Reviews of allegations of abuse in the Defence Force

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Reviews of allegations of abuse in the Defence Force

Posted 26/09/2013 by Moira Coombs

In March 2011, an incident occurred at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) in which it was alleged that an 18 year old female cadet was filmed without her consent while having sex with a male colleague, with the footage then sent using Skype to six other cadets watching in a nearby room. The ‘Skype incident’ at ADFA was the catalyst which generated a number of inquiries and various cultural reviews dealing with the management of ADFA.


Kirkham Review

The first review was conducted by Andrew Kirkham QC, a former senior air force officer and military law expert, who was requested by the then Vice Chief of the Defence Force to conduct an Inquiry into the management of the Skype incident and its aftermath. The report of the Kirkham Inquiry, provided to the Minister of Defence on 13 December 2011, was not published as it focussed on individual actions rather than organisational deficiencies or shortcomings and it included personal detail.


Culture Reviews

Further cultural reviews were carried out in addition to the Kirkham Inquiry. These reviews investigated various aspects of Defence culture and were intended to ‘address ongoing concern in relation to failure to meet appropriate standards of conduct.’ The reviews included:

Review of the treatment of women in the Australian Defence Force Academy and Australian Defence Force 3 November 2011

Independent Advisory Panel on Alcohol – The use of Alcohol in the Australian Defence Force 2011

Review of Social Media and Defence 2011

Beyond compliance: professionalism, trust and capability in the Australian Profession of Arms 2011

Review of the management of Incidents and complaints in Defence including civil and military jurisdiction 2011

Review of Employment for APS women in the Department of Defence 2011

In response to the reviews, the then Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith, together with the Secretary of Defence and the Chief of the Defence Force jointly announced on 7 March 2012, ‘a strategy of cultural change and reinforcement in Defence and the Australian Defence Force’, entitled Pathway to Change: evolving Defence culture.

DLA Piper Review

After the Skype incident, a number of allegations of sexual and other forms of abuse emerged. The Secretary of the Department of Defence engaged DLA Piper (then DLA Phillips Fox) to review each allegation methodically and at arm’s length from Defence and to make recommendations for further action. The final report of Phase 1 of the review was delivered to the Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith on 17 April 2012. Phase 1 assessed all allegations of abuse, to determine whether they had been properly managed and to recommend further action. Phase 2 will deal with Defence’s processes for responding to allegations and make appropriate recommendations concerning systemic issues. The Government response to the DLA Piper review agreed with all its recommendations and provided that the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce would be responsible for Phase 2.


Defence Abuse Response Taskforce

The Defence Abuse Response Taskforce, chaired by Len Roberts-Smith, a former Justice of the Supreme Court of WA and former Judge Advocate General of the Australian Defence Force, was established on 26 November 2012. Also on that day, the then Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith, delivered an apology on ‘behalf of the Government to the men and women of the Australian Defence Force who have suffered sexual or other forms of abuse in the course of service to the Australian Defence Force and their country.’

The Taskforce will assess individual allegations of abuse occurring before 11 April 2011 and respond to those cases in order to determine an appropriate outcome. Possible outcomes include:
  • referral to counselling
  • a Reparation Payment of up to $50,000referral of appropriate matters to police or military justice authorities for formal criminal investigation and assessment for prosecution
  • referral to the Chief of the Defence Force for administrative action, and/or 
  • restorative engagement, possibly including apologies from senior Defence officer.

The deadline for reporting such abuse was 31 May 2013.

The work of the Taskforce involves three phases. Phase 1 relates to establishing the Taskforce, Phase 2 involves the operational aspects of the Taskforce’s work and Phase 3 is the conclusion and legacy issues of the Taskforce. The First Interim report of the Taskforce, submitted to the Minister for Defence and the Attorney-General on 14 March 2013, was concerned with Phase 1. A second interim report, released on 20 June 2013, is concerned with the transition to Phase 2.

The Taskforce has received more than 2400 complaints and about 100 of those had been immediately identified as suitable for payment of reparations, with that number expected to increase as the Taskforce’s work progressed. To date, 49 reparation payments have been made. Ten cases have been referred to police for investigation with more expected to follow. To date, cases have been referred to police in NSW, Tasmania, ACT, Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland. The period of operation of the Taskforce has been extended to 31 May 2014.

The Taskforce is also establishing protocols to share information with the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

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