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Transcript of interview: PM with Mark Colvin, ABC News Radio: 7 March 2012: Opposition Defence spokesman hits back at Stephen Smith

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Oppn Defence spokesman hits back at Stephen Smith

March 7, 2012

Source: PM with Mark Colvin, ABC News Radio

MARK COLVIN: The Federal Opposition says that at the very least the Defence Minister Stephen Smith should apologise to Commodore Bruce Kafer. The Coalition's Defence spokesman, David Johnston told Alexandra Kirk that the Kirkham Inquiry had exonerated the commandant, yet the Minister refuses to accept that.

DAVID JOHNSTON: What is the point of the inquiry if the Minister refuses to take the word of the inquiry officer?

The Minister's press release says that he is still of the view that there was an error of judgement. I mean the Minister's left high and dry by this report and his own press release today.

Now the fact is that the Kirkham Inquiry has found no legal basis for action against Commodore Kafer and based on these findings Air Marshal Binskin should reinstate Commodore Kafer immediately.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Well he is going to be reinstated.

DAVID JOHNSTON: And this will occur this week according to the Minister's press release. Notwithstanding the fact that the man is getting his job back the Minister remains of the view that there was an error of judgement. His own inquiry has found - his department's inquiry has found that Commandant Kafer did nothing wrong and must be reinstated.

Now the fact that this has sat on the Minister's desk for three months is completely abhorrent to fairness to this man and I just think that the Minister's really got some problems with the way he's dealt with this.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Do you think that Commandant Kafer has a case for some


DAVID JOHNSTON: I think first of all the Minister needs to apologise to him. Firstly for taking so long to deal with what is clearly his rights and secondly for the way that the Minister used the language at the time back in April of last year of this incident arising. This inquiry has exonerated Commandant Kafer.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: It hasn't used the word exonerated.

DAVID JOHNSTON: No, no, no, that's right. But clearly he should be reinstated. Now if he should be reinstated it's clear that he's done nothing wrong.

I'm happy to use the word exonerated, I'm pleased to use the world exonerated. He's been completely exonerated and he'll have his job back by the end of this week.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: You called for the Minister to apologise to him but clearly Mr Smith isn't going to do that because he says that he remains of the view that Commodore Kafer made an error of judgement.

DAVID JOHNSTON: I think he's alone in that view.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Should this be the end of the matter or do you think that Commodore Kafer is owed more?

DAVID JOHNSTON: Well that's a matter for Commandant Kafer. Look I don't know the personal matters and disposition; I'm sure he's been put through hell for 12 months. I think at the very least he's owed an apology but from what I hear the man is not likely to proceed against the department; he's a hardworking loyal officer of the Royal Australian Navy.

But the point is, the Minister refuses to accept the fact that this man has done nothing wrong. This man's rights have been trampled upon in a most grievous way and the Kirkham report finds exactly that.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Would you have ever said that the Minister had handled it properly?

DAVID JOHNSTON: I think the Skype matter - the actual essence of the matter that is now before the court, had been handled reasonably well by the Minister but I think the Minister took aim at people without knowing the facts and used language which was intemperate and I think with the benefit of hindsight and an independent inquiry the Minister is left languishing as the only person who believes that Commandant Kafer did anything wrong.

MARK COLVIN: The Opposition Defence spokesman David Johnston speaking to Alexandra Kirk.