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Tuesday, 2 February 2016
Page: 152


Senator LAMBIE (Tasmania) (21:23): Seated in the Senate public gallery tonight are two young Australian Army veterans to witness my speech, which will address their issues. They are SAS Trooper Evan Donaldson and former Australian Army officer Marcus Saltmarsh. I acknowledge and congratulate them on their service to their country, and I apologise for the appalling abuse and crimes they and their families have been subjected to by senior members of the Australian military and our government.

SAS Trooper Evan Donaldson is still officially in the Australian Army. He has never been discharged. He served in the SAS at the same time as two Victoria Cross recipients, Ben Roberts-Smith and Mark Donaldson. Evan joined the Australian Army in January 2004. He served with the 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment and deployed to the Solomon Islands in 2005 on Operation Anode. In March 2006, Evan passed SAS selection and was badged by then Governor-General Michael Jeffery in September the same year. Michael Jeffery contacted my office before Christmas and spoke about Evan's graduation photos, which featured Michael Jeffery shaking Evan's hand. In 2007, Evan deployed with the SAS to the Middle East area of operations with 1 Squadron SASR, serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. Later in 2007, Evan deployed to Timor-Leste on Operation Astute.

A very brief summary of Trooper Donaldson's grievance is as follows: after becoming the victim of brutal sexual and other assaults, Evan was seriously injured during a secret training exercise run by the Defence Intelligence Organisation inside Australian territory, involving techniques outlawed under the international convention governing the use of torture. Trooper Donaldson carried on with his service despite physical and mental injuries sustained during resistance to interrogation activity. On return from his last overseas operation, 18 months later, Trooper Donaldson reported his symptoms to SASR Command. Sick leave was denied and he was forced to take leave without pay. Trooper Donaldson returned to service with special forces in 2009. On 9 July 2009, Trooper Donaldson's identity was illegally changed on the Commonwealth database. His qualifications had been fraudulently changed, denying his position and qualifications as an SAS Trooper. Further in my speech, I will seek to explain the details of these crimes more fully.

Trooper Evan Donaldson's grievances have been the subject of six, almost seven, years of official government investigations, including a 12-month Commonwealth Ombudsman's report, which recommended Trooper Donaldson's SAS qualification be restored. The Ombudsman said that in relation to Trooper Donaldson, Defence's administration had been 'defective'. A Defence Abuse Response Taskforce also found in Evan's favour and authorised a maximum payout of $50,000, after an official submission.

Since 2009, six consecutive Defence ministers must have been misled by their department, including the current Defence minister, Marise Payne, who oversaw a compensation offer to Evan, just before Christmas last year, of half a million dollars for defective administration. It was an offer that Evan was forced to decline because if he accepted it he would have effectively accepted a debt of $50,000 and a cover-up of criminal activities by members of the Australian Defence Force.

SAS Trooper Donaldson's legal and accounting bill alone, fighting the Australian government and freedom of information requests, amount to more than $350,000. Evan's tax bill from the compensation offer and moneys owed to the Department of Veterans' Affairs was estimated at $200,000. And if he had accepted Minister Payne's offer, the Turnbull Liberal government would have gotten away with theft. They would have avoided paying SAS Trooper Evan Donaldson for six-years worth of SAS Trooper's wages and entitlements, illegally withheld from him.

During the resistance to interrogation exercise, Evan was bashed, bound, bagged, blindfolded, stripped naked, placed in stress positions, deprived of sleep and food for 96 hours and during that time he was sexually assaulted and left bleeding—and we will not go into where. Evan has accessed FOI documents, which confirm that 15 hours of video footage exists which shows him naked, bound, hooded and suspended in a room with earphones fitted, and bleeding. The secret exercise he partook of, more than likely, was in breach of Australia's international obligations. Unlike sanctioned conduct after capture training exercises, the purpose of the exercise in 2006 was not to train SAS soldiers but was to prepare intelligence interrogators in anticipation of their deployment to Afghanistan in 2006.

