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Thursday, 29 May 2003
Page: 15542

Mr PRICE (12:33 PM) —The defence forces, both defence ministers and the Chief of Defence Force often say that the people in Defence are its greatest asset. I want to preface my remarks by again drawing attention to that. Mr Deputy Speaker, you may be aware that the Army has what I understand is called a big wall climbing club and, in recent times, that club has had one death in the United States and three deaths in the Himalayas. It has been recently brought to my attention that the person who died some 2½ years ago in the United States was Sapper Morrison. In situations like that it would be scandalous if we did not try to learn the circumstances of the death and find out whether or not measures could have been taken to prevent it. This would give evidence for the assertion that people are Defence's best asset.

A board of inquiry is set up with specific powers under due authority to investigate such deaths. In relation to Sapper Morrison, the board of inquiry has been going on for some 2½ years. I understand that the cost of the board of inquiry to date is $2 million. I do not quibble about the money. What I do quibble about is the time. I find it utterly outrageous that the widow of Sapper Morrison, herself a serving ADF member, and their two children spent two years before they were informed of the injuries that Sapper Morrison suffered. I think that this is an utter scandal. I call on Minister Vale to take an interest in this case—not to wash her hands and absolve herself but to take an interest in this widow and the two children.

There have been 18 submissions to the board of inquiry seeking the evidence of eight American eyewitnesses. In the 2½ years of this board of inquiry, there have been 18 submissions to the board pleading for the testimony of eight American eyewitnesses to be heard. I thank the Chief of Army, as I understand he has recently, after refusing to allow the board to go to America, agreed to it going and agreed to a small extension of time.

Whilst Sapper Morrison is represented at the BOI, as is appropriate, his widow is not. She has no legal representation whatsoever. If this is caring about ADF members and their families, it leaves a lot to be desired. I would say that, other than providing the ADF welfare community worker who is supporting Sapper Morrison's widow, Defence needs to do a lot more to support her. Indeed, an extensive report on military justice recommended just that.

I am appalled that a board of inquiry about a single death can take 2½ years and still need an extension. I am appalled that fundamental rules like having the presiding officer outrank all other officers are still not being adhered to. This case is an utter disgrace. When the widow seeks an interview with the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, it should be granted. The minister, Minister Vale, should take an active interest in this very sad case and ensure that there is some support for the widow of Sapper Morrison and her two children in coming to grips with the situation and trying to find some closure in relation to this untimely death. (Time expired)