By Tanya Plibersek

03 December 2020





SUBJECT: Brereton Report.
ALAN JONES, HOST: Let's go to the female panel for the last time this year, to two articulate and hopefully influential women in their parties, don't we need them. Tanya Plibersek, the former Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, and Amanda Stoker, the immensely well-credentialled Liberal Senator from Queensland. Ladies, I want to ask you about this Brereton Report. obviously the fake image by the Australian digger threatening to slit the throat of an Afghan child is repugnant, But this is China, with an appalling human rights record reminding the world that our soldiers are murderers. Amanda, didn't the Prime Minister invite this when he told the world in the Brereton report, you would read about quote "brutal truths"?
AMANDA STOKER, SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: Alan, no, there's no justification for the image in the post that was produced by the Chinese Communist Party. 
JONES: Is there any justification for the Prime Minster for using those words? Is there any justification for the Prime Minister using those words "brutal truths"?
STOKER: I don't think those words are connected to what the Chinese Communist Party has done here. Australia is proud of every Australian who pulls on a uniform. We are proud of their service and we honour them every day for what they are prepared to do for their country.
JONES: But here is a report – we were warned about "brutal truths", and they are not at all. They are allegations and rumour. Tanya, didn't the Defence Chief internationally publicly confirm the guilt of all our special forces by saying he'd stripped them of all their medals? Tanya?
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Well Alan, in our legal system people are innocent until proven guilty. 
JONES: Yes, yes.
PLIBERSEK: And this report is the beginning of a process of investigation that will involve police and the courts and may take some time. And I think most Australians are very conscious of the fact that the vast majority of our men and women have served with distinction overseas, and any allegations made against a small number certainly don't reflect the reality for the whole. We are very proud of our defence forces.
JONES: Well it is encouraging to hear those comments from a former Deputy Leader. But Amanda, can I ask you, I mean, where were people- I mean Brereton was at pains to exonerate Campbell and others, who were in charge of operations in the Middle East. Even though we're signatories to the Geneva Convention which enshrines the Yamashita Standard which says a commander may be held accountable for crimes committed by his troops, even if he didn't order them, didn't know about them, or didn't have the means to stop them.
STOKER: Alan look, it's true to say that in 1977 Additional Protocol One to the Geneva Convention enshrined what you call the 'Yamashita Principle' or the idea of command responsibility, but it's also true to say that the special investigator and the DPP aren't bound by what Brereton has had to say in his report. They instead will be guided by the evidence and the concepts that underpin our justice system, like innocence before being proven guilty and that is what will guide the steps from here.
JONES: Good point. Okay, let's take that Tanya. What would you say then about so-called evidence that form the basis of the Brereton report being elicited under duress using interrogation techniques that would not be tolerated in any Criminal Court?
PLIBERSEK: Well Alan I certainly don't know anything about that. And you know, on the face of it, that would be completely unacceptable. But Alan, I do think it's really important now that some very serious allegations have been made, let's let the legal processes take place. I think having politicians running commentary -
JONES: That's going to go on forever, Tanya.
PLIBERSEK: I just don't think it's helpful-
JONES: Yeah I know that, oh that’s the last point, sorry, your last point is very-
PLIBERSEK: I just don't think it's particularly helpful to have politicians who know a fraction of the story just, you know, shouting out from the peanut gallery. The proper legal processes need to happen.
JONES: The Prime Minister hadn't read the report.
PLIBERSEK: Yes, well-
JONES: See, Amanda if I can ask you, shouldn't- and this is serious stuff. I'm getting letters and I'm making phone calls. Last night I spent until midnight communicating with a veteran, hoping that I could keep him with us today. Now I'm informed that there were many soldiers who were subjected to aggressive and intimidating questions, already suffering from PTSD, have committed suicide. Now it's convenient for everyone to say 'oh forget about all this'. Wait to we all sort of get down the track and find out something about it. That ought to concern us all, shouldn't it? 