Trooper Evan Donaldson has carried out meticulous research, has extensive documentary evidence and will present this as fact to the Australian Federal Police. On 9 July 2009, while serving in a full-time position with the 1st Commando Regiment with a small group of SAS soldiers, Evan Donaldson had his identity stolen when Warrant Officer William 'Bill' Maher oversaw the illegal changing of Evan's identity on the Commonwealth database. The change resulted in Trooper Donaldson having his rank and employment category changed so it would appear that he was not qualified to serve in Special Forces. Bill Maher hoped to end Trooper Donaldson's career in Special Forces.

Warrant Officer William Maher, Major Brett Miller, Major Paul Turkington, Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Davies, Brigadier Mark Smethurst and Colonel John Patterson conspired in various ways to cover up the illegal change to Trooper Donaldson's identity. They would later become the source of a misinformation campaign to discredit Trooper Donaldson, claiming he was never qualified to serve in the SAS Regiment. The campaign was designed to discredit Trooper Donaldson's allegations of corruption against various high-ranking members of Special Operations Command. The information campaign would extend to the office of the Chief of Army, successive defence ministers, the media and the veteran community in an attempt to tarnish Trooper Donaldson's credibility. All of these men served in the SAS at the same time over a 30-year period. In 2009 they held various positions across the ADF and Special Operations Command. When Warrant Officer Maher needed their help to cover up his crimes, they were happy to oblige. As individuals and in small groups, these men forged documents, corroborated false statements, induced others to make false statements, engineered a mock investigation into Trooper Donaldson's complaint, and bullied and cajoled others to support their position and defame Trooper Donaldson.

Trooper Donaldson reports that Army Reserve psychologist Captain Caroline Greaves and the director of psychology at the Department of Defence, Geoffrey Gallas, falsified statements and reports to give the appearance that Trooper Donaldson was removed from his position for psychological reasons. When Trooper Donaldson made a formal complaint to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, AHPRA, providing overwhelming evidence to support his claims, AHPRA refused to investigate both psychologists. Geoffrey Gallas was a member of the Psychology Board of Australia, which oversees complaints to AHPRA.

Trooper Donaldson further reports that in 2013 he agitated the Chief of Army, David Morrison, for an explanation of the changing of his identity in 2009. Colonel Leigh Wilton of the Chief of Army's office produced a document which purports to prove that Trooper Donaldson authorised his own demotion. Trooper Donaldson returned the document to the Chief of Army along with his original document, claiming the document provided was a forgery. The Chief of Army refused to pass on Evan's complaint to the appropriate authorities and instead induced Evan's commanders to rely upon it in order to justify the illegal change to Evan's identity. In a letter from General Morrison, Evan was told he would need to reapply for special forces and undertake all 17 months of SAS selection and training again. On 4 September 2013, Trooper Donaldson made a formal complaint to the Australian Federal Police detailing corruption allegations against David Morrison and others. The Australian Federal Police refused to investigate.

On 23 September 2013, Trooper Donaldson approached investigative journalist Hedley Thomas with his disclosures. Mr Thomas wrote to the Chief of Army seeking an explanation for the changes of Trooper Donaldson's rank and ECN. The Chief of Army responded through communications director Nishara Miles. Ms Miles ran a working group of Army officers and public relations consultants to formulate the Chief of Army's response. The response was designed to discredit Trooper Donaldson and in doing so quash his public interest disclosures of corruption inside Defence. The Australian Defence Force, through Ms Miles, knowingly released false and inaccurate information to Mr Thomas about Trooper Donaldson and his service history. The Australian Defence Force have refused to retract the document. In 2014 Nishara Miles was seconded to work for the Governor-General, Peter Cosgrove, and she is now back working for Defence.

