This chapter will cover Defence's response to the abuse within its ranks
highlighted by the DLA Piper Review report, the Defence cultural reviews, and
the work of the Taskforce. In particular it will consider Defence's approach to
abuse, the reporting of abuse in Defence, the implementation of the Pathway to
Change strategy including the implementation of policy and administrative changes
and the establishment of the Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Office
Approach to abuse
Defence noted that 'the general apology made by the Chief of the Defence
Force to members of the ADF and Defence employees in response to the DLA Piper
Review [is an] acknowledgement by Defence that abuse is wrong and any abuse
that has occurred is deeply regretted'. Defence stated that it had 'made a
commitment that abuse of any kind is not to be tolerated and will be dealt with
swiftly and appropriately'.
The VCDF commented on this approach:
The ADF is using all available mechanisms to actively hold
people to account who have failed to live up to our values and our expected
behaviours. There have been a significant number that have had their service
terminated or have had other disciplinary or administrative sanctions imposed.
The range of existing Defence support options for persons who report
unacceptable behaviour or sexual misconduct were discussed in the committee's
previous report. These include:
the Equity Advisor network;
Defence Equity Advice Line which provides an information and
referral service for all Defence personnel in regards to workplace behaviour
and equity issues;
case officers appointed to assist the complainant or respondent
during the complaint management process;
psychological counselling and support;
the Employee Assistance Program for Defence public service
Defence Legal Support;
peer support; and
temporary transfers and the granting of leave.
Defence argued that commanders and managers in Defence are much better
informed and have more resources at their disposal to support victims of abuse
when incidents are reported to them than was the case in the past. It noted
that commanders have access to medical officers, psychiatrists, psychologists,
social workers, chaplains, legal officers, unit equity advisers and other
health-care professionals to support victims.
However, Dr Rumble criticised Defence's current approach to preventing
abuse within the organisation. He considered there was a need for the 'ADF
leadership to commit to pursuing zero incidence of abuse in the ADF and not to
undermine that commitment with any suggestion that there is the level of abuse
in the ADF [which] is acceptable'. He argued:
Leaders of the ADF have frequently declared that the ADF has
zero tolerance for sexual abuse in the ADF. However, zero tolerance only has
meaning for abuse which is reported or otherwise identified by the ADF.
Furthermore declarations of zero tolerance put all the emphasis on dealing with
perpetrators and do not acknowledge the needs of victims.
Dr Rumble recommended that reforms in Defence needed to focus on
Because of the gaps, delay and stonewalling, Defence is
refusing to look at indicators of where unreported abuse might be occurring.
The leadership of the ADF has a declared zero tolerance of abuse. That
necessarily only applies to the less than 20 per cent of victims who report in
a way that suits the leaders of the ADF. The ADF is tolerating the other 80 per
cent of unreported sexual abuse.
However, the VCDF, Vice Admiral Griggs rejected the suggestion that
Defence should pursue a policy of zero incidence of abuse:
We will never get to zero incidence. We would like to, but we
have 58,000 people. Is there a town of 58,000 people in this country with zero
incidence? We are committed to zero tolerance and, through that, we will drive
down the incidence of sexual assault in the ADF to the lowest possible level. I
do not think it is worth it to make a statement of achievability that is not
meaningful. It is much more important to say: 'We will not tolerate this. We do
not tolerate this. You will get the message because if you don't you will be
Reporting and responding to abuse
The Whole of Defence Unacceptable Behaviour Survey, conducted in 2013.
found that the majority of respondents who reported experiencing unacceptable
behaviour did not seek advice or assistance, nor did they make a formal report
or complaint. The Sex Discrimination Commissioner's audit noted that '[a]larmingly,
respondents were even less likely to report or seek assistance in relation to
unacceptable behaviours if it related to sexual misconduct or sexual offences'.
In contrast, the Inspector General ADF Military Justice Online Survey, launched
in 2011, indicated some positive trends in relation to the ADF community's view
of reporting abuse:
- respondents who believe appropriate action would be taken if they
reported an incident of unacceptable behaviour has increased six per cent (from
82 per cent in 2010 to 86 per cent in 2013);
- respondents who know where to obtain advice or information on
unacceptable behaviour has increased by five per cent (from 85 per cent in 2010
to 90 per cent in 2013); and
- respondents who are aware of their avenues of complaint has increased by
nine per cent (from 64 per cent in 2010 to 73 per cent in 2013).
