Interview: Peter Stefanovic, SAS Body Cameras


PETER STEFANOVIC: Andrew, good to see you. Your response to this?

ANDREW HASTIE: Good morning, Peter, thanks for having me on the show. I don't think this is a good move. If you look at the Brereton Report there are 143 recommendations, about 75 per cent of them went to either compensation for Afghans or criminal investigation. There are about one in four which were tactical, and I don't think this one really engages with the central issue of the report, which is a breakdown in trust. If you want to build trust in our Special Forces, you've actually got to trust them and the way you do that is you train them to high standards, whether it be in special warfare or in ethics. I think also, there are serious operational problems with our Special Operators wearing helmet cams on sensitive missions. I think back to 2017 in Niger where four Green Berets were shot and killed, one of them had helmet cam footage on, and Islamist jihadists used that helmet cam footage or propaganda after the event. And I can also say that the Special Air Service does very sensitive operations with interagency partners, and I can tell you now - and it's well sourced - there are serious misgivings about the use of cameras in those sorts of jobs. So, I think this is a bad idea. There are other ways to make sure that our SAS are fit for purpose going forward.

PETER STEFANOVIC: This kind of technology has been used before, I guess most famously, the raid on Osama bin Laden. I mean, these pictures are being backed live to government. Is it much different to that?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, I don't actually know the particulars of that. I understand that was sort of made popular through the movie Zero Dark Thirty but I'm not sure if that actually happened and how good the uplink would be. Suffice to say, if Special Forces are operating in a clandestine fashion or they’re in hostile territory, the last thing you want them to do is either get captured or compromised and have footage that's very, very sensitive in the hands of an enemy. So, I don't think it's a good idea and again, back to the interagency point, the SAS does a lot of sensitive work which will never be discussed in public and of course, we've got to think about the partners that they work with.

PETER STEFANOVIC: I guess I'm thinking as well of the Ben Roberts-Smith case. If you've got visual proof there, does that mean you've got a visual argument or evidence to actually have to present in court that would maybe throw away a claim or back it up?

ANDREW HASTIE: Well, there is that. But I think in the end, we want to draw a line under the last 10 years. We want to move forward and we're at a critical point in Australian history. We are entering very dangerous strategic circumstances and we need the ADF to have a culture where they're prepared to take risks on behalf of the Australian people and in the national interest. And I think when you've got soldiers using cameras and having people look over their shoulder, there's going to be a culture of risk aversion, not risk taking, and the way that you win wars is being prepared to take very calculated risks. So, I think this is a bad move long term and as I said, the way that we deal with a lot of the issues identified in the last 10 years is selecting the right people and training to the highest possible standard ethically and vocationally, and that being Special Operations. So that's my view and I'm hoping that Richard Marles, the Deputy Prime Minister, is taking careful note on this. Peter Dutton was the Minister for Defence, he didn't accept every single recommendation out of the Brereton Report, he took a big picture view, he assessed what the country needed and he's moving forward. So, this is something that a Minister can't avoid. He's got to get involved in these decisions and he's got to make the right call.

PETER STEFANOVIC: You’ve been there on the front line, Andrew, I mean, just from a practical point of view as well, how much does it affect or restrict a soldiers' movement? Then you've got to worry about changing cards or batteries etc. on top of everything else that you got to worry about.

ANDREW HASTIE: Your load already is about 20 kilos. You add in a camera, a battery, you've got batteries for your night vision, you've got batteries for your radio, you've got batteries for the bits and pieces that are on your weapon or your sidearm, all of a sudden, you're carrying more and more stuff and so I just don't think it's practical. And moreover, you're in pretty austere environments. The cameras themselves have to be pretty ruggedised, which means they're generally bigger than they need to be. There's a lot of challenges here and I just think when we're going forward, we've got to remember that there's a lot of good stuff that's been done by our Special Forces over the years. The selection process that we've used for last 40 years isn't broken. Peter and I did command reform of the SAS - we moved the Commanding Officer up from Lieutenant Colonel to a full Colonel to give people assurance that we have the most experienced person in the chair over there. So, some good things have happened and again, I think it's just time that we draw the line under a lot of this and cracked on with the mission.

PETER STEFANOVIC: All right, reasonable points to make. Andrew Hastie, as always, good to chat. Talk to you soon.