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Thursday, 16 June 2005
Page: 28

Senator HOGG (11:01 AM) —As a member of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee, I rise to speak on this report on military justice which shows how this Senate really and truly operates. It really does reach out to the people of Australia and address the issues that sometimes confront many people who do not know where to turn. As Senator Evans has said, we were never going to be a court of inquiry and we were never going to resolve, in the way that many of the courts of the land would resolve, the issues that were raised, but we were going to look at the policy issues to be addressed in the particular and difficult set of circumstances that was presented to the committee.

It raised very difficult issues and, because of that, I want to thank, firstly, the families and the witnesses who had the courage to come forward and present evidence to the inquiry. Secondly, I want to thank the ADF because there was great support from the ADF in the conduct of the inquiry, and I think that has been made clear here today by those who have participated in this debate. Next, I want to thank the secretariat because they had a very difficult task in assimilating and dealing with all the evidence and putting together the coherent report that is before this place today. They have done a marvellous job and they should be highly commended for that.

Then I want to mention the Hansard and broadcasting staff because they were privy to all of the evidence and, as a result, suffered some of the emotional stress that many of us did in the conduct of this inquiry. They should not be left out. Last, but not least, I want to thank my fellow senators. I am not going to single out any individual senator, but it was one of those inquiries where there was great strength and support among the senators and it was needed, given the nature of the evidence presented to us on many occasions.

The report was unanimous, as has been said, and that should never be lost. Every senator agreed to the outcomes in the report. I hope the report is not going to be left on the shelf to gather dust, as has been said by earlier speakers today. Nor should it be given the polite ‘agree’; that is the other thing. Defence, in responding, should not just say ‘agree, agree, agree’, because it goes beyond agreement. Action is desperately needed here to replace, not just fix, the system that is clearly broken.

In my view there is no fix for the system; it needs replacement. Attempts to repair the system have failed in spite of the best intentions and goodwill on the part of previous senior ADF people. We found that the system was not transparent and did not deliver fairness. The ADF, in spite of several reviews and recommendations flowing from those reviews, has failed to address the systemic problems. They are systemic problems and they will not be addressed by tampering at the edges and trying to patch up a system that is in a complete state of decay. It is clearly time to take military justice out of the hands of the military and let some independent authority oversee its operation.

I never want to revisit an inquiry such as this. I certainly do not want to come back in years and say, ‘We have done this inquiry before.’ I have participated on this issue for the reason that I want to see the injustice, the unfairness, that exists in the system brought to an end. Whilst it will never end completely, if we can eliminate it to a substantial extent then we have made a major achievement indeed. It shows that just leaving it in the hands of the military to dispense justice is no longer an option that confronts this nation.

The report, which as I said was difficult to put together, is a chronicle of the inability of the ADF to deliver an impartial and fair military justice system. In saying that, it is a fairly thick report, so most people are not going to sit down and wade through the report, chapter by chapter—there will be some—but I encourage people to read the preface to the report. In it—and we all had a strong hand in its penning, but I believe Senator Payne did in particular—one will find the attitudes of the committee. I will quote just a couple of pieces from the preface which go to the disciplinary system, which the committee says is:

... manifestly incapable of adequately performing its investigatory function.

Then, on the administrative system, it says:

This failure to expose such abuse means the system stumbles at its most elementary stage—the reporting of wrongdoing.

Later on, on the administrative system, it says:

Poorly trained and incompetent investigating officers further undermined the effectiveness of administrative investigations. The committee found that missing or misplaced documentation, poor record keeping, the withholding of information, lack of support in processing a complaint, investigating officers who lack the necessary skills, experience or training to conduct a competent inquiry, all contributed to unnecessary delays.

I commend the preface because it will tell people precisely where to go in the report, where to see the faults and failings. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.