The Inspector General ADF, Mr Geoff Earley, commented that the audit and
survey outcomes have shown that 'most ADF members are generally aware of how
to go about making a complaint if they need to and that they believe their
complaint will be dealt with fairly by the chains of command'. He noted:
A great deal of emphasis is properly put upon dealing with
unacceptable behaviour. I remain confident that, from the evidence we collect,
monthly through our audit program and through the inquiries that we do, that
the problem of abusive behaviour in the ADF is being strenuously tackled and
that the processes for reporting such behaviour and the mechanisms for reducing
it and for dealing with it swiftly and fairly when it does happen are better
now than they have ever been. While it is right that these matters have been
brought to attention in the way we have seen, it is important that further
responses, whatever they may be, do not develop into an over-reaction.
Information provided by the Defence indicated there had been 'a
noticeable (46.4 per cent) increase in the reporting of sexual offences in
Defence in the last two years to July 2014'. This included 154 incident reports
of sexual assault and other related offences recorded by the ADF Investigative
Service in financial year 2013-14.
Defence suggested that this increased reporting could be viewed as the
cumulative success of recent initiatives such as the DLA Piper Review, the
Taskforce, the Broderick reports, and the establishment of the Sexual
Misconduct, Prevention and Response Office (SeMPRO). Further, Defence
considered there was some 'evidence that many affected Defence members were now
feeling more confident in the "system", and were more comfortable
with making a report to Defence' and reflected efforts by the ADFIS 'to improve
sexual assault victims' experience of reporting and their improved
understanding of sexual-offence-related trauma'.
The challenges and disincentives for victims of abuse to make complaints
or reports in Defence were reiterated during the committee's inquiry.
For example, the Chair of the Taskforce noted that in 'a very large number of
cases' dealt with by the Taskforce 'the victim of the abuse has not only never
reported it but never told anyone including their own closest family'. He
Even now, while having the courage to come to the Taskforce
because they want their story to be known, they often become extremely
distressed at the idea of any action being taken which might lead people to
know what happened to them—that is to say, which would publicly identify
them—and they are fearful of being exposed to further trauma by having to be involved
in a police investigation, or the prospect of being examined or cross-examined
in a criminal prosecution of their abuser, or any kind of internal Defence
Others expressed scepticism regarding Defence efforts to prevent abuse.
Dr Rumble restated concerns he had previously raised with Defence
regarding the problem of under-reporting of sexual and other abuse and the
importance of creating a 'reporting culture' within Defence.
He referred the committee to material which indicated that survey into abuse
are not necessarily accurate, and may tend to understate the degree to which
there are problems with unreported abuse.
Dr Rumble argued that the victims of abuse who contacted the DLA Piper
review and the Taskforce 'represent a very small proportion of the numbers of
former and current members of the ADF affected by abuse in the ADF'. He stated:
Most victims of abuse are silent. The pressures to remain
silent are particularly strong for the members of the ADF. It is very likely that
less than 20 per cent of abuse in the ADF is reported.
In particular, he considered that Defence needed to deal with the
harassment of people who report with 'the utmost vigour':
No matter what commitments the leadership give, there is
always the potential for someone who was known to have reported to be, at the
very least, approached with wariness by those around them and for them to
suffer ignominy and shame. Very often there were recriminations and
repercussions for people who did report. Reporting seemed to be regarded as an
act of disloyalty to your unit or your branch of the services.
Mr Briggs from Slater & Gordon Lawyers acknowledged that the ADF had
'introduced mechanisms in an attempt to improve its handling of abuse cases and
to address the "culture of silence" that protects perpetrators'.
However he stated:
Many of my clients have expressed scepticism as to the
likelihood of these initiatives resulting in any permanent changes in the
future conduct of some ADF personnel despite the best intentions of ADF leadership,
including its Minister. Unfortunately, we are continuing to receive enquiries
and have been retained by clients who have been subjected to various forms of
abuse including sexual abuse within the Defence services in more recent years.
Mr Donaldson from Shine Lawyers identified 'a reluctance to accept that
sexual assaults and harassment will continue to occur in the Australian Defence
Force'. He stated:
It should be appreciated that no matter how much training and
preventative work that is done there will always be a small minority of
employees who will do the wrong thing...What will not be accepted is if the ADF
does not have in place best practice work systems to deal with and to investigate
the complaints and interactive training to reduce the likelihood of assaults
and harassment occurring.
