat­ed with civil­i­ty and dig­ni­ty by her work­mates and her colleagues. 

JOURNALIST: Just one more. The thing is the con­cern is that if she did­n’t go in the media, this would not have been raised again by the Defence Force to the Aus­tralian Fed­er­al Police. 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I don’t believe-

JOURNALIST: And they might — the alle­ga­tion is that they might, they might have just got a slap on the wrist.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I don’t believe that that is a cor­rect analysis. 

I saw for exam­ple a talk­ing point note over the week­end which said this is a mat­ter, not for the Aus­tralian Fed­er­al Police. 

The advice is that that it does­n’t dis­close any pos­si­ble breach­es of the law. 

I queried that and said I’ve long been a lapsed lawyer, but I’m not con­fi­dent that is right. 

JOURNALIST: Well only half an hour before I did the inter­view with the Com­man­dant of ADFA, they had new legal advice that said that it could be, that they could be charged under Commonwealth-

STEPHEN SMITH: Well this is pre­cise­ly the point that I’m mak­ing. I said ear­li­er ini­tial advice from the Aus­tralian Fed­er­al Police in Can­ber­ra was that they did­n’t believe that the cir­cum­stances that had been drawn to atten­tion raised a mat­ter which war­rant­ed inves­ti­ga­tion for breach of the crim­i­nal law, either of the Aus­tralian Cap­i­tal Ter­ri­to­ry or of the Commonwealth. 

When I saw that view assert­ed to me I queried it. 

The AFP looked at the mat­ter again. And I’m not sug­gest­ing they looked at the mat­ter again as a result of my response when I saw the talk­ing point, but when they looked at the mat­ter again they came to a for­mal con­clu­sion that the mat­ter war­rant­ed inves­ti­ga­tion. I believe the deci­sion by the AFP to inves­ti­gate this mat­ter in the cir­cum­stances that I’ve been made aware of was, and is, appropriate.

JOURNALIST: What day was that did you get the talk [indis­tinct] or did you make that contact?

STEPHEN SMITH: It was over the week­end. I’m hap­py to check whether it was Sat­ur­day or Sunday.

JOURNALIST: That’s why the girl went to the media because she thought they were going to [indis­tinct] the AFP were not going to inves­ti­gate it.

STEPHEN SMITH: First­ly, you assert that. I don’t know whether that’s true. I’m deal­ing here with some very impor­tant fun­da­men­tals. I’m deal­ing here with an issue which has got very seri­ous per­son­al account­abil­i­ty issues asso­ci­at­ed with it, which is now the sub­ject, as it should be, of an Aus­tralian Fed­er­al Police inquiry.

The Aus­tralian Fed­er­al Police made its own judge­ment on the basis of the infor­ma­tion it had been pro­vid­ed with. And I believe it was appro­pri­ate for the AFP to make that deci­sion and to com­mence its inquiry. 

That’s the first point. Sec­ond­ly, I haven’t spo­ken to the woman con­cerned and I would­n’t. I don’t know what moti­vat­ed her to go to the media — or ele­ments of the media. 

I make this fun­da­men­tal point. I believe the pub­lic air­ing of this issue in all of the cir­cum­stances was appro­pri­ate. I don’t believe that the young woman con­cerned should be viewed poor­ly or dim­ly as a result of bring­ing this mat­ter to pub­lic atten­tion. That’s a sep­a­rate issue from whether in due course, as a low­er order issue, there may be some ram­i­fi­ca­tions so far as the young woman’s con­cerned, as a result of the rules that she is oblig­ed to com­ply with, so far as being a mem­ber of the Aus­tralian Defence Force Acad­e­my is con­cerned. I’m deal­ing here in fun­da­men­tals. I’m not deal­ing in hearsay; I’m not deal­ing in alle­ga­tions made to me at a press con­fer­ence. I’m deal­ing in fundamentals. 

