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Case a victory: but tip of iceberg for [litigious] Defence.

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Senator Mark Bishop Shadow Minister for Defence Industry, Procurement and Personnel 9 June 2006


Senator Mark Bishop, Shadow Minister for Defence Industry, Procurement and Personnel, has welcomed today’s Federal Court decision to award former lieutenant Kellie Wiggins $25,000 for being discriminated against by the Navy for a disability.

“Of particular concern is the attitude of the Navy to the use of the legal system to win at all costs,” Senator Bishop said.

“The real cost here is the profligate use of taxpayers’ funds and the human cost and pain to Ms Wiggins, whose complaint of disability harassment has been upheld.

“Navy -- and arguably the Australian Defence Forces -- now need to review other like cases to see if excessive cost to the taxpayer and unnecessary pain to aggrieved former or current employees can be avoided in the future.”

Senator Bishop said the Navy was facing increasing difficulties in recruiting suitable personnel and retaining experienced people in a range of areas.

“Court cases upholding harassment, as in the case of Ms Wiggins, do nothing to assist in the Navy positioning itself as an attractive employer of young men and women in the future.

“Navy needs to factor-in the clear attitude of independent judges in the Federal Court into their processes of complaint investigation at first instance and more generally, in the system they establish, to attract and retain appropriate people to the Armed Forces.

“It is to be hoped that similar cases working through the judicial system do not result in similar findings and heavy penalties on the Navy or the Defence Force or other individual services.

“Proper systems and serious recruitment planning can avoid these mistakes in the future.”

Senator Bishop said it was also important to remember that “this is just one of 408 legal claims being contested by Defence”.

Kellie Wiggins had sued the Department of Defence for damages, alleging discrimination on the grounds of a disability.

JUNE 9 2006

For more information phone Lydia Roberts on (0415) 374 983