Mr Barry Heffernan thought abuse continued to be 'rife' in the ADF and
advocated an independent ombudsman, reporting directly to the Minister of
Defence, to investigate all reports of abuse and bastardisation. Similarly, the
Defence Abuse Support Association held the opinion there may be a 'culture of
abuse' in Defence:
DASA believes that there is a larger problem with members
tasked to investigate the allegations fail to fully do so, rather push it under
the carpet and hope it goes away or punish the member that has made the
allegations, hoping they will withdraw them.
Defence response to the Taskforce
The Defence submission noted that following the announcement of the
Taskforce, it had established a dedicated Organisational Response Unit to
ensure that appropriate support and assistance could be provided to the
Taskforce. It noted that:
The focus to date has been in assisting the Taskforce to meet
its information requirements to assess matters by providing Defence
documentation when requested. This information is utilised by the Taskforce in
assessing matters...In support of the Taskforce's work, Defence completed a
project to digitise and catalogue Australian Defence Force Investigative Service
records. This has enabled Defence to effectively search and identify records
that may be of relevance to the Taskforce.
The 'need for Defence to respect the privacy of individuals and maintain
the independence of the Taskforce has meant that Defence has been unable to
provide more direct assistance to individuals in bringing their matter forward'.
However, it stated that 'Defence continues to encourage people to come forward
to seek a proper resolution to any matters that are concerning them'.
Defence noted that the 'Taskforce has commenced referring individual
complaints to the Chief of the Defence Force for consideration'. It outlined:
established a team within the Organisational Response Unit dedicated to
managing referrals from the Taskforce. This team reports directly to the Chief
of the Defence Force. Defence is undertaking detailed analysis of all available
evidence and information to determine whether criminal, disciplinary or
administrative action may be taken in response to allegations.
However, Defence cautioned that the 'Taskforce assesses matters brought
before it using a test of "plausibility", which is a much lower
burden of proof than that which Defence will require in order to take specific
administrative or disciplinary action in relation to these matters'. It also
noted that whether Defence can take further action is affected by whether the
complainant has provided their consent for Defence to do so:
In some cases, Defence may decide that it is not able to take
further action because it will not be able to provide procedural fairness to
the alleged abuser. This may be the case where Defence does not have the
consent of the complainant to provide information about the substance of the
Defence also highlighted its active participation in the Taskforce's
restorative engagement program:
Participation by Defence representatives in the [restorative
engagement program] is an important step in demonstrating, through action, the
commitment of Defence's senior leadership to acknowledging the shameful
treatment and experiences of some members of the Australian Defence Force and
the Department of Defence. Through this process, Defence will learn invaluable
lessons of the past, which is especially important as we engage in significant
cultural change across our organisation to ensure a fair, just and inclusive
workplace is available to all who chose to serve our country, free from abusive
Pathway to Change
Defence described itself as 'two and a half years into a significant five-year
cultural change journey (through Pathway to Change) to ensure a future organisation
that is safe, inclusive and respectful of all members'.
It highlighted the progress achieved in relation to the Pathway to Change
Actions completed to date include:
- established mechanisms to increase diversity within
leadership groups over five years;
- reinforced a whole-of-Defence perspective as the decision
making lens for all Colonel/Executive Level 2 and above appointments;
- conducting Defence-wide discussion on values and
- Defence education and training programs are being informed
by agreed values and behaviours;
- reviewing our communication strategy, including social
media strategy, to communicate values and behaviours underpinning cultural
- addressing the backlog of grievances and simplifying
responses to, and management of, unacceptable behaviour to make corrective
processes faster and more transparent;
- implementing staffing, structures and review processes that
enable Pathway to Change;
- developing supporting policies to ensure full
implementation of culture review recommendations and associated Defence reform
- establishing research and data collection processes to
inform ongoing development and implementation of Pathway to Change.
In June, at Budget estimates, the former CDF,
General David Hurley, stated:
As at 29 May this year, 82 per cent of the key actions or
recommendations have been finalised. There were 15 major or key actions that
needed to be completed; we have done nine of those. There were about six
reviews with a total of 160 recommendations, and 135 of those have been
finalised to date.
Defence stated that 'analysis of the metrics and data so far indicates
that positive cultural change is occurring within the organisation under each
of the six key levers'.