What are the fun­da­men­tals? A very seri­ous issue going to per­son­al con­duct has been raised. That rais­es very seri­ous issues about the rep­u­ta­tion of the mod­ern Aus­tralian Defence Force. It rais­es con­duct which — whilst not refer­ring to or reflect­ing on this par­tic­u­lar mat­ter, it rais­es stan­dards of con­duct which are not accept­able in the mod­ern Aus­tralian Defence Force. It is the sub­ject of an Aus­tralian Fed­er­al Police inquiry. That, in my view, is appro­pri­ate. It will also in due course be the sub­ject of an Aus­tralian Defence Force inquiry. That is also appro­pri­ate. And, in the mean­time, the woman con­cerned should be treat­ed with all of the civil­i­ty and dig­ni­ty that peo­ple can muster. And she should be giv­en all the sup­port that is required or necessary.

And any of the asser­tions or alle­ga­tions that have been raised with me or my office either here or ear­li­er in the day, I have or will raise with the Chief of the Defence Force to him to inquire and respond to me, in respect of those matters.

JOURNALIST: So can I just ask you, in terms of ADFA itself? Can you express your­self, stand­ing here; entire­ly sat­is­fied with the way that ADFA has han­dled this mat­ter since it came to their atten­tion last week?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, let me respond in the same way that I have before. I’m not propos­ing to respond on the basis of hearsay sug­ges­tions that have been made about that matter.

JOURNALIST: No [indis­tinct] your judge­ment. Are you entire­ly sat­is­fied with your under­stand­ing of what has tak­en place that ADFA has dealt with this mat­ter since it came to their atten­tion last week in an entire­ly appro­pri­ate way?

STEPHEN SMITH: Those who know me know that in mat­ters like this and gen­er­al­ly, I pro­ceed step by step. A num­ber of issues have been raised with me or my office by mem­bers of the media about the han­dling of this mat­ter. I have asked the CDF, the Chief of the Defence Force, to inquire about those mat­ters and report to me. When I’ve got that report, I’ll form a judge­ment and once I’ve formed a judge­ment, it may or may not be appro­pri­ate to make that judge­ment pub­lic. I’ll deal with that, step by step.

JOURNALIST: Min­is­ter [indis­tinct] the sit­u­a­tion of HMAS Suc­cess, and again yes­ter­day, the vic­tims at the cen­tre of these inci­dents has felt that they’ve gone as far as they can with Defence and have had to go to the media to resolve their prob­lems. Now, that obvi­ous­ly indi­cates that there’s some seri­ous issues with the cul­ture of cov­er up with­in Defence.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, let me deal with HMAS Suc­cess. There are two HMAS Suc­cess reports. The first one that I tabled in the par­lia­ment recent­ly. A sec­ond report from Com­mis­sion­er Gyles which goes to the way in which the ADF, the Aus­tralian Defence Force, deals with these mat­ters when it is con­front­ed with them. And I am very much antic­i­pat­ing receiv­ing that report because I think Com­mis­sion­er Gyles will give us some help­ful advice as to how we can improve those proceedings.

It was quite clear in the case of the Suc­cess that the inves­ti­ga­tion part of this mat­ter was not well han­dled. That’s quite clear from Com­mis­sion­er Gyles’ first report. And I think Com­mis­sion­er Gyles will give us some very help­ful advice about how we can improve these mat­ters generally.

JOURNALIST: [indis­tinct] how many more cas­es are there going to be until you get this infor­ma­tion? I mean-

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, let me make this com­ment. I’ve spo­ken about mod­ern Aus­tralian com­mu­ni­ty stan­dards. The Aus­tralian Defence Force is not the only organ­i­sa­tion in Aus­tralia, is not the only part of the Aus­tralian com­mu­ni­ty, where indi­vid­ual per­son­nel from time to time might fall short of those stan­dards. Some peo­ple might say, from time to time, it includes mem­bers of my noble pro­fes­sion or the media. So let’s keep this thing in its context. 

