Interview with Kieran Gilbert
Sky News AM Agenda
8 March 2012
SUBJECTS: ADFA scandal, economic growth figures, budget surplus
This is AM Agenda thank you for your company this morning. Joining me now from Melbourne is the Shadow Minister for Small Business Bruce Billson and here in the Canberra studio the Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury. David I'll start with you, first of all you heard what Stephen Smith had to say. He's not back tracking but there seems to be a divergence between what the Minister's position is and what the Kirkham Inquiry has found that there was no error of judgement, Mr Smith not backing down one bit. Shouldn't he show some sign of being conciliatory towards the returned ADFA Commander?
The Defence Minister has obviously dealt with these matters at great length. I think Stephen Smith has given a very extensive explanation of what has occurred, his position and the way in which matters have been dealt with in this review will now be implemented. I think that one of the really significant things that we shouldn't lose sight of was that there were a whole range of reviews that were released yesterday and when we look at the totality of what was released yesterday, we see that there are some real challenges that need to be dealt with in this area. I think in particular the DLA Piper review which identified some 700 plus cases where there were plausible allegations that seem to have been made. This raises a whole series of much more significant questions than necessarily this debate around he said, she said.
Well obviously in the longer term that is the case, but Bruce in terms of this case with the ADFA Cadet, the alleged victim and Stephen Smith's role in all of this. Is it fair enough that the Minister clearly thinks that he is standing up for the alleged victim against what is a pervasive culture within Defence, what do you make of the way this has all been managed?
It's very untidy and it's not building confidence either in the Minister, in the Defence establishment itself. I certainly feel for the Cadet and any others who are subject to episodes that involve an inquiry. I just heard the Defence Minister saying that to pursue a separate disciplinary matter at a time when this appalling episode was being investigated somehow *inaudible* someone's character. The only person drawing that link was the Minister. What has come out of the report is that there is no basis whatsoever for the intemperate, over the top remarks that the Minister made. He should apologise, he has had an enormous impact on a very competent and credible senior military officer's career, a man who has helped guide and nurture the development of hundreds and hundreds of young officers in the military who are a great credit to ADFA, a great credit to the defence forces and a great credit to Australia. Instead, you get a Minister with only part of the information going out and making very conclusive judgements, very damaging claims about how a very worrying episode was handled which an inquiry now says the way it was handled was entirely reasonable and entirely open. So, I'm not sure that Stephen Smith can now hide behind words such as, well it's up to the Defence Chiefs to know whether there is confidence in the Commandant of ADFA. If he had any respect for the command structures in Defence, he would've consulted those Defence Chiefs, those very same people, before he came out with such intemperate and immoderate remarks that have been proven to be completely without foundation and very damaging to people involved.
Bruce, the Minister does point out though that the Kirkham Inquiry also made reference to the fact that the Commander could have not pursued those separate minor disciplinary measures or hearings at the very time that this alleged victim was being caught up in this other much bigger scandal so there was an element in there that the Minister can refer to.
I disagree with your conclusion. Your introduction I entirely concur with. What the report was saying was that there are other avenues...
Yeah but Bruce it's not my conclusion it's the point that was being made by the Minister, I'm now putting it to you.
Okay, let me come back and say my apologies Kieran if I've fitted you up with Stephen Smith's logic because I am about to challenge that logic. What the report said is that it was open to the Commandant to do other things that would have been reasonable also. A measured response about a range of options was a judgement call that needed to be made by the person in position of authority. That is the conclusion of the report. That is miles away from the shrill and over the top language that Stephen Smith used to accuse the Commandant of doing horrible things and stupid things and making most inflammatory remarks. That showed no balance whatsoever on what was an on-balanced decision that the Commandant made. So it's quite wrong for Stephen Smith to say if other avenues were available that he could've used and then use that as his defence for the completely over the top conclusion and shrill and damaging remarks that he made. I think that is overreach completely by Stephen Smith, quite like the overreach he showed at the time of the episode and I hope that at some point this full report is released once these disciplinary and legal proceedings have been concluded. I hope in the meantime the Prime Minister asks herself whether Stephen Smith has the temperament for the job that requires collaboration with the military, more care and consideration than he has shown in this matter.
