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Houston defends ADF culture -

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ALI MOORE, PRESENTER: Our guest is Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston.

He's been the chief of Australia's Defence Force for six years.

During his time in the job he's overseen Australia's engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, has
worked with five Defence ministers and has seen scandals emerge over the culture in Defence.

Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston joined me earlier from our Canberra studio.

Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston, welcome to Lateline and many thanks for joining us in your last
week in the job.

ANGUS HOUSTON, DEFENCE FORCE CHIEF: Good evening, Ali. It's a pleasure to be here.

ALI MOORE: You're leaving the Defence Force at a time when there's an unprecedented number of
inquiries. There's the six investigations put in place after the Skype sex scandal at the Defence
Force Academy, as well as a completely separate review of defence procurement and maintenance. Do
you have a sense of unfinished business?

ANGUS HOUSTON: Well, I don't think it would matter when I would leave a dynamic organisation like
the Defence organisation. There will always be reviews going because that's the nature of the
beast. It's a very large, very complex organisation.

I think it's probably the most complex and diverse organisation in Australia and arguably one of
the most complex organisations in the Southern Hemisphere.

ALI MOORE: You don't think this number of reviews is somewhat unusual?

ANGUS HOUSTON: Well, you know, unfortunately for me, we did have an abhorrent incident at the
Defence academy a couple of months ago. And essentially, the minister has discussed with me and the
secretary what we might do about it, and what has been put in place as a series of reviews that
build on work that's already ongoing in terms of women, in terms of misuse of alcohol and in a
number of other areas.

ALI MOORE: You talk about the fact that this is work that's ongoing, and those reviews, they do
range from looking at the particular incident to looking at the treatment of women more generally
across the Defence forces, to even looking at your own legal processes.

But, what is it, do you think, about Defence that's led it to be in the position it finds itself?

ANGUS HOUSTON: Well, you know, I think that Defence, as I've mentioned, is quite a unique
organisation in Australia.

Right now we're conducting military operations. We have the highest level of operational tempo that
we've had in a generation. 3,300 people on operations right now. And if we have a look at what
we've done over the last six years: 58 operations, 69,000 individual deployments, and of course
many of those deployments have been in harm's way. Our people have been fighting in a war.

At the same time, we have a lot of people back home that need to be taken care of, and of course
the business of Defence requires big decisions about acquisition and of course lots of effort in
the sustainment area to ensure that the whole machine keeps going.

So it's a very complex business and there will always be many challenges. And of course a lot of
the equipment we buy is at the leading edge of technology, and sometimes there are challenges and
issues that need to be looked into.

And that's the way I would characterise it. I don't think it means that the whole organisation is
doing poorly or anything like that. Witness the great job that we're doing on operations. So I'm
very proud of what our people do and I think that we shouldn't give too much focus to the reviews.

The reviews are a good response to a series of issues that have arisen in the recent past. It's not
the end of the world.

ALI MOORE: So you don't consider that there is any sort of fundamental cultural problem. And I
suppose if I can put that in the context not only of the reviews, but also for example the law firm
that's being commissioned to independently look at allegations of bastardry has had some 1,000
complaints, some very serious, some minor, but did that number surprise you?

ANGUS HOUSTON: Well, I'm a little surprised by the number, but when you consider that some of those
complaints go back to World War II, and in that time we've had probably well over a million people
in the Defence force, it's probably not surprising that there's about a thousand people who've
committed a complaint.

I would submit that, yes, we have had problems in the past, but I'm very happy with the
values-based culture that we advocate at the moment and the culture that leads the behaviours that
most of our people have.

Sure, we will occasionally have incidents and sometimes very embarrassing incidents. I think what
happened with HMAS Success is one of those.

But when you have a close look at HMAS Success, that was a failure of leadership and a misuse of
alcohol, and I would submit that if we hadn't had any alcohol near the ship, we probably wouldn't
have had the circumstances that arose.

