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.

[AD BREAK]

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

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low GlobalDefence.net on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter