Friday, 9 March 2012

In support of Minister Steven Smith

Creteated 10 45 am 9/3/12

----- Original Message -----
From: g87
Sent: Friday, March 09, 2012 10:45 AM
Subject: In support of Minister Steven Smith

Rollicking Army audits!!
In support of Minister Steven Smith

I am no Labor supporter.
But I do not like it when even The Autralian's editorial, the esteemed foreign editor Greg Sheridan, your political editor Dennis Shanahan, disparate other scribblers and letter writers essentially write tripe!

And undisguised tripe: Sheridan has disposed of Smith because he surely regards his contacts in the army as more important - and the rest are plainly guilty of lack of insight, perhaps worse.

I recall at least two suicides: where was Peter Jensen [letters 9/3] and his  ''rolling audits'' that he claims to  so glibly ''found no culture of inappropriate criminal behaviour''?
Then - worse -  he goes on:
''There are isolated incidents but when they occur they are generally dealt with appropriately.''

He reconfigures as mere ''isolated incidents'' anything uncomfortable - like the 700 plus incidents? Yet to be investigated?
It is no consolation to the families of suicide victims who had nowhere to go in complaining against merely two of the openly - admitted over 700 cases!

Rolling / rollicking audits anyone?

It is an indictment extraordinary that such outrageous excuses are proffered by those who were responsible for looking after victims!  And perhaps that is the point - no one took complete responsibility!
But they surely know how to lamblast the decent Smith!!
Never mind the current mess - which on any reading and humane / pragmatic understanding - is simply an obscenity.

I refer to army person Jensen's lame letter The Australia 9/3 Spotlight on ADF's history of abuse

Stewart Franks's expose ("Wet behind the ears on climate", 8/9) confirms my suspicion that Tim Flannery doesn't know what he's talking about and should be sacked from his sinecure as Climate Change Commissioner. And Stephen Smith isn't looking too flash either.
Doug Hurst, Chapman, ACT


Select Letters 9/3/12

May I be among the first to say that Stephen Smith was right then and is right now. Lawyers do not always get it right, they get it legal.
George Harley, Mount Isa, Qld
In his dealings with the young female cadet following her sexual exploitation and degradation, Bruce Kafer may have followed the rule book. That doesn't mean that what he did was either smart or compassionate. Stephen Smith got it right.

Emma Spencer, Darwin, NT
To paraphrase Jackson Katz, consultant to the US military, the rates of abuse will drop when men start telling other men to stop their sexist behaviour, that is, when the chauvinists start losing status among their peers.
Andee Jones, South Yarra, Vic

DENNIS Shanahan says Stephen Smith should resign. That would be throwing out the baby with the bath water. Smith seems to have been the only minister in recent memory who has stood up to the intransigence of the ADF. Now that its history of abuse and alcohol excess is on the public

record, the unflappable Smith may prove to be the Defence Minister who succeeded in removing the mens' club mentality from the ADF culture.
ADFA commandant Bruce Kafer was found to have done nothing illegal or extraordinary. That does not mean that he could not have acted more wisely. In our adversarial system, getting away with some action is not the same as being judged innocent of the charge.
Chek Ling, Corinda, Qld

THAT Stephen Smith says there are 775 complaints about abuse in the ADF that should be investigated, and that this indicates a culture of bad behaviour and poor administration in the ADF, is a distraction from his mistake of standing down Bruce Kafer after a one-man kangaroo court.
I served in the army for 37 years including a posting in the office of the Inspector-General ADF. That office assumed responsibility for dealing with complaints to a Senate inquiry as well as advising the chief of the defence force on the status of military justice in the ADF.
We established rolling audits of military units. These audits found there is no culture of inappropriate or criminal behaviour.
There are isolated incidents, but when they do occur they are generally dealt with appropriately. Smith is hypocritical in not adopting the same high standards the ADF follows in dealing with disciplinary issues.
Peter Jensen, Florey, ACT


Sorry performance from a minister on the defensive | The Australian

Sorry performance from a minister on the defensive

IF Defence Minister Stephen Smith wants a more respectful, civilised culture in Australia's defence forces, he should start by apologising to Australian Defence Force Academy head Bruce Kafer, whom the minister stood down for almost a year over the commodore's handling of the Skype sex scandal.
Mr Smith received the Kirkham report on December 13, which exonerated Commodore Kafer's actions in proceeding with an unrelated disciplinary hearing against the 18-year-old female officer cadet at the centre of the Skype scandal. Rather than leaving Commodore Kafer languishing in limbo, Mr Smith should have reinstated him three months ago.
Instead of admitting his error when extracts of the report were released on Wednesday, the minister blustered on, not resiling "one iota from anything I said or did" last April. This was despite the fact that Andrew Kirkham QC largely supported the commandant's handling of the affair and found that Mr Smith was wrong when he claimed that the cadet's door "had been sprayed with shaving cream" in revenge for making public allegations about being filmed without her knowledge while having consensual sex with another cadet.

