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Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade - 02/09/2014 - Human rights issues confronting women and girls in the Indian Ocean and Asia-Pacific region

MORRISON, DAVID, Lieutenant General, Chief of Army, Department of Defence

Subcommittee met at 13:00.

CHAIR ( Mr Simpkins ): Welcome. I regret the delay today. Unfortunately, we do not have a quorum because we do not have any members from the opposition. But we will proceed rather than delay you any longer. Hopefully more members will sit in during our discussion.

I now declare open this public hearing of the Human Rights Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. This is a public hearing into the human rights issues confronting women and girls in the Indian Ocean and Asia-Pacific region. The witnesses today are from the Australian Defence Force. I wish to advise you that in giving evidence to the subcommittee, you are protected by parliamentary privilege. I also remind you of the obligation not to give false or misleading evidence and to do so may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. These are public proceedings, although the subcommittee will consider a request to have evidence heard in camera. If you wish to object to answering a question, you should state the grounds for that objection and the subcommittee will consider the matter. I now invite you to make an opening statement to the subcommittee before we proceed to questions.

Lt Gen. Morrison : Thank you very much, and I will make a statement but it will be a brief one. Several months ago, as some may be aware, I was invited to take part in a United Nations sponsored global summit into the prevention of sexual violence in conflict. It was a great privilege to not only represent the Australian Army and its Defence Force but indeed represent Australia along with members of government, including most notably Natasha Stott-Despoja, who is our ambassador for women and girls at that global summit. I had the opportunity to speak at the closing plenary session to about 2½ thousand people, of which I was the only person I could see in uniform. It was quite a moment for me. The reason I raise that is I think the selection of an Australian general to actually contribute a view to such a magnificent cause is an example of how the ADF is viewed by militaries around the world.

There is no doubt that we have had, and still continue to have, cultural issues that have to be addressed within our Defence Force. Nonetheless, following the review that was done in 2011 by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, there have been very substantial steps taken to address military culture within the ADF. I cannot make specific comments about the treatment of women and girls in our own region other than to say that I have taken part in military operations in Bougainville and in East Timor, and I have been a frequent visitor to many of the countries in our near region.

There is a role that all militaries are required to play at some stage when they are deployed into troubled situations where there are dislocated communities. The point that I made in London was that at the most elemental point the soldier has the choice to either be a protector or a perpetrator. There is without doubt a high level of sexual violence perpetrated by men, almost exclusively, in armies around the world and there is a requirement, in my view, for all leaders of any armies to address matters around culture that go to the heart of the choice that individual soldiers will make, either to be a perpetrator or a protector.

In the Australian Army's case, we have a magnificent record in this regard. I think the nation is very proud of that fact and so it should be, in my view. Nonetheless, there are steps that have to be taken now to ensure that we get better in this regard. In London, I spoke about the need for two major requirements, both of which have occurred in the ADF and certainly in the Army. The first is for independent reviews to be done into the treatment of women or minority groups within the Defence Force by organisations outside of the military. The role played by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner in that regard in 2011 and her ongoing work with the ADF in the years subsequent to that has been an astounding example of how the military can seek independent review and then respond to the recommendations of that review in a very proactive and positive way.

The second initiative that I spoke to in London is to open up all areas of the military profession to women. While this is an area of some debate within societies, in my view it sends a clarion call to everybody who serves in our ranks that it is talent not gender that is the discriminator as to who fills which appointments.

This was an initiative that was commenced under the previous government. While that there was a level of professional concern within the military as to how this would be made to work, time has proven it to be, I think, an outstanding initiative. Currently in Army, we have 96 women who are taking part in either training or employed in areas that before 2012 simply would have been barred to them because of their sex. Indeed, last week the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Industry were briefed on a number of armoured vehicles, currently in use in the Army. They were brought down to the Defence Force Academy and shown over those vehicles by soldiers who had been brought up. The senior junior officer in that group was a female lieutenant who is a member of our armoured corps. She was an example, as a troop commander, of where we are going in terms of opening all areas of our military to both genders.

Mr RUDDOCK: Did you say 'all areas'?

Lt Gen. Morrison : That is correct, including Special Forces. I am not speaking, of course, for the Navy and the Air Force, but it applies equally to them as it does to the Army.

