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Transcript of interview with Chris Uhlmann: 7.30 Report: 7 March 2012: Defence Reviews

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Minister for Defence - Interview with Chris Ulhmann, 7:30 Report

7 March 2012



DATE: 7 MARCH 2012

TOPICS: Defence Reviews.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Stephen Smith, welcome.

STEPHEN SMITH: Pleasure Chris.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Isn’t it reasonable now for Commodore Kafer to expect an apology from


STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I fully respect the decision by the Chief of the Defence Force and the

Vice Chief of the Defence Force to return him to his job following the findings of the Kirkham


The Kirkham Inquiry found that, Commodore Kafer had dealt with the matter appropriately,

but also made the point that a different decision could have been made and it was also

unfortunate that the matter hadn’t been discussed with the Officer Cadet, Kate, and her

officer representing her interests.

I made a very strong point at the time that I thought it was wrong, I thought it was an error

of judgement, to bring the character of a potential innocent victim of alleged sexual abuse

into play, and I stand by that, I don’t resile from that. The decision has been made by the

Chief of the Defence Force after a long consultation with me and with the Secretary of the

Department, and I fully respect that, and Commodore Kafer will return to work in the course

of this week.

CHRIS UHLMANN: You said his actions were inappropriate, insensitive, wrong, completely

stupid and almost certainly faulty at law and most of the things that you said were wrong, so

why don’t you apologise?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well two of the matters that were dealt with at the same time, two

unrelated disciplinary matters, one was quashed and one was upheld.

I am not going to resile from what I did and said. I might be old-fashioned, but I simply don’t

believe it is appropriate to bring the character of an innocent victim of an alleged sexual

abuse into play. Now I draw no reference or inference to ADFA or Commodore Kafer or ADFA

staff, but when I grew up and trained as a lawyer, it was still some common practice in

Australia when we found the victim of an alleged sexual abuse to somehow try and blame the

victim. I have a very strong view on that and I won’t resile from it.

CHRIS UHLMANN: You certainly did. You trained as a lawyer and you tried Commodore Kafer

in public. In fact, you put this into the public domain. It was you that said in an interview,

‘there is one very concerning aspect which I need to bring to public attention immediately,’

before you talked about the disciplinary hearings and then condemned him, it appears

without evidence, so, surely you owe him an apology?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, that’s not right. It’s clear factual circumstances that at one o’clock on

the relevant afternoon, Channel Ten contacted ADFA and asked about the disciplinary


CHRIS UHLMANN: Behind the scenes?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I think that they’re always intending to go to air Chris. They didn’t

win a Walkley Award because I did a doorstop so-

CHRIS UHLMANN: When they went to air though, they went with your comments, which were

confirming them and going beyond that, condemning the man and putting the Vice Chief of

the Defence Force in the position where he have to stand him down.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, Channel Ten had a story which was at the peak of the ADFA-Skype

incident. Unrelated disciplinary matters were dealt with on that day. I was told about it after

the event, I was told about it after Channel Ten got the story and my reaction was to make

my view known publicly; I don’t resile from that view.

What we’ve seen arise from those circumstances, are the reviews which we’ve released

today, including a [indistinct] report into Pathways to Cultural Change, which will now be the

basis upon which the Defence Force has to conduct itself.

It’s not a document prepared by me, it’s a document prepared by the Chief and the

Secretary, and it makes the point that high standards in the past have not been met, there

has been a culture of turning a blind eye to failing to meet those standards and now, from

today, there is zero tolerance in the Pathways to Change document, set out by the Chief of

the Defence Force and the Secretary.

CHRIS UHLMANN: It’s a very important document and one of the people who will be in the

forefront of trying to implement it will be the Commandant of the Australian Defence Force

Academy, and that’s now going to be Bruce Kafer, do you have confidence in him?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I was asked that question today and it’s not a question of whether I

have confidence in him, it’s a question of whether the Chief of the Defence Force his

Commanding Officer and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, his Line Commanding Officer,

have confidence in him. And as a result of the Inquiry and report, they have confidence to

return him to his work because there is no legal basis to stopping that or no legal basis for

not doing that. And I have absolute confidence in the Chief of the Defence Force, the Vice

Chief of the Defence Force and the Service Chiefs, all of whom I recommended for

appointment to deal with their responsibilities, in terms of appointments, under the Defence

Act. I have absolute confidence in them to make the correct judgements.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But Minister, you had no hesitation in declaring no confidence in this

personally, and now you won’t declare confidence in him personally as he takes up this very

important appointment.

STEPHEN SMITH: What I said was that I believed he had made a serious error of judgement

by dealing with unrelated disciplinary matters, dealing with absence from leave and use of

alcohol at the same time as there was in the public arena, allegations of serious sexual abuse

against the woman concerned-

CHRIS UHLMANN: Well one last point on this. Do you think that as a result of the ADFA affair,

that the leaders of the Australian Defence Force have lost confidence in you?

STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely not. People are entitled to their views but the Chief of the

Defence Force, the Secretary and I, worked through these issues very carefully; Worked

through not just the Kirkham issues and agreed the findings that we released today, worked

through very carefully, the Pathway to Cultural Change and all agreed that, and worked

through very carefully the proposed response to the DLA Piper Review, which potentially sees

us being in receipt of some 775 plausible allegations of sexual abuse over a long period of

time. So, contrary to the assertions of others we have been dealing with these matters

carefully methodically and together.

CHRIS UHLMANN: On those 775 allegations, would you consider, it is floated at least in the

report, a Royal Commission to try and sort your way through them?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well we have to take it step-by-step. In the aftermath of the publicity and

the controversy surrounding the so-called ADFA-Skype issue, I, Defence, the media, were

inundated with allegations of prior sexual abuse.

The advice I’ve got from DLA Piper, who we asked to assist these matters at arms length

from Defence, is that of the original 1000 allegations that we received, the current advice is

that we’ve got some 775 allegations, the vast majority of which they regard as plausible

allegations of sexual abuse or other abuse. So were expecting to-

CHRIS UHLMANN: Some of them criminal?

STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely; potentially serious criminal allegations, but we’ve got to take it

step-by-step. I’m expecting to receive their final report by the end of this month.

What I released today were none of the individual examples, but the suggestion of how the

Government and Defence might respond, including relying upon current procedures to a

Royal Commission but also notions of apology, compensation and reconciliation.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Given the length of time and the number of cases which is plausible some

of them, as you say, potentially criminal, how can you say that this is not a systemic problem

in Defence?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I don’t say that, and nor does the Cultural Pathway published today,

effectively written by the Chief and the Secretary. That document says that Defence and its

personnel are required to keep very high standards and in the past those standards have not

been met. In the past there’s also been a culture of effectively turning a blind eye to not

meeting standards. From today there is a zero tolerance, and that’s good for Defence and

good for Defences reputation. It also very clearly makes the point that the modern day

community standards and attitudes to diversity and equity have changed dramatically and

Defence needs to respond to that.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Minister, briefly, are you confident that things are improving under your


STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely. I think that we have made progress. I think that the document

that the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary have produced will in time be regarded

as a seminal document. That document and all the other cultural reviews say we made

progress but we need to do much more. Whether its use of alcohol, treatment of women,

personal conduct, and the like. But the two great challenges now are implementing the

Pathway to Cultural Change document which sets out the new standards, the new

arrangements, but also how we deal with, both Defence, and as a Government, to deal with

now some 775 plausible allegations of abuse and misconduct in the past.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Stephen Smith, we’ll leave it there thank you.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Chris, thanks very much.