Trooper Donaldson, suffering from extreme stress illness, took eight weeks to respond in forensic detail with an 800-page report titled Response to Hedley Thomas dated 6th February 2014. On 14 February 2014 Evan's federal member, Teresa Gambaro, personally handed Trooper Donaldson's report to Defence Minister David Johnston. That report contains Trooper Donaldson's public interest disclosures and allegations of widespread corruption in the Australian Defence Force.

Ten days later, while Trooper Donaldson was awaiting the minister's response, Lieutenant Colonel Garth Gould issued Trooper Donaldson a separation notice on trumped-up allegations of being AWOL, claiming that Trooper Donaldson had not provided effective service to the Australian Defence Force. Trooper Donaldson had 14 days to respond. On 19 March 2014 Trooper Donaldson received the minister's response. David Johnston directed Defence Legal to refer the matter to the Commonwealth Ombudsman to investigate allegations of fraud and Defence Legal's mishandling of Evan's claim for compensation. Madam Acting Deputy President, you will recall that I detailed at the beginning of my speech the outcome of that report, which recommended Trooper Donaldson's SAS qualification be restored. The Ombudsman said that in relation to Trooper Donaldson Defence's administration had been 'defective'.

You will also recall that I talked about some photos showing former Governor-General Michael Jeffery shaking hands and posing with Evan and other SAS graduates on their graduation day—which I placed in a YouTube video. Since the production and posting of that short film, I have had a phone call from Michael Jeffery on 18 December 2015. He was concerned about his photo appearing in my video and that it 'could infer that somehow I am one of those senior people that have been perhaps stopping due process et cetera, which of course I would strongly object as because that is simply not true'. I am deeply disappointed by Michael Jeffery. In the whole of our discussion, not once did he inquire after the health of Evan and his family or offer to help an SAS family who are nearly broke and have been put through hell. I would have expected better of a man who is the current patron of the SAS resources trust.

Tonight my message to the Prime Minister is simple: I invite you to meet with veterans Evan Donaldson and Marcus Saltmarsh tomorrow during our scheduled meeting at 3.30. Hear from them firsthand about their pain and injustice. These men have faced death many times in the service of their country. They have earned and deserve respect. Pay SAS Trooper Evan Donaldson the wages and entitlements the Australian Government has stolen from him and his family, and pay his legal bills; together they total over $1 million.

I now turn to Marcus Saltmarsh's matters. As I mentioned at the start of this speech, Marcus Saltmarsh is the other young Australian veteran seated in the Senate public gallery beside SAS Trooper Donaldson, and supporting both of them is Frank Davies, Marcus's assistance dog. Marcus Saltmarsh is a former Army officer who I introduced to this Senate during my official first speech. Fellow senators may recall that at the time Marcus had just been discharged from the Australian Defence Force and, like Evan, he has been the subject of extraordinary abuse of office by senior members of the Australian Army.

Just to refresh your memory on the details surrounding Marcus Saltmarsh's matter, Marcus reached the rank of lieutenant in the Australian Army over about 18 years of service. He is a triple-act veteran, having served in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan.

During active service in East Timor with the Australian Army on 9 August 2000, Trooper Saltmarsh's Steyr rifle independently and without user manipulation discharged accidentally and killed his best mate, Corporal Stuart Jones. Following that tragic event, Mr Saltmarsh, on the recommendation of a military board of inquiry, was forced to face a military court martial, which charged him for military offences similar to those of a civilian manslaughter charge. Five hundred days after the death of his mate Corporal Stuart Jones, Mr Saltmarsh was exonerated by a military court martial with a finding of 'no case to answer'. Fifteen years later, those findings have never been made public.

Even after graduating as an officer from RMC and after a period of time away from the Army, Marcus says that abuse and harassment from all ranks dogged his whole military career. The worst example of abuse was when the Australian military, through the Judge Advocate General of the Australian Defence Force, Major General Ian Westwood, sent to Mr Saltmarsh, despite his request that they not be sent, 28 autopsy photos of his best mate, Corporal Stuart Jones, undergoing post mortem medical procedures.