So fundamentally the culture is sound and from time to time there will be situations that arise
which don't meet our very high standards.

But, just have a look at our people on operations. They do a magnificent job and they are lauded
all the time for their superior performance.

ALI MOORE: Let's look though at HMAS Success, because that was an example where you talked about
needing to cut out the cancer. I guess in relation to what you just said that there will be from
time to time issues, can you ever cut out the cancer, as you put it, in relation to HMAS Success?
Can you ever completely get rid of these problems?

ANGUS HOUSTON: Yes you can, yes you can, and that's one of the things that Admiral Russ Crane
introduced to Navy.

He calls it "new generation Navy". It's a cultural change program which emphasises leadership,
values and signature behaviours. And that sort of program is being embraced by everybody in Navy,
and if we can get everybody to sign up and embrace that culture, we're going to have improvements
in the way people behave.

ALI MOORE: But if you can, why did you have such a problem at ADFA? What went wrong?

ANGUS HOUSTON: Well, I would submit again that what happened at ADFA happened to a group of young
people. I find the circumstances absolutely abhorrent, but those people involved in what is known
as the Skype incident had only been in the Defence Force for 10 weeks.

So, I don't see it as being a problem with Defence culture, a problem with ADF culture. Rather it's
something that arose shortly after those young people joined the Defence Force.

ALI MOORE: Wasn't there also ...

ANGUS HOUSTON: Can I just finish?

ALI MOORE: Certainly.

ANGUS HOUSTON: Can I just finish, Ali?

I'm very proud of the Defence Academy. I have seen it change over the years. In my 10 years as CDF
and also as Chief of Air Force, I've been very, very happy with the product that we get out of
ADFA.

ALI MOORE: Wasn't the issue though not just, as you say, the people involved had only been there
for a limited amount of time, but wasn't the issue also how it was dealt with? For example, the
Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, was very public in his criticism of Commodore Bruce Kafer, who was
the head of ADFA and has now been sent on leave.

He accused him of a serious error of judgment over how he originally handled the case.

ANGUS HOUSTON: Unfortunately, some of the media reporting in the first instance was not completely
correct. You may recall the minister corrected the record on that. And what I refer to was the
alleged vilification of the young lady. That didn't actually happen. The record was corrected, but
unfortunately, most people still don't know that.

Now, in terms of that particular set of circumstances, I talked to the minister about those
circumstances and we agreed that what needed to be done is for a full inquiry to be conducted into
the management of the incident.

That inquiry is ongoing. It's the Kirkham inquiry. And I think we should just wait and see the
outcome of that inquiry.

ALI MOORE: But Bruce Kafer is still on leave, isn't he, while that inquiry's being undertaken?

ANGUS HOUSTON: Bruce Kafer is performing duties in another part of the ADF and he's continuing to
contribute in a very constructive and meaningful way. And I think we've just got to wait for the
outcome of the Kirkham inquiry. We shouldn't jump to any premature judgments. Let's see where it
falls out when Kirkham reports, hopefully in a few weeks' time.

ALI MOORE: On the broader issue of accountability within the ADF, if we look at two other notable
cases from earlier this year, one was when the Defence Minister very publicly blasted Defence over
the failure to keep crucial ships seaworthy. You jointly wrote the report on that one and it looked
at systemic and cultural problems and hence the review that is now being led by Paul Rizzo.

The second, the announcement that there were six landing craft that cost $40 million and weren't
fit for service. That was a project that was started in 1997, as I understand it, but only
cancelled this year.

Was any individual or individuals held responsible or accountable for either of those two
instances?

ANGUS HOUSTON: No, not at this time. The Rizzo report looks into the whole circumstances of the
amphibious capability. The report looks very closely at capability management and the sustainment
of the capability over time. And as the secretary and I reported to the minister, there are clearly
deficiencies in the management of that capability.