In particular, Defence highlighted that the independent audits conducted by the
Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Ms Elizabeth Broderick, have acknowledged that
'real progress has emerged in the 18 months since the ADF Review report was
tabled' and that she had praised 'the ADF on its significant reform efforts to
Policy and administrative reforms
A range of policy and administrative changes resulting from the Pathway
to Change strategy were outlined by Defence. These included policy advice in
relation to administrative and disciplinary actions, the introduction of a
'good character' test into Defence personnel regulations and changes to minimum
Advice on administrative and disciplinary
Defence noted that following the IGADF Review of Management of
Incidents and Complaints in 2011, Defence had examined its relevant policy
documents to consolidate them into a more user-friendly format. It stated:
In relation to the management of complaints in Defence, many
Defence Instructions have been, or are in the process of being, redrafted or
consolidated to provide directive policy only. Detailed processes and
procedures are being consolidated into one manual, called the Complaints and
Resolution Manual. Some chapters of that manual have already been
promulgated, and others are in the final stages of drafting or stakeholder
comment. This means that commanders and personnel managers will in future only
need to refer to the one manual to obtain policy guidance relating to
management of complaints. Similar action is being taken in relation to the
simplification of policy regarding the management of incidents. This includes
policy in relation to the conduct of quick assessments, non-statutory
fact-finding inquiries, and the development of a centralised system for
reporting these matters.
Previous problems in relation to the advice regarding when managers and
commanding officers in Defence could apply administrative or disciplinary
sanctions within Defence were highlighted by Dr Gary Rumble:
[A Defence Instructions (General)] has been in place for many
years which seems to say that, if there is an allegation of a sexual offence,
the commanding officer or whoever is dealing with it should do nothing other
than refer it to state and territory police—you have heard the statistics as to
why that very seldom results in a prosecution—and then do nothing else. Now, we
had correspondence with Defence legal indicating that that DI(G) did not mean what
it said and should be construed sensibly and that commanders should still be
able to take actions to respond other than simply referring it off to state and
territory police. However, it is inevitable that commanding officers would read
the DI(G) as meaning what it said and that many of those closed cases would
have been closed because of that ridiculous DI(G), which said, 'Send her to the
police and don't do anything else'.
The Vice Chief of the Defence Force (VCDF), Vice Admiral Ray Griggs,
acknowledged that there was a period where Defence 'gave primacy' to the formal
police investigative process and there was a reluctance to take administrative
action. The VCDF noted that formal guidance was issued this year to commanders
'to make it very clear that there can be concurrent administrative and
The Chair of the Taskforce also commented on this situation:
It was always open to
commanders and to Defence to take administrative action in relation to the same
things from the point of view of military discipline and good management...The
problem was that there was confusion at the time about the Defence Instruction
(General), where some people understood that what it meant was that you could
not take administrative action. If that was the understanding, it was
incorrect. My understanding now is that that situation has changed, because the
relevant Defence instructions have been amended and the purpose of the policy
has been clarified within Defence.
Defence confirmed that '[c]ommanders are not prevented from taking
concurrent administrative action against Defence members who are suspected of
being involved, or alleged to be involved, in an incident that is being
investigated or prosecuted'. It noted:
Formal advice was given in 2014 to commanders to better
assist them in balancing the competing interests and their obligations. That
advice confirmed that commanders must also ensure that individuals in the
workplace are protected, that public confidence in the Defence Force is
maintained and that, where concurrent action is contemplated, a respondent's
right to fair process is observed. The advice also confirmed that a commander
may take subsequent administrative action against the member, even if a Defence
member is found not guilty at their trial.
The updated DI(G) PERS 35-4 Reporting and management of sexual
misconduct including sexual offences issued on 19 August 2014 provides
A manager or commander may consider initiating formal
administrative action in respect of Defence personnel while an incident of
sexual misconduct is under investigation, while criminal or disciplinary
proceedings are pending or after such proceedings have concluded. The fact that
an individual is convicted or acquitted of an offence does not, of itself,
preclude administrative action being taken in respect of sexual misconduct that
is the subject of such disciplinary or criminal proceedings. A decision as to
whether or not to initiate administrative action may be reconsidered at any
Defence also provided recent examples in each of the services where 'commanders
are taking administrative action concurrently with criminal or disciplinary
proceedings, or taking administrative action subsequent to criminal or
Good character test
One of the outcomes of the cultural reviews was that a number of
amendments were made to the Defence (Personnel) Regulations 2002. The Sex
Discrimination Commissioner recommended:
The insertion of an addition in the list of matters that must
be considered in all personnel determinations and decisions in the Defence
(Personnel) Regulations 2002 of the requirement that individuals must be 'fit
and proper persons' for service in the ADF.