Like Wayne Swan lashing out at miners' opposition to his original, flawed super-profits tax, Mr Smith overreacted to the Skype sex scandal with intemperate comments, instigating seven inquiries covering not only the incident itself but wider cultural issues such as the use of alcohol, social media and the treatment of women in the Australian Defence Force.
The ADF is a fighting force, not a laboratory for social engineering, and such overkill was a distraction at a difficult time. Resources are stretched in Afghanistan and East Timor and with border protection, and decisions are needed on issues raised in the 2009 white paper, including the procurement of 100 joint strike fighters and 12 new submarines.

Due processes appear to have been followed in relation to the Skype scandal, which remains the subject of ongoing legal proceedings. Mr Kirkham found that contrary to media claims last year, Commodore Kafer did not order or advise the female cadet to apologise to cadets in her division for having gone to the media; that she was offered counselling in her meeting with him; that no sergeant spoke offensively to her when she left the commandant's office and that she was not abused by cadets at assembly on April 6 last year
That said, the ADF must deal with the wider issue of at least 775 "plausible allegations" of violence and psychological abuse dating back to 1951, which law firm DLA Piper found warranted investigation. Each alleged victim and perpetrator must be afforded due process and, where necessary, redress. Firmer disciplinary processes are needed to deal with abuses, leaving no doubt that such behaviour will not be tolerated. As organisations such as churches have found, sweeping issues of abuse under the carpet prolongs the damage to institutions' credibility.
The minister and senior officials must work constructively in facing the problem, but Mr Smith, Labor's third defence minister in three years, will struggle to regain respect in the ranks and build a good working relationship with his department.


Lights dim for Labor's glimmer twins

Lights dim for Labor's glimmer twins

Glimmer twins

Illustration by Eric Lobbecke. Source: The Australian

THE glimmer twins, Stephen Smith and Wayne Swan, are getting dimmer and, even if it's not a word, they are getting less twinner. The Defence Minister and the Treasurer are finding themselves in the wars and, on some issues, on opposite sides.

Smith is under fire for his handling of the Australian Defence Force Academy sex scandal case and clearly deteriorating relations with Defence and the military hierarchy. There is also a subtext of angry ministers who are repaying Smith for his unhelpful intervention in Julia Gillard's appointment of former NSW premier Bob Carr as foreign minister.
At the same time, Swan is trying to reposition himself on the failure of the original mining tax in 2010 so that he can blame Kevin Rudd and gain credibility by bashing billionaires, such as mining magnates Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer and Andrew Forrest, as part of a wider strategy to run a campaign portraying the Coalition as the anti-workers party at the next election.

The once-were-twins - both former ALP state secretaries who were joined in fights for Kim Beazley and against former Labor leaders Simon Crean, Mark Latham and Rudd - have become separated by changing allegiances and different ambitions.
Both worked for Rudd's downfall and then opposed his resurrection as Labor leader, but since last December Smith has been seen as a potential leadership candidate and wanted to return to the foreign affairs portfolio, while Swan is entrenching his position as a Gillard supporter with the Victorian ALP and shoring up his position as Treasurer.
Smith's senior colleagues were furious last week that he'd created problems for the Prime Minister over the appointment of Carr as foreign minister and even Crean, who was seen as a potential leadership candidate by some of his colleagues and with a right to some expectation of becoming foreign minister himself, urged Gillard to stand up to Smith and go ahead with the appointment of Carr.
For his part, Swan has taken on the role of supporting Gillard's decision to appoint Carr and is spearheading the old-fashioned Labor government and labour movement campaign to attack billionaire bosses, Tony Abbott as the boss's friend and the Coalition's industrial relations agenda.

