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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