Conclusion and recommendations
The committee's terms of reference are directed to the accessibility and
adequacy of the current mechanisms and processes to support victims of sexual
and other abuse in Defence. While evidence was received on other issues during
the inquiry, such as the issue of serving officers who are the subject of
allegations of abuse, the committee's focus is on support and assistance for
current and past victims of abuse in Defence.
Having followed the progress of the Taskforce from its establishment
through two inquiries, the committee has, in general, been impressed with the results
achieved. The reparation payment scheme, the counselling support and the
restorative engagement program appear in the majority of cases to have provided
positive outcomes and assistance for the victims of abuse in Defence. The
nature of the problems faced by victims is particularly revealed by the large
number of reparation payments which takes account of the mismanagement by
Defence in handling the abuse.
The committee recognises that the reparation payment scheme will never fully compensate
for the abuse suffered by victims. However, for many of those who have received
reparation payments, it can be seen as a tangible acknowledgment that wrongs
have occurred and that recognition has its own value.
On the evidence received, the committee considers that the staff of the
Taskforce have undertaken their work effectively and conscientiously, and have
dealt compassionately and, on the whole, very professionally with victims of
abuse in Defence. This view of the Taskforce has also been reflected in
commentary from others, including many of those who have been engaged with its
processes as complainants. Some complainants have not been satisfied with the
conduct of the Taskforce. However, the committee has not received any evidence
which would suggest that the policies and practices implemented by the
Taskforce are in any way unjustified. In particular, the committee explicitly
rejects the personal criticism received during the inquiry of the Chair of the
Taskforce, the Hon Len Roberts-Smith QC. The committee has not
engaged with this commentary during the inquiry, and does not intend to give it
further attention here.
Some of those who contacted the committee during the inquiry argued that
the Taskforce has been too restrictive in its interpretation of the scope of
abuse within its terms of reference. The term 'abuse' is clearly a subjective
one and could potentially extend to a broad range of behaviour and practices.
The committee considers the Taskforce has appropriately determined the scope of
the abuse claims which fall within its terms of reference. The committee notes
that other potential remedies exist for most of the claims of abuse, such as
employment related disputes, which have been determined by the Taskforce to
fall outside of its definition.
The committee acknowledges the concerns raised by Dr Rumble regarding media,
anonymous and third party allegations of abuse in Defence. However, the
committee also recognises that the Taskforce is limited by its terms of reference
which include 'determining in consultation with those who have made complaints appropriate
actions in response to those complaints'. If a person who may have suffered
abuse in Defence (and is aware of the processes of the Taskforce) makes a decision
not to engage with processes of the Taskforce, their wishes should be
respected. It should also be noted that those persons who have suffered abuse
in Defence are not restricted to making reports to the Taskforce and can also
independently pursue complaints and remedies through other avenues. The
Taskforce has indicated the media, anonymous and third party allegations of
abuse will be taken into account in its advice to Defence regarding systemic
Taskforce legacy issues
The Taskforce is funded, and will continue to provide, services in
relation to the restorative engagement program into 2016. The committee
understands that recommendations in relation to the other 'legacy issues' will
form part of the final report of the Taskforce. The committee wishes to comment
on one major aspect of these legacy issues.
A key criticism of the Taskforce's activities concerns the initial stage
of awareness raising and communications with potential complainants. It is
clear that there remain victims of abuse in Defence who were not aware of the
existence of the Taskforce before the 'cut-off' dates for applications,
including some of those who have made submissions to the inquiry.
This is a complex issue. As was pointed out during the inquiry, because
of their experiences victims of abuse in Defence may actively avoid mentions in
the media of Defence in general, and of abuse in particular.
The DLA Piper Review also faced similar issues in raising awareness of its
activities. The apology made by former Minister Smith for abuse in Defence and
the announcement of the Taskforce and its subsequent activities have received
significant media attention. However, there does not seem to have been a
communications strategy undertaken to reach out to those victims of abuse in Defence
who were unlikely to have been informed about the activities of the Taskforce
or would be reluctant to come forward. The committee considers that, with
hindsight, more could have been done by the Taskforce, by Defence and the
Australian Government to raise awareness of the activities of the Taskforce and
the associated support mechanisms available for victims of abuse in Defence.
The challenges of raising awareness amongst victims of abuse in Defence
have contributed to the issues regarding the cut-off dates for making
applications to the Taskforce. The committee is concerned that there is a
significant cohort of former members of Defence who have suffered abuse who
have not had the opportunity to access the outcomes offered by the Taskforce.
