SUBJECT: IGADF Afghanistan Inquiry.
KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: To bring in Shadow Defence Minister Richard Marles. The CDF describes it as appalling, disgraceful behaviour, he apologised to the Afghanistan people, to the people of Australia as well for this. What is your reaction to the report?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, that pretty well sums it up, Kieran. I mean, it is the most difficult reading and the allegations which are contained in the report are simply appalling and it’s hard to come to terms with the idea that these allegations relate to people who were wearing our uniform. They occurred in our nation’s name. So, I very much feel for the victims and their families. The report does talk in a number of recommendations about developing a process for recompense for them and that’s as it should be. I really feel for the thousands of Australian personnel who have served in Afghanistan and given distinguished service there in, you know, engagement that should be a matter of pride for our nation. And it’s really important that we remember that the allegations in respect of a few don’t detract from the sacrifice of the many. And our thanks, and gratitude to those servicemen and women, continues and remains and they have done an incredible job in Afghanistan as our Defence Force does, but there’s a very difficult issue here, which needs to be dealt with. And I do have confidence that the leadership of the Defence Force is dealing with it and is going to put our Defence Forces on a road to recovery.
GILBERT: When we talk about this as, and as you put it, it’s very difficult reading. It’s sobering to read some of the detail of this appalling alleged, you know, behaviour, in breach of the International Law of Armed Conflict where prisoners are executed, allegedly by young new soldiers as part of a patrol, as ordered to by their superiors. You know this is the worst sort of imaginal, imaginable behaviour you could think of in the battlefield?
MARLES: Totally. I mean, it leaves one bereft of words, when you think about those circumstances playing out, when you think that there was some culture that had developed where a process of that kind of blooding, of that kind was occurring. I mean, it is appalling at every level. And, you know, we need to acknowledge it, and we can’t hide from it, and it has to be dealt with, but it is being dealt with. And I do think that there is a moment where in acknowledging how appalling this is, and the difficulty of this moment, we should just pause as well and acknowledge that some really brave people have put their hand up and called out when they’ve seen something wrong. And that is that is itself an incredible act of courage, I mean, real bravery in the face of this culture. And it’s because of them that we have this inquiry and now this report, and these wrongs have been uncovered and brought to light. And that actually underpins a process, which can, you know, give us a sense of confidence about the fundamental ethics and morality of our Defence Force, and ultimately, us as a people. And it’s actually pretty unusual. It’s globally unusual, what is going on here, it does show that we as a country are able to acknowledge and deal with our mistakes. But these were big mistakes, and they need to be dealt with.
GILBERT: They certainly were, and we have discussed, I discussed with Darren Chester earlier, I asked the CDF about this as well, but the SAS have been known to be the best of the best and its the question as to how that culture was able to be, you know, to denigrate itself to the point of, you know, having been that, you know, known as the tip of the spear, the best that we can offer, into this warrior culture that had no value for life.
MARLES: Yeah, well, I think, I mean, the report talks about a sense of exceptionalism, that developed of, in a sense, being above the norms and the rules amongst those who were engaging in this culture. It also talks about a lack of curiosity on the part of the command to see that something was wrong and I think both sides of this equation, you know, how did it take root and how did it evolve but also, how did it go undetected for a period of time . I mean all of that falls part of the problem here. I do think, though, that the report of Justice Brereton is searingly honest, like he hasn’t missed here. And that actually gives me a sense of heart and confidence as well, that this has been looked at totally, that nothing is being swept under the carpet, in fact, quite the opposite, it’s all being brought to light. And that a proper process, a legal process, and a civil legal process is going to play out here in respect of the individuals, but then in respect of the organisation, the SAS, there is if you like, a cultural review which is going to be undertaken. And I, you know, when I speak to the leadership of our Defence Force, particularly General Campbell, who I’ve had the opportunity to have a briefing from in recent days, there’s just no doubting the weight that they feel in respect of this, the sincerity that they have about it, but also the determination to fix it.
GILBERT: So this goes to the other question about accountability and where it rests. Now, Paul Brereton says that there is the accountability at the patrol level, those that, you know, committed the alleged acts, and then there’s indirect accountability, for those who led those individuals more, you know, not they weren’t in outside the wire, so to speak, as they described it, but they had indirect accountability, because it happened on their watch. In that context, are you satisfied that all of the people in place, whether it be the General in charge of the SAS now or further up the chain, that they are all appropriate leaders to be, to be changing this culture?
MARLES: Yeah, look, it is a completely fair question, really an important question to be asked at this moment. But let me say in answering it unequivocally that I have complete confidence in those leaders and those people. And I know the heavy hearts that they feel at the moment, and I think you could see it actually, today, when you were looking at General Campbell in his press conference, when he was really asked the question about his own feelings about this, given that he was the Commander of our Middle East operations for a part of this time, it’s actually the first time I met General Campbell. And he’s obviously feeling this enormously, deeply. I mean, there is accountability of different kinds, you know, throughout the Chain of Command and right down to the granular level of the patrol itself, and that accountability is clearly different, but it exists in its different forms. I think what we can take from this is a few things. Firstly, the report hasn’t pulled any punches, it really has gone into it in depth and in going into it in depth, it really does make clear that those in Senior Command didn’t know, they just didn’t. And that’s important for us to understand. So whatever judgement we apply to those who are running events now and who were in command then in that senior command, this report that pulls no punches, makes it clear, they didn’t know. I think it’s also important to understand that, notwithstanding that, that, you know, all of those people are feeling it and as General Campbell said today, there’s a generation of leaders who will think about this in terms of their own conscience, about what they walked past and about what they didn’t notice. And actually, that gives me heart that there is that kind of internal process going on in their own thinking. And knowing these people as well, I just do know that we’re talking about people of the highest integrity, and I actually can’t think of anyone better than General Campbell to be leading the Defence Force at this moment in time, but also to be responsible for making sure that the ADF is put on a road to recovery, and a road to restoring its integrity and I’ve got no doubt he will be able to do that. And I have complete confidence in him and his team.
GILBERT: Should the ADF now drop any complaints and, you know, clear those involved in releasing a whistle-blower activity like the lawyer, the Army lawyer, David McBride?
MARLES: Well, again, I think all I can do is echo what General Campbell said when asked that question in today’s press conference, I mean, he acknowledged the sentiment of that question, but made it clear he wasn’t, and I’m not in a position to be able to comment upon it. I think what we can say, in the most general sense is that those who have been responsible for calling out wrongs within their own ranks are heroes. We owe them a debt of gratitude. The courage involved in that is astonishing. I mean in my book; it is valour of the highest order. And it might come in a different form to being on the battlefield, but it is hugely significant and but for them, we would not be in the place that we are in now. And as difficult as that place is, it is a place where we can rectify a wrong and make things right. And had those people not called out this wrong, heaven knows where our Special Forces and our Defence Forces would be at this moment in time. So, you know, in terms of how those questions are dealt with, we must bear in mind those considerations.
GILBERT: Shadow Defence Minister Richard Marles, thank you.
MARLES: Thanks, Kieran.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.