Significant reforms to Australia's military discipline system

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The Hon Andrew Gee MP

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Minister for Defence Personnel

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Minister Gee's office: 0459 966 944

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12 August 2021

Minster for Defence Personnel and Veterans’ Affairs Andrew Gee has today announced significant amendments to the Defence Force Discipline Act 1982 which will modernise and streamline disciplinary matters in the Australian Defence Force.

“Our military justice system provides the Australian Defence Force with a unique Australian legal framework that is able to be applied on operations anywhere in the world,” Minister Gee said.

“However it has become slow and unresponsive under the weight of administration, requiring modernisation to meet current and future demands.

“These reforms will modernise military discipline system bringing it into the 21st Century to tackle new issues such as cyber bullying.

“Cyber bullying can be corrosive to discipline and have an extremely adverse effect on the mental wellbeing of its victims. These new offences will enable Defence to protect personnel from cyber-bullying through early intervention and putting a stop to the behaviour before it gets out of hand.

“These changes to the Act will not only simplify and streamline the current military discipline system, they will deliver a fairer and more transparent system that applies for all servicemen and women.

“Eighty percent of disciplinary matters in the military involve relatively minor infringements. These transgressions will be dealt with quickly, easily and fairly under these reforms.

“The reforms allow for early intervention, and by reducing delays we are helping improve operational effectiveness.  We will also ensure minor disciplinary matters are nipped in the bud early.

“The defence of the nation cannot be compromised by burdensome administration. 

“It is essential to have military law that is separate to civilian law for offences that occur in a military environment especially when on operations in countries where the civil order has broken down.

“It is also necessary to have separate disciplinary procedures that work to strengthen our defence capabilities through a united understanding of actions and consequences; and although discipline in the military is associated with rank, it is vital that it applies to Australian Defence Force members.

“Discipline is vital to a strong defence force. Personnel of all ranks under military law must follow all lawful orders given by their commanding officer, including orders that involve considerable risk to their own life or require them to use lethal force against an enemy.

“Consider the terrible but necessary requirements of war, from Australians charging the trenches at Gallipoli to our Desert Rats defending Tobruk. Service personnel are trained to follow the orders of their commanding officer that generally comes down through a chain of command. 

“However this is reciprocal. Commanders must also act in accordance with military law.

“Reform in the handling of minor infringements will free up our military courts and tribunals and deliver a simpler swifter set of arrangements that are fairer for all involved and improve the operational readiness of our armed forces.”

In 2017 the Chief of the Defence Force commissioned a review of the Summary Discipline System. The Review found that the current Summary Discipline System is overly complex, difficult to use, unresponsive and because of its complexity, results in excessive delay in dealing with minor discipline breaches.

Dealing with minor discipline matters will be made easier in three ways:

  • Enabling a wider range of minor breaches of military discipline to be managed quickly and simply as disciplinary infringements, rather than service offences where complex, adversarial court-like procedures apply;
  • A better structured discipline hierarchy based on the seriousness of the offending, available punishments, rank of the individual and the seniority of the discipline authority;
  • The changes introduce several new service offences relevant to the modern ADF.

“Numerous internal reviews at Defence have found that aspects of the current military discipline system are cumbersome in dealing with minor matters,” Minister Gee said.  

“This is not surprising given the existing approach dates back forty years and is based on British military discipline law, introduced with the Defence Force Discipline Act 1982.

“Reform is required to modernise procedures that predate modern warfare, current technologies and tactical requirements.

“To achieve this I have introduced the Defence Legislation Amendment (Discipline Reform) Bill 2021 into the Parliament to progress long considered reforms.

“For example the minor infringement of being absent from duty can be dealt with in as little as two or three days with a reprimand or a fine of a day’s pay. More serious breaches of discipline such as insubordinate conduct will receive a more severe reprimand or larger fine but again it can be managed within days.”

Minister Gee introduced the Defence Legislation Amendment (Discipline Bill) to Parliament today, with debates expected to commence in the following sitting weeks.

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