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Wednesday, 27 October 1993
Page: 2603


Senator KNOWLES —My question is directed to the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel. Can the minister explain why it took only a few hours for the navy to react to an alleged indecent assault by an officer against three male navy personnel, when in the case of allegations of sexual harassment by five female navy personnel four months elapsed before investigations commenced and the whole process took about a year?


Senator FAULKNER —That is a disgraceful interpretation by Senator Knowles of the incidents that she is trying to compare—that is, a recent alleged incident aboard HMAS Derwent and the well publicised incidents that occurred in 1992 aboard HMAS Swan. In relation to the HMAS Swan incident, allegations were made while the ship was on deployment. Immediately, the officer concerned was removed from the ship in the company of another female officer and an investigation team was flown from Australia to address the circumstances surrounding that incident. The investigation team was there literally within a matter of hours. Following that, a court martial was held and following evidence that was brought before that court martial, a board of inquiry was convened by the navy.

  It is also true that allegations have been made concerning unacceptable behaviour by an officer attached to HMAS Derwent. The navy again has acted quickly to initiate an investigation. In this case the ship was recalled to Sydney. That investigation is properly taking place under the Defence Force Discipline Act and may—and I stress `may'—lead to formal disciplinary action. I have been advised by the navy that the victims have been counselled and have been offered further support.

  HMAS Derwent will begin its south-west Pacific deployment on Friday when it departs for Auckland, New Zealand. I do not intend to say anything which in any way may prejudice the proper investigation of this matter or may prejudice future disciplinary proceedings. I think all senators, even Senator Knowles, ought to adhere to that practice in the interests of all concerned.

  I want to reiterate the general point that I have made in relation to these matters when allegations have been made. I have stated unequivocally, as has the Minister for Defence, that any unacceptable behaviour in the Australian defence forces will not be tolerated and will be fully and properly investigated. Where appropriate, it will be fully prosecuted as well. This applies whether the behaviour alleged relates to sexual assault, to sexual harassment, to any harassment on the basis of gender, or to discrimination of any kind.

  Obviously, as I think all honourable senators know—objective ones, anyway—it has been made very clear to all three services that that sort of behaviour is totally not on. The inference in Senator Knowles's question is also not on. Even Senator Knowles knows that it is unreasonable.


Senator KNOWLES —Mr President, I have a supplementary question, which is in two parts. Firstly, perhaps the minister would care to elaborate on what he means by the sexist comments that `even I would understand' or `even I should know better'. Secondly, will the minister or will he not broaden the inquiry that the Senate will be conducting shortly to include these latest allegations?


Senator FAULKNER —Senator Knowles really is a dope.


The PRESIDENT —Order!


Senator Alston —Mr President, I raise a point of order. That is a deliberate contempt of the parliament.


The PRESIDENT —Order! I do not need that assistance. I ask for the comment to be withdrawn.


Senator FAULKNER —If Senator Knowles understood anything about what has been occurring in this chamber over the past few months, she would realise that the Senate inquiry that has been established can deal with any incident of sexual harassment in the services after it has dealt with the HMAS Swan inquiry. What Senator Knowles needs to do is to go and read the terms of reference. I stress that this matter has been dealt with expeditiously and appropriately, and that investigations were quickly got under way, as they were in the case of HMAS Swan, which is on the public record. Up until now, even everyone in the opposition has accepted that.