The committee notes that a large number of complainants have contacted the
Taskforce after the 'cut off' date of 31 May 2013.
There is also a risk that confusion regarding the limited waiver of
non-disclosure agreements could have deterred victims of abuse in Defence from
making a claim to the Taskforce before the cut-off dates.
The committee does not agree that the operations of the Taskforce should
be open-ended. However, the Defence cultural reforms are still continuing, and
will not be completed for a further two years. Some actions to rectify problems
with processes for responding to abuse, such as when administrative action may
be taken by commanders, have only recently been undertaken by Defence. The
committee is also acutely aware that the incidents of abuse in Defence continue
to occur. In the view of the committee, the Australian Government should examine
reopening the Taskforce processes to new applications from victims of abuse in
Defence with a cut-off date that reflects the expected completion of the
Defence cultural reform program. This extension should be accompanied by an
extensive communications campaign aimed at reaching those who may be eligible
and should not only rely on traditional media advertising and Defence
The staff of the Taskforce have developed considerable expertise in
assisting victims of abuse in Defence, collecting relevant information, assessing
complaints and providing outcomes. They should continue to be utilised to
assist victims of abuse in Defence until the cultural reforms are completed.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government extend the
activities of the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce to support victims of abuse
in Defence, including allowing new complainants to make claims up to
30 June 2015.
Continuing cultural reform in Defence
A challenging number of recommendations for reform were developed
through the Defence cultural reviews – including many which support or assist
victims of abuse. Defence has progressed a large number of these reforms
through the Pathway to Change strategy, in particular establishing the Sexual Misconduct
Prevention Response Office (SeMPRO).
Defence has also assisted the Taskforce in undertaking its activities.
In particular, the committee is pleased to see the broad participation of
senior Defence officers in the restorative engagement program. This extensive
program, which will continue to operate for some time, is likely to be one of
the most valuable in terms of effecting Defence cultural reform.
The examples provided of administrative and disciplinary action,
including termination actions, taken in relation to unacceptable behaviour
onboard HMAS Newcastle, against the Army personnel involved in the
'Jedi Council' and against Air Force personnel for 'acts of indecency' indicate
that Defence's zero tolerance approach is being applied.
Additionally, there appears to have been an increase in reports of incidents in
Defence, particularly in relation to sexual assault. The committee agrees with
the suggestion that this is an indication of successful reform and that victims
of abuse may now feel more confident in making reports. The sexual ethics program
being developed and rolled out by Defence to its training institutions also
appears to be a positive development.
In contrast to these achievements, Defence could have been more
open to consultation in relation to the Rethinking Systems Review and its consequent
The committee considers that the overall message of the cultural reviews is
that Defence can be strengthened through engaging with external perspectives.
In this context, the committee urges Defence to continue its relationship with
the Australian Human Rights Commission in reviewing, auditing and assessing
cultural change occurring within the organisation.
The committee also notes the lack of urgency on the part of Defence in
undertaking some critical reforms. In particular, the revised Defence
Instructions (General) relating to the management of response to sexual
assaults (clarifying when administrative and disciplinary action could be
taken) was not released until 2014, some three years after this issue was
identified by the DLA Piper Review.
A number of criticisms were made of the restricted disclosure processes
adopted by Defence in establishing the processes of SeMPRO. The committee accepts
that the approach taken by Defence to restricted disclosures is necessarily constrained
by a number of legal and practical realities. However, in the view of the
committee there is room for improvement in relation to communication of these
exceptions to victims. Other communications to victims of sexual assault could
also be improved. In particular, the SeMPRO should develop resources which
clearly advise persons considering contacting SeMPRO regarding options for the
collection of forensic evidence and to clarify support options for former
members of Defence.
The importance of trust in support services for victims of sexual
assault was emphasised by a number of witnesses in relation to SeMPRO. The
committee is concerned that, as a telephone service, SEMPRO is not providing
the sort of personal assistance which would be most beneficial for victims of
sexual offences. A local SeMPRO Support Officer (SSO) Network is being
developed to provide on the ground support and information to clients,
witnesses and their commanders and managers. However, in the view of the committee,
SeMPRO should undertake more 'outreach' activities to build relationships of
trust with Defence personnel and to facilitate face-to-face support for victims
of sexual assault.
Defence recruits a large number of new personnel each year. The DLA Piper
Review report highlighted that there are aspects of ADF environments which
carry risk of abuse occurring and there are strong cultural factors which
discourage reporting of abuse in Defence. Defence should not solely rely on the
low levels of reported abuse or survey results in monitoring this issue. The
committee believes Defence needs to be focused on prevention of abuse occurring
at all times, even when there are no signs of trouble and particularly when
there are signs of trouble such as spikes in absenteeism, disciplinary
problems, or personnel reporting sick or leaving Defence.
