Minister for Defence – Outcomes of the Kirkham Inquiry

The Chief of the Defence Force (CDF) General David Hurley and I today announce the outcomes of the Independent Inquiry into the management of the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) so called Skype Incident of March 2011 and its aftermath (“the Kirkham Inquiry”).

The Kirkham Inquiry was initiated by the then Chief of the Defence Force following the raising in April 2011 of allegations of inappropriate conduct at ADFA.

Following the Skype incident becoming public, there was significant media reporting and public interest in relation to a range of related matters, including:

  • the incident itself, in which allegations were raised that an 18 year old female cadet, having sex with a male colleague, was filmed without her consent and sent via Skype to six other cadets watching in a nearby room;
  • the level of support provided to the cadets, particularly the female officer cadet in the aftermath of the incident;
  • subsequent allegations of unacceptable behaviour at ADFA; and
  • ADFA’s management of the incident, including disciplinary matters relating to the female officer cadet, which had occurred in March 2011, and concerned absence without leave and use of alcohol, being managed concurrently with the incident.

Mr Andrew Kirkham QC was asked by the then Vice Chief of the Defence Force to lead, under the relevant Defence regulations, the ‘Inquiry into the Management of the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) Skype Incident of March 2011’ and its aftermath.

The Inquiry report was formally submitted to the Chief of Air Force (the Appointing Officer) on 12 December 2011.

A copy of the report was provided to me on 13 December 2011, together with some preliminary advice.

It has been the subject of further detailed advice and consideration since then.

The Inquiry report is a detailed review of the management of this incident.

The report raises a number of complex and sensitive matters about the handling of the ‘Skype incident’ and its aftermath.

I have received advice from the Chief of the Defence Force, the Vice Chief of the Defence Force and the Chief of the Air Force on the report.

Consideration of the Kirkham Inquiry report is now complete. 

Consideration of the report covered matters such as obligations to consult interested parties, legal and policy issues involved in any public disclosure and any actions arising from the inquiry.

After careful consideration of policy and legal advice, the Inquiry report will not be published, including in a redacted form.  Unlike Inquiry reports that have been published, this Report generally focuses on individual actions rather than organisational deficiencies or shortcomings.  The report also includes a significant amount of personal detail.

As well, the circumstances of the actual “Skype Incident” remain the subject of ongoing criminal proceedings before the Australian Capital Territory Courts.  The decision not to release the report is also based on the potential to generate attention that may be harmful to the health and wellbeing of individual personnel.

In relation to specific allegations made in the media, the Inquiry found:

  • The Commandant did not order or advise the female officer cadet to apologise to cadets in her Division for having gone to the media;
  • The female officer cadet was offered counselling in her meeting with the Commandant;
  • No Sergeant had spoken offensively to the female officer cadet on leaving the Commandant’s office;
  • The female officer cadet was not abused by cadets in morning assembly on 6 April 2011;
  • No speech of apology was cancelled because of the volatile mood of cadets and fears it would fuel anger directed at the female officer cadet by fellow cadets; and
  • The female officer cadet’s room was not plastered with shaving foam.

At the time these allegations were made, I said I had advice or strong advice to the contrary and that these allegations would be investigated.

In relation to the position of Commandant ADFA, Commodore Kafer was directed on 9 April by his Commanding Officer, the then Vice Chief of the Defence Force (VCDF), to take leave from ADFA effective from 10 April 2011.

The decision by the then VCDF to direct Commodore Kafer to take leave from ADFA was made by his Commanding Officer in Commodore Kafer’s best interests, in the best interests of ADFA, and in the best interests of Defence.

The Inquiry found that in the circumstances it was reasonable for ADFA staff, including Commodore Kafer and the Deputy Commandant, to reach the conclusion that it was appropriate to proceed with and conclude the two disciplinary charges against the female Officer Cadet.

The Inquiry also found that, overall, neither the Commandant nor the Deputy Commandant made an error of judgement in their decisions to commence and conclude the disciplinary proceedings against the female Officer Cadet.

The Inquiry also found that it would as well have been a reasonable course of action to not commence and conclude the disciplinary proceedings. 

The Inquiry also found that it was unfortunate that neither the Commandant nor the Deputy Commandant asked the female Officer Cadet or her defending officer whether she was capable and wished for the disciplinary proceedings to proceed.

At the time, I said that I considered the decision to proceed to be a serious error of judgment, because it put into play and called into question the character of a potential victim of an alleged sexual abuse.

The then CDF also made public comments to this effect.

I also received formal advice in April 2011 from the then Vice Chief of the Defence Force stating that the Commandant ADFA had displayed an error of judgement in relation to concluding the disciplinary proceedings against the female Officer Cadet following the Skye incident.

I remain of the view that this was an error of judgement.

The Kirkham Inquiry found no legal basis for action against Commodore Kafer and any resumption of his duties is a matter for his chain of command. 

Based on the findings in the Kirkham Inquiry report and the Broderick Report, the Vice Chief of Defence Force, Air Marshal Mark Binskin has determined that Commodore Kafer will resume his duties as Commandant ADFA.  This will occur this week.

Media Contact:

Mr Smith’s Office: Andrew Porter (02) 6277 7800 or 0419 474 392

Department of Defence: (02) 6127 1999

Subscribe to our RSS Feed