I have photocopies of these autopsy photos. After my own investigation and inquiries, I am of the view that it was a deliberate attempt to push Marcus into taking his own life. I raised the matter recently in a meeting with the new Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Stuart Robert, who quickly stated that Marcus was a liar and had never been sent the autopsy photos. He was either badly misinformed or deliberately trying to mislead me. Naturally Minister Robert was surprised when I told him he was wrong because I had copies of the autopsy photos and had just shown them to Prime Minister Turnbull. As a matter of fact, I have those photos in my possession this evening.

The cover-up in this matter has been at a very high level, spectacular and absolutely deliberate. The government conceded in a reply to my question placed on notice at the budget estimates hearings of 1 and 2 June 2015—No. 36:

… it was unlikely that he—

Mr Saltmarsh—

had been shown autopsy photos at his trial, as his defending officer and Colonel Pearce—

the prosecutor—

had made a conscious effort to keep graphic photographs out of the court.

This answer directly contradicts a lie which had been spread previously by senior officers of the Australian Defence Force—including our new Australian of the Year, retired Chief of Army General Morrison—that Mr Saltmarsh had received the autopsy photos from his defence counsel or at his trial. On that point alone, Mr Morrison should resign from his Australian of the Year position, let alone the involvement he has had in SAS Trooper Donaldson's matters and his appalling advocacy for ordinary diggers and veterans.

In response to my direct question on notice on 2 June 2015 to Vice Admiral Griggs, Chief of Navy, on whether Major General Westwood denied sending the autopsy photos to Mr Saltmarsh, Vice Admiral Griggs would not and could not give me a written guarantee that Major General Westwood did not send those photos. The best Vice Admiral Griggs could do was to say:

… Major General Westwood has no recollection of being requested to provide the photographs or any such information after the Court Martial and Board of Inquiry process, nor does he have any recollection or record of having done so.

This government has kept Major General Westwood from attending any Senate Defence committee hearings, so I have been prevented from questioning him under oath about his written responses provided to Vice Admiral Griggs and his knowledge of this matter. Tonight I demand that the government allow Major General Westwood to appear under oath and answer questions about the autopsy photos which were sent to Mr Saltmarsh.

One thing is for certain: Mr Saltmarsh did not break into Defence headquarters and steal these photos. They were deliberately delivered to Mr Saltmarsh by the Australian Army, and I want to know who is responsible for this malicious act and abuse of office.

Implicated in this crime is Liberal politician and ex-Minister for Veterans' Affairs Billson. With regard to former minister Bruce Billson, I have sighted a copy of official documentation, an instrument of authorisation, regulations 63 and 78 of the Defence (Inquiry) Regulations, where on 10 October 2006 the then Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Bruce Billson, authorised the release of documents to Mr Marcus Saltmarsh from:

The Board of inquiry Report entitled "report of the Board of Inquiry into the death of Stuart McMillan Jones on the 9 August 2000 in East Timor (with privacy and security deletions) dated 12 October 2000.

Imagine being ambushed with 28 graphic photos of your best mate's autopsy. They flash in your mind on high rotation for the last 10 years while your career and life spiral out of control. He never knew why until he rediscovered them while looking through those documents for me. Action must happen very quickly for Mr Saltmarsh. Award him an immediate classification of total permanent impairment for his accepted VEA claim of PTSD. Agree immediately to mediation and fair lump sum payout, which will try to compensate him for the deliberate exposure to images which cost him his military career.

My final point is this. General Morrison the former Chief of Army was aware of the attack by his department on Mr Saltmarsh. Mr Saltmarsh would like him, out of respect, to answer these two questions. Firstly, is it acceptable to send autopsy photos of a dead Australian soldier to his best mate? Secondly, is the standard that you walk past the standard that you accept?