Minister for Defence Stephen Smith Interview with Ashleigh Gillon, Sky News
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Minister, thank you for joining us.
STEPHEN SMITH: Pleasure.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: How wide spread do you fear the problem of sexual assault is across the Defence Force?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well as you know after the so-called Skype affair I commissioned through the Secretary of the Defence Department, DLA Phillips Fox, now DLA Piper, to go through all of the allegations that had come through either to me, my office, Defence or had been made public by the media, to give us an assessment and a judgement about the best way forward.
So we’ve referred to DLA Piper the allegations last night on Four Corners, of course they’re very concerning as have a range of previous allegations. But the first thing we need to do is just to methodically and exhaustively make an assessment about each of the very many allegations that have come in and then make a judgement about the best way forward, whether the best way forward is to deal individually with these cases or to look at the potential for further judicial inquiries or hearings and that’s a judgement we need to make calmly once we’ve got some initial advice from DLA Piper.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: How many cases of complaint have been brought to your attention?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I’ve been expressly asked by DLA Piper not to have a public discussion about the number of allegations we’ve received because they can range from anonymous allegations, which people don’t want to pursue, to substantive detailed allegations. Suffice to say that in the aftermath of the so-called Skype affair, and I’m assuming in the aftermath of Four Corners, we’ve received very many complaints-
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Hundreds or thousands, what numbers are we looking at here?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well as I say I’m not proposing to put a number on them because until I get initial advice from DLA Piper, essentially a first sifting process, it’s difficult to make a judgement as to which ones are able to be heard. Indeed some allegations may well have previously been exhaustively investigated either by Defence or by other authorities. So we’re best off taking it step by step.
What is important is that when a range of allegations were made public in the aftermath of the Skype affair, it was important to establish an independent external process, we’ve done that. We’ve set in a sense a cut off of the 17 June later this week, but of course if further allegations come in then they’ll be dealt with in a sensible way as well.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Is it likely that the Government is going to have to pay huge dollars in compensation?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well again I’ve made it clear that I haven’t ruled out any way forward. It may require some form of further judicial inquiry-
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Do you think people-
STEPHEN SMITH: -or it may be that some process where people who in the past have been subject to abuse simply want someone to stand up and say we’re sorry that that occurred and that for example was the sentiment last night interviewed on Four Corners.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: And of course you can’t comment on those specific cases but in terms of the sorts of things that we heard, the stories of abuse that we heard last night, do you think those people deserve compensation?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well again you’ve got to take it step by step. I have not discounted the possibility that there may be some Commonwealth liability there so I don’t discount that. We have to work through the individual cases. We have to make a sensible and careful judgement about the best way forward. It may well be as I say that dealing individually with a number of cases is the best way to proceed. It may well be that a further legal or judicial inquiry is appropriate. It may well be that setting up a process where people who have been subject to abuse in the past, have the chance of putting their story and simply get an apology or a sorry from the system or from individuals concerned.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Are you leaning towards a judicial inquiry?
STEPHEN SMITH: I’m not going to lean one way or the other. I received in my own office newspapers and media outlets like yourselves received very many allegations and made them public. We now need to sift through those and make a judgement about the best way forward and that’s what we’re doing. The allegations last night like previous allegations are very concerning. They’re obviously very distressing as you would expect and understand so far as the people involved are concerned but we need to just calmly work our way through each of these particular cases.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: On another issue, as a senior Western Australian politician of course you’re very familiar with the mining industry; Labor’s left faction is now demanding an increase in the amount of money raised by the proposed mining tax, the Greens agree and are calling on the Government to set up a sovereign world fund. Do you think now that the Greens and the left side of the Labor Party are aligned on this, there will be a lot more pressure on the Government to change the tax and increase the tax?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well so far as the Minerals Resources Rent tax is concerned the Government went to the last election with a commitment as to the nature of the legislation. There was an agreement between the Government and the mining industry and Martin Ferguson the Minister for Resources has recently published a draft legislation that reflects that election commitment. So far as the Government is concerned, whilst people are perfectly entitled to put a point of view the legislation which reflects our election commitment, which reflects that agreement with the mineral resources industry will be presented to the Parliament and we’re expecting that the Parliament will enact it.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Why not set up a sovereign wealth fund though? What are the down sides of that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well you’d need to have a conversation with the Treasurer’s Office, but the comments I’ve seen, the public comments I’ve seen go to the Mineral Resources Rent Tax. The Government has a very strong view that it is open to the mineral resources industry to pay more tax. Colin Barnett in Western Australia reflected that by two billion dollar increase in royalties recently in his budget so we believe that the mineral resources industry can appropriately pay more tax. We went to the election with a commitment and agreement and we’ll seek to have that legislated through the Parliament in the course of this year.
ASHLEIGH GILLON: Stephen Smith; thanks for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you, thanks very much.
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