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Transcript of interview with Lisa Wilkinson: Channel Nine Today: 8 March 2012: Defence reviews

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Minister for Defence - Interview with Lisa Wilkinson, Channel Nine Today

8 March 2012



DATE: 8 MARCH 2012

TOPICS: Defence reviews.

LISA WILKINSON: Defence Minister Stephen Smith released the report yesterday and he

joins me now from Canberra. Good morning to you, Minister.

STEPHEN SMITH: Good morning.

LISA WILKINSON: Now, this report provides a pretty damning assessment of the military.

Seven hundred and seventy-five plausible allegations of abuse. Is a judicial review or maybe

even a Royal Commission needed to find out what is really going on in our military?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I released two reports yesterday. One was a report from the Chief of

the Defence Force and the Secretary of the Defence Force about cultural change in Defence

and the need to ensure that Defence meets the highest standards, a frank acknowledgement

that those standards hadn’t been met in the past, a frank acknowledgement that sometimes

there’d been a blind eye turned to those failures to meet standards.

And at the same time, I released parts of a report from DLA Piper, a law firm, looking at

allegations of abuse in the past.

Defence and the Government is now confronted, in the long term, with both those issues,

making sure that Defence culture is of the highest standards. But also, we do have to deal

with those 770-odd allegations, which are described by the law firm as plausible allegations.

So, we need to work our way carefully through how we deal with those, and the options in

the materials I released yesterday range from the existing processes and procedures to a

Royal Commission or to a form of apology, or to some reconciliation or compensation


So, we’ve got to work our way carefully through these, but this is a significant long term

challenge for Defence and the Government.

LISA WILKINSON: Well, that’s the question, how do you foster a culture acceptable with

modern workplace standards while still training men and women to be fierce combat soldiers?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the pathway to cultural change report that the Chief of the Defence

Force and the Secretary of the Department released yesterday says that Defence needs to

understand that we live in a much more diverse society. Defence needs to understand that

there have been striking changes in the nature of Australia and Defence has to adjust to


It also makes the point that we have to have a culture in Defence where it’s part of the

culture that if we see inappropriate behaviour or inappropriate conduct, it’s part of the

culture, part of the tradition, part of the way that we make that clear and make it known.

But the thing I am absolutely persuaded about is that the Chief of the Defence Force, the

Secretary of the Department, the Vice Chief and the Service Chiefs are all at one with me in

that we have to show zero tolerance for inappropriate behaviour, we have to get the cultural

changes and drive them through.

And I’m confident that we can do that. It’ll be a big effort and take some time, but the thrust

of the reports yesterday are essentially that you can drive that from leadership from the top,

and that leadership is there. But also-

LISA WILKINSON: Last year you described ADFA Commodore Bruce Kafer’s handling of the

Skype sex scandal, that caused so many headlines, you called it, quote, inappropriate,

insensitive, wrong and possibly faulty at law.

Yesterday, Commodore Kafer was reinstated. Do you owe him an apology?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, what I said at the time was I believed it was an error of judgement. I

believe it was wrong in principle to bring into play the character or the conduct of an innocent

victim of an alleged serious sexual assault.

This matter started with an 18 year old girl who, and the allegation is, had sex with a Cadet,

but that act of sexual intercourse was broadcast to other cadets via Skype. So, the allegation

is that she’s the innocent victim of a serious sexual abuse. Criminal charges have flowed from


I made the point that when you are dealing with the innocent victim of a potential serious

sexual abuse allegation, you can’t bring the character or the conduct of that innocent victim

into play and that occurred. Now-

LISA WILKINSON: So do you still have full confidence in Commodore Kafer?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, as I said yesterday, the question is not whether I have confidence in

him, the question is whether he has the-

LISA WILKINSON: Well, I think that’s still pretty important because you are Defence Minister.

Does he have your full confidence?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I am Defence Minister, but it’s not my decision to make. Under the

Defence Act-

LISA WILKINSON: But you have to have a relationship with Defence. This is pretty important.

STEPHEN SMITH: I do, and I have a very strong and close relationship with the Chief of the

Defence Force, the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, the Secretary and the Service Chiefs.

And the decision to put military officers into particular positions is a matter for the Chief of

the Defence Force.

The Kirkham report, which the findings were released yesterday, shows that there is no or

says that there is no legal basis for Commander Kafer not to return to ADFA, and that’s the

decision that the Chief of the Defence Force has made. I have absolute confidence in the

Chief and the Vice Chief, and the Service Chiefs to make the appropriate judgements about

military personnel.

But I don’t resile in any way from the things that I did and said at the time relating to an 18

year old innocent victim of an alleged serious sexual abuse.

LISA WILKINSON: Okay, Stephen Smith, unfortunately, we will have to leave it there. Thank

you very much for your time this morning.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you, thanks very much.