SUBJECTS: IGADF Afghanistan Inquiry
AVANI DIAS: Labor’s Shadow Defence Minister is Richard Marles. Thank you for coming on Hack.
RICHARD MARLES: Afternoon Avani. How are you?
DIAS: I’m good. Our text line is completely going off. A lot of people appalled, someone says we should never have been there, shame on Australia and shame on the military. Is this going to lose public support in our defence force?
MARLES: Well, I hope it doesn’t. It obviously is completely appalling. There’s no shying away from that. This is one of the most difficult days in the history of our Defence Forces and there’s just no doubt that when you read the report of Justice Brereton you can’t help but have a heavy heart, in terms of all that is detailed there. These are the most outrageous allegations that are being made in the sense of the substance of them are just so appalling. I think there’s no doubt that Defence is taking this deeply seriously, you could tell that when you know, you listen to the press conference that General Angus Campbell gave today. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done now around reforming the culture of Defence but also, you know, there are lessons about how frequently our special forces are used, we need to be getting all of that right. And obviously in respect of the 19 individuals who are now being referred to investigation, in effect by the Australian Federal Police, there’s a whole process which will play out in relation to them. I think one moment in all this where we should take some pause though, is this is a pretty remarkable process that has played out here. By global standards, it is extremely unusual that a country will hold itself to account in the way that is happening here.
DIAS: But it has taken several years for this to happen hasn’t it? It’s taken whistle blowers. It’s taken journalists to come out and report on these stories, after being attacked for it in many cases. It’s taken a lot to get here hasn’t it? Are you confident that we can continue to hold ourselves accountable in this way?
MARLES: I am, but it has taken, you’re right, it has taken a long time but that’s because it’s been done thoroughly. And one of the points is, when you look at the report itself, this is a searingly honest report which leaves no stone unturned and is extremely thorough. It reads to hundreds of pages. So it goes into detail, which is excruciating to read, and which is now being reported on, so there’s no sweeping of anything under the carpet here. This is bringing it to light. That is why it’s taken some time and it’s going to take some time to go through (inaudible).
DIAS: It is heavily – sorry to interrupt – but it is heavily redacted, though isn’t it? Is this just the surface of what we’re seeing? You know, I’ve gone through the report, and a lot of it is blacked out.
MARLES: But that’s part of enabling a proper civil process to now play out. So that there is a proper civil investigation beyond Defence, and that there is no way in which that really important process to play out is therefore compromised by this material being put into the public domain. I mean, in time, you know, when history records all this, this will all be there on the public record. But we’re only part way through the process, as your report rightly indicated, and for that reason, it’s important that some of the information is protected so that there is appropriate fair proceedings, which is what needs to occur. We should take heart though from the fact that as a country we are able to face up to and deal with our mistakes and I genuinely believe that is what we’re seeing in this process.
DIAS: Richard Marles, I do want to know, should the SAS be disbanded? What do you think should happen to this unit?
MARLES: Look, well firstly, one of the squadrons of the SAS it is recommended is being disbanded and what’s been made clear today by General Campbell that these recommendations will be acted upon. I mean our special forces are a really significant national asset. And I think as one of the people in your report made clear, we’re talking about a minority, a small minority of people who have been implicated in this report.
DIAS: Sure. I should note that, that’s a small unit that’s being called to be disbanded in this report and there are calls for the SAS in its entirety to be disbanded. Do you support that considering the culture that’s being revealed through this report?
MARLES: No I don’t and the vast majority of people who have served, in our defence forces, but in our special forces and in the SAS have done so with distinction. And I think this is the other point to make today. I mean, first of all, our thoughts are obviously with the victims in Afghanistan and their families. It’s right that we as a nation should be making an apology and we have been today in relation to that. I’m also thinking today about those thousands of Australians who served with distinction in Afghanistan and engaged in sacrifice in that. And, you know, I want to say to them that their service, you know, as a nation, we’re grateful for it, that they should feel proud of that service. And frankly, as Australians, we should feel proud of the service. And I just want to go to that, because it came up in one of the texts that you referred to. It would be a tragedy if Australia saw our engagement in Afghanistan solely through the prism of these allegations. We went there to begin with in the early 2000’s, because we wanted to, as – in a group of a number of countries, deny Afghanistan as a base for international terrorism. Australians died on September 11. The organisation which perpetrated the Bali bombings used Afghanistan and it’s training bases.
DIAS: Richard Marles with respect we know, we know why the soldiers are there. We know that they’re serving a purpose there but I guess the issue here is about the culture of the military and what’s happening. Do you think that these education recommendations, calls for more training, is that going to be enough to change the culture of the Defence Force? We know the, you know, noble reasons as to why they’re overseas. But obviously, there are cultural issues as Shadow Defence Minister, do you think that those recommendations are going to be enough to fix these problems?
MARLES: Those recommendations are detailed and I certainly hope they will be and it’s really important that they are acted upon fully and as an Opposition today, that’s what we’ve called for, but I’m absolutely certain that the Government and the Defence Force itself will act on all those recommendations. This is a really detailed report. But I do want to finish the point I was going to make, because you read out a text which said we should never have been there. And that’s why I want to explain to people why we were there. We did that. And we also once Afghanistan in the aftermath of that, as a country asked for assistance, we were one of that small group of countries which were willing to put their hand up and give help to a nation that asked for our assistance and that’s what we’ve been doing. And we have made a difference there and those who have served should feel proud and we should feel proud of them.
DIAS: Sure plenty of people texting to that effect as well. Someone says important to remember, it’s in the minority and we can’t condemn the whole of the ADF and our returning soldiers.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.