The committee recommends that the Sexual Misconduct Prevention and
Response Office (SeMPRO) develop resources to clearly advise persons
considering contacting SeMPRO regarding options for the collection of forensic
evidence and support options for former members of Defence.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government provide
additional resources to SeMPRO to facilitate further outreach activities and personal
support to victims of sexual assault in Defence.
Systemic issues raised in DLA Piper review reports
The committee was not provided with specific responses from Defence or
the Australian Government in respect of the 35 systemic issues identified in
the DLA Piper Review report. As part of its response to the committee's
previous report into the DLA Piper review and related issues, the Australian
Government indicated that:
Noting that Pathway to Change is Defence's response to the
Reviews initiated in 2011, Defence will consider the systemic issues and
findings of the DLA Piper Review in this context.
The committee notes that the Chair has indicated that systemic issues
will be included as part of the Taskforce's final report.
Defence has also indicated the systemic issues identified by the DLA Piper
Review reports have been considered as part of the Rethinking Systems Review.
The systemic issues identified (or recommended for further
consideration) as part of the DLA Piper Review should be explicitly responded
to by the Australian Government. For example, in the committee's previous
report it highlighted Issue S12 raised in the Supplement to Volume 1 which
asked Phase 2 to consider whether it would be appropriate for Defence to seek
the making of a regulation under the Crimes Act 1914 that would add
recruitment into the ADF to the exclusions from the operation of the spent
convictions legislation. As far as the committee is aware there does not appear
to be a Defence or Australian Government decision on this issue. This issue is
relevant to character checks at point of entry into the ADF of personnel who
may have access to vulnerable Defence personnel.
The committee is concerned that a response to these systemic issues may
be lost between the Pathway to Change reforms (initiated by the former
Minister), the Taskforce's recommendations (developed independently of Defence)
and the Rethinking Systems Review (initiated by Defence itself). Following the
next interim report of the Taskforce, the Minister for Defence is
best-positioned to formally respond to the systemic issues identified in the
DLA Piper Review.
The committee recommends that following the next interim report of the
Taskforce, the Minister for Defence table a formal substantive response to the
systemic issues identified in the DLA Piper Review.
Access to veterans' entitlements and support
The committee considers that the recent changes to access to non-liability
health care will operate to assist some victims of abuse in Defence. However,
there also appears to be potential gaps in this support. Where a person was
discharged at their own request, before the three year requirement and not on
medical grounds, they may not be eligible to access these services.
One of the challenges identified during the inquiry is that persons who have
suffered abuse may leave military service early after an adverse experience and
whose true reason for leaving may not be reflected in their official record of
service. DVA should examine options to close this gap, including through a
recommendation for legislative change to the Australian Government if
The committee recommends the Australian Government introduce amending
legislation to remove the three year minimum service requirement for
eligibility for Non-Liability Health Care (NLHC) and to make NLHC available to
any person who has had completed any service.
There was considerable time spent during the inquiry on the various evidentiary
tests for access to different assistance for victims of abuse in Defence. It is
easy to understand the frustration experienced by victims of abuse who are
denied access to DVA assistance 'on the balance of probabilities' after their
claims of abuse have been determined to be 'plausible' by the Taskforce. The
committee accepts that DVA officers are bound by the evidentiary burdens set by
legislation in assessing the eligibility of applicants for compensation and
assistance. However, it was made clear during the inquiry that victims of abuse
can have a number of difficulties in making their claims, particularly where
military records may be inaccurate.
It is encouraging that DVA is seeking to obtain information regarding
'clusters' of abuse identified by the Taskforce and may be able to take that
information into account in assessing the claims of victims of abuse in
Defence. However, the committee notes that difficulties with establishing
eligibility for DVA benefits and support are relevant to persons affected by
abuse in the Defence who have not come into Taskforce processes. Further, the difficulties
in establishing eligibility for DVA benefits will continue to be relevant to
persons affected by abuse in Defence after the Taskforce has ceased to operate.
Accordingly, it is the opinion of the committee that it is insufficient
for DVA to confine consideration of patterns and clusters to information
provided to DVA by the Taskforce. The committee recommends that the Minister
for Veteran's Affairs direct the DVA to report to Parliament on what would be
required to analyse DVA's own file material for clusters and patterns of abuse
which could assist claimants to establish entitlements to DVA benefits.
