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Speech at the opening of Military Watchdogs Seminar.

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THE HON. WARREN SNOWDON MP Minister for Defence Science and Personnel

Wednesday, 26 November 2008


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Thank you Professor McMillan [Professor John McMillan, Defence Force

Ombudsman] for your kind introduction.

Acknowledgements (if required)

Senator Mark Bishop, Former Chief of Army Peter Leahy, Geoff Earley,

Inspector General Australian Defence Force, Professor Robyn Creyke,

Director of ANU Centre for Military Law and Justice

And I would also like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, the

Ngunnawal people.

I was pleased to be invited to speak here today during the Opening Session of

the Defence Watchdogs Seminar…and to be called on to commemorate 25

years of the Defence Force Ombudsman.

Coming together for this seminar with the Inspector General of the Australian

Defence Force and the Centre for Military Law and Justice at the Australian

National University is an exceptional way to mark this anniversary.

Because of course both the IGADF and the Centre are watchdogs too…

Earlier this year I had the great pleasure of opening the new ANU Australian

Centre for Military Law and Justice with the Centre’s Director, Professor Robin

Creyke who is also involved today’s program.

The centre was established to develop a research capability into military law

and to provide advanced legal training to Service lawyers.

It’s wonderful to know they are now watching us - watching us and studying

us…because with the significant changes occurring with the military justice

reform, there has been limited sustained research into military law issues in

Australia until now.

And academic research can consider problems in a systemic way, and it can

also recognise the achievements that have been made.

It will be interesting to hear more from Professor Creyke in the next session

on Military Administrative Inquiries.

However our ever vigilant watchdog is always the Australian public.

All Australians expect a fair and impartial military justice system that also

assists the Australian Defence Force in maintaining high standards of


And in the past three years in particular, thanks to the persistence of the

Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee and the

willingness of CDF, we have seen incredible change.

Reform in this area has been proposed for what seems to be decades - there

have been at least seven separate reviews of one kind or another.

Complaints from serving members, and ex service members plagued

members of parliament and all governments.

In fact I must say from personal experience, one of the hardest ministerial

letters to sign are those to dissatisfied grievants - sometimes with cases

extending over 30 years - to say that nothing more can be done.

Often it seems the system has failed them - and I personally regret those

circumstances very much.

Let’s indeed hope that a new page has been turned…that members of the

military no longer suffer inferior standards of justice to the Australian public.

Certainly almost every element of the military justice system has been altered:

• how we investigate, prosecute, represent, try and review under the disciplinary system;

• how we conduct administrative inquiries and manage complaints;

• how we audit, review and report the military justice system;

• how we train and prepare our people - including, our Service police, legal officers, inquiry officers and commanding officers; and

• how we exercise our duty of care for our people, including members of the ADF Cadets.

These changes were prompted by the 2005 Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence

and Trade References Committee Report ‘The Effectiveness of Australia’s

military Justice System’.

The Senate Committee received submissions ranging across the many

aspects of the military justice system and covered both the disciplinary and

administrative processes.

The report’s recommendations were designed to put in place a justice system

that would provide impartial, rigorous and fair outcomes and one that is

transparent and accountable for all ADF personnel.

There is no longer any place in the modern ADF for a system of court martial

with its origins back in the pre-Victorian era.

Nor is there any place for grievances being ignored, dismissed, or

inadequately investigated.

People simply deserve better.

We all recognise the need for and the importance of discipline - but we also

accept that this does not extend to bullying, victimisation and other acts of

bastardisation which crop up in the media.

The Australian public, our servicemen and women, demand better…and the

Australian Defence Force needs it…

Because an effective and accessible military justice system has a direct link to

operational effectiveness…

It has a direct link to how well we cope with the pressures of our current high

operational tempo…

It is critical when it comes to recruiting and retaining a professional and highly

skilled military force.

And as I began, it is the rightful expectation, not only of our servicemen and

women, and their families, but of every Australian, that all justice, including

military justice, will be fair, swift, transparent and impartial.

We realise that the formality of what has been put in place by way of the new

military court is an expensive model.

However, we also know that there was no alternative given the old system

had lost not only its relevance, but also the respect of aggrieved personnel.

We also know that the new system of grievances will cost, but that at the

same time a new and vigorous discipline on commanding officers had to be

put in place to remove accusations of compromise and cover-up.

We also knew that the military police force was in a bad way.

And I regret to say that the process of the inquiry into the death of Jake Kovco

showed in fact what a parlous position it had come to.

In fact I share the view of the Senate Committee, as does CDF, that work is

lagging to create a new single force with all the skills to properly investigate

and make rigorous recommendations to the Defence Military Prosecutor.

And I thank the Senate Committee, in particular its former chairman Chris

Evans and the current Chair Mark Bishop who has carried on their

commitment as watchdogs.

I appreciate that all this reform has been difficult.

I know there are sceptics who believe that while the old system was rough

and tough, it was at least cheap and efficient.

