TRANSCRIPT: MINISTERIAL STATEMENT IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES – APOLOGY TO PEOPLE SUBJECTED TO SEXUAL OR OTHER FORMS OF ABUSE IN DEFENCE
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 26 NOVEMBER 2012
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you, Speaker.
Today as Minister for Defence I deliver an apology on behalf of the Government to the men and women of the Australian Defence Force who have suffered sexual or other forms of abuse in the course of service to the Australian Defence Force and their country.
The men and women of the Australian Defence Force, past, currently serving and future, are entitled to be and deserve to be treated with the highest levels of admiration and respect. Not just by the Australian people, but also by fellow members of the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Defence Organisation generally.
These are men and women who volunteer to serve their country, placing their country’s safety and security above their own.
They have left their families and their loved ones to train and serve often in difficult and dangerous conditions.
These are men and women who are prepared to pay the highest cost for their commitment to their country and their duty.
Since Federation, the Australian military has rightfully held a high place in the regard of the Australian people.
The Australian Defence Force is an organisation which has demonstrated the highest standards of professionalism, of courage and of sacrifice in peace and in wartime.
But, terribly and sadly, the experience of some members of the Australian Defence Force over the years has not always reflected these high standards. Not all members of the Australian Defence Force have been treated with the necessary respect required to meet both common decency and these high standards.
Since the so-called ADFA Skype incident in April 2011, Australians have again seen stories emerge of sexual and other forms of abuse in Defence.
Shameful treatment by members of the Australian Defence Force to their own colleagues.
These stories range from experiences in the 1950s right through to the present day.
Young men and women have suffered treatment which no member of our Defence Force or our community generally should experience.
Young men and women have endured sexual, physical or mental abuse from their colleagues which are not acceptable and do not reflect the values of a modern diverse tolerant Australian society.
We have seen claims that people who have occupied positions of trust in the Australian Defence Force and the Department of Defence have abused that trust through their behaviour, including through the turning of a blind eye.
Such experiences have had a lasting, serious and traumatic impact on the people who experienced them.
We also recognise that there are people in the Department of Defence who work alongside members of the Australian Defence Force in the service of Australia and our national interest.
The Department of Defence is an institution which also seeks to uphold the highest values of ethics and behaviour.
Sadly, men and women in the Department of Defence have also experienced abuse.
In the aftermath of the ADFA Skype incident, people have told me that after years of suffering from the memory of the abuse they experienced, they seek recognition of their experience and an apology which acknowledges that it should never have occurred.
To those men and women in the Australian Defence Force or the Department of Defence who have suffered sexual or other forms of abuse, on behalf of the Government, I say sorry.
You should never have experienced this abuse.
Allegations of abuse have been addressed through the DLA Piper Review into Sexual or Other Forms of Abuse in Defence received in April this year.
This process has seen a preliminary review of allegations from over 1,000 people.
Action now on these allegations will be taken under the leadership of the Honourable Len Roberts-Smith QC, a former Justice of the Supreme Court and Judge of the Court of Appeal of Western Australia.
Acknowledging the past and taking responsibility for it is only the first step.
We must ensure that such abuse can never be tolerated again.
We must place the safety and wellbeing of the young men and women of the Australian Defence Force above all else.
The Australian Defence Force, the Department of Defence and their leadership are committed to change and to taking action to protect the young men and women in their care.
This is best expressed through the Pathway to Change strategy adopted by Defence in March this year, which states:
“Recent events and a suite of Reviews remind us that we need to ensure our people demonstrate exemplary behaviour commensurate with the nation’s expectations, in and out of uniform, on and off duty…
“We have learnt, to our cost, that we do not consistently meet these high standards and, more worryingly, that our culture has tolerated shortfalls in performance…
“We will take action to shift attitudes and willingness to speak up when we become aware of inappropriate behaviour by a colleague in Defence.”
The Government and the Defence leadership are committed to ensuring the ongoing reform and systemic change in Defence necessary for Defence to ensure zero tolerance into the future of such inappropriate conduct.
This commitment is demonstrated by the presence in the House of the Chief of the Defence Force General David Hurley and the Secretary of the Department of Defence Dennis Richardson. General Hurley will himself make and release today a statement of apology to members of the Australian Defence Force.
Our words today and our actions and commitment into the future will ensure that the apology given today to those men and women in the Australian Defence Force and the Department of Defence who have been subject to abuse will never have to be repeated.