The committee recommends that the Minister for Veterans' Affairs direct
the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) to commence consultation with
veterans' representative organisations and to report back on:
the legal and practical barriers there are to victims of abuse in
the ADF succeeding in establishing the facts necessary to access entitlements
to DVA benefits;
what Defence and DVA could do and what resources they will
require to gather and share information which could assist such individuals to
establish those facts to the satisfaction of DVA and tribunal decision-makers;
what can be done in liaison with veterans' groups, other
Australian Government agencies and community groups, and what resources will be
required to reach out to individuals affected by abuse who may be eligible for
DVA benefits – including individuals who have previously applied and been
During the inquiry the committee also received evidence from Mr Barry Heffernan
from the William Kibby VC Veterans' Shed regarding a proposal for community
based support for veterans who have suffered abuse. He described the
initiative, Community-Based Defence Abuse Support (COMBADAS), as taking up
where the Taskforce leaves off and providing a low cost alternative assistance
program to victims of abuse in Defence:
COMBADAS will provide safe, supportive, non-judgemental
community-based facilities for the support of ex-ADF members who have
experienced abuse, and will address unmet emotional and communal needs.
COMBADAS will provide emotional, psychological, and
financial/legal assistance to family members of veterans, so as to better
enable them to come to terms with the emotional traumas experienced by their loved
ones, and to handle the subsequently emotional burdens thereby imposed upon
Given the large number of victims of abuse in Defence, many of whom
potentially have not accessed the Taskforce or DVA assistance, alternative
community based support may be a valuable and accessible resource. In the light
of outcomes achieved to date and evidence from the Hon Len Roberts-Smith, the
committee considers that the COMBADAS program is worthy of further
consideration by the Department of Veterans' Affairs to ascertain if it could
form the basis of a sustainable, national approach to supporting victims of Defence
abuse. Any funding agreements with community-based support organisations should
allow them to continue to advocate for victims of abuse in Defence.
The committee recommends the Department of Veterans' Affairs examine
options to provide financial assistance to support a national, sustainable
community-based approach to assisting veterans who have suffered abuse.
The need for a Royal Commission
The committee notes that some of the abuse suffered in Defence training
institutions, where the victims were under 18 years of age, appear to fall
within the scope of the terms of reference of the existing Royal Commission
into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
In the view of the committee, these cases of institutionalised abuse of minors,
illustrated by the Taskforce report into HMAS Leeuwin, should be considered as
part of that Royal Commission. The committee notes that the Taskforce has
provided a copy of its HMAS Leeuwin report to the Royal Commission and
understands some victims have already raised their experiences with the Royal
The question of whether a Royal Commission into abuse in Defence is necessary
is a key part of the terms of reference of the Taskforce. The Chair of the
Taskforce is in the best position to make that recommendation, and the
committee has confidence that he will make an appropriate decision. That said,
the committee considers that this should not be perceived as a limited binary
choice. While royal commissions have extensive inquiry powers, the committee
does not agree with the concept that they are the sole possible solution if a
further investigation or inquiry into abuse in Defence is considered necessary.
Any further response to past abuse in Defence should be appropriately tailored
to achieve defined outcomes and minimise the risk of creating further suffering
for past victims of abuse in Defence.
The situation in relation to abuse in Defence is not always clear-cut. As
the DLA Piper Review reports made clear, some of those who were initially
victims of abuse in Defence, were influenced by their experiences and the
prevailing institutional expectations and culture to become abusers themselves.
Witnesses also emphasised to the committee that Defence does not exist in a
vacuum and is constantly impacted by the problems of abuse which exist in the
wider Australian community. In this context, the allocation of personal,
institutional and societal responsibility can be ambiguous.
A key issue is the presence of persons within Defence, identified by the
Taskforce, who are the subject to allegations of abuse. Some submitters to the
inquiry considered that a Royal Commission was the only way to 'get' the
perpetrators of abuse in Defence. However, the Taskforce through it processes
(and with the consent of the complainant) has referred a number of allegations
for investigation by the police or to Defence for administrative and
disciplinary action. Existing administrative and disciplinary options within
Defence may be sufficient to remove perpetrators of abuse. For example, the
committee notes that amendments to Defence regulations have introduced a 'good
character' consideration for personnel determinations and there are existing
provisions to terminate the service of Defence personnel based on broad
criteria such as 'performance', 'behaviour' or where the retention is not in
the interest of the Defence Force.
The committee notes that the Taskforce in its seventh interim report stated
that in October 2013 Mr Roberts-Smith had made recommendations to the CDF to
take action in relation to at least 12 serving members of the ADF, and to
consider further action in another 13 cases.