These included adding a 'good character' test to the mandatory decision
making criteria. A decision-maker must consider these criteria when making a
decision that affects an individual ADF member, for example appointment or
enlistment, promotion, posting or termination decisions. Air Commodore Ehlers
described it as 'a catch-all phrase that allows a delegate to consider
someone's character in assessing their suitability to continue to serve'.
Return of Service Obligations and
Initial Minimum Periods of Service
The Sex Discrimination Commissioner's review of the treatment of women
in the ADF also recommended that Defence should 'amend all policies addressing
the waiver of Initial Minimum Provision of Service and Return of Service
Obligations to ensure that a member who has made a decision to discharge from
the ADF because of sexual assault or sexual harassment, is able to do so
expeditiously and without financial penalty, upon production of supporting
evidence of physical, psychological or emotional trauma'.
Accordingly, the follow-up audit welcomed the resulting amendments made
to the DI(G) 33-5 Arrangements for Service in the ADF to include a
reference to facilitating release from a service obligation where a member has
reported sexual assault, sexual harassment or other significant workplace
harassment through the appropriate channels.
Victim support in investigations
Defence also noted that Provost Marshal, in command of the ADF
Investigative Service, had commissioned an Australian Defence Human Research
Ethics Council approved study into how best to enhance support for victims in
the conduct of Service Police Investigations:
The project was initiated to inform ADF (Service Police)
Investigators of best practice in relation to victims' needs, expectations and
the nuances of sexually violent crimes. This project aimed to inform Service
Police of the critical importance of managing a victim's physical,
psychological and emotional needs while ensuring that vital evidence is
recovered at the earliest opportunity and the chain of custody strictly
maintained in order to have maximum success in any subsequent prosecution.
Response to DLA Piper review and systemic issues
Defence noted that the recommendations of Volume 1 of the DLA Piper
Review 'centred on the establishment of the Taskforce to examine allegations of
abuse and work with complainants to achieve an outcome'. It stated that the Taskforce
was also asked to draw any implications of its work to the attention of the
Minister, Secretary and Chief of the Defence Force for consideration in the
context of Pathway to Change: Evolving Defence Culture strategy:
The Volume 1 report highlighted five risk factors that DLA
Piper considered as leading to abuse in Defence. This included a lack of
adverse consequences for abusive behaviour; a culture discouraging reporting of
abuse; absence of positive support for people who report abuse; issues relating
to the chain of command; and social/environmental factors, including excessive
consumption of alcohol and use of drugs.
The report also highlighted systemic issues in Defence that
have been present at historical points in time, or remained present at the time
of the DLA Piper Review. The systemic issues broadly related to the management
and handling of victims, suspects and the complaint itself; complaint
monitoring and reporting systems; and oversight of Defence action.
In relation to this matter Defence outlined how it had approached the
DLA Piper Review recommendations. In particular, it had identified that
responsibility for implementation fell within two areas – those areas dependent
on the work of the Taskforce and 'systemic issues which were the responsibility
of Defence to consider for assimilation into Pathway to Change and/or
through the Rethinking Systems Review Implementation'. It highlighted that the
Taskforce had not yet identified to Defence any specific implications of its
work that would require consideration of further new actions under Pathway to
Dr Gary Rumble was concerned by the lack of response to the systemic
issues highlighted in the DLA Piper Review report for Phase 2 consideration.
He noted the committee's previous report has recommended that Defence 'formally
respond to the systemic issues and findings of the DLA Piper Review in its
public reporting on the progress of the implementation of the Pathway to Change
Defence cultural reforms'.
The Chair of the Taskforce told the committee that the '35 issues with
other things, were very much part of a different Defence examination, which was
the Rethinking Systems of Inquiry, Investigation and Review in Defence, which
has been ongoing for at least two years'.
On 2 April 2014, the Taskforce received correspondence from Defence which included
discussion of the 35 systemic issues identified in the DLA Piper report:
We note your reference to systemic issues identified in the
DLA Piper Review and your statement that you 'understand these 35 systemic
issues are being considered by Defence under the Re-Thinking Systems of
Inquiry, Investigation and Review in Defence. The Rethinking Systems Reviews
considered the outcomes of many reviews and inquiries in formulating its
recommendation, including the DLA Piper Review but it was not the sole vehicle
by which those matters were considered. With respect to the risk factors and
systemic issues identified by the DLA Piper Review, Defence has and continued
to address these through the implementation of the Pathway to Change strategy
and associated activities.