Well Bruce Billson is not alone, David Bradbury, on those sorts of criticisms, we heard from Neil James from the Defence Association last night, scathing of the Minister saying we're heading towards a constitutional crisis because the Minister is not up to the job. Jim Molan, former head of the Defence College as well, he was very critical of the Minister saying that he needs to move on. So, Bruce is not on his own, many in the Defence fraternity agree.
The names you've mentioned are all the names of people who are well respected individuals, but they are entitled to their views and I make the point, and I think you alluded to this in your discussions with Stephen Smith earlier, that this would not be the first Minister of Defence who have some difficulties, who have to ruffle some feathers when it comes to the Defence fraternity. Indeed, I think that where there are particular challenges and the DLA Piper report in particular does point to some very real challenges around some 700 plus cases where there are plausible allegations being made, then I think there may be a degree of inevitability about there being tensions of the sort that might be occurring if a Minister is to take these matters on and to confront them.
Let's move on to the economy now, we have spent a lot of time on that other issue. We saw the lower than expected growth figures out yesterday David. Is it possible that we might see growth fall off and the tax take fall off so much that this return to surplus which is more of a political imperative than an economic one has to be shelved?
I fundamentally reject the notion that it is a political imperative. If you look at what is happening around the world at the moment, confidence is king. If we want to be a strong economy then capital markets, global markets, have to have confidence that as a Government we are running the economy in a way that we deliver on the commitments that we make. If you look at countries like Greece, at the heart of the problem that countries like Greece are facing, there has been a lack of fiscal discipline, a lack of determination to keep to the commitments that they make. On the other side of the spectrum you have Australia, who after having received for the first time in our history from all three credit ratings agencies, the triple A credit rating. Why have we received that rating? Because through difficult times, times where all around the world fiscal stimulus has been key to steering through economic turbulence, we have managed to maintain a very clear fiscal plan. At the heart of that fiscal plan is a return to surplus. The point you make about growth, growth continues to occur as opposed to many other jurisdictions, the UK, Germany, Japan all had negative quarters of growth. We continue to grow. The bigger challenge in many respects is the hit to revenue. There are two principle reasons why we're taking a hit to revenue and they're not necessarily related to growth. The first one is through the downturn lots of companies and individuals incurred income tax losses. That means that there is a delay, they bring those losses forward, a delay before they actually have to pay tax. The other important point is the massive investment in the mining sector that we are experiencing, unprecedented investment, whilst that is leading to growth it is not leading to the so-called rivers of gold into the Government coffers. The reason for that is that massive upfront investment will lead to tax deductions, and like we've seen in Mr Forrest for example...
Okay we'll bring in Bruce, I'm sorry David I've got to wrap you up, and you've got to go as well, thanks for your time this morning. Bruce, your thoughts on all of that, the defence of the return to surplus?
It was quite interesting listening to what David had to say there, it was a bit of a confused picture that things are going okay but maybe not so much on the revenue, an interesting story to be putting out there. What we saw from the national accounts is a moderation in growth and what we've seen behind those figures is a very worrying economic funk where you see a lack of confidence in the economy. Dunn & Bradstreet revealed that there has been a 48 per cent increase in small business bankruptcies, a 95 per cent decrease in the number of start up businesses. This is the engine room of the economy that doesn't get the attention and the headlines that it warrants. The job losses are one here, two there, not in large numbers and perhaps not in unionised workforces so people aren't hearing about what's going on in the small business community. There is a crisis of confidence out there. The carbon tax is a king hit on the economy, everybody is saying that it is ill conceived, poorly structured and an over the top impasse at a time where we need things going for our economy not against them. The irony of all ironies, Kieran, just here in Victoria yesterday the Labor employment spokesperson was calling on the State Government to relieve taxes on small business to avoid job losses, yet didn't manage to say anything about the biggest hit on job losses, the biggest hit on confidence and the biggest hit on our future economic prosperity and that is this carbon tax. So the Government has sort of got itself into a bit of a bind, and what the economy and what consumers are doing is they are reacting to a lack of competence that is undermining confidence knowing that there are these big taxes coming down the track that will make a difficult situation worse.
Bruce Billson appreciate your time as always and thoughts this morning, thanks a lot for that.