The concluding point I would like to make is that I am held responsible by the government of this country, and through them the nation, to produce the most capable military force possible. That is how I will be judged. In nothing that I have done or the leadership team of the ADF done in terms of addressing culture or opening all aspects of the Army to women have we lost sight of the overriding need to be more capable as an armed force, and certainly in my case the Army. I am absolutely certain that we are doing that through a more equitable use of talent across both genders and indeed across all ethnic groups in Australia now.

As I made the point publicly on a number of occasions, it would be exceptionally profligate of any Chief of Army to simply dispense with the talent that is present in almost 51 per cent of the Australian population—that is, its females—in a way that we have done in the past. It simply will not build the Army or the Defence Force we need in the future. I think with the initiatives that Liz Broderick has worked with defence and with other recommendations that were made in reviews that were generated in response to what occurred at ADFA in early 2011, the ADF is in a much better position to be able to operate effectively here in Australia, but especially on military operations where our soldiers are the protectors of those who are threatened in whatever operational environment we are asked to work.

CHAIR: Thank you. You comments in regard to making sure that Army and the ADF in general have access to the talent of 100 per cent of its people and not just 49 or 50 per cent of its people in all employment categories ring true with the other aspects of our inquiry where we are looking out into the region. We were worried about countries that are selling themselves short economically because 50 per cent of the women are marginalised and not part of the economic development of the country. So that is a very interesting point that you raise and it rings true elsewhere in the region as well.

What would you say would be the nations around the world that have recognised in the same way that Australia has the need for changes within the military?

Lt Gen. Morrison : I do not think that it is exclusively being looked at and worked on by countries that we would describe as First World countries. I think that all thinking military professionals at the moment are trying to look at ways to improve capability and performance. Certainly, across the world there are more and more militaries interested in harnessing the talent and potential that is present with women.

Of course, you have to be careful here. I do not set myself up as an anthropological expert in this regard; I have no sociological training. I am stepping my way through matters that I have no academic background in, but, as a military professional, I am certainly well and truly alive to the fact that we have been wasteful of talent in the past. I look at the like countries, though—the United States, the United Kingdom, a number of the European countries, New Zealand and Canada—and they are all taking steps to try and increase the number of women and, indeed, to open more and more parts of the overall military profession to the employment of women.

I can say with real professional pride that in many respects the ADF leads the world in that. Certainly, at an army level, where the take-up of women across the board is slower than for like navies and air forces, the Australian Army has also made considerable headway. When I started the work in response to Liz Broderick's first review, in the middle of 2011, women in the Australian Army was less than 10 per cent of our workforce. In fact, it had been at that level or lower throughout our history. Now it is just under 12 per cent, so within two years we have increased the number of women in our Army by over 600. That is no small thing. In fact, there would be very few industries in Australia that could make a similar claim. When I look across the world at like armies, we in fact have a higher participation rate than most, which is a very good thing.

CHAIR: Can I just digress slightly. What happens at the Defence Force Academy has received a very high profile. Would you say that in this case Defence is typical or atypical of tertiary education around the rest of the country?

Lt Gen. Morrison : I am always careful about making comparisons when I do not have the evidence or data to back that up. The level of supervision and the inculcation of values at the Australian Defence Force Academy is certainly one of the major areas of focus for the staff and the student body at ADFA. You would not see, of course, in a civilian university anywhere near that focus and approach. I think that the response that you saw from the leadership team of the ADF in 2011 in the wake of what happened at ADFA was, in many respects, quite groundbreaking, however. The institutional acceptance that these were systemic matters dealing with ADF culture that had to be addressed, rather than consigning this to the latest instance of aberrant behaviour by a few bad apples, was something that you do not see in not just militaries but any professional groups as readily as you might want to. I think the ADF leadership team over the course of the last 3½ years has led the way around the world, which is why I think a request came from the convenors of the global summit into the prevention of sexual violence in conflict to Australia and to one of the senior members of the ADF to come and speak. I was the only senior military figure from around the world at that global summit. That says something, I think, very positive about our Defence Force.

CHAIR: That is excellent. How else has the army, or have you, helped these new cultural values to proliferate around the world to other defence forces?

Lt Gen. Morrison : Well, I certainly do not preach. I do not think I have anywhere near the credentials to do that. Indeed, I am dealing with instances of aberrant behaviour on an almost daily basis, so I am hardly getting ahead of myself here. There is a lot of work that has to be done to lift standards within the army, and so I am very careful about not throwing any stones.

