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


DAVID SPEERS: First we’re joined by Defence Minister Stephen Smith for an update on the various enquiries he announced last week following the ADFA sex scandal. Minister thanks for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: A Pleasure.
DAVID SPEERS: You announced a series of inquiries to look at various aspects of Defence, attitudes towards women and the incident itself.

I want to start with the inquiry that’s gained a lot of attention. Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick is looking at the issues with women in particular, ADFA.

You’ve been meeting with her today. How is that enquiry taking shape?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I met with the Sex Discrimination Commissioner today. Firstly she’s of course an independent statutory officer as the Human Rights Commission is, so there’s an independent process in a sense that needs to be gone through. But we’ve made very considerable progress on firstly the Human Rights Commission assembling a team to support her because it’s a big task of work. Also, very good progress has been made on the formal terms of reference and I’m very confident that very soon after Easter, the Human Rights Commission and the Sex Discrimination Commissioner will be able to make these matters public, which will be a good thing. But generally we are in very strong agreement that her priority needs to be looking at the treatment of women in the Australian Defence Force Academy itself as her priority-

DAVID SPEERS: Right.

STEPHEN SMITH: -And then-

DAVID SPEERS: Not more broadly in Defence?

STEPHEN SMITH: Her second task will be to more broadly look at the success of the programs that have previously been instituted in Defence for advancing women, the treatment of women, promoting women into leadership positions and the like. Do a stock take of that and then make recommendations as to what more we can do.

DAVID SPEERS: So two separate jobs essentially?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, two separate tasks. We’ve given her as part of – a very important task in terms of generally looking at cultural attitude in the Academy itself but also more broadly, but given the circumstances and the way the Skype incident unfolded, clearly the priority needs to be the Academy itself, and will be done.

DAVID SPEERS: Now you’ve also – you were talking with your Defence Department Secretary Ian Watt about all of these allegations of past abuse in Defence that have surfaced since this issue arose. Have you worked out how you’re going to investigate what could be a mountain of complaints?

STEPHEN SMITH: Yes. Well, this is a very important task for us and the Secretary of the Department of Defence has commissioned external legal team from Phillips Fox – senior partners Gary Rumble, Melanie McKean and also special counsel – who will look at all of the allegations that have come in. Dennis Pearce, who’s a special counsel and also a former Commonwealth Ombudsman, will also be part of that team.

In the first instance we have to make sure that every complaint or suggestion or allegation that’s come to me, that’s gone to Defence or has appeared publicly in newspapers or on TV is accumulated and then methodically assessed. So the task in the first instance is to make sure that we’ve got every accusation or complaint or suggestion that has come out in response to the Skype matter, and then it’s a matter of that external legal review to help us form a judgement about what or how we should progress those matters further.

DAVID SPEERS: Can you give us a sense of whether we’re talking about dozens, hundreds-

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I have to say this is part of the initial task. The first task is to accumulate them all and make sure we haven’t missed any, and then secondly to do an assessment of how many we have in a range of areas. I mean, I have received hundreds emails. Some will provide – some do provide what appear to be details of very serious allegations. Others are more general, along the lines of, ‚This is what happened to me, but I don’t need to progress it – I’ve got over it a long time ago.’ But what occurred to me- DAVID SPEERS: Does it get dropped, or does that still need to be investigated?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we need to go that very careful assessment. And some expressly say, ‚This, Minister, is for your information, not for anyone else‘. So in that category there’ll need to be some response to those people to say, ‚Well, we’ve got it, do you want us to take it any further?‘

But the key first task will be making sure we don’t miss anything, because there have been hundreds of emails, phone calls, letters, faxes, newspaper stories and the like, and then get them into some sensible category, start to make sensible judgments about the way forward.

DAVID SPEERS: That’s – it’s a mammoth task, if you’re talking about hundreds of complaints. Is consideration being given to what could follow – a next step in a judicial or royal commission?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I have said that we need to take it step by step. I’ve also said that there are an array of options. They may well narrow down to a smaller number of issues which look like they throw up serious civil or military or legal issues which we need to deal with. Now, it may be best to deal with those each individually in a legal way. Alternatively, there may be so many that we have to find a different path. So I have not ruled out any further legal or judicial inquiry or treatment. I think it’s important to make that judgment scientifically.

The other option, of course, is to utilise some mechanism to enable people to tell their story and for other people to apologise if they want to. And we’ve seen individual instances of that in recent days, with-

DAVID SPEERS: You’re talking about Andrew Wilkie?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, Andrew Wilkie is one example, where he has essentially apologised for what he was engaged in years ago. Mind you, to his credit, he did that a number of years ago, not in just the blaze of this publicity.

