Australian Minister for Defence Stephen Smith on ADFA Skype Incident, ADFA and ADF Reviews

Inter­view with Keiran Gilbert, Sky News
KIERAN GILBERT: Stephen Smith, thank you very much for your time this morn­ing.
KIERAN GILBERT: The CDF, Angus Hous­ton, says that the six reviews con­sti­tute a stock take. You say that it’s about effect­ing cul­tur­al change. Which is it, because a stock take does­n’t sound that seri­ous?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it’s both. First­ly, what I think is under-appre­ci­at­ed is the work that the Chief of the Defence Force and the Ser­vice Chiefs have done in recent years to try and instil cul­tur­al change, whether it’s at the Aus­tralian Defence Force Acad­e­my, whether it’s in the ser­vices them­selves — the Navy, the Air Force or the Army. And that includes the broad range of issues — treat­ment of women, binge drink­ing and the like. 

So a lot of good work has been done. But there are a num­ber of things which I want­ed to occur, as did the Chief of the Defence Force and the Vice Chief and the Sec­re­tary of the Depart­ment. One was we want­ed to do a stock take of treat­ment of women at the Aus­tralian Defence Force Acad­e­my, where the Skype inci­dent occurred.

There was a recent stock take done inter­nal­ly in the Depart­ment which showed that progress had been made from some very seri­ous issues back in the 80s and 90s, but we want­ed an exter­nal review and very pleased that the dis­crim­i­na­tion com­mis­sion has done that. So it’s both and we both share that view.

KIERAN GILBERT: But, Min­is­ter, the CDF says these inci­dents are an excep­tion rather than the rule, but you’ve launched six inquiries. So if it’s an excep­tion rather than the rule, why do you need to car­pet bomb this?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we want to make sure that women have a chance of a career path in the Defence Force. That’s why we need to very strong­ly stare down any areas where there’s inap­pro­pri­ate con­duct, par­tic­u­lar­ly so far as the treat­ment of women is concerned.

We’ve asked the Sex Dis­crim­i­na­tion Com­mis­sion­er to look at, in the first instance, treat­ment of women at ADFA and, sec­ond­ly, more gen­er­al­ly, to do a stock take and look at the effect of the improve­ments that the chief of the Defence Force, insti­tut­ing with his Women’s Advi­so­ry Group, have made over recent years. And we’re also open­ing up ful­ly a com­bat role for women. That’s a sen­si­ble thing to do. 

As well we’ve got oth­er chal­lenges: use of alco­hol and binge drink­ing, the use of mod­ern social media and tech­nol­o­gy. Peo­ple need to under­stand that if they con­duct them­selves inap­pro­pri­ate­ly and they’re on Skype or they’re on Face­book or they’re using their mobile phones to tex­ting, there’s a chance that that can become pub­lic or be relayed by others.

KIERAN GILBERT: Serv­ing offi­cers — in fact I was read­ing a com­ment piece by the ex-Army Chief, Peter Leahy this morn­ing and he says how can it be described as a cul­tur­al prob­lem at ADFA, the events of the last week or so, giv­en that the group at the cen­tre of the alle­ga­tions have been there two months, have been there two months. How is that a cul­tur­al mil­i­tary issue?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, first­ly, they are cadets in the insti­tu­tion. That’s the first point. Sec­ond­ly, we want to do a stock take of what is the cul­tur­al envi­ron­ment in the Defence Force Acad­e­my, par­tic­u­lar­ly so far as treat­ment of women is con­cerned and use of alco­hol and the like.

In the inter­nal Defence review, which the Com­man­der of the Defence Force Acad­e­my, Com­modore Kafer, was involved in 2009, 2010, that drew atten­tion to ongo­ing issues so far as sex­u­al activ­i­ty was con­cerned, so far as drink­ing was con­cerned and so far as mil­i­tary jus­tice was con­cerned. So there’s clear­ly more work to be done. 

But we also want to do that more broad­ly in the ser­vices. We know from the HMAS Suc­cess inquiry, we know from the recent Afghanistan Face­book inquiry, that we do get these instances.

I think there are two things that need to be said. First­ly, there’s no tol­er­ance for any of that and, sec­ond­ly, when we do see a pub­lic focus on these issues peo­ple tend to think that’s the only area of activ­i­ty or the only con­duct. That has to be matched, of course, with all of the good con­duct we see every day of the week from Defence Force personnel.

KIERAN GILBERT: Peter Leahy, the Army Chief that I referred to — the ex-Army Chief — he says that — he’s actu­al­ly sug­gest­ed a review into ADFA, full stop. He says that ADFA’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly need­ed, that stu­dents could attend at local uni­ver­si­ties with their friends in a sta­ble envi­ron­ment and then return to a spe­cial­ist mil­i­tary col­lege — Dun­troon or what­ev­er else — once they are more mature. 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I haven’t read his arti­cle, that’s the first thing.

KIERAN GILBERT: Are you open to that?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I haven’t read his arti­cle, that’s the first point. Sec­ond­ly, I don’t know whether he expressed these views when he was Chief of Army. That’s the first point.

But part of it, part of our audit, stock take, review, dri­ve for cul­tur­al change, what­ev­er, will include an exam­i­na­tion by the sex dis­crim­i­na­tion com­mis­sion­er and her team of recruit­ment into the Acad­e­my; also the cur­ricu­lum, to see that we’ve got the cur­ricu­lum right in terms of val­ues, ethics et cetera as well.

KIERAN GILBERT: Are you open to any of that?

STEPHEN SMITH: As well — no I’m not — as well, as well, the Vice Chief of the Defence Force has played a very active role in mak­ing sure that there’s liai­son and exchange of ideas between ADFA, which is not just effec­tive­ly a uni­ver­si­ty but also a res­i­den­tial col­lege, with oth­er uni­ver­si­ties and oth­er res­i­den­tial col­leges, because very many of the social issues also con­front res­i­den­tial col­leges as well.

KIERAN GILBERT: Did the CDF threat­en to quit? Did the Chief of the Defence Force threat­en to quit?

STEPHEN SMITH: Let me just-

KIERAN GILBERT: If you forced Bruce Kafer out-

STEPHEN SMITH: Let me just respond to you advis­ed­ly about this mat­ter. I’ve seen that report in the paper today. Last night, late last night, a senior jour­nal­ist from the paper — not one of the jour­nal­ists with the by-line — con­tact­ed my office to make sure that I had had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be aware of the sto­ry and respond, which to that point in time I hadn’t.

So I’ve had no con­tact, nor have my office, with the two jour­nal­ists whose by-line is on the sto­ry. And I gave them the rel­e­vant paper a state­ment which said the response of the Min­is­ter for Defence and the Chief of the Defence Force is that this claim is entire­ly base­less, with­out foun­da­tion, and not wor­thy of the spec­u­la­tion from the senior jour­nal­ist concerned.

The asser­tion is that Angus Hous­ton threat­ened to resign in a meet­ing over the week­end. That is absolute­ly false. And the Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Hous­ton, and I both make state­ment emphat­i­cal­ly today. It is com­plete­ly and entire­ly baseless.

The same jour­nal­ist con­cerned yes­ter­day had a sto­ry on the front page of his paper which said on Mon­day — yes­ter­day — there’ll be a cri­sis meet­ing to deter­mine the fate of Com­modore Kafer. Well, that was entire­ly base­less too. 

What had occurred over the week­end was that in meet­ings with the Chief of the Defence Force, the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, the Sec­re­tary of the Depart­ment and myself, the Vice Chief advised us on Sat­ur­day that he had effec­tive­ly stood the com­man­dant to one side, direct­ing him to take leave.

We also agreed the sen­si­ble thing to do was to have an inquiry, which we’ve asked Mr Kirkham QC to effect. We also, over the week­end and yes­ter­day, finalised the range of reviews that we have insti­tut­ed, which have the full sup­port of the Chief, the Vice Chief and the Ser­vice Chiefs them­selves. It is a scur­rilous, base­less, with­out foun­da­tion sto­ry, and it does no cred­it to the alleged senior jour­nal­ist concerned. 

KIERAN GILBERT: Is it — does this reflect a com­pro­mise, what we’ve seen, between you and the mil­i­tary chiefs?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well yesterday-

KIERAN GILBERT: And you had demand­ed Kafer gone full stop and now he’s gone on leave?

STEPHEN SMITH: No, no. Yes­ter­day the Chief of the Defence Force and I stood up and said we have an out­come here which deals with the dif­fi­cult and com­plex issues of the Defence Force Acad­e­my and the Skype inci­dent and a range of pro­pos­als which deal with treat­ment of women gen­er­al­ly, both at ADFA and in the Defence Forces.

KIERAN GILBERT: Did you want the Com­man­der sacked?


