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Thursday, 25 August 1994
Page: 330

Senator BURNS (10.28 a.m.) —I will not say a great deal on this matter. Much has been said that I support and agree with. But it became fairly clear as the inquiry of the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade progressed, bearing in mind some of the public utterances in the press for some time, that it was not just the question of sexual harassment that had been a problem for the defence forces; rather, it was a question of harassment of both sexes by officers at some levels—and even harassment by people in other ranks towards each other.

  The development of protective measures against sexual harassment in the general community, in my view, has led the developments in the navy—and certainly to a greater extent in the army and the air force. But the very open and constructive way in which the navy dealt with this particular problem, and the information it willingly provided to us, augurs well for the future in regard to building a cohesive and cooperative defence force, so that people in the force have respect for each other.

  Over the years there have been many bullies in all the arms of the defence forces and while to some extent they might have been supported by a particular culture and certain senior officers, I am sure that many in the hierarchy disapproved of that. I believe that there is a development taking place and this inquiry, and the responses to its position, will help to change that culture and to eliminate the attitude of bullying, whether it be male or female. Some females in their evidence indicated that really it was no big deal that somebody might say something that was offensive to some people and not offensive to others. But, really, it is not a kindergarten; they are all adults. That may be so, but the defence personnel must be required to act towards each other, male or female, in a way that gives no offence to each other and to be considerate and concern themselves that each of those persons may be sensitive.

  I believe that the inquiry was a very appropriate one at that time and that the content of the inquiry when read by people generally in the community will give them a feeling of confidence in the future of the defence forces. But it will also raise an expectation that the developments that have taken place up until this time against those people involved in sexual harassment will continue—as I believe it will, based on my experience in this particular inquiry. I think the recommendations are sound and should be followed by those whose responsibility it is.