But I’ve also had emails from people who say, ‚I did this when I was younger; I now wish I hadn’t‘. So there may well just be a simple process of people who can just tell their story, either to get it off their chest and put it formally behind them or to get it off their chest and to apologise for what they regard as something which, if they had their time again, they wouldn’t do.

DAVID SPEERS: One of the other inquiries you announced was for the Inspector-General of Defence [indistinct] the overlap, the intersection of the civilian and military justice systems. How is that coming along? Have you worked out how that will-

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I’ve asked the Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force to do that, so – and the Inspector General has started his work. I’ve also, obviously, spoken to him and he will focus, really, in two areas, not restricted, but one of the difficulties that we have seen in recent days and we’ve seen before is what practical difficulties or problems the relationship between either the civil or criminal law of a territory or state or the Commonwealth relates to or interacts with military law and military justice, particularly in a timely way. So you often see a defence inquiry or investigation under disciplinary – under the Defence Disciplinary Act start, and then if there is then a suggestion of the need for a criminal investigation, the defence work stops.

So there is – there are issues there of timeliness and procedure. And I also think that the second inquiry report from Commissioner Gyles into HMAS Success will also help us in that respect.

DAVID SPEERS: Well, this is particularly the issue that’s arisen from the ADFA situation. Those young men who were allegedly responsible for the filming, the Skyping and the watching of the sexual encounter, they haven’t been suspended, have they?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I’m very happy to deal with that.

The final point on the Inspector-General’s work is also looking at whether we’ve got the way in which the victim of a possible crime or the victim of a possible disciplinary breach – whether we’ve got the handling and the processing and the treatment of victims right.

Secondly, on your question, the young men concerned are still at the academy. Yes, that’s right – they have not been suspended. They are-

DAVID SPEERS: Is that right that they haven’t been suspended-

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it is-

DAVID SPEERS: -In your mind?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I don’t want to be drawn on the particular instance because I don’t have the luxury of making judgements about guilt or innocence, either in respect of criminal matters or in respect of disciplinary procedures. But-

DAVID SPEERS: But you did seem to prejudge the Commandant of ADFA, Bruce Kafer.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I-

DAVID SPEERS: He’s been set aside.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I made a very strong judgement that the Commandant, Commodore Kafer allowing disciplinary procedures that weren’t related to the Skype incident to be dealt with at the same time as the Skype issue became public through immediately [indistinct] that the potential innocent victim of a sexual assault was again to be treated as the victim and again to be punished or have her character brought into question.

DAVID SPEERS: But that’s the subject of an investigation. You made that judgement while that whole matter, his handling of it, is being investigated.

STEPHEN SMITH: I went out and very strongly said that was a serious error of judgement. And the advice I have from the Chief of the Defence Force and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force and from Commodore Kafer himself is that yes that was an error of judgement and when we make errors of judgement in positions of responsibility, consequences flow.

DAVID SPEERS: Is there a double standard though-

STEPHEN SMITH: Just coming back-

DAVID SPEERS: -If he’s stood aside-

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, let me come back to the-

DAVID SPEERS: -And these young men are not?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, two things. Firstly, they are the subject of a serious criminal investigation. The advice I have is that the Australian Federal Police are very satisfied with the arrangement because they’re at the Academy, they’re effectively under supervision and they have access to them to enable them to complete their inquiries, conduct interviews and the like. So the Federal Police are very happy with it.

But, more generally, it goes back to one of the key tasks for the Inspector General, which is the interrelationship between Defence disciplinary matters or investigations and the civil or criminal law, particularly when you’ve got these dual investigations.

DAVID SPEERS: And, just finally, the young woman, the 18 year-old woman at the centre of this – is she still on leave or has she returned to- STEPHEN SMITH: Yes, she’s still on-

DAVID SPEERS: When is she back at ADFA?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, she’s still on compassionate or special leave. She’s with family members.

DAVID SPEERS: When will she be back?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well that’s – she remains on leave, there’s no timetable to that. That will be a matter for her and the Academy to determine or work out. But for the present she’s with family members.

DAVID SPEERS: Is there any chance when she goes back she may have to come into contact with those young men?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the Academy has for some time been working on what they describe technically as a management plan. So obviously people are aware of that prospect.

DAVID SPEERS: Does that mean she won’t have to come into contact with them?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the Academy is all too well aware of that issue. Again, she’s on special or compassionate leave. We should, again, take these things step by step. When she returns to the Academy, she will obviously be the subject of the consideration and the careful thought that the Academy have gone into for the management of her presence in the Academy.

DAVID SPEERS: Defence Minister STEPHEN SMITH, thank you very much for that.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you.

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

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