Australia — Stephen Smith on Release of the HMAS Success Commission of Inquiry Report

GILLIAN BRADFORD: Mr Smith, good morn­ing.
STEPHEN SMITH: Good morn­ing.
GILLIAN BRADFORD: How damn­ing is this Report and what is the worst of it in your eyes?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it’s a very dis­turb­ing Report. I will table an edit­ed or redact­ed ver­sion of the Report in Par­lia­ment lat­er this after­noon, and fol­low­ing that the Chief of the Defence Force and the Chief of the Navy will out­line Defence and Navy’s response to it.

But it is very con­cern­ing. I’ve said ear­li­er, it’s a very bad read, it is con­fronting. It goes through a break­down of dis­ci­pline, a break­down of com­mand, inap­pro­pri­ate behav­iour in con­duct both onshore and off­shore, inap­pro­pri­ate atti­tude to women sailors, sug­ges­tions of preda­to­ry sex­u­al con­duct. So a trib­al cul­ture which is inap­pro­pri­ate in the mod­ern day, inap­pro­pri­ate in the mod­ern Navy. 

One of the rea­sons that I’m mak­ing it pub­lic is that we want to be as trans­par­ent as pos­si­ble about the prob­lems on this ship but also it sends a mes­sage that we regard such con­duct as inap­pro­pri­ate gen­er­al­ly, below com­mu­ni­ty stan­dards, bring­ing the Navy into dis­re­pute. And such con­duct won’t be tol­er­at­ed by Navy or by Defence or by the Government.

GILLIAN BRADFORD: Now you are releas­ing the bulk of the Report, what assur­ances though can you give about what you are keep­ing private?

STEPHEN SMITH: Because there are seri­ous alle­ga­tions about inap­pro­pri­ate indi­vid­ual con­duct, we do have to respect indi­vid­ual rights. And so the edit­ing of the names of indi­vid­u­als has been done on legal advice. I have pro­vid­ed com­plete copies of the Report to the Chairs and Deputy Chairs of the rel­e­vant Sen­ate Com­mit­tees and to the Shad­ow Min­is­ter for Defence. 

So essen­tial­ly what is removed is mat­ters or mate­ri­als which would iden­ti­fy indi­vid­u­als because they may well be the sub­ject of dis­ci­pli­nary or admin­is­tra­tive action. So it’s done to respect their rights. But effec­tive­ly oth­er than that the full sto­ry is there in all its con­fronting nature. It’s a sor­ry read. Most impor­tant is the response from Navy and the response from the Defence Force which is to very clear­ly send the sig­nal that such con­duct, such atti­tude is not just inap­pro­pri­ate, it won’t be tol­er­at­ed. GILLIAN BRADFORD: And of course this Report deals with events that took place now near­ly two years ago on a Navy tour. What has hap­pened to indi­vid­u­als involved in that mis­con­duct? What will be happening?

STEPHEN SMITH: In gen­er­al terms we’re deal­ing with events from March to May 2009 when HMAS Suc­cess, one of our sup­ply ships, was on an Asian mission. 

Cur­rent­ly the Suc­cess is in Sin­ga­pore, it’s hav­ing some refur­bish­ing and main­te­nance work done. About 10 per cent of the crew who were on the ship at the time remain with the ship so there’s been a sub­stan­tial turnover and I’m not propos­ing to iden­ti­fy some indi­vid­u­als or be more par­tic­u­lar or more spe­cif­ic than that. 

It has tak­en a lot of time and one of the rea­sons for that is because a small num­ber of crew mem­bers were sent off the ship or land­ed and Com­mis­sion­er Gyles effec­tive­ly finds that that was­n’t accord­ing them fair process. He will give the Chief of Navy and the Chief of the Defence Force a sub­se­quent Report deal­ing with the way in which Defence and Navy deal with enquiries of this nature. That will occur in the course of the mid­dle or the sec­ond half of this year. That will also be a most help­ful Report because it’s quite clear that there are some weak­ness­es in the enquiry sys­tem and I think we can do bet­ter on that front as well.

GILLIAN BRADFORD: So have any of these peo­ple left the Navy? Have any of the alleged vic­tims of this misconduct…

STEPHEN SMITH: Again I’m not propos­ing to go into that. Peo­ple may well be sub­ject to dis­ci­pli­nary charges under the Defence Force Dis­ci­pline Act. That is a process which the Chief of the Defence Force and the Chief of Navy will out­line lat­er today. That’s as well as the action that the Chief of Navy will take in addi­tion to a pro­gram called New Gen­er­a­tion Navy which he intro­duced in 2009. That will very clear­ly make the point that lead­er­ship is required on these issues, that inap­pro­pri­ate behav­iour and con­duct by Navy or com­mu­ni­ty stan­dards will not be tol­er­at­ed, par­tic­u­lar­ly when it comes to not treat­ing fel­low crew­men and crew­women with the appro­pri­ate respect that they’re enti­tled to, both in the work place and out­side the work place.

GILLIAN BRADFORD: And how far up the chain of com­mand does this go? Where does the buck offi­cial­ly stop?

STEPHEN SMITH: I’ll leave that for the pub­li­ca­tion of the Report and sub­se­quent con­sid­er­a­tion but it’s quite clear there was a break­down on the ship of dis­ci­pline, effec­tive­ly a break­down of some of the lines of command. 

It’s not entire­ly a bad sto­ry. One of the good fea­tures of the Report is that peo­ple who believe that there was inap­pro­pri­ate con­duct drew atten­tion to it in cir­cum­stances which showed that they were made of pret­ty stern stuff. 

More gen­er­al­ly I know that Navy’s going through a tough time with this Report, with dif­fi­cul­ties on heavy amphibi­ous lift, but despite some dif­fi­cul­ties we still see Navy doing great work — in the response to the floods and the cyclone; in the response from crew mem­bers of HMAS Pirie and the Christ­mas Island tragedy just before Christ­mas; and over the week­end crew mem­bers from HMAS Bathurst act­ing in a very hero­ic way in rough seas to bring an asy­lum seek­er boat to shore on Christ­mas Island. So it’s not all a bad sto­ry but we can’t tol­er­ate con­duct of this nature.

GILLIAN BRADFORD: And just briefly on that Mr Smith, this reflects on a series of inci­dents on one ship. What do you say about what’s hap­pen­ing in the rest of the Navy?

STEPHEN SMITH: It’s clear that we have had par­tic­u­lar prob­lems on HMAS Suc­cess. But there are lessons here more gen­er­al­ly for Navy and the Defence Force gen­er­al­ly which we have to be con­scious of. We are, for exam­ple, mak­ing the point that abuse and mis­use of alco­hol is inap­pro­pri­ate across the Force and that’s one of the issues which becomes clear in the read­ing of this Report, the need for sen­si­ble use of alco­hol, the need for alco­hol and drug test­ing to be of the high­est order. These things apply across the board and they’re treat­ed across the board.

GILLIAN BRADFORD: Mr Smith thank you very much for join­ing us.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you, thanks very much. 

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

Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →