Australian Minister for Defence on ADFA Skype Incident; ADFA and ADF Review

Meet the Press, Chan­nel 10
PAUL BONGIORNO: Wel­come back to the pro­gramme, Stephen Smith. Good morn­ing, Min­is­ter.
STEPHEN SMITH: Good morn­ing, Paul. Thanks very much.
PAUL BONGIORNO: The reports yes­ter­day that sex­u­al abuse in the defence force goes back 40 years. There is now talk of class action. Those inquiries that you set up at the begin­ning of the week, how far back will they go?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I’ve made it clear that so far as any alle­ga­tions of mis­treat­ment or any fail­ure to inves­ti­gate prop­er­ly, which had been raised either pri­vate­ly with my office or in the media, or more gen­er­al­ly with the Depart­ment of Defence, they will be in the first instance referred to an exter­nal group of lawyers. 

They will do an ini­tial assess­ment and they give me advice as to what fur­ther steps, if any, I need to rec­om­mend to my min­is­te­r­i­al col­leagues for future action. I have made it clear that the first thing we need to do is a method­i­cal assess­ment of all those cas­es to see if any­thing more needs to be done. I do not rule out in that con­text any fur­ther legal or judi­cial activ­i­ty so far as those com­plaints or alle­ga­tions are concerned. 

PAUL BONGIORNO: So you are say­ing that even those recent com­plaints going back maybe three to four decades are part of the process you have announced? 

STEPHEN SMITH: I have made it clear that any­thing that is raised in the con­text of the pub­lic­i­ty on the so-called Skype inci­dent is con­cerned, will go to that exter­nal group of lawyers for an ini­tial assess­ment to enable me and my min­is­te­r­i­al col­leagues, par­tic­u­lar­ly the Attor­ney-Gen­er­al, to make a judge­ment about what we need to do. 

It may require fur­ther legal work on indi­vid­ual cas­es, it may require more gen­er­al and a judi­cial approach to the gen­er­al com­plaint or sug­ges­tion that over a long peri­od of time, com­plaints were cov­ered up or not inves­ti­gat­ed properly. 

PAUL BONGIORNO: As well as we have seen in oth­er insti­tu­tions, as in the church­es for exam­ple, the poten­tial is for mil­lions of dol­lars in com­pen­sa­tion. Is it look­ing like we may even need, as you say, a judi­cial or a roy­al com­mis­sion to look into this? 

STEPHEN SMITH: I am cer­tain­ly not talk­ing in terms of a roy­al com­mis­sion at this stage. We do need to take it step by step. There are a range of pos­si­bil­i­ties. One, for exam­ple, would be intense legal work on par­tic­u­lar cas­es, par­tic­u­lar indi­vid­ual cas­es, anoth­er might be a use of lawyers or retired judges to look gen­er­al­ly at the issue. 

There also is the pos­si­bil­i­ty we have seen in oth­er cir­cum­stances like these of giv­ing peo­ple who want to tell their sto­ry the oppor­tu­ni­ty of doing that, and also giv­ing peo­ple who may have been involved in such cas­es, so-called bas­tardi­s­a­tion or vic­tim­i­sa­tion, giv­ing them the oppor­tu­ni­ty to express a mod­ern-day view. We have seen exam­ples already where peo­ple have said “I did that in the past, I now regret it, it wasn’t the right thing to do, I wouldn’t do it now”. So all of that awaits us — we need to take it sen­si­bly, care­ful­ly, step by step. 

PAUL BONGIORNO: You can­not rule out claims for com­pen­sa­tion. There is a direct duty of care and it is not going back a cen­tu­ry, it is going back 30 years maybe. 

STEPHEN SMITH: No, that point is absolute­ly right. There is a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­i­ty, either in indi­vid­ual cas­es or more gen­er­al­ly, that through the Depart­ment of Defence or through the ser­vices, there is a Com­mon­wealth lia­bil­i­ty here. That is why I say we need to pro­ceed care­ful­ly, we need to make sure we respect all the rights of the peo­ple who are either com­plain­ing or rais­ing issues or in respect of whom, adverse com­ments have been made, and do that in a sen­si­ble way, which meets all of the respon­si­bil­i­ties that the gov­ern­ment of the day would have. 

PAUL BONGIORNO: The Defence rumour mill says this answer from Com­modore Kafer on the day the Kate sto­ry broke shows his reac­tion was time­ly and appro­pri­ate. Lis­ten to this. 

CDRE KAFER AUDIO: After ini­tial report­ing of the inci­dent we referred through Defence up to the ACT Police for guid­ance on juris­dic­tion and we were informed by the ACT Police that it was not part of the Crim­i­nal Act in the ACT and so it was referred back to Defence. 