However, as I’ve said, there is much more to it in this modern military life.

And people are watching.

I do not want any parents to ever worry about their children joining up.

The risks of war, of battle, come with the service, but no one should fear the

way of life and the treatment meted out in the Australian Defence Force.

If we value our people as we should, as we do, there is simply no alternative

but to make these reforms work.

And built into the reforms of the ADF military justice system is the enhanced

oversight and greater transparency provided by the Defence Watchdogs…

Such as the independent review currently being undertaken by Sir Laurence

Street and Air Marshal Les Fisher (Retired).

This review is part of the then-Government Response to the 2005 Senate

Committee Report into the Effectiveness of Australia’s Military Justice System.

It is assessing the effectiveness of the overhauled military justice system,

specifically the extent to which it delivers impartial, rigorous and fair


Already they have completed over 110 interviews.

They have spoken to more than 250 military and civilian personnel and

reviewed around 160 pieces of extant legislation and policy documentation.

When it’s done - and the team will deliver their final report to the Chief of the

Defence Force in February next year - it will also recommend a timeline for

regular, ongoing reviews of the health of our military justice system.

But Sir Laurence Street, and Air Marshal Fisher are not the only watchdogs

measuring performance…

Defence’s internal military justice watchdog, the Inspector General of the ADF

is also charged with auditing the military justice system, and identifying trends

and deficiencies at a strategic level along with on-site audits of military justice

practices and procedures at ADF units.

And the office of the IGADF has already become an important feature of the

ADF military justice system, and has an independent role within Defence

which operates outside of the ordinary chain of command.

I know there are differing opinions about whether the IGADF is sufficiently

independent of the chain of command...

And this is something we will be monitoring very carefully.

But I also know that the IGADF, Geoff Earley, who is a co-sponsor of this

seminar, will not shirk his responsibilities.

And along with the audits and oversight…he will provide Defence members

with an impartial avenue to raise their concerns relating to the operation of the

military justice system where the normal avenues have failed or are


I know too that CDF appreciates how important the independence of the

IGADF is - both in appearance and in fact.

Always of course ADF personnel are encouraged to try and resolve

complaints at the lowest possible level through normal chain of command.

However, if personnel feel unable to report concerns through the usual

channels or, if having done so, they still feel they haven’t been given a fair

hearing, they are free to approach the IGADF directly and make a submission

about military justice matters.

Any person, whether an ADF member or not, may make a submission about

military justice to the IGADF.

But of course, complaints needn’t go so far…

Today you will have the honour to hear from Di Harris, the Director General of

Fairness and Resolution in Defence…

I had the pleasure of having her on my team for awhile earlier this year…but I

couldn’t keep her from the important work establishing the Fairness and

Resolution Centres around Australia.

These Centres provide advice and assistance to all Defence employees on

the management and resolution of workplace conflict, unacceptable behaviour

and other complaints within Defence.

Already they have made a significant contribution to ensuring Defence has a

working environment where diversity is valued and people treat each other

fairly and with respect.

Maybe that explains why complaints to the Ombudsman are dropping…

No, I haven’t forgotten I am also here this morning to commemorate 25 years

of the Defence Force Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman ensures members and former members of the Australian

Defence Force, as well as spouses and dependents, have an external avenue

available if they want to make a complaint about the ADF relating to present

or past service.

Our Defence Force Ombudsman approaches complaint handling in a similar

way to his international counterparts.

Military Ombudsman from other countries have reported receiving similar

patterns of complaints as the Australian Defence Force Ombudsman.

For example, common issues identified by the National Defence and

Canadian Forces Ombudsman include the payment of benefits, release from

service, recruiting and medical matters.

Also similar is the methodology followed in responding to complaints.

The National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman also prefer to

resolve matters informally and at the lowest possible level.

Interestingly, although Canada’s population is not even double Australia’s, the

National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman receives approximately

three times as many complaints as the Australian Defence Force Ombudsman

- and our complaints are dropping.

The Australian model, with 25 years experience, has matured into an integral

part of the military justice system.

The pattern of reducing complaints made to the Ombudsman indicates a

degree of success in resolving systemic problems and an increase in the

effectiveness of the ADF military justice system for managing complaints.

And in my experience there are very few organisations that provide the

options to be heard that are available to ADF members through avenues such

as the Fairness and Resolution Branch, IGADF and the Ombudsman.

The ADF is a volunteer military force and it can only succeed if its military

justice system is functional and intrinsically fair to its members.

An effective military justice system is vital to maintaining command, retaining

our people and our reputation and is ultimately critical to operational


And it is a great journey that military justice has travelled in the past 25 years.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to come and speak to you today.

I hope you find the day’s seminar interesting and informative.

Media contacts: Kate Sieper (Warren Snowdon): 02 6277 7620 or 0488 484 689 Defence Media Liaison: 02 6265 3343 or 0408 498 664