The Chief of the Defence Force, with the full sup­port of the Min­is­ter of the day and the Gov­ern­ment, wants to ensure that we have a cul­ture in the Aus­tralian Defence Force which reflects the mod­ern day, par­tic­u­lar­ly as that relates to the treat­ment of women. That is a very good thing.

Have we made progress in recent times? Yes, we have. Is the Aus­tralian Defence Force per­fect on that front? No, it’s not. There’s more work to be done. But let us keep all of the exam­ples we’ve had of ADF per­son­nel falling short of those stan­dards in their prop­er context.

The con­text of this mat­ter is a Aus­tralian Fed­er­al Police inquiry into alleged con­duct of a num­ber of young cadets at the Defence Force Acad­e­my. Is the issue con­cern­ing? Yes, it is. Does this issue raise very con­cern­ing aspects of Defence Force rep­u­ta­tion or rep­u­ta­tion­al issues? Yes, it does. Am I treat­ing this mat­ter seri­ous­ly? Yes, I am. Am I mak­ing sure that every aspect of it which is raised with me is dealt with for­mal­ly and appro­pri­ate­ly and report­ed to me? Yes, I am.

As I’ve said ear­li­er to the ear­li­er ques­tion, I’ll take it step by step in a prop­er, thor­ough way.

JOURNALIST: Min­is­ter, have there been any changes in process­es of how the Defence Force deals with such com­plaints since Success?

STEPHEN SMITH: No, because we’re await­ing the sec­ond report from Com­mis­sion­er Giles to look at the mat­ter across the board. There was one here.

JOURNALIST: Can you tell us what’s hap­pened to the cadets involved in this at the moment? Are they still going to class­es as nor­mal? Have they been pulled out?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the advice I had this morn­ing is that they are con­duct­ing them­selves in accor­dance with what their class mates are all con­duct­ing them­selves this morn­ing — turn­ing up to class and doing their work. That’s the advice I have.

JOURNALIST: Com­modore Kafer said yes­ter­day that if crim­i­nal charges or crim­i­nal con­vic­tions are found against any of the cadets involved in this, that that could lead to the ter­mi­na­tion of their mil­i­tary careers, in oth­er words, they could get the sack if it becomes a mat­ter of crim­i­nal charges or con­vic­tion. You seem to have indi­cat­ed today that there is a low­er thresh­old for the end­ing of their careers, that it does­n’t require crim­i­nal charges, if it is found that the facts are sup­port­ed. What is the thresh­old for these guys to get the sack [indis­tinct]-

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, first­ly, I’m only speak­ing in gen­er­al terms because unlike oth­ers, I’m not propos­ing, I’m not propos­ing, to pre-judge an Aus­tralian Fed­er­al Police inquiry, I’m not propos­ing to pre-judge any deci­sion of any court, either of the ACT or of the Com­mon­wealth, nor am I propos­ing to pre-judge any dis­ci­pli­nary pro­ce­dures that might occur under the Aus­tralian Defence Force Dis­ci­pline Act. So I’m not pre-judg­ing any of those things, unlike others.

I’m very hap­py to repeat a gen­er­al remark I made, which is this. Mem­bers of the Aus­tralian Defence Force and its per­son­nel need to under­stand that if they con­duct them­selves pub­licly in a man­ner which falls short of com­mu­ni­ty stan­dards, which brings the Aus­tralian Defence Force and its per­son­nel into dis­re­pute, then they run the risk of dis­cov­er­ing that their time in the Aus­tralian Defence Force is cut short. That par­tic­u­lar­ly applies to inap­pro­pri­ate con­duct in pub­lic, whether it is the con­duct of sea­men and sea­women in a port off­shore, or whether it’s the con­duct of ADF per­son­nel online, on Skype or on Facebook.

The CDF, the Ser­vice Chiefs, the Min­is­ter, the Gov­ern­ment will not tol­er­ate inap­pro­pri­ate con­duct, which brings the Defence Force or Aus­tralia into disrepute. 

Press release
Min­is­te­r­i­al Sup­port and Pub­lic Affairs,
Depart­ment of Defence,
Can­ber­ra, Australia 

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