By the end of this week both Smith and Swan were in political trouble, but Swan has the prospect of taking the argument ahead for Labor with a much brighter future.
Smith is being dragged down by his mistakes and by those ALP colleagues who want to ensure both he and Rudd are swept from the leadership field, in the interest of Gillard or others.
As for the so-called Skype sex scandal at ADFA, whatever the moral arguments are for not subjecting an 18-year-old woman, who was the victim of a surreptitious video streaming, Smith, as Defence Minister, overcalled the legal and military ramifications of the incident early last year.
Smith misled the public then and has continued to do so. As a Defence Minister, concentrating on changing the culture of Defence as far as women in the services were concerned, but faced with the appointment of a new Defence hierarchy and sweeping strategic and materiel issues, Smith miscued his handling of the portfolio.
In a rush to break the culture of Defence, in the senses of uniformed control and sexual attitudes, Smith was simultaneously looking at going outside the uniformed circle to head up Defence while maximising the impact of the sex scandal at ADFA.
Last April Smith called a press conference - timed in co-ordination with the Prime Minister's office to blot out a televised press conference from then foreign minister Kevin Rudd - to answer questions about the so-called Skype sex scandal at ADFA, which was capturing popular media attention and sympathy from women's advocates.
Smith went over the top as a minister and a lawyer. While conceding he was a "lapsed lawyer" he publicly interfered in the military justice system, played word games with terms of vilification and accused ADFA chief Bruce Kafer and Defence of stupidity, gross errors of judgment and being faulty in law. Smith also tried to take the credit for seeking a second opinion from the Australian Federal Police which had, in fact, already been sought by Defence chiefs.
Smith also sought to suggest there was the potential for charges of a serious sexual assault when the charges arising from the incident were about commonwealth communication issues.
Faced with the possibility of a compensation case fuelled by Smith's actions, the the inquiry into the handling of the case by Kafer was always going to deliver a judgment on Smith's credibility as a minister and "lapsed lawyer".
The judgment was harsh. None of Smith's claims were supported by the inquiry and what was already a tense relationship with Defence was confirmed.
Having replaced the highly regarded John Faulkner as Defence Minister after the last election, stepping aside from foreign affairs to make way for Rudd, Smith has failed to assert his authority on Defence or advance major policy challenges.
The other glimmer twin, also known as a fellow "rooster" for his part in the downfall of Crean, Swan is battling the twin challenges of jettisoning the negative history of the failed resource super-profits tax under Rudd's prime ministership while launching an appeal to Labor's bedrock based on class envy and boss-bashing.
Swan's problem is that he appears inconsistent in attacking the billionaire miners for their massive advertising campaign against Labor's proposed RSPT in 2010 - the final policy failure that cost Rudd the prime ministership - after having signed a deal with the biggest three miners in Australia on the revamped minerals resource rent tax.
Swan, as Treasurer, stands accused by Rudd of failing the policy implementation of the RSPT, of failing to consult the miners properly, of a refusal to negotiate, of failing to get the states' agreement and failing to stand by him through to the end.
As Swan repositions, what is now emerging is that the miners were indeed justified in their complaints that they were not consulted, were kept in the dark, were betrayed and were misrepresented. The campaign of attacking the mining industry as "liars" and foreign companies pushing profits overseas is now seen to have been a hollow argument.
But, given the fact the big three got a much easier deal out of Gillard and Swan as leader and deputy leader - a deal that was conceded as not being such a reforming deal, with less revenue, than the original RSPT - Swan needs to readjust that argument so that he can concentrate on the easy political targets of Rinehart, Forrest and Palmer.
In any case, the glimmer twins are dimmer this week and face different challenges with their different aims.


Smith's failure to take defence seriously may cost the nation dearly

Smith's failure to take defence seriously may cost the nation dearly

EVERY leadership challenge produces some unexpected casualties. The biggest collateral damage in the recent Gillard-Rudd stoush has been the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith. It is an unfortunate conclusion to reach, but it seems many commentators, myself included, may well have overrated Smith. His record in both foreign affairs and defence is starting to look seriously mediocre, and this is underlined by the cabinet reshuffle imbroglio.
Smith is often talked of as the "third candidate", someone other than Kevin Rudd who could replace Julia Gillard if continued opinion poll failure made her tenure as Prime Minister simply unsustainable. His strengths are formidable. He works hard, he is competent, he exudes calmness and he seldom makes serious mistakes. In the context of the Gillard government, those are distinctive assets.
His critics, though, suggest he is a world-class ditherer: uniquely cautious, as some put it; incapable of making a decision, as others say. You have to add to that now an inability to produce good outcomes and a failure to take defence seriously, putting his personal interests ahead of those of national security.

