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Shadow Minister criticises Minister's comments about video of soldiers on YouTube.

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Monday 6 August 2007

Shadow Minister criticises Minister's comments about video of soldiers on YouTube


TONY EASTLEY: The Federal Opposition says it's astounded by the Government's reaction to a video which appeared on YouTube, apparently showing Australian soldiers binge drinking and dressed up in Ku Klux Klan outfits. 


The Shadow Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon says Defence Minister Brendan Nelson's description of the behaviour as larrikin irreverence is entirely inappropriate. 


The Australia Defence Association also takes issue with Minister Nelson's comments, but the RSL says larrikinism is an Australian trait and judgement on the soldiers' actions should not be passed too hastily. 


Barbara Miller reports. 


BARBARA MILLER: Entitled 'My Experience in the Australian Army' the YouTube video shows men drinking from a tube, throwing up, and at least one dressed up in a Ku Klux Klan outfit. 


The Army says it appears to have been shot several years ago at the Robertson Barracks near Darwin. 


The Prime Minister and his Defence Minister said if an army investigation deemed any behaviour inappropriate, action would be taken. 


But both Mr Howard and Mr Nelson have played down the video somewhat as evidence of typical soldier antics. 


JOHN HOWARD: Let's be sensible and understand that people will let off a bit of steam and… heavens above. 


BRENDAN NELSON: There's always been, from the time of Gallipoli, a kind of larrikin irreverence in our soldiers and I think that will always be the case. 


BARBARA MILLER: Labor's Defence Spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon says the Gallipoli comparison is a mistake. 


JOEL FITZGIBBON: He's suggesting that this is the sort of behaviour we've come to expect from our ADF personnel going right back to the Gallipoli campaign. I think that was entirely inappropriate, and a poor reflection on those who served in Gallipoli and of course the overwhelming majority of ADF personnel today. 


BARBARA MILLER: But what else can one do when a video like this surfaces but say that it will be investigated, and that any inappropriate action will be followed up? 


JOEL FITZGIBBON: The response of the Defence Force itself was an appropriate one, but what the Prime Minister and his Defence Minister have sought to do is frivolously dismiss the actions of those involved and of course ingratiate themselves to the small minority doing the wrong thing at the expense of the overwhelming majority of people doing the right thing. 


BARBARA MILLER: Neil James, Executive Director of the Australia Defence Association, also takes issue with Mr Nelson's reaction. 


NEIL JAMES: Yeah, I think there's a bit of a difference between larrikin irreverence and some of the behaviour depicted in this video. Obviously soldiers let off steam and obviously there's a lot of black humour among the soldiers, but I think some of the things in this video are just simply disgusting, rather than larrikin irreverence. 


BARBARA MILLER: But Major General Bill Crews, National President of the RSL, agrees that judgement shouldn't be passed too hastily on those appearing in the video. 


BILL CREWS: Servicemen and women have, over the years, been a bit irreverent about some things. But the Defence Force is very concerned now about its cultural sensitivities and its image, particularly in the type of environment they're now operating. 


BARBARA MILLER: You would agree, then, with the Defence Minister Brendan Nelson that there's some elements of this which are simply the larrikin irreverence that we've seen over the years from Australian servicemen and women? 


BILL CREWS: That's certainly the background against which we should approach this but I think it's necessary to look closely at what was intended here, who were the individuals and what damage might they have done to the image of the Defence Force. 


TONY EASTLEY: RSL President Bill Crews ending Barbara Miller's report.