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Thursday, 20 June 2013
Page: 6441

Mr ROBERT (Fadden) (09:14): I thank the minister for once again keeping the House informed on this very important issue of the abuse task force. From the outset, the coalition has provided the strongest bipartisan support to the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce and the great work of judge Len Robert-Smith. As I said to the House at the time of the ministerial apology to those members and former members of the ADF who have been subject to abuse in the ADF, ours is a unique fighting force, a small but potent military that has delivered a disproportionate effect upon every battlefield upon which it has fought. We have a rich military history, and we can rightfully hold our heads high in the concert of nations when it comes to defending freedom. Our history of military endeavour is second to none.

Yet despite our overwhelming battlefield success there has been a flood of complaints, some going back to the 1950s, of abuse within the ranks. Our military personnel are our greatest asset, and their wellbeing is our No. 1 priority. Their care while serving our nation is not a price we pay; it is a duty we undertake. By any standard the litany of abuse allegations are completely unacceptable, let alone by the standards of the finest fighting force in the world—the Australian Defence Force. This conduct does not accord with the values of our society, let alone the values of our military.

We may well be beholden to our past but it is now our responsibility to ensure that the wrongs inflicted on these fine men and women of the ADF over the last six decades are addressed and, importantly, that these egregious acts and wrongs are addressed to the satisfaction of those aggrieved, whether through counselling, reparation payments, apologies, restorative justice or all of the above. This is what the abuse task force is seeking to achieve.

To that extent, we are satisfied with the process being undertaken by the task force, and satisfied with the minister keeping the House completely up-to-date. The minister and I discussed this extensively yesterday, and we agreed to the two following changes that the minister has outlined in his speech: that those who have lodged a complaint to the DLA Piper review but not yet provided consent for their information to be passed to the task force—approximately 173 individuals—will continue to have the ability to do this, to provide consent. In general terms, the deadline of 31 May will ostensibly be waived for them to ensure they have every opportunity for that consent to be provided.

Likewise, we agreed that only four of the 19 complainants of these so-called ADFA 24 have consented, again for their information to be provided to the task force. The minister has quite rightly ensured that they will continue to have the provision to have that consent provided and, again, the deadline of 31 May will ostensibly be waived for them. I agree with both of those sensible and reasonable changes that the minister has outlined, quite rightly.

I share the minister's concern that allegations of abuse at training institutions may be more widespread than first thought. I am confident, however, that the 'Pathway to Change' that the ADF senior leadership has embarked upon, and the Chief of Army's current response to the issues, have shown that they not only have embarked upon it but that they believe in it and stand behind it. I am confident that this is addressing the change needed. Can I say, as a former ADFA cadet and a former army officer, that I remain resolute that ADFA is an outstanding institution in the modern day. I commended it highly to our nation's sons and daughters. I believe the approach being taken by the senior Defence leadership to address underlying issues of abuse is making and will make a sustained and significant difference.

We accept the task force view that they are progressing the matter sensibly and as quickly now as they can, and that they do not yet believe that a royal commission is necessary or, indeed, appropriate in the circumstances. We will continue to monitor the issue with the minister and with the task force. But let me thank the minister for his update to the House. He knows he enjoys the complete bipartisan support of the coalition as he progresses this matter, and I thank him for keeping the nation informed.