THE HON PETER DUTTON MP
INTERVIEW WITH BEN FORDHAM,
RADIO 2GB, SYDNEY
19 April 2021
Subjects: Meritorious Unit Citation; Royal Commission into defence and veteran suicide; Anzac Day marches.
Peter Dutton has blocked a move to strip special forces troops of citations from Afghanistan. Three thousand soldiers were set to have the award taken away because 19 of them were accused of war crimes. Peter Dutton has read the public mood and responded. No soldier will have their citation stripped simply because they were there. The Minister for Defence is on the line. Peter Dutton, good morning to you.
Good morning Ben.
It’s a pretty simple premise, isn’t it – innocent until proven guilty?
Well that’s the approach that we have to take. We need to make sure that people that have done the wrong thing, if they’re proven to have done the wrong thing – that means by a jury or a process within Defence – then in that circumstance people will, as they always have been, stripped of their medal or their citation. But for an entire unit, given that we had thousands of people – almost 40,000 people in total – who have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq in recent conflicts – and about 3,000 people who have received this citation – I want to make sure that we concentrate on the 99 per cent of good. Those people deserve our recognition, our praise, our honour, because many of them have lost mates; and families this Anzac Day should proudly wear that medal in honour of their loved one who passed away in the service of this country.
I think just about everyone in the country agrees with you, but clearly Angus Campbell didn’t, the Chief of Defence. What was it that led him down the path of collective punishment – punishing everyone for the alleged sins of a few.
Well there’s not a finer soldier in the country than Angus Campbell. The Chief of Defence Force has served our country for decades and he has I think a remarkable reputation, not just here, but around the world; but he was shocked like everybody else at the serious allegations that were being made in relation to some people.
We’ve now set up an Office of Special Investigator and those individuals will be investigated by that office. It’s led by investigators including from the Australian Federal Police, and they can look at these individual matters. But my judgement was that we shouldn’t be punishing the 99 per cent for the sins of one per cent and this says to people I think very clearly before Anzac Day that we want to reset, that we want to provide support to those people who have served our country and, as I say, who have died in that service.
I was up in Townsville a couple of weeks ago visiting the 3rd Battalion there and, you know, speaking to those young men and women, you just couldn’t be any more proud of who they were, standing there listening to their stories, their parents must be incredibly proud and for many of those that have gone before them, particularly amongst that 40,000, I want this Anzac Day, yes, to be a commemoration of the amazing effort of the original Anzacs, but I want us to really concentrate on the 39,000 who have served our country in recent conflicts.
These are young men and women who have potentially stopped terrorist attacks from taking place in our country. They have worked alongside their international partners, including the United States, and the world is a safer place for it.
We’ve decided now obviously to withdraw from Afghanistan along with the United States, but this is really recognition for the work that they did in that theatre. They saved lives and I’m very proud of the work that they’ve done in our name and in an effort to keep Australia safe.
We’re chatting to the Minister for Defence Peter Dutton. He has blocked a move to strip special forces troops of their citations from Afghanistan, which in effect, was overruling the Chief of Defence Angus Campbell. How did he take that Minister?
He is the most professional, capable person you could meet Ben. So he’s pragmatic. He understands that I’ve been able to look at all of the facts afresh and, as I say, the decision he made in the first instance is perfectly reasonable. But my judgement is that we look at the circumstances now. There’s a separate process that’s been set up with the Office of Special Investigator, as I say and also some of the cultural issues within Defence have been addressed or are in the process of being addressed, and that’s important as well because we want the most professional service that we can have.
We also want our adversaries to know that we have the most significant capacity within our SAS and within the work that we do in science and defence technology. We really punch above our weight, not only in the region, but across the world. At the moment Australians are seeing our Defence Force personnel working alongside the police and the nurses and the doctors in the fight against COVID, but if there was a conflict tomorrow they should know that we have trained the best soldiers and airmen and naval officers in the world.
Over the next 10 years we’re investing almost $300 billion into new equipment for them. So we need to be realistic about the threats in this century as well. So there’s a lot of good to focus on, and that’s exactly what we need to do and I said a couple of weeks ago that we had the back of the Australian Defence Force personnel, and absolutely we do and hopefully we’ve demonstrated that again today.
Look, I’ll just get a couple of quick answers on these ones if I can. The Parliament voted in favour of a royal commission into veteran suicides four weeks ago. So when will the Prime Minister call a press conference and announce the start date?
Well Ben, the Prime Minister and myself and Darren Chester, we’ve all been very clear that we support the royal commission and the Prime Minister has spoken about the need for an ongoing royal commission as well. If there was tragically a suicide after the royal commission had done its work we still want that family to be able to have recourse and have an understanding of…
…so when will the royal commission start?
Well Ben it will be announced by the Prime Minister in the not-too-distant future. He’ll make that announcement. He’s been clear about his support for that and we want that work to get underway, and that’s what will happen.
And another quick one: Anzac Day marches are going ahead this weekend, but some veterans are concerned that they’ve been told to register in advance when you can just turn up at a football game and be surrounded by tens of thousands of people. Can you understand the frustration of some veterans?
I can and I share it. I don’t understand why you can have 30,000 people at a footy game, but you can’t have that same number at an Anzac Day service. I do want to see good numbers and I do want to see people register. It’s an annoyance having to go to the restaurant and scan the code, but that’s what we’re doing to keep safe.