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Thursday, 20 June 2013
Page: 6437

Mr STEPHEN SMITH (PerthMinister for Defence and Deputy Leader of the House) (09:01): by leave—The government is committed to providing regular reports and updates on its response to allegations of sexual and other forms of abuse in Defence, including to the parliament. In April 2011, in the aftermath of the so-called ADFA Skype incident, I announced a range of reviews into aspects of the culture within both the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) and the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to address ongoing concern in relation to failure to meet appropriate standards of conduct.

The cultural reviews included the use of alcohol in the ADF, personal conduct of ADF personnel, the use of social media in Defence, employment pathways for Australian Public Service women in Defence and the management of incidents and complaints in Defence. The reviews assessed the good work that had been done to date in these areas and examined what further improvements could be made.

In addition to the reviews into aspects of defence culture, I also announced at that time two significant reviews into the treatment of women at ADFA and in the ADF generally, to be conducted by the federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Ms Elizabeth Broderick, on behalf of the Australian Human Rights Commission, and the DLA Piper Review of Allegations of Sexual and Other Abuse in Defence.

On 11 April 2011, I also announced that the Chief of the Defence Force would bring forward for implementation by the government the opening up of all roles in the ADF to women on the basis that determination for suitability for roles in the ADF is to be based on their ability to perform in the role, not gender. In September 2011 the government announced it had formally agreed to the removal of gender restrictions from ADF combat roles.

Defence's comprehensive response to the cultural reviews, the March 2012 Pathway to change document, outlines how the recommendations of the various cultural reviews will be implemented consistent with the wider Defence reform program. Pathway to change sets out the requirement that Defence personnel demonstrate exemplary behaviour commensurate with the nation's expectations, in and out of uniform, on and off duty, and how the Defence leadership will require these standards are met. It states that Australia rightly expects that Defence will deliver to consistently high standards, including in everyday personal behaviour and in how personnel treat their colleagues.

This requirement was again underlined by the formal statement by the Defence leadership in October 2012 in response to the Broderick review into the treatment of women in the ADF, which stated that every sexual offender and harasser will be held to account together with leaders who fail to appropriately address such behaviour. As the Defence leadership stated on that occasion, when the government and Defence adopted all of the recommendations of the Broderick reviews, these standards are not open to negotiation.

The failure to meet the standards required of Pathway to change and the Broderick reviews was sadly demonstrated by the appalling revelations last week by the Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Morrison, in relation to an ongoing investigation by the Australian Defence Force Investigative Service (ADFIS), in cooperation with the New South Wales Police, into the actions of a group of officers and noncommissioned officers of the Australian Army.

The matters under investigation are serious and centre on the production and distribution of highly inappropriate material demeaning women across both the Defence computer systems and the public internet. Three already suspended Army members are the subject of an ongoing investigation by New South Wales Police. The Chief of Army has initiated action to consider the suspension of another five members who are the subject of a parallel ADFIS investigation into a number of alleged service offences. Pending the outcome of the ongoing ADFIS investigation, the Army may consider further suspension decisions against nine others if the circumstances warrant. ADFIS is also investigating a further 90 individuals who have been identified as peripheral to the group's email exchanges.

The government strongly supports the actions taken by the Chief of Army. Lieutenant General Morrison has unambiguously reinforced his expectations of appropriate behaviour and demonstrated his resolve to act decisively in response to such despicable incidents. Incidents such as these do significant reputational damage to the good work of the vast majority of the Australian Defence Force and are symptomatic of a systemic cultural problem within Defence.

For two reasons this is a different case of inappropriate behaviour to that of the ADFA Skype incident. First, this situation does not involve young men with weeks in the Defence Force. It involves commissioned and noncommissioned officers who have been in the Army for years. Second, the response on this occasion has been qualitatively different and significantly better than the response in the ADFA Skype incident. The response to the ADFA Skype incident was wanting and led directly to the reviews I have referred to, as well as the DLA Piper Review of Allegations of Sexual and Other Abuse in Defence.

In contrast to the response to the ADFA Skype incident, the government strongly supports the robust response that demonstrates in the post-ADFA Skype environment the zero tolerance of Defence leadership for failure to meet appropriate standards.

General Morrison has unambiguously demonstrated the standard set by the Chief of the Defence Force, the Secretary of the Department of Defence, the Vice Chief of the Defence Force and the Service Chiefs for the Defence leadership's zero tolerance response to inappropriate conduct.

General Morrison has set the benchmark for future zero tolerance responses to inappropriate conduct.

The Defence leadership is absolutely committed to pursuing the reforms necessary to ensure zero tolerance of inappropriate conduct.

On 26 November 2012 I announced the government's response to the Report of the DLA Piper review into allegations of sexual or other abuse in Defence and on 14 March 2013 I presented to the House the first interim report of the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce.