PAUL BONGIORNO: The accu­sa­tion from the Defence Asso­ci­a­tion and oth­ers is in a sense, you have vic­timised Com­modore Kafer. 

STEPHEN SMITH: That is absolute­ly not the case. I have said two things. First­ly, when­ev­er any issue was raised by the han­dling of the mat­ter by Com­modore Kafer, I said I need to get some advice on that, I raised the par­tic­u­lar issue with the Chief of the Defence Force, and I made respons­es about that. When I had strong advice, a sug­ges­tion that had been made about the han­dling of the mat­ter weren’t cor­rect, I made that clear publicly. 

My very strong crit­i­cism of Com­modore Kafer was when he allowed the par­al­lel track­ing or the han­dling at the same time of dis­ci­pline me hear­ings against the young woman con­cerned, not relat­ed to the Skype inci­dent, occurred in March, relat­ing to drink­ing and absence with­out leave, and the han­dling of that on the day that the Skype issue became pub­lic, did two things. 

First­ly, it raised the spec­tre that a poten­tial inno­cent vic­tim of a seri­ous sex­u­al abuse was her­self been pun­ished, and sec­ond­ly, brought into play, her char­ac­ter and con­duct. And I regard both those things as entire­ly appro­pri­ate. I regard the deci­sion to allow those mat­ters to be dealt with at same time as a seri­ous error of judge­ment which also cut to the entire han­dling of the mat­ter by ADFA and by Com­modore Kafer and that’s why in the event, in his best inter­est, and in ADFA’s best inter­est, and in Defence’s best inter­est, the Chief of the Defence Force placed him on leave over last week­end and we have estab­lished an inde­pen­dent inquiry to look at the han­dling of the mat­ter gen­er­al­ly. That enables every­one to put their point of view in an objec­tive way. 

PAUL BONGIORNO: Time for a break. When we return with the pan­el, is the defence bud­get in the cross hairs? And women on the front line — a pol­i­cy some of our Kore­an War vet­er­ans thought was the dumb­est idea of the week. 


PAUL BONGIORNO: You are on Meet The Press with Defence Min­is­ter Stephen Smith. And wel­come to the pan­el, Fran Kel­ly, ABC Radio Nation­al Break­fast and Nick But­ter­ly, the West Aus­tralian. Good morn­ing Fran and Nick. Monday’s marathon news con­fer­ence saw the Min­is­ter announce Labor would final­ly imple­ment its pol­i­cy of giv­ing women com­bat roles which could even­tu­al­ly clear the way for a female Defence Force Chief. 

PM AUDIO: A few years ago, I heard Peter Cos­grove say that men and women should have an equal right to fight and die for their coun­try. I think he is right about that. 

TONY ABBOTT AUDIO: The fact is that if a woman has the capa­bil­i­ty, there is no rea­son why she should not do the job. 

FRAN KELLY: Min­is­ter, we have bipar­ti­san sup­port for women in com­bat roles, women on the front line. Is it time we had a real dead­line set for this oth­er­wise it is going to just keep on mean­der­ing through? 

STEPHEN SMITH: I have asked the Min­is­ter for Defence Per­son­nel togeth­er with the Chief of Defence Force and the ser­vice chiefs to bring forth imple­men­ta­tion of this pol­i­cy as soon as possible. 

FRAN KELLY: Why not put a dead­line on it? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Because I want to make sure that we get it right. The pol­i­cy posi­tion is quite clear. We believe that front­line oper­a­tional mat­ters and your capac­i­ty to do that should be deter­mined not on the basis of your sex, but whether you have the phys­i­cal, intel­lec­tu­al and psy­cho­log­i­cal capac­i­ty to do it. We are work­ing through those judge­ments. Cur­rent­ly, 93% of posi­tions are open to women. It is essen­tial­ly a small num­ber of front­line oper­a­tional posi­tions – infantry and some Navy and Air force oper­a­tional matters- 

FRAN KELLY: But they’re the last bas­tion and when­ev­er we talk about capac­i­ty, a lot of peo­ple raise ques­tions of well, could a woman walk for two weeks with an 80kg pack on her back? Could she do those roles? I mean, can she? How do you get around that? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, you get around that by say­ing that if a woman wants to do that, if she has the phys­i­cal and intel­lec­tu­al capa­bil­i­ty, we should not stand in her way. We’ve cur­rent­ly got between 50,000 and 60,000 peo­ple who are Defence Force per­son­nel. It is a small num­ber of a coun­try of 23 mil­lion peo­ple. It is not com­pul­so­ry. But if women want to go all the way, so far as the Defence Force is con­cerned, so far as lead­er­ship is con­cerned, then they need to have access, if they want to, and they’ve got the capac­i­ty to the posi­tions, these front-line oper­a­tional posi­tions and that is what we want to imple­ment and that is a very strong view of the Chief of the Defence Force and the ser­vice chiefs. 