In relation to this issue, the Taskforce noted it had contacted Defence
in relation to the DLA Piper Review recommendations and in relation to Defence's
progress on Pathway to Change and the Rethinking Systems Review in
Defence. It stated:
The Taskforce will continue to liaise with Defence and others
in relation to these matters and when analysis of all of the documentation
received is complete, any systemic issues or matters that may be significant
and of interest will be raised with relevant parties. In that regard, the
Taskforce will take into account the 35 systemic issues raised in the DLA Piper
The establishment of a Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Office
(SeMPRO) was a recommendation of Sex Discrimination Commissioner,
Ms Elizabeth Broderick as part of her review of the treatment of women in
the ADF. Her recommendations included:
As a priority, [Defence] should establish a dedicated Sexual
Misconduct Prevention and Response Office (SeMPRO) to coordinate timely
responses, victim support, education, policy, practice and reporting for any
misconduct of a sexual nature, including sexual harassment and sexual abuse in
the ADF. This Office is to be adequately and appropriately staffed, including
with personnel that have experience in responding to people who have been
subjected to sexual harassment or abuse and is to be headed by a senior leader
(of no less than one star rank or at SES level) and located at Defence
Headquarters (Recommendation 18); and
As a matter of urgency, the ADF should investigate mechanisms to
allow members to make confidential (restricted) reports of sexual harassment,
sex discrimination and sexual abuse complaints through SeMPRO (Recommendation
Defence described the establishment of the Sexual Misconduct Prevention
and Response Office (SeMPRO) as a 'fundamental change in the way Defence
approaches and manages incidents of sexual misconduct in the Australian Defence
Force'. It outlined that the SeMPRO would undertake a number of roles:
SeMPRO's key role is to coordinate trauma-informed support to
victims and guide commanders and managers in dealing with reports of sexual
misconduct in their workplaces in a sensitive manner...In addition to its victim
support responsibilities, SeMPRO has an important prevention and education role
as part of Defence's wider Pathway to Change cultural change program...SeMPRO is
now a central point of data collection and analysis for all known incidents
relating to sexual misconduct across the ADF, which, over time will enable the
Defence to develop a deeper understanding of the level and nature of sexual
assault across the ADF.
The staff of SeMPRO include 'five Australian Defence Force (ADF)
personnel (one of whom is a part-time reservist), 10 Australian public
servants, a contracted mental health professional and four remotely located
part-time ADF reservists, who are primarily psychologists'.
Air Commodore Ehlers commented:
We have set up a small team particularly to deal with support
for our clients. These are all mental health professionals who are trained in
dealing with victims of sexual abuse and misconduct. They provide a
confidential phone service. We call it call, click, text. We have a 1800
telephone number, the ability to send emails and the ability to send texts 24/7...
He noted that one of SeMPRO's major roles is 'providing advice and
support to commanders, managers, health providers et cetera [and] the vast
majority of our calls have in fact been requests for advice from commanders,
Defence advised that SeMPRO has had 176 interactions with victims of sexual
assault covering 50 clients during the period 1 January – 30 June 2014. It
noted that many of the interactions have referred to incidents which are 'historic'
which it defined as incidents which occurred more than a year ago.
A range of criticisms were expressed during the inquiry regarding the
establishment of SeMPRO. Mr Donaldson from Shine Lawyers acknowledged the
establishment of SeMPRO but drew the committee's attention to the United States
military's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO). He consider
there was 'much that the Australian Government could learn from SAPRO in
relation to: resourcing and staff; streamlined process; and focus on prevention'.
The Association for Victims of Abuse in the ADF argued that Defence 'have
focused on sexual abuse through their SEMPRO Office to the exclusion of other
types of torture and abuse being practiced in the Defence Force'.
Mr Barry Heffernan spoke to the committee about questioning a victim of
abuse regarding the reason why they did not make a report to SeMPRO:
[H]aving spoken to quite a number of Defence abuse victims,
if you ask them the general question, 'Why didn't you reported to Defence?'
they say, 'You're kidding,' 'How do I know that the guy or person I am
reporting to isn't related or best friends with the perpetrator?'. It goes to a
privacy thing, it goes to a confidence thing and it goes to a trust thing.
