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

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