I do, however, discuss these matters with my counterparts; not just with the ABCA countries or with countries within NATO, but with other countries in the region as well. And when I do, I just speak about my own experiences here. We are seeing, I think, an army that is more resilient, more robust and more capable as a result of using a much bigger talent pool than we were able to use before 2012. We are better off for it—and I have, without any hesitation, encouraged my counterparts to consider like advantages that may accrue if they take a similar approach.

Aside from being asked to share a lot of our information now about the initiatives that we have put in place, the policies that we have developed and the data that we have collected and analysed—which I am asked to share on a very regular basis—I do not, as I said, set myself up as some sort of paragon in this regard.

Mr RUDDOCK: I do not mean to interrupt, and I hope you will excuse me. When you talk about measurable outcomes—I can understand you could count the number of women in and out—but I am more interested in how you measure the improvement in the talent pool, in terms of improved capability because you have more women. How do you measure it?

Lt Gen. Morrison : There is a degree of intangibility to what you have just described. The ready markers between men and women—

Mr RUDDOCK: Do you look at 'out on the range'? Having women there now as part of the enlarged pool, do you have a better shooting outcome?

Lt Gen. Morrison : No.

Mr RUDDOCK: Do they hit more targets?

Lt Gen. Morrison : No. What I do look at—

Mr RUDDOCK: I am really just asking how you measure—

Lt Gen. Morrison : What I do look at is this: I go to places like Afghanistan and speak to a group of infantrymen and ask them why they are there, and have them confirm to me that they are there to protect the Afghan population while a level of stability is achieved so that development can take place. I then ask them how many women they have spoken to in their entire time in Afghanistan and have it confirmed that they have spoken to none. From an operational point of view, it has to be good that a measure of effectiveness is having women within that force who are able to engage with 50 per cent of the Afghan population.

I will go further than that: the top three cadets at Duntroon in the graduating class of December 2013 were women. Two of the three, both women, elected to go to the Royal Australian Armoured Corps. One of them has subsequently gone on, I believe, to either the top, or very close to the top, of her first qualifying course as an officer in that corps. Now, I can draw a correlation—I think with a degree of confidence here—that there is an improvement in quality as a result in that particular part of the army. I have to say, too, that setting a particular path and encouraging other women—or men and women—of talent to follow behind those young women who have taken the first step, also augurs well for the army.

There are other means by which I can make judgements: the number of instances of unacceptable behaviour across the army—which we collect on a daily, or weekly, or monthly or annual basis. There is the number of DUIs, the number of instances of misbehaviour in other areas—all of which is collected and analysed. But it is probably too early, given that these initiatives are only now two years old, to draw too great a conclusion.

Mr RUDDOCK: I am not going to let you off, but I will just defer at the moment. I am sorry I interrupted.

Ms GAMBARO: Thank you for your presentation and also for your very powerful presentation at the global summit. I just wanted to ask you about the risks of violence and sexual violence. Are they higher for female members of the ADF—we were just talking about Afghanistan? Also, what does the defence force do when, for example, those acts of sexual violence are perpetrated by, say, the army or security forces of nations we are working with, like Afghanistan? How do you investigate them and prosecute that?

Lt Gen. Morrison : Just so that I understand, are you talking specifically about—

Ms GAMBARO: Sexual violence—

Lt Gen. Morrison : Within operational fields?

Ms GAMBARO: In-country.

Lt Gen. Morrison : I cannot speak specifically about particular countries—

Ms GAMBARO: I understand—

Lt Gen. Morrison : simply because I do not have all the information. There you would have to talk to commanders on the ground. But without any hesitation I can say that there are means by which men and women who are the victims of sexual violence in any of the theatres where Australian forces have been operating have been able to approach Australian forces to recount what has happened to them and have the matters investigated, either by the ADF, by the military coalition or by legal agencies operating within those theatres. That has been the case in Timor as well as in Afghanistan and the Solomons.

