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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