Procedural fairness issues should not be ignored in considering any
appropriate approach to abuse in Defence. Royal commissions can also produce
negative outcomes in the course of their proceedings.
The committee notes that the Royal Commissions Act 1902
was amended to facilitate private sessions of the Royal Commission into
Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Additional legislative
amendments may be required if a Royal Commission into abuse in Defence is
The committee encourages the Taskforce and the Australian Government to
consider a range of flexible options or mechanisms. The committee notes that
overseas jurisdictions have successfully established and operated commissions
to achieve truth and reconciliation outcomes in relation to past wrongs
committed in a variety of institutions. For example, the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission of Canada established to reveal past abuse in
relation to the Canadian Indian residential school system demonstrates how such
commissions can be tailored to meet the specific requirements.
The committee recommends that the Taskforce and the Australian
Government assess the appropriateness of a range of responses to abuse in
Defence, in addition to determining whether a Royal Commission should be
established. The welfare of victims of abuse in Defence should be the primary
consideration in any decision made.
Release of Volume 2 of the DLA Piper report
During the inquiry, the committee requested access to Volume 2 of the
DLA Piper report. This was undertaken in private at Parliament House with
access arrangements which reflected the confidentiality of the material, as
well as the needs of senators to consider the material. The committee wishes to
acknowledge its appreciation for the efforts of staff of the Taskforce and the
Minister of Defence who facilitated this process.
On 21 August 2014, the committee wrote to the Taskforce
requesting that specific parts of Volume 2 flagged by senators be released to
the committee and, where necessary, redacted of any personal information or any
material which could potentially identify any individual. The first tranche of
these flagged documents containing summary and explanatory material (which did
not require extensive redaction) were provided to the committee on
25 September 2014.
On 14 October 2014, the Taskforce wrote to the committee regarding the
second tranche of flagged documents which contained sensitive personal
information and had been requested by the committee to be provided following
redaction. The Taskforce included correspondence with the Minister of Defence
regarding the release of this second tranche of documents which discussed a
number of privacy concerns, including the situation of victims of abuse who had
provided information to the DLA Piper Review in confidence. In particular, the
Taskforce requested the Minister consider making a public interest immunity
claim in relation to the documents. The Minister agreed there were grounds for
a valid public interest immunity claim but requested the Taskforce consider
further negotiation with the committee that may negate the need for the claim
to be made.
The committee acknowledges that differing views exist in regard to the
value of the releasing of Volume 2 of the DLA Piper report. In particular, the
committee does not wish to cause any additional concern or anxiety for persons
who provided information to the DLA Piper Review in confidence. Due to the
subject matter and the privacy concerns raised by the Taskforce and the
Minister, the committee has made the decision not to further pursue the release
of the second tranche of the flagged parts of Volume 2 which contained
information about specific allegations and detailed personal information.
The committee recommends that no further parts of Volume 2 of the DLA
Piper report should be released in summary or redacted form.
Overall, the committee's views have not significantly changed in relation
to this topic since its previous report. While the committee shares the
frustration expressed by some during the inquiry with the slow progress of
reforms, it was always anticipated it would take time to achieve cultural change
within Defence. As noted in the committee's previous inquiry, it is important
to recognise that the issue of sexual and other abuse is not unique to Defence.
It is a serious issue facing workplaces, educational institutions,
cultural and religious organisations across Australia. Like any other large organisation,
Defence will be required to undertake constant work both to prevent abuse, and
to support and assist victims of abuse. In this context it is important for
Defence's cultural reform programs to continue to be implemented and reviewed
to ensure they are achieving success.
In the view of the committee, real progress has been achieved by Defence
since the commencement of the Pathway to Change strategy. Support mechanisms
for victims of abuse in Defence have improved since the DLA Piper Review. In
particular, the committee was heartened by the evidence that there is an upward
trend in the number of people within Defence who understand how they can make a
complaint and have confidence that the Defence chain of command will act on
Nonetheless, there is clearly more work to be done. The committee anticipates
that the Taskforce will have further recommendations to assist Defence to
improve its cultural reform programs and prevent further abuse from occurring.
The establishment and operation of the Taskforce has been a bold
initiative in assisting past victims of abuse in Defence. While many of its
processes have not yet been completed it has achieved an impressive range of
positive outcomes for victims of abuse. In contrast to the previous failures of
the Australian Government's duty of care to protect victims of abuse in
Defence, the Taskforce has professionally and respectfully provided assistance.
In the view of the committee, its operations should be extended to assist the
victims of abuse in Defence who are still seeking support.
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