But I would also add that I think we've learned a lot about buying old, worn out, second-hand
equipment. Those ships were bought at the end of their life in the US Navy. They were modified and
then brought into service with the Royal Australian Navy.

I think in retrospect, that was not a good decision because we didn't have the normal logistic
support arrangements, we didn't have the normal configuration management information. Indeed, we
made a poor decision in buying those ships.

ALI MOORE: I guess though the question, going back to accountability - the Defence Minister told
this program in April, "I think the so-called Skype incident does bring home this point: that the
single biggest challenge we have in Defence is to improve personal and institutional
accountability. We've had too many very bad examples in the history of Defence, whether it's
projects or otherwise, where no-one has been held accountable for very serious adverse outcomes."
Why is that?

ANGUS HOUSTON: Well, I would just say that, you know, if you look at my profession, the profession
of arms, we hold people accountable all of the time. And I would submit that we do that on a
frequent basis.

In terms of accountability around large projects, sustainment and the like, the secretary and I
have been very focused on tightening up accountabilities. We commissioned Rufus Black, Dr Rufus
Black to have a look at that and he has done some work for us which ...

ALI MOORE: But do you agree there's still a way to go?

ANGUS HOUSTON: Oh, I think there is a way to go. I think one of the things that we need to do is
sharpen accountabilities across the board in such areas as capability management, acquisition,
sustainment and the like.

ALI MOORE: Do heads ever roll in Defence?

ANGUS HOUSTON: Yes, they do.

ALI MOORE: If we can turn to Afghanistan.

Barack Obama's announced the first withdrawal of US troops. He's moving faster and deeper than the
advice of his top commanders, but at the same time the US has confirmed tentative discussions with
the Taliban.

And a point made by Robert Gates was that the Taliban won't come to the negotiating table until
they believe they can't win militarily. Is now the time to be announcing a withdrawal of troops,
phased as it is? Is it not potentially going to send the message, "Sit tight; the foreigners will
be gone"?

ANGUS HOUSTON: Well, I think this drawdown was foreshadowed back in December of 2009 when president
Obama, the commander-in-chief of the US forces, made his announcement to announce the surge.

And what we've seen is exactly what he said at the time: that the surge would go in to basically
accomplish a number of tasks, and in the middle of 2011, the drawdown of that surge would commence,
and that's exactly what's happening.

And in that time, what we've seen is a huge growth in the size of the Afghan national security
forces. Those forces have grown 80,000 in the last 12 months alone. And if you go back ...

ALI MOORE: So you don't believe it will have an impact on the ability to bring the Taliban to the
table?

ANGUS HOUSTON: No, I think what's important is that we sustain the pressure. And I think through
this fighting season, and indeed in subsequent fighting seasons, we will be able to do that.

ALI MOORE: Well I know that in five days' time your job will be finished, but you have another job,
I understand, honouring your father.

ANGUS HOUSTON: Well, that's right, yes. Shortly after I leave the job, I will travel to Belgium,
where my father was shot down in World War II. I've never been to the place. Indeed, I didn't know
precisely where he - his aircraft crashed.

Of course he came down in a parachute. And, believe it or not, through going to a NATO meeting and
sitting next to the Belgian vice-chief of the defence force, I mentioned that I had this connection
with Belgium, and he questioned me about when, where, who, what type of aircraft and so on.

And two weeks later I got an email which detailed the precise place, gave me photographs of the
place and also a photograph of my father's wingman, who unfortunately was killed in the sortie that
they were conducting.

And then later I got an eyewitness account of my father's capture by the Belgian collaborators. And
I'd really like to catch up with that individual because I think it will be incredible to listen
to, if you like, my father's story. I know that it's something that I will value very much indeed.

ALI MOORE: Well certainly a very big job when you've finished this job. Angus Houston, many thanks
for being generous with your time tonight for Lateline.

ANGUS HOUSTON: Thank you very much, Ali. Goodnight.