NICK BUTTERLY: Min­is­ter, in a few months, you will be appoint­ing a new Chief of the Defence Force, a new head of the Army, Navy and Air Force. Will these issues of bas­tardi­s­a­tion and women on the front line be front of mind for you when you are appoint­ing this new ser­vice and is there a woman that could be appoint­ed to any of these roles? 

STEPHEN SMITH: First­ly, no, I won’t have those issues front of my mind. What I will have at the front of my mind is find­ing the best group of indi­vid­u­als to take the best inter­est of the ser­vices and take nation­al secu­ri­ty inter­ests for­ward. I have will not be drawn or spec­u­late on who they might be. I am work­ing very close­ly with the Ser­vice Chiefs now and I’m absolute­ly con­fi­dent we have a range of options in terms of the future lead­er­ship of the force. As we make that tran­si­tion, we need to keep our nation­al secu­ri­ty inter­ests upper­most in our mind. 

Whilst these issues have been very high-pro­file issues in recent times, it is impor­tant to under­stand and make the point that all of the mea­sures I announced last week, I did with the Chief of the Defence Force, they all have his strong sup­port as they do the sup­port of the Vice-Chief of the Defence Force, and the ser­vice chiefs gen­er­al­ly, as we move through to take a stock take on the cul­tur­al issues, but also to deal with some of the longer term issues, such as the inter­re­la­tion­ship between the civ­il and the mil­i­tary law, and also deal­ing with the alle­ga­tions and sug­ges­tions that we have seen arise as a mat­ter of the pub­lic­i­ty of the Skype matter. 

FRAN KELLY: What about the inter­re­la­tion­ship between the Min­is­ter and the Defence Force chiefs? It’s obvi­ous there have been ten­sions over the last two weeks over this issue. It is dan­ger­ous to have any kind of frac­ture between the Defence Min­is­ter and the Chief of the Defence Force and the ser­vice chiefs, isn’t it? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Which is why on this mat­ter, as I’ve made clear for a num­ber of days, the Chief of the Defence Force, the Sec­re­tary of the Depart­ment, the Vice-Chief of the Defence Force and I worked through these issues very method­i­cal­ly, and the announce­ments I made last week were as a result of that work. We agreed to them all joint­ly and we strong­ly sup­port them. They will be in the best inter­ests of the Defence Force and the best inter­ests of the Defence Force personnel. 

PAUL BONGIORNO: Min­is­ter, it’s the Bud­get sea­son and the defence usu­al­ly escapes the sharp­er edge of the Treasurer’s axe. The Prime Minister’s razor-sharp rhetoric though, tougher than usu­al. Here she is. 

PM AUDIO: We will be mak­ing hard deci­sions in this Bud­get to pre­vent greater pain in the long term. 

NICK BUTTERLY: Min­is­ter, both Labor and the Howard Gov­ern­ment quar­an­tined Defence from bud­get cuts for many years. We are about to see harsh cuts across a range of bud­get port­fo­lios. Isn’t it time we had a tougher look at the Defence Depart­ment in terms of mak­ing cuts? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, a num­ber of com­ments. First­ly, it is very impor­tant that we meet our eco­nom­ic com­mit­ment to return the Bud­get to sur­plus. That is our high­est pri­or­i­ty in terms of eco­nom­ic man­age­ment and that remains cen­tral to our focus. In addi­tion to being Min­is­ter for Defence, I am also a mem­ber of the expen­di­ture review com­mit­tee, so I would not be drawn on the bud­get spec­u­la­tion. You need to judge the out­come. But two points about Defence. 

First­ly, all of our oper­a­tional com­mit­ments, Afghanistan, East Tim­or, the Solomon Islands, we will con­tin­ue to ensure that our troops there are ade­quate­ly and appro­pri­ate­ly resourced. Sec­ond­ly, we are look­ing at Defence to make a con­tri­bu­tion to our bud­get out­comes con­sis­tent with our strate­gic reform pro­gram approach which sees $20 bil­lion worth of effi­cien­cy sav­ings over the next peri­od. Defence will make a con­tri­bu­tion but it will be con­sis­tent with meet­ing, con­tin­u­ing to meet our oper­a­tional com­mit­ments but also con­sis­tent with our strate­gic reform program. 

PAUL BONGIORNO: Thank you very much for being with us this morn­ing, Stephen Smith, the Defence Minister. 

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 →