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Thursday, 25 August 1994
Page: 331

Senator MacGIBBON (10.33 a.m.) —We have the old problem of time with this report which, in this case, runs to 380-odd pages being only delivered at the time of tabling. I read the recommendations and I skimmed the report while members of the committee were speaking. I commend the committee for what, I think, is a very exhaustive and fair assessment of the situation at the present time.

  In the few moments left to me I do not wish to cover the areas that have been covered by the committee members, who obviously have a far deeper knowledge of what was said at the inquiry than I could gain in a few minutes. However, there are two points I want to refer to. The first is the matter of sexual harassment in the services and the second is the treatment of Captain Mole. I will come back to the sexual harassment issue after I have dealt with Captain Mole.

  The report clearly supports the actions of Captain Mole. He suffered very much in the eyes of the public. The public accounts of his actions have not been helpful at all to his career. I think his career has clearly suffered and been prejudiced as a consequence of that reporting and I say quite unambiguously that he suffered also at the hands of his superior officers. I believe this man has been unjustly treated. By all accounts Captain Mole has had a blemish-free career as a professional naval officer. He did everything required of him. He used every avenue that was available to him at the time, and he used it of his own volition, without being pressured into it.

  On the evidence that I read in the part of the report referred to by Senator Teague—from page 184 onwards or wherever it was—I think that Captain Mole can fairly claim to have been a victim of the circumstance of naval administration at the time. I hope that the recommendations of the report are accepted by the Chief of the Naval Staff, that Captain Mole's career, in so far as it can be restored, is restored and that this Australian naval officer goes on to complete his career with the RAN with as much of this as possible put behind him and without carrying that baggage into the future.

  The matter of sexual harassment is enormously serious, and it is more acute in the services than it is in civilian life. It is perfectly true, as Senator Woodley said, that sexual harassment occurs in all levels of society, but it is different and in a way it is far more important in the services than in civilian life. In the services, the members of that service live together. They do not go home at the end of the day to homes, flats or apartments. They live within a camp or they live on a ship. They never escape the contact of their companions in the service, and they never escape the authoritarian air. Even if someone does not exercise their authority excessively, there is an implied power given to superior NCOs and superior officers which bears on those under them. So the environment in the services is fundamentally different from that in civilian life.

  For millennia the services have been single sex. They are involved in what is often the unpleasant use of maximum force. Up to recent times it has always been, in western cultures, a male preserve. A lot of the things that people are required to do in the services, because of the nature of the tasks, require attitudes which could fairly be described as hard and insensitive. I think it always must be so, given the nature of the tasks of the defence forces. To introduce women into that environment and this background requires care and a great deal of thought.

  Women have not always been banned from ships. In fact, the old expression `show a leg' comes from the fact that women used to live on board ships when navy ships were in harbour, and when the watchkeeping officer went along to turn the watch out he required the occupants of the hammocks and the bunks to show a leg. If it was a smooth leg without any hair on it, it was a female and she did not have to turn out for watchkeeping duties. That is where that expression came from. But, certainly, in recent times women have not been at sea.

  Clearly, I think, the navy moved into the deployment of women at sea with undue haste and some measure of blame has to be attributed to the Chief of the Naval Staff at the time, who was too eager to comply with the government directives, instead of taking care to see that the procedures were in place—both physically, with respect to the resources on ships, which were never designed initially for females; and culturally, to ensure that the cultural attitudes of the male naval personnel were addressed and prepared before that happened.

Senator West —Sexual harassment is offensive wherever it happens.

Senator MacGIBBON —I said that. I am at a loss to understand why Senator West should try to interject when I have said that sexual harassment is a serious matter in the services. It is serious because it affects the very purpose of the existence of the service. Sexual harassment, of course, is a matter of manners; it is not a matter of legislation. You cannot legislate to make people be polite. It is not fashionable in Australia to talk about manners today, but manners are the lubricant which allows people in society from different educational, social and ethnic backgrounds to come together and work happily and constructively as a team. So the importance of manners cannot be minimised, yet this is never mentioned in the whole of the sexual harassment field. Within the services manners are important.

  The other really crucial issue in the services is that people work as a team. Not only the lives of individuals but the success of the operation turn on the team holding together. It does not matter whether it is an infantry section, an air crew or a ship's company, it is just stupid administration and a gross reflection on the officers or the NCOs in charge of that unit not to have the team working as a cohesive unit, with one supporting the other. The whole reason for individuals coming together as a service unit fails if they do not have that mutual trust and support, one with each other.

  We are injecting a totally new dimension into the Australian Defence Force with the incorporation of women. This is a path which we have embarked on and which I am not opposing. We are moving into new areas. I think this report is a milestone along the way, and I think it will lead to improvements in the relationship to provide that cohesion within the services. But the whole matter has not been concluded. We are on a path that will evolve over the years ahead. We need sensitive and rapid response to changing circumstances, being mindful always of the reason why those men and women are in uniform serving Australia.