KIERAN GILBERT: Did you want him sacked?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, what I want­ed to occur was for this mat­ter to be dealt with appro­pri­ate­ly. Peo­ple asked me in the past, you know, do you have con­fi­dence in the com­man­dant, to which I refuse to be drawn because I want­ed the facts to be dealt with properly.

But there’s a sec­ond point as well. He is not respon­si­ble to me in an employ­ment or in a career sense. He is respon­si­ble to the Chief of the Defence Force and in the com­mand line arrange­ment respon­si­ble direct­ly to the Vice Chief of the Defence Force. 

It was the Vice Chief of the Defence Force who decid­ed to put him on leave. That had, when we were advised of that, the com­plete sup­port of the Chief, of myself and the Sec­re­tary of the Depart­ment because we believed that was in his best inter­ests, in the best inter­est of the Acad­e­my, in the best inter­est of the force because it would enable an inquiry to take place and to be done thoughtfully.

KIERAN GILBERT: But the per­cep­tion is that you’ve been knock­ing heads with the mil­i­tary chiefs to-

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, this is-

KIERAN GILBERT: ‑to pull them in, to do something.

STEPHEN SMITH: Let me make this point-

KIERAN GILBERT: Is that a fair assess­ment of what’s been going on?

STEPHEN SMITH: I’ve seen this asser­tion made by peo­ple who are not cur­rent­ly serv­ing offi­cers or ser­vice chiefs. That’s the first point. Sec­ond­ly, from the moment this mat­ter arose, the Chief of the Defence Force, the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, the Sec­re­tary of the Depart­ment and I have effec­tive­ly been meet­ing or hook­ing up on a dai­ly basis, going through the com­plex and dif­fi­cult issues.

And as the Chief said yes­ter­day, every­thing that we announced yes­ter­day has our com­plete and full sup­port, as it should.

KIERAN GILBERT: So no stand-off? No stand-off there at all? 

STEPHEN SMITH: Absolute­ly not. We were work­ing through com­plex and dif­fi­cult issues. The asser­tion by oth­ers that Angus Hous­ton threat­ened to resign is entire­ly and com­plete­ly base­less and not wor­thy of spec­u­la­tion by the news­pa­per or the jour­nal­ist con­cerned. That was emphat­i­cal­ly made clear in the state­ment that I gave to them on my behalf and on Angus Houston’s behalf last night.

KIERAN GILBERT: I’d bet­ter let you go. But I just want to ask you one last issue relat­ing to all of this — that women in com­bat, you want that expe­dit­ed, you want women to have access to com­bat roles. How real­is­tic is that? You know, there are con­cerns from serv­ing offi­cers and so on that — how real­is­tic is it that we will see women on the SAS for example?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, first­ly, it’s very real­is­tic. Cur­rent­ly women have access to about 93 per cent of roles in defence. They don’t effec­tive­ly have access to infantry com­bat roles, some Air Force roles and some Navy roles and they don’t have access to Spe­cial Forces.

What the Gov­ern­ment believes — on the rec­om­men­da­tion of the Chief and on the rec­om­men­da­tion of the Ser­vice Chiefs — and we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly indi­cat­ed this. We believe that the role you play in Defence, includ­ing in the ser­vices, should be deter­mined entire­ly by your capac­i­ty, your phys­i­cal capac­i­ty and your intel­lec­tu­al capac­i­ty; not on the basis of your gen­der. And what I’ve asked my col­league, the Min­is­ter for Defence, Sci­ence and Per­son­nel, War­ren Snow­don, to bring for­ward, with the full sup­port of the Chief and the Ser­vice Chiefs, is the imple­men­ta­tion of that. And what this also does-

KIERAN GILBERT: Will we see women in the Spe­cial Forces though, in the SAS?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well if they have, in due course, if they have the intel­lec­tu­al and the phys­i­cal capa­bil­i­ty, yes, that will be open. That’ll be a deci­sion that’ll be made on the basis of capac­i­ty, not on the basis of sex.

And what it will also do is essen­tial­ly open up the path­way to all of the lead­er­ship roles in Defence and the Defence Force to women and that’s obvi­ous­ly a very good thing.

KIERAN GILBERT: Min­is­ter, appre­ci­ate your time, as always. Thanks.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much. 

Press release
Min­is­te­r­i­al Sup­port and Pub­lic Affairs,
Depart­ment of Defence,
Can­ber­ra, Australia 

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