Smith opposed the appointment of Bob Carr as foreign minister because he wanted the job for himself. Sources confirm that he certainly did not throw a tantrum. Smith is a non-tantrum person. The episode presents Smith in an extremely unflattering light, nonetheless. In barely four years of government Labor has had three defence ministers: Joel Fitzgibbon, John Faulkner and now Smith. It would bore you to sobs, dear reader, were I to catalogue the entire dizzying, bewildering array of junior ministers and parliamentary secretaries within the defence portfolio who have been appointed, disappointed, moved, reshuffled, brought back and so on, in three separate rounds under Gillard.

The government has told us defence is an administrative shambles.The truth is it is the government that has been an administrative shambles. Smith is one of very few defence ministers in our history to want to stay in cabinet but give up the defence portfolio. Now the entire Australian Defence Force knows he'd rather be doing something else.
I supported Smith as foreign minister because he generally had good policy instincts. He was of course operating under Rudd's instructions but he was diligent and sound. However, in one area he failed altogether. Despite Labor telling us for years that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had been denuded by the Howard government of basic funds to undertake its core tasks, Smith secured no significant extra funding for DFAT. The small increases he did get were often taken back, yet the aid budget ballooned into billions of dollars -- nearly $5 billion this year alone -- way beyond our ability to spend it sensibly. That indicates Smith lacked clout within his own government.
Now we have seen a similar performance from Smith in defence. In the last budget Labor ripped $4bn out of defence across the forward estimates. This makes the second portfolio in which Smith has been unable to secure essential funding for basic national security work. It's not a pretty record.
One of the main reasons I was more supportive of Rudd as prime minister than were most domestically focused commentators was that he took defence seriously. The 2009 defence white paper, heavily influenced by Rudd, provided a good future defence force structure and accompanying credible funding commitments. The Rudd government made two funding promises: that defence would get a 3 per cent real increase every year until 2017-18, and that the savings from the so-called defence reform program would all be reinvested within defence. The last budget, Smith's defence budget under Gillard's prime ministership, broke those commitments.
The style with which Smith has done his job has also been increasingly unsatisfactory. He wildly overreacted to the Australian Defence Force Academy Skype sex scandal, in which it is alleged one cadet filmed consensual sex with another and showed that to friends without his partner's consent. This kind of misbehaviour is sadly not all that uncommon among some young folk in our society today. The incident was serious in itself but on its face reflected no serious misconduct by any senior member of the defence force.
Smith overreacted and declared a jihad on the culture of the army. In one of the great policy non sequiturs, he responded to the scandal by declaring that even close combat infantry roles must now be open to women.
This was empty gesturing and tokenistic posturing at its worst. If standards are not to be lowered radically, it is almost inconceivable that there will ever be a woman in such a role. But that debate has absolutely nothing to do with the events at ADFA. A cynical interpretation, but consistent with the facts, would be that Smith turned defence into a social issues portfolio to parade his leadership credentials.
The commandant at ADFA, Bruce Kafer, was suspended in what strikes me as a gross overreaction. The report on the ADFA incident, which was presented to Smith last December, was acted on only yesterday and Kafer belatedly reinstated. Why was this good officer so badly treated?
The judgment on Smith rendered by the Australian Defence Association is uniformly damning. The ADA is a pro-defence community group with a very large number of former ADF personnel among its members. It is dedicatedly non-partisan, involves many Labor people in its governing structures, and has given strong support to previous Labor defence ministers such as Faulkner and Kim Beazley. Its comments on Smith in its widely read Defence Brief are routinely scathing. Turning the ADA into a dedicated, campaigning opponent of the government is quite an achievement.
The ADA makes the argument that Smith hardly ever defends the ADF or the Defence Department. He doesn't draw attention to the countless reports and inquiries that have shown little or no systemic cultural failure in the defence force, for example.
This is a fair criticism and one that applies more broadly to Smith's performance. His job is not to tell us how woeful the Defence Department is and, presumably, was under his two predecessors. His job is to provide for our national security. Yet all the big equipment items in the 2009 white paper are way behind schedule. There is next to zero chance that we will get these capabilities in any meaningful timeframe.
This is a disaster for our nation. It is a lethal sign, along with Smith's desire to get out of the defence portfolio before he's even properly got into it, that the Gillard government does not take defence seriously. And this insouciance does not even figure much in the national debate.
This is partly because, bad as the government has been on these issues, the opposition has been even worse, providing neither scrutiny, accountability nor an alternative. It is a comprehensive national failure for which we may one day pay dearly.

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