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Transcript of interview with Ashleigh Gillon: Sky News: 22 August 2012

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Minister for Defence - Interview with Ashleigh Gillon, Sky News

22 August 2012

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Minister, thank you for your time. Firstly, can you clarify for me the quotas

that have been discussed today- are they mandatory or aspirational?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner has recommended that to get

greater recruitment, greater retention and a greater number of women into senior leadership

positions we do need to really not on what she calls the trickle-up effect, but we do need to take

positive action.

So whether you describe them as targets or quotas or affirmative action, the Government and the

Chief of the Defence Force agree with that analysis. So we have said we agree with the

recommendations, we accept them in principle, and I’ve given the Chief of the Defence Force and

the Service Chiefs now the job of going away to work through the detailed implementations. So

yes we’ll have targets, but we’ve got to work through that detail.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: But again, are they mandatory, or is there something you just hope - goals

that you hope can be met?

STEPHEN SMITH: No, we will set targets, and those targets will be looked at, at least on an

annual basis. One of the, I think, significant practical reforms is the suggestion from the

Commissioner that we have a section on women in the ADF annual report - a companion

document to the annual report. So from here on in every time the Defence annual report goes out

there will be an accompanying document which is women in the Australian Defence Force. So we’ll

be able to see on an annual basis, the progress we’re making, or indeed, the lack of progress.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Okay. So you’re not going to be mandatorily saying though that those quotas

need to be met each year. Those are things that you’re going to set and then have people work

towards as opposed to forcing certain quotas; that certain numbers of senior officers need to be

women for example.

STEPHEN SMITH: We’ll set targets, we’ll set quotas. I don’t want to have a semantic argument,

but the point that

ASHLEIGH GILLON: It is quite a difference though, isn’t it, as to whether they’re mandatory or


STEPHEN SMITH: What’s our objective here- our objective here is to make sure that women are

treated completely equally in the Defence Force, and that is not just for equality or gender

reasons, it’s also because in the modern world, to be an effective Defence Force if you don’t treat

women equally then your capability and your operational effectiveness is reduced.

So in the long-term, we don’t want to rely upon targets or quotas or mandatory arrangements.

What we want to rely upon is the fact that we get women in numbers coming into the Defence

Force in a sufficient, critical mass that over a period of time, it will naturally occur in the Defence

Force, as it now naturally occurs in other spheres of Australian society.

When I first started in public life, we had neither seen in Australia a woman Premier or woman

Prime Minister and only a small number of women Ministers. Now we see it every day. And that’s

where we will end up in the Defence Force. Will we need to take some special steps along the

way- yes we will, and targets or quotas will be part of that.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: So in the meantime, this sort of affirmative action that you’re talking about,

does that mean that when it comes to recruitment and promotion, those processes - that if

there’s a male candidate and a female candidate with the same qualifications that the female will

be chosen for that role?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well in the end that’ll be a matter for the Chief of the Defence Force and the

Service Chiefs. But the thrust of the report and the thrust of our acceptance of it is that yes, that

will be the case. The Commissioner talks about meritorious appointment, and we don’t want to

disturb that. We’re not interested in appointing people to positions that they are not capable of


So we want to have a merit-based system, but we want to make sure that we do everything we

can to maximise the opportunity of women to join the Defence Force in the first instance through

recruitment, to stay in the Defence Force and that’s why there are range of recommendations

which go to work and family balance, but then to be promoted into senior levels where they are

able strategically to do their job.

And that’s why one of the recommendations is to say that we should no longer look simply to the

combat roles as being the area from which personnel should be chosen for strategic leadership


ASHLEIGH GILLON: Didn’t most of the women though that were spoken to during this inquiry,

didn’t most of them say that while they’d like to be treated equally, they didn’t want to be treated

preferentially, therefore, didn’t support this sort of positive discrimination that you’re talking


STEPHEN SMITH: That was a view expressed by some of the people the Commissioner spoke to.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: It was a majority, wasn’t it?

STEPHEN SMITH: She said it was a majority view, but she also said and I agree with her - she

also said that she disagreed with that analysis.

So there are two views. There’s one view which says to treat women equally, you treat them

exactly the same as men and over a period of time nature will take its course and you’ll end up

with perfect equality and practice. The Commissioner says and I agree with this analysis, and

we’ve seen this in other areas of Australian community activity - that unless you do special and

particular things to help break through that logjam, you won’t make progress.

And so over the last two decades, where Australian society has changed enormously in terms of

the equal role of women, we have seen one or two per cent increase in the number of women who

joined the Defence Force and significantly poorer outcomes of senior leadership. So we accept the

view that we need to take special steps.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: But this sort of positive discrimination was already in place in the ADF wasn’t

it, in the ’80s and the ’90s. Many regard that as a bit of a flop. How can you guarantee that the

disharmony created by positive discrimination practice then won’t be repeated now?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I don’t see any previous report in Defence which is of the same

comprehensive nature as this one. And we now have in the modern Defence Force for the modern

defence organisation we’ve now got three definitive reports through which we now need to look at

Defence: in the cultural area in terms of personal conduct, use of alcohol, use of social media,

personal conduct. We have the Pathway to Change document which was the conclusion of all the

reviews that we did in the aftermath of the ADFA Skype issue.

That’s a document created by the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary, and we now look

through that prism. And that says in the past there has been a turning of a blind eye to

inappropriate conduct and lower standards. That’s gone.

So far as treatment of women are concerned we now have this pathway which essentially says

unless you treat women equally in the Defence Force; unless you have a greater number of

women joining, a greater number of women in senior roles, the capacity of a modern defence

force to do the things you need to do strategically in the modern world. And thirdly, we have in

terms of making decisions and being held accountable for decisions, we have the Black Review

which institutionalises personal accountability.

There hasn’t been a series of reports or reforms of that nature in Defence’s history. We now have

all of these in the table in the space of the last 12 to 18 months, and that’s the prism through

which the modern defence force will now operate. And most importantly, all of those things are

strongly supported by the Chief of the Defence Force and his Service Chiefs and the Secretary.

Indeed, on this report, they were very closely involved in working with the Commissioner to see

the final product.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: We hope you achieve results, Minister. Thank you for your time.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much.