Militaries are there to protect. Outside of straight combat, where it is the application of extreme violence on both sides, the Australian Army has been involved in a series of military operations that have required it to protect the local population. Part of that protection has been to have the ability to gather information and evidence, should it be required, to pass it on to investigative authorities, either those in uniform or those within the police or those within the country's police agencies, to have the matters investigated. How successful that has been depends on a case by case basis, and I do not have any evidence or specific examples to give you. But we do prepare all of our military forces, prior to their deployment, to deal with matters such as this. UN Security Council resolution 1325 requires that of us, and in that regard we are certainly following through on that resolution.

Ms GAMBARO: Julie McKay has been appointed as a part-time gender adviser for UN Women. Can you elaborate on how she is helping you with internal and strategic policies within the ADF?

Lt Gen. Morrison : She is a very experienced person in this field, having been us a prominent member of the UN Women's group in Australia. She was appointed earlier this year as the CDF's adviser on gender, but she has been very active in working with all three of the services so far to understand not just cultural issues but opportunities for the employment of women. She has engaged with me. We have sought her views on initiatives we are developing. I run a gender and diversity council within the senior ranks of the Australian Army, to which she is an invited participant. I was with her just a week and a half ago in the infantry centre, where she had spent a week with our infantrymen—at this stage, because there are no women in our infantry corps, although that is a matter of choice now and not a matter of exclusion. She provided me with some great feedback, and I have to say that it was very positive feedback, on many of the cultural issues that we in the Army are trying to address. I think her appointment has been a real success. She is a good shot with a machinegun, too!

Ms GAMBARO: And people can talk to her freely on the ground?

Lt Gen. Morrison : Absolutely.

Ms GAMBARO: So there are no issues with providing that information and that on-the-ground feedback?

Lt Gen. Morrison : She had access to everybody she met in Singleton. She was not 'escorted' in that regard. She told me about a number of lunches and meeting engagements she had had with junior soldiers, which were completely unscripted on their part, and she was very positive in what she had heard from them.

Mr RUDDOCK: I am qualifying myself, I appointed two women High Court judges—more than anybody has ever appointed. I believe strongly about gender equity but I am in part a sceptic. I do not think there is any basis for which you could defend sexual abuse and I commend the way in which those issues are being addressed.

But I wonder how you deal with the other aspect: chivalry. If you have got women in a SAS unit and you are engaged in close personal combat—and I assume from what you have said women are in all fields—I wonder how you are preparing them and how you are preparing the men who may be involved who would be concerned about the role a woman might be performing, which would encourage the lesser gentleman to say, 'No, I should not push you into that situation and vulnerability?

How do you deal with those sorts of issues? You are saying to the men, 'You have got to treat them just the same, push them forward.' Is that what it means?

Lt Gen. Morrison : That is exactly what I am doing. As I said earlier, I get held to account for one thing above all else and that is to produce for the nation the most capable army that I can during my tenure as the Chief of Army. There is nothing altruistic in what I am trying to do with regards to gender in the Army as part of a leadership team for the ADF. I am absolutely certain that women of talent should be able to operate wherever they are.

Mr RUDDOCK: I would say the same thing. But I am anxious about how you prepare the other men around it, not who may be abusing but who feel they have a special responsibility to assist and help women.

Lt Gen. Morrison : I think that there is a lot of urban myth around the idea of a frontline on military operations. Indeed, women have been taking their chances equally with men in almost every operational theatre that I have been involved in during my 36-year career. If we formalised it by enabling them to work as part of the infantry or armoured corps or artillery or engineers or aviation or wherever now then that is in many respects a small step when placed relative to the fact that they have been sharing the operational load equally with men throughout the course of my career. Let me tell you though that we have had women now as part of our combat engineers, our artillery and our armoured corps without any issues that have been made aware to me. There are junior officers who are required to lead soldiers. And the women who are now filling those roles in the artillery, the engineer and the armoured corps are doing so either on par with their male peers or better.

Mr RUDDOCK: In the old terminology, I would expect to see a woman first out of the trench.

Lt Gen. Morrison : Well that is exactly what I see. If she is in a leadership role then yes of course. What is more, I expect her to be followed.

CHAIR: There are drivers and mechanics in armoured corps already. Are any women driving tanks?

Lt Gen. Morrison : In enlisted ranks, not officers?

CHAIR: Yes.

Lt Gen. Morrison : I would have to come back to you on that and take it on notice. I do not believe there is at the moment.

CHAIR: Sometimes you hear stories.

