Australian Minister for Defence on Afghanistan, Hungry Beast, HMAS Success

TOPICS: HMAS Suc­cess Chief of Navy Address; Hun­gry Beast; Afghanistan Min­is­te­r­i­al State­ment
LYNDAL CURTIS: Stephen Smith, wel­come to News 24.
LYNDAL CURTIS: The Chief of the Navy is giv­ing a state­ment to his troops on the cul­ture of drink­ing in the navy. He says it’s everyone’s respon­si­bil­i­ty. He’s talk­ing about breath test­ing a hun­dred per cent and ban­ning con­sump­tion of alco­hol at least in some ports.

Are these mea­sures necessary?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I strong­ly sup­port what the Chief of Navy is doing.

The gen­e­sis of his address today is the ter­ri­ble episode we saw with HMAS Suc­cess, where we had very bad exam­ples of per­son­al con­duct, both drink­ing onshore and off­shore, sex­u­al harass­ment both onshore and offshore.

And he, as Chief of Navy, and has — he has my full sup­port — wants to make it clear that we have a zero tol­er­ance for abuse of alco­hol, zero tol­er­ance for abuse of your work­mates either onshore or offshore.

Now, hope­ful­ly, some of those mea­sures won’t be required, but what is required first is a change of con­duct, a change of atti­tude, and a change of culture.

And if it means that some ports have to be declared dry, if there has to be greater amounts of alco­hol and drug test­ing, then so be it.

But we have to see a change of cul­ture, and the Chief of Navy is doing a very good job in this respect.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Isn’t it real­i­ty though that sailors can be away from home for months at a time? When they’re in port, they’re effec­tive­ly off duty, isn’t it? Most people’s work­places don’t con­trol what they do off duty, do they?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, they may well be off duty, but let’s just take it step by step.

First­ly, if a ship’s on oper­a­tions, there’s no alco­hol. The com­man­der of a ship can autho­rise use of mod­est amounts of alco­hol if he or she choos­es when the ship is not on operation.

And on shore leave or off­shore in a port, the gen­er­al approach has been that peo­ple go onshore and do what they like. But in the course of doing what they like, they are ambas­sadors for the Navy, ambas­sadors for Aus­tralia, and they have to con­duct them­selves responsibly.

We saw with HMAS Suc­cess very bad exam­ples of peo­ple onshore con­duct­ing them­selves irre­spon­si­bly. And what the Chief of Navy has said is that if we don’t get a change of atti­tude, we may well have to use these measures.

Of course, as Defence Min­is­ter, what I would like to see is the capac­i­ty for peo­ple when they go onshore to relax, enjoy them­selves, have a bit of fun and get some respite from oper­a­tional duties. But they have to do that in a respon­si­ble way, and we’ve seen ter­ri­bly bad exam­ples of where that con­duct has been irre­spon­si­ble and it has to stop, and that’s what the Chief of Navy is doing.

LYNDAL CURTIS: On anoth­er issue, the ABC pro­gram the Hun­gry Beast last night detailed the process it tried to go through to get footage of an oper­a­tion, a suc­cess­ful oper­a­tion in Afghanistan involv­ing Australians.

You’ve told Par­lia­ment today you did­n’t give a yes or no to the air­ing of that footage. Hun­gry Beast says it was cleared by the troops in Afghanistan. Was the hold up at Rus­sell Hill, at Defence head­quar­ters in Canberra?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, there are two aspects about the ABC, and let me start by say­ing I’m a strong sup­port­er of the ABC, so it’s unusu­al for me to make such a point.

But I did on this occa­sion because what the ABC aired last night both on at sev­en o’clock news on ABC1 and sub­se­quent­ly in Hun­gry Beast was the entire­ly fal­la­cious asser­tion that footage of an oper­a­tion in Afghanistan had not gone to air or been made avail­able pub­licly because it had been held up in my office for months. That’s com­plete­ly false. There’s no basis for that sug­ges­tion, there’s no evidence.

The pro­ce­dure is quite straight­for­ward; it’s applied for many years. Deci­sions about whether footage is — of oper­a­tions in Afghanistan is released is entire­ly a mat­ter for Defence, whether it’s offi­cers on the ground in Afghanistan or offi­cers in Russell. 

And the essen­tial cri­te­ria for release is whether it might prej­u­dice oper­a­tional secu­ri­ty. They are appro­pri­ate­ly mat­ters for Defence, its offi­cers and its offi­cials, and not for me.

The first…

LYNDAL CURTIS: [Inter­rupts] Do you ever…

STEPHEN SMITH: The first time I saw this video was when I saw it online this morning.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Do you ever have a say over footage that, or issues that Defence releas­es, or inter­views that are done par­tic­u­lar­ly by the senior com­man­ders of Defence?

STEPHEN SMITH: Whether it’s com­ments that Defence make, whether it’s inter­views by their offi­cers, the gen­er­al approach is that they’re mat­ters for Defence.

There’s a long-stand­ing sys­tem where Defence sen­si­bly draws the atten­tion of my office to sen­si­tive mat­ters or inter­views by lead­ing offi­cers in Defence.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Do you get to veto them?

STEPHEN SMITH: I leave it to their judge­ment. It’s, of course, a sen­si­ble mat­ter to make sure that the min­is­ter of the day knows what senior offi­cers in Defence are doing.

And of course there’s exchanges and con­ver­sa­tions about whether it’s a sen­si­ble thing to do from Defence’s per­spec­tive or from the gen­er­al nation­al secu­ri­ty perspective.

But on this par­tic­u­lar mat­ter, the asser­tion was essen­tial­ly this: that this video had not been made pub­lic because it had been kept in my office for months. That is a com­plete false­hood, it has no basis to it, and peo­ple who asso­ciate them­selves with that sto­ry should frankly be ashamed of themselves.

LYNDAL CURTIS: You gave a state­ment on Afghanistan to the Par­lia­ment yes­ter­day. You expressed some opti­mism about the train­ing of Afghan troops.

When do you think the Afghan troops that Aus­tralians are train­ing will be ready to take over oper­a­tions by themselves?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, as you know, the Lis­bon sum­mit last year autho­rised the gen­er­al tran­si­tion strat­e­gy. NATO and ISAF defence min­is­ters met in Brus­sels recent­ly, and Pres­i­dent Karzai ear­li­er this week announced the first tranche of tran­si­tion. Uruz­gan Province is not in that tranche, and there was nev­er any expectation.

We believe we’re on track to hand over to the Fourth Brigade of the Afghan Nation­al Army over the next three years, some­where between 2012 and 2014. In oth­er words, on track to meet the inter­na­tion­al community’s aspi­ra­tion of giv­ing the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces respon­si­bil­i­ty for secu­ri­ty mat­ters by the end of 2014.

And I detailed yes­ter­day, we’ve seen improve­ments. They are capa­ble and effec­tive with ongo­ing super­vi­sion. We’re also now train­ing, or in June — from June, we’ll train an addi­tion­al Kan­dak that the US forces are cur­rent­ly train­ing in Uruzgan.

And we’ve been able to do that because we’ve been tak­ing and hold­ing more ground and then as the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan — in Uruz­gan Province sta­bilis­es, we’re able to hand that over to either the Afghan Nation­al Army or the Afghan Nation­al Police, and that frees us up for more training. 

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 →