Today I provide an update to the parliament on the government's response to the DLA Piper review and the work of the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce, chaired by the Honourable Len Roberts-Smith RFD, QC.

As well I will table the task force's second interim report.

As the report outlines, the task force is continuing to gather material and assess both information provided to DLA Piper during its review and information relating to new complaints registered with the task force since its establishment in November 2012.

As at 31 May 2013, there were 2,410 complaints which will be assessed by the task force.

Of these, 1,535 are new complaints received by the task force between 26 November 2012 and by 31 May 2013, and 875 are complaints which came from DLA Piper that the task force has consent from the complainant to reassess.

Approximately 331 complaints have been identified as duplicates or multiple lodgements by the same person. 510 have not yet provided consent for information to be passed to the task force.

These include 173 regarded by DLA Piper as plausible allegations. The task force has received 602 of the plausible allegations made to DLA Piper.

I have asked the task force to follow up with DLA Piper to ensure that individuals who have not yet given consent are given every opportunity for their complaints to be assessed by the task force. If they provide such subsequent consent, their allegations will be assessed by the task force.

By 6 June 2013, the task force had contacted approximately 1,380 complainants to answer enquiries, assist complainants complete the task force's forms, provide supporting information, discuss the options available to complainants and ascertain which outcomes they wish to pursue.

More than 240 complaints were at various points of the assessment process on 6 June 2013 and eight complaints had been provided to the reparation payments assessor for consideration.

The task force will endeavour to provide resolution in consultation with the complainant, taking into account his or her individual circumstances and wishes.

The task force will only work towards those outcomes the complainant indicates he or she wants.

The task force is expressly considering if further investigation through a Royal Commission is required into particular matters identified in the report of the DLA Piper review, in particular in relation to ADFA as outlined previously and in relation to alleged events at HMAS Leeuwin in the 1960s and 1970s.

The ADFA 24 is a group of 24 serious allegations of rape from 19 complainants identified in 1998 in the course of the Grey review and later in 2011 in the DLA Piper volume 1 report.

I asked the task force to prioritise any ADFA 24 cases that came before it, so that it could provide outcomes for the victims and, where possible, identify the perpetrators of the abuse.

In accordance with the long-established practice regarding sexual abuse cases, the task force can only assist victims who come forward and consent to their case being assessed.

This ensures that the wishes and welfare of victims are the primary concern. It recognises that a victim might have strong reasons for not wanting their case to be examined, especially if the abuse occurred a long time ago.

To date, only four of the 19 complainants of the so-called ADFA 24 cases have consented to their complaints being assessed by the task force.

If a victim from the ADFA 24 cases told DLA Piper about their abuse but did not consent to that information coming to the task force, they are still able to provide consent should they decide to do so.

Again, I have asked the task force to follow up with DLA Piper to ensure that any such individual who made a complaint to DLA Piper about the ADFA 24 cases who have not yet given consent are given every opportunity for their complaints to be assessed by the task force. If they provide subsequent consent, their allegations will be assessed by the task force.

The task force however now has an additional 48 complainants alleging incidents of physical abuse, sexual abuse, harassment or bullying at ADFA. The task force is assessing these ADFA cases as well as the HMAS Leeuwin matters reported to it.

At this stage of analysis, several issues are becoming apparent to the task force:

the allegations of serious abuse at HMAS Leeuwin and ADFA are more widespread and persistent than was reported in the 1971 Rapke report and in the 1998 Grey review respectively;

there are not presently sufficient complainants from those training institutions or detailed information to enable all alleged abusers to be properly identified;

the particular issues which arose at HMAS Leeuwin and ADFA can also be seen at other ADF recruit schools and training institutions; and

while powers to gather evidence would assist in examining these matters, the task force is currently of the view that it is by no means clear that a Royal Commission is the necessary or the most appropriate mechanism to do so.

Implementation of Pathway to change, the Broderick reviews and the work of the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce are all essential to ensuring that Defence continues to serve Australia's national interests in a way that is consistent with modern community standards. This includes standards in Defence culture and everyday personal behaviour. Full implementation of the range of cultural reforms is essential to prevent future occurrences of inappropriate conduct and ensuring a zero tolerance response is adopted and implemented if it does occur. This requires ongoing attention and oversight from the highest levels. The government and the Defence leadership are absolutely committed to pursuing the reforms necessary to ensure a zero tolerance response to such inappropriate conduct.

I present a copy of the second interim report to the Attorney-General and the Minister of Defence by the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce and I present a paper tabled in conjunction with my ministerial statement.

I ask leave of the House to move a motion to enable the member for Fadden to speak for 13 minutes.

Leave granted.