Dr Rumble also commented:
[I]t is significant that SeMPRO is a telephone number and not
an on-the-round presence, as is the case, as I understand it, in the US Army.
Obviously, there needs to be a very high level of trust and confidence involved
for someone who has recently been sexually assaulted to contact anyone. Without
a physical presence at the main training establishments and perhaps in
operational settings, without the physical representation of SeMPRO there, the
prospects of ever building that confidence and then of collecting fresh
forensic evidence to enable action should the victim decide they do want some
process to happen—I just think that is unrealistic.
The 2014 audit conducted by Ms Elizabeth Broderick, while broadly
positive about the establishment of SeMPRO, noted it only responds to issues of
sexual abuse and the existing 'Values, Behaviour and Resolutions Branch in
Defence continue to manage complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination'.
Reflecting the recommendations of the Sex Discrimination Commission, SeMPRO
was established with an option for victims of sexual offences to make a
restricted (confidential) disclosure. Defence commented:
In adopting this approach, Defence has consciously shifted
the immediate focus from pursuing an investigation of the incident, to caring
for and supporting personnel who have experienced sexual misconduct. This is a
significant policy change for Defence and one that is hoped will ultimately
increase ADF members' confidence in formal reporting and response systems.
The SeMPRO website provides the following guidance to victims of sexual
assault regarding restricted disclosures:
A Restricted Disclosure allows you to disclose your
experience directly to SeMPRO without involving your chain of command/line
management, ADFIS or the State/Territory police. This option has been
implemented by Defence to encourage ADF members who may not otherwise report to
come forward to receive appropriate support to assist them in their recovery to
full health. Please note, SeMPRO cannot accept Restricted Disclosures from APS
However there are a number of exceptions listed where 'SeMPRO may not be
able to maintain complete confidentiality':
The exceptions when the SeMPRO can refuse to accept a
restricted disclosure are circumstances where:
- there is a death related to the assault;
- there is a life-threatening serious personal injury;
- there is a serious or imminent threat to others' safety;
- the incident is already known, eg to the commander/managers/ Australian
Defence Force Investigative Service, civilian police or the incident is
otherwise in the public domain;
- Commonwealth/State/Territory laws require mandatory reporting (such as
if the victim is believed to be less than 18 years of age); and/or
- disclosure to Commonwealth/State/Territory courts or tribunals is
ordered or required by statute.
In addition, when assessing whether a restricted disclosure
can be accepted, SeMPRO will consider whether:
- unrestricted reporting could reduce the risk of further sexual
misconduct to the victim or another person.
- unrestricted reporting could reduce the risk of serious personal injury
of the victim or another person.
- any national security issues or risk to operations exist.
Defence highlighted that while SeMPRO was developed to reflect a similar
office established by the United States armed forces there were 'significant
jurisdictional differences between the law applicable to dealing with sexual
offences...and that 'American practice in this area is not therefore directly
transferable to the ADF':
Initial concerns with the concept of restricted reporting or
disclosures included the potential for inconsistencies to arise between
protecting the confidentiality of victims complaints (where they desired this)
and complying with Australian law and ADF policy requiring the reporting of
allegations of criminal acts and issues affecting workplace health and safety.
Defence considered the exceptions to restricted disclosure 'all appear
to be appropriate and consistent with legal and policy requirements'. It noted
that 'Australian law requires that, in certain circumstances, a victim's desire
for confidentiality must be overridden for the greater good; such as where
failure to do so would result in the continuation of a dangerous situation or
where the exceptions listed above would apply'.
Defence highlighted that restricted disclosures have been received by
SeMPRO and 'there have been no instances where a restricted disclosure could
not be accepted':
Of the 311 interactions SeMPRO had during the period 1
January – 30 June 2014, 176 were interactions with clients who
alleged they were victims of sexual assault. Note that there can be multiple
interactions per victim. The 176 interactions covered 50 clients; 39 clients
with unrestricted reports and 11 clients with restricted disclosures. During
the period, three restricted disclosures became unrestricted reports.
The approach Defence had taken to restricted reporting of abuse was
discussed during the inquiry. In particular, Dr Rumble described the SeMPRO
restricted reporting framework as a 'much-compromised Clayton's version
[that]...looks as though it has been set up to fail'.
