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Monday, 4 June 2001
Page: 27112

Dr SOUTHCOTT (12:55 PM) —This inquiry was precipitated by media reports into rough justice occurring in 3RAR, and it subsequently generated great media interest during the hearings. It continues an interest that the Defence Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade has shown in the issue of military justice, culminating in a report on military justice and procedures, which was tabled in June 1999. The question which was never really answered was: why didn't the Department of Defence or the ADF bring these issues to the attention of the committee? As the report highlights, these issues were being investigated within 3RAR while the committee's inquiry in 1999 into military justice was proceeding.

By examining the 3RAR allegations in depth, the committee has provided a case study to evaluate the implementation and reporting of justice and equity procedures within the defence department. By examining the issue, the committee can take some credit for the response from the ADF, which includes an audit team under Mr Burchett QC to examine whether 3RAR allegations are a one-off or more widespread, an inspector general to expedite complaints, a specific investigation into events at 3RAR and the ADF stand-down day in February 2001 to brief all members of the ADF on their rights and responsibilities in military justice. This is the correct role of the committee. I believe the role of the committee is to prod Defence and to keep Defence accountable but not to act as some sort of kangaroo court, sitting in judgment on others.

3RAR is the Army's parachute battalion. The battalion has a proud record stretching back to the Battle of Kapyong in Korea in 1951 and distinguished service in Vietnam and East Timor. The benefit of undertaking a detailed inquiry into 3RAR and the allegations is that it has allowed the committee to understand the organisational culture which was operating in one isolated company of 3RAR. Cultures are informal but in this situation appear to have been reinforced by key NCOs.

The committee is in no doubt that extrajudicial punishments were being carried out in A Company 3RAR from 1996 to 1998. These punishments took the form of illegal bashings. While the committee was concerned about intimidation as part of the culture, we were also concerned that the victims did not use available avenues of complaint. We do not believe that the culture which operated in A Company 3RAR from 1996 was widespread throughout 3RAR or widespread throughout the ADF. In addition, there was some suggestion in the media that 3RAR might be disbanded. I do not think there was any support for this within the committee. This issue in fact was not even addressed within the committee.

I also want to address the role that the opposition has played on this committee. As the deputy chairman has said, dissenting reports are unusual. I think that the dissenting report is actually quite measured. What I want to talk about is the process of these hearings and so on over the last year. Parliamentary committees play an important role in providing scrutiny in their respective areas. The opposition raised these issues and pursued them with zeal. However, in their zeal, they lost sight not only of our obligations as a parliamentary committee but of our responsibilities to, in the words of the physician's dictum, first do no harm. Opposition members fail to realise that this inquiry has not been operating in a vacuum. There was always the danger that our investigations, which were not governed by rules of evidence or established procedures, had the potential to prejudice ongoing military investigations within military justice channels. As a parliamentary committee, we are not judge and jury. Our role is to prod and to scrutinise the Australian Defence Force and Defence, not to sit in judgment on individuals. As MPs, we should remember we are dealing with the reputations of service personnel and their units. This calls for care in dealing with allegations. The dissenting report, as I have said, was actually more careful than some of the deliberations we have had over the last year. The committee also had an unfortunate habit of leaking in camera evidence; this will be the subject of a Privileges Committee hearing later. The committee examined what we believe was an isolated culture operating within a company, A Company 3RAR. There was no evidence it was widespread. The changes announced by the Chief of Army will assist in highlighting this issue and increasing awareness within ADF ranks. The committee plans to revisit this issue in 12 months to determine whether the new changes and awareness are working well.