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Transcript of interview: Sky News with David Speers: 8 March 2012: Kirkham Inquiry; DLA Piper Report and the Defence Minister

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Sky News Interview with David Speers - Kirkham Inquiry, DLA Piper Report and the Defence Minister

March 8, 2012

SPEERS: Why should Stephen Smith apologise given the Kirkham Inquiry found that while it was reasonable for Bruce Kafer to allow the disciplinary hearing of this young officer to ahead, it would have also been reasonable not to do so, isn’t there room to argue…you could interpret this either way?

JOHNSTON: I don’t there is any room to argue that a man should be stood aside, have his career threatened for 12 months, then have a report exonerating him sit on the Minister’s desk for three months, and then not release the report, have a press release yesterday that says Bruce Kafer has done nothing wrong, should be reinstated and is being reinstated, and the Minister, having set this ball in motion, having made the appointment in the inquiry, that is Mr Kirkham QC, then not take in Kirkham’s advice and sticking to his guns that he thinks Kafer has done something wrong.

SPEERS: Well he took the advice in reinstating him, he is taking up his position again this week, the Minister is simply standing by his view that it was an error of judgement to allow that disciplinary hearing to go ahead.

JOHNSTON: The Minister is the only person in Defence and probably outside Defence who know believes there was an error of judgement. He doesn’t have the facts, nor do I, the inquiry officer has made a finding, a very clear and concise finding, that Kafer should be reinstated and the Minister is bound by that.

SPEERS: On that, can I ask you do you think it was the right thing to do, to allow a disciplinary hearing to go ahead, on a separate unrelated matter, involving this young 18 year old cadet who had just found out she had been secretly been filmed having sex, this had been Skyped into another room, was it right to put her before a disciplinary hearing on another matter?

JOHNSTON: Well, the first thing I’d say in answering that question is do I have all the facts? The answer is clearly no, because the Kirkham report has not been released…

SPEERS: Should it be?

JOHNSTON: Well ultimately, after the ACT Supreme Court matter has been dealt with to finality with a redacted version, I think the public is entitled to see why Mr Kirkham QC arrived at the conclusions he did. Now I would back him, every single time, against the Minister. He’s the lawyer, the Minister admits his law degree is not one that has seen much practice, now the fact is, the umpire has made a decision, and reviewed the matter at the Minister’s behest, he clothed himself in six inquiries at the time, and we all gave him bouquets for that….

SPEERS: Should the Minister resign as Neil James of the Australian Defence Association suggests?

JOHNSTON: Well I think there’s a real problem between the Minister and his Department, it is a fractured relationship - you can see in the body language yesterday. And the fact that the Minister refuses to abide by a report that his Department has commissioned, and remember he signed off on Andrew Kirkham QC, now the fact is having done so he’s bound by the report.

And the other thing is that the Prime Minister needs to clearly state she has confidence in this Minister given the way that the relationship is heading off in separate directions on this particular matter.

SPEERS: And can I ask you about the other part of all of this that came out yesterday, the DLA Piper report into past allegations of abuse, there are about 775 people who are now apparently have a case that needs to be dealt with. How should that happen - there are various options suggested - a Royal Commission, a national apology, some sort of compensation fund - what do you think?

JOHNSTON: Well David I’m very critical of the fact that having sat on the senate inquiry into military justice in 2005, I’m critical of the fact that we’ve asked these people to come forward and revisit often emotional and traumatic events at great personal stress, without a plan to deal with it.

I mean what should we do? Should we have a Royal Commission, should we give them an apology, should we pay them some money - I am absolutely staggered the Minister hasn’t got a plan.

SPEERS: But what are your thoughts on it?

JOHNSTON: Well I think clearly we are going to have to work through each one, I think compensation and a release and discharge to the Department is the only way forward so that the expectations for these people are met, so what you’ve got on that basis is a huge unfunded contingent liability.

Now the Minister set this ball in motion and he now has to live with the consequences - 775 significant - and you can tell by the body language of the secretary and the CDF yesterday, these are serious allegations of horrendous consequence, criminal and other types of allegations. The Minister set the ball rolling and he doesn’t have a plan to deal with it - it’s a mess quite frankly.

SPEERS: Shadow Defence Minister David Johnston, thank you for joining us.