He outlined three concerns with the version of 'restricted reporting' used by
First According to the SeMPRO website, when deciding
whether to accept a report on a confidential basis SeMPRO must consider whether
'Unrestricted Reporting could reduce the risk of further sexual misconduct to
you or another person'...This denies the whole rationale for restricted reporting...
Second there is still nothing on the SeMPRO website to
indicate that forensic evidence may – with the agreement of the victim be
collected and safeguarded when the victim makes a report on a confidential
Third – there is nothing on the SeMPRO website to indicate
that restricted reporting through SeMPRO is open to former ADF members.
Dr Rumble also highlighted that '[i]n the first year of operation,
SeMPRO has not had a single report of sexual assault within 72 hours of the
incident. He considered this meant that 'the victims of abuse in Defence are
not getting prompt support when it is most important, in that first period after
In relation to SeMPRO accepting restricted disclosures, Vice Admiral
Griggs did not consider that the exceptions would be 'significant in the sense
of dissuading people':
If the incident is already known to civil police or in the public
domain, Commonwealth, state and territory laws require mandatory
reporting—again it goes back to the minors issue. Or if disclosure to
Commonwealth, state or territory courts or tribunals is ordered or required by
statute. They are the circumstances where we deviate from what might be
considered pure restricted reporting.
In relation to the collection of forensic evidence, Air Commodore Ehlers
told the committee:
Our first priority is to stabilise the client and make sure
they are supported. We will talk them through their options for making a
report. We will talk them through the ability for forensic evidence to be
gathered. We will work with, for example, rape crisis centres to refer them to
those institutions where they have the ability to capture forensic evidence and
secure it until the individual is prepared to come forward. We are absolutely
Defence noted that 'SeMPRO staff will discuss options for collection of
forensic evidence with clients where collection of the evidence is possible'.
[T]o date, SeMPRO has not had a disclosure of penetrative
sexual assault within the 72-hour window required for primary forensic
collections. Should someone disclose within that window, SeMPRO will facilitate
support through a medical check and, if agreed, a forensic examination.
Mr Geoff Earley, the Inspector General ADF, noted that he had considered
the use of restricted reporting in the United States in his review of the
management of incidents and complaints in Defence (one of the Defence cultural
reviews). He stated:
In that report I did not recommend that the ADF adopt
restricted reporting because of jurisdictional differences between Australia
and the United States, and because of the potential for workplace safety issues
to arise in circumstances where commanders had no visibility of offenders in
their ADF units following a known incident.
However, at the hearing on 13 August 2014, Mr Earley commented:
SeMPRO has been in operation now for over 12 months. I must
say I have been impressed with the approach it has taken to providing support
to victims and with the positive efforts it makes to encourage victims and bystanders
to come forward...I understand there has actually been only a small number of
restricted disclosures made to the SeMPRO and these have been almost entirely
of a historical nature. The workplace safety concerns I had originally about
the possible impact on units of a restricted reporting regime have not
therefore materialised, at least so far.
Prevention and education
SeMPRO also has a role in prevention and education in relation to sexual
assaults in Defence. In her audit of the treatment of women in the ADF,
Ms Elizabeth Broderick commented:
Targeted sexual ethics training is fundamental to
establishing a positive ethical climate. It is fundamental to ensuring that all
members build healthy relationships with each other based on mutual respect. It
is also fundamental to minimising the risk of unacceptable behaviour and the
exploitation of the most vulnerable across the organisation.
However the audit found that 'progress on the provision of sexual ethics
training has been slow' and 'urged that ADF to ensure that a robust sexual
ethics program is also delivered across the broader ADF as soon as possible and
in collaboration with experts in the field'.
Defence noted that the 'Sexual Ethics and Healthy Relationships'
package, trialled at the Australian Defence Force Academy, has been provided to
all new starter training institutions for widespread implementation.
Air Commodore Ehlers advised:
[W]e have been working with external experts to develop—I
think for the first time in any large organisation—a sexual ethics education
program. I think the previous Chief of Defence Force described it as industrial
scale. We are looking to create a sexual ethics education in defence strategy.
We are starting with initial institutions such as the Australian Defence Force
Academy recruit schools and going through a program of sexual ethics
education—much akin to what some of the sporting codes have done with the
sporting players, but we are dealing here with a very much wider demographic.
These are young people, through either enlisted entry or officer entry at ADFA
et cetera, and exploring with them the issues of sexual ethics education.
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