STOKER: Of course we should be concerned about the welfare of people who are prepared to serve this country, and that's why our country makes available welfare services and support services. They are there and they should be used and they should not be hesitated to be relied upon should anybody be in doubt. But I think it's also important to say that suicide is a complex phenomenon. It rarely has a single instigator and that it can be unhelpful for us to talk about this in a way where we're not being sufficiently, I guess, well-rounded and sensitive about what's going on in each individual case -
JONES: But this has opened sores.
STOKER: But it is true to say that whenever anybody is on the edge or facing those open sores, it's really important we get them the help they need. 
JONES: Yeah, that's all very well. These people haven't heard from the Department of Veterans Affairs and they haven't heard from the even the RSL. Tanya, the Defence department, the Defence -
PLIBERSEK: Just on this issue Alan, sorry, can we just go back on this, because veteran suicide is really important. We need a proper Royal Commission into veteran suicide. 
JONES: Definitely, definitely.
PLIBERSEK: And that's what the families of veterans have been calling out for. 
JONES: Well, why haven't we gotten it?
PLIBERSEK: Well we haven't got it because the Government wants to have a half-hearted inquiry run by a mate of the Defence Minister. 
JONES: That’s it. Yes, I agree entirely.
PLIBERSEK: We want a proper Royal Commission. 
JONES: I agree entirely. Can I ask you this? The Defence Department issued a contract to an author to write about the SAS in Afghanistan. Should we know who offered that contract? Should we know what access the writer had to information and documents?
PLIBERSEK: Look I think there are standard protocols for this. Most times that Australian soldiers have served overseas there have been journalists as war correspondents who are embedded with the troops from the beginning - Charles Bean, Keith Murdoch, Sally Sara in-
JONES: But this was just a book for private profit. This was a book for private profit. This was to write a book and sell the book.
PLIBERSEK: The conditions around it need to be transparent and they need to follow all of the -
JONES: Yes, should we know those conditions?
PLIBERSEK: You could ask in Senate Estimates. You could FOI it. This is -
JONES: Well, yes. Well I'm coming to Amanda, there you are Amanda, in Senate Estimates. Should we know the terms of engagement between Defence and the author, because it was a profit-making exercise. And my understanding is that a lot of the rumours and allegations that are contained in the Brereton Report were presented to them by this author. That may not be true. But we should actually know at Senate Estimates. Why can't we do it Amanda?
STOKER: There's no limitation on the ability to do that. Any Senator can ask those questions and I'm quite sure with this encouragement they will be asked next time. But it doesn't sound as though the arrangement that you're talking about is anything out of the ordinary. It's quite an ordinary thing for newspaper journalists who write for newspapers for profit, and other writers or journalists or photo-journalists travel with our Defence personnel all the time. It's not a strange thing and I'm not really sure why you think it is?
JONES: Well I think it is because it's writing a book, and the book is for profit, and there were all sorts- were there other financial benefits? Being embedded with our troops, helicopter transport, accommodation assistance and so on. I think these questions need to be answered, and they are of deep concern to veterans who worry whether much of the information, or a lot of the information in the Brereton Report, was gleaned in this particular way.
PLIBERSEK: But Alan, some of these allegations are very serious and very troubling. And if indeed some of these events have occurred, it is proper to investigate them and -
JONES: I agree. 
PLIBERSEK: It's really important to remember that people who have brought these to the attention of senior members of the Defence Force are serving and previously serving men and women, the SAS. And we shouldn't deny their experiences.
JONES: I understand that an admitted war criminal was responsible and was given immunity from prosecution. Now, I'm simply saying to Amanda since she's in the Senate, I think a lot of these questions should be asked rather than swept under the carpet. But as in everything, as in the boxing contest, we run out of time. But look, thank you both for everything you've done during the course of the year. To both of you and your families and everything, have a wonderful Christmas and we look forward to resuming conversation in the New Year. All the best.
PLIBERSEK: And a happy Christmas to you Alan, and to all your viewers. 
JONES: Thank you Tanya.
STOKER: Merry Christmas Alan. Merry Christmas to your viewers.
JONES: Thank you Amanda, you too.