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Tuesday, 28 September 1993
Page: 1253

Senator MacGIBBON —My question is addressed to the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel. When the minister was commenting publicly on the board of inquiry into the sexual harassment case on HMAS Swan he said that there was no evidence to suggest that the incident on the Swan was other than an isolated incident. Can he tell the Senate that that is a true and accurate statement?

Senator FAULKNER —What I did indicate—and I stand by the comment—is that the incident on HMAS Swan was of such an extent and degree that, certainly in my period as Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, there has been no other incident of a similar extent. The first thing that ought to be said is that the sort of behaviour that we saw on board HMAS Swan will not be tolerated by me as minister responsible for defence personnel or by the government. I have expressed my view in the strongest possible terms both publicly and to the services that sexual harassment will not be tolerated in the navy or the wider Australian Defence Force just as the government will not tolerate it in the broader community. I also want to say that—

Senator Newman —Answer the question!

Senator FAULKNER —I am answering the question, but those opposite may not like the answer.

Senator Hill —Why wasn't an apology necessary?

Senator FAULKNER —Senator Hill should ask another question. I would also like to place on record that when allegations of sexual harassment have been made, as in the case of HMAS Swan, the government has acted appropriately and promptly to deal with them.

  In this case, in relation to an allegation of sexual assault, a court martial was convened. At the completion of that court martial a board of inquiry was held. That board of inquiry reported to the maritime commander, made recommendations to the Chief of the Naval Staff who, in turn, made recommendations to me. The action that was taken was strong and appropriate, and certainly stronger than that originally recommended by the board of inquiry. Whenever sexual harassment or allegations of sexual assault occur in the Australian Defence Force, I guarantee the Senate that appropriate, proper and prompt action will always be taken, as it has been in every case.

Senator MacGIBBON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The actual quotation ascribed to the minister was that `there was no evidence to suggest the incidents on the HMAS Swan were anything other than isolated'. Accepting the minister's explanation for that, I would like to ask how many complaints relating to sexual harassment he has received in total and how many he has received since the announcement of the HMAS Swan incident?

Senator FAULKNER —I will have to take on notice the question relating to the number of complaints that have been received by me in total and also the question relating to the number of complaints received since the HMAS Swan incident. One of the arrangements the government put in place for dealing with this issue was the establishment in the navy of a 008 toll-free number so incidents of sexual harassment could be reported; that is, from people who have been subject to it, confronted with it, or accused of it. That was established on Wednesday of last week. To date in the navy there have been three calls on that 008 number. That gives those opposite perhaps some indication. I will take Senator MacGibbon's question about precise numbers on notice and respond to him as soon as practicable.