Lt Gen. Morrison : But there are private soldiers, corporals and sergeants within engineers and within some areas of our artillery corps. The same will happen with armour and, eventually, I think will happen in infantry although I expect that will take a longer period of time. There are many many men who do not want to be in the infantry.

CHAIR: Indeed, I did 15 years in the Army myself. One of the great things people always talk about is who is carrying all the ammunition? Who is going to carry the mortar base plate and things like that? Are there still differences in those regards?

Lt Gen. Morrison : No, there are no differences. There is a physical employment standard that you must meet to serve in the army corps or in the artillery or in the infantry. It is non-gender specific. It does not matter to me whether it is a male or female who is seeking to get that level of qualification; what does matter to me in a black-and-white sense is whether or not they achieve it because if they do not achieve it they will not be employed there.

CHAIR: So load lists—carrying on the person—are the same, all the same?

Lt Gen. Morrison : It is non-gender specific, correct. How could it be any way else? Otherwise, I would not be delivering a more capable army; I would be delivering one that is discriminatory on sex, but it would be a positive discrimination for a particular sex in a particular way that would not benefit capability. I just would not do that.

CHAIR: What could the government do to combat sexual violence in conflict? What would you suggest to the committee?

Lt Gen. Morrison : From my attendance at the global summit and from my participation in military operations or my study of them, without a doubt holding men—primarily men of course—to account following the perpetration of a violent sexual act is probably the most important thing at the moment. Here the IJC tries valiantly to do great work in this regard and has been successful to a degree. I think that without doubt there is a level of impunity that we see in many operational theatres—not where we are but around the globe—where sexual violence is used as a tool of war with almost total impunity by those who use those reprehensible weapons. That is the case throughout history and, unfortunately, throughout many conflict zones. I am not here just referring to conflicts in developing countries either. I think we are seeing it around the world as we have forever. That is the first step.

Education is very important. The United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 goes to the heart of this and Australia is a signatory to it. We train all of our personnel who are deploying what is right and what has to be done if they come across instances of sexual violence. But there is, when you look around the world at the moment, such a long way to go. The very first thing that could be done is to hold people to account. Outside of operational theatres, we are trying—successfully in my view—to hold everyone to account in the ADF if it is shown that they have not lived up to our values or they are perpetrated actions that are unacceptable. It is public—I made it public—several weeks ago that we have discharged almost 300 people from the Army in the last two years because they have not lived up to the expectations that I have of them or the senior leadership has of them. There is a level of accountability here that has got to apply within our army and across all the armies in the world. It is easier said than done, of course.

When you see what is happening around the world, not just in Africa or the Middle East, you shake your head and wonder what has to be done to make the world a better place for men but particularly for women and children, who are defenceless in this regard.

CHAIR: Unit commanders have always said that they are ultimately responsible. A while back it seemed like it was fairly rare that unit commanders ever were really held responsible so it is good to see.

Lt Gen. Morrison : I can assure you they are now.

CHAIR: I remember the 3RAR unfortunate incident where a CEO—not quite along these lines—was reduced in rank and that was about the first time I ever recall a unit commander actually bearing responsibility for culture problems within a unit.

Lt Gen. Morrison : I think we have got a very good army and a very good defence force, but no-one is resting on any laurels in preparing for the future.

Mr RUDDOCK: Thank you. We appreciate very much what you have had to say. I am very encouraged by what you have had to say about ensuring our standing is not reduced.

Lt Gen. Morrison : I take all of your comments and questions with a great deal of respect as well. I do not make light of the very complex issues that you have gone to the heart of. I would hate to give you the impression that I am riding in a blasé fashion over the top of them; I am not. I understand very clearly the interaction between men and women in uniform and it is very complex. But I can say with confidence that we have got a maturing army. We have young soldiers who are much more open to the ideas of the advantages of diversity and inclusivity than perhaps men of my age. And I think that is a very good thing for us as a nation and certainly for the nation's military.

CHAIR: There being no further questions, thank you for your attendance at the hearing today. I do not think you were asked for additional material but if there is any further information that you would like to provide, please forward this through to the secretariat. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence to which you may suggest corrections. I now ask that a member of the sub-committee to authorise publication of the evidence given at the public hearing this day.

Mr RUDDOCK: I so move.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Committee adjourned at 13:37