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Monday, 4 June 2001
Page: 27113

Mr PRICE (1:00 PM) —It is with pleasure as an opposition member that I get up to support this report, Rough justice? An investigation into allegations of brutality in the Army's parachute battalion, of the Defence Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, and all of its recommendations, and I thank the chair, the honourable member for Wannon, for what I think has been a quite difficult task. I have described the report as a snapshot of 3RAR. Others, including the Prime Minister, have sought to portray the report as a clean bill of health on bastardisation in the rest of the ADF. I do not agree. The committee heard only from a very limited number of soldiers from 3RAR. We did not call all those who came forward who had served in 3RAR. We did not call anyone who had been bashed by 3RAR members. We did not call anyone from any other army unit or any other service. The committee spent in total 1½ days on hearings, the majority of which was behind closed doors. One can debate the reliance on in camera hearings. For the record, I wish to state that the truth is not, and nor should it be, a privilege extended by the ADF to the committee only behind closed doors. From the evidence, the committee is in no doubt that bastardisation did occur in 3RAR. Drawing conclusions about the rest of the Army or the other two services is a risky business and the parliament will have to await the findings of the Burchett audit, and there is now far more responsibility on him and his team.

What is most amazing to me about this sordid affair is the utter lack of any ministerial leadership and indeed the extent of ministerial inertia and cover-up. The first record of a complaint was directly to the minister concerned. In March 1998, Mrs Nishimura complained on at least two occasions to the then junior minister, the Minister for Defence Industry, Science and Personnel, Mrs Bronwyn Bishop, about the bashings in 3RAR. Army took fully 12 months before it treated the matter formally. In May 1999, in an exercise of great deception, Minister Scott, the Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence, did not disclose the identity of 3RAR, which was the subject of a military police investigation, and the excuse he offered was that it was `inappropriate, as it may have prejudiced the investigation or legal proceedings'. Thus the committee, at the very time it was concluding its first report into military justice, was left ignorant of the bastardisation that two ministers were made fully aware of. In that three-year period what action did either minister take? Absolutely nothing. They claim to have been briefed, but they took zero—nil, no—action, issued no directions and no instructions. In those three years these impotent ministers have been moved to do absolutely nothing. For three years there has been no ministerial statement about bastardisation in general or in 3RAR in particular. There has not even been a dorothy dixer.

How can the public and the mums and dads of serving men and women believe that the government is serious about bastardisation when its ministers are constantly missing in action and bereft of a skerrick of leadership? Because of the abortive investigations and charging of those involved in bastardisation in 3RAR, consideration of command responsibility has been deferred to the end of the process. Let me say that, from the evidence presented to the committee, Command has much to answer. The committee is continuing to follow this issue closely and will again be briefed on Tuesday, 19 June by General Leahy, whose frankness I for one very much appreciate. I understand that charges have been laid against a lieutenant-colonel, but there has been no official confirmation of this. If this is true, silence can serve only to undermine public confidence. I call on the minister to confirm whether or not such charges have been laid.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl)—Order! The time allotted for statements on this report has expired. Does the member for Wannon wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a future occasion?