Minister for Defence Stephen Smith today provided an update to the Parliament on the Government’s response to allegations of sexual or other forms of abuse in Defence.
The Minister also tabled the First Interim Report of the independent Defence Abuse Response Taskforce (‘the Taskforce’) to the Minister and the Attorney-General. (A copy of the interim report is available at: http://defence-ministers.govspace.gov.au/files/2013/03/DART-First-Interim-Report-to-the-Attorney-General-and-Minister-for-Justice-PDF.pdf).
Defence Abuse Response Taskforce
The number of cases before the Taskforce is building steadily. In addition to the more than 1112 DLA Piper cases, the Taskforce is receiving approximately 15 new matters per week through the hotline.
The Taskforce has responsibility for liaising with those who have made allegations of abuse to determine an appropriate response in individual allegations, which can include access to a capped reparation scheme and a personal apology.
The Minister announced today that the Government has approved the operation of the Defence Abuse Reparation Payment Scheme.
Payments to individuals will be capped at $50,000, with the amount provided to each complainant determined on a case by case basis taking into account their individual circumstances.
The Taskforce was originally intended to operate for a year until December 2013 and at its conclusion report to Parliament through the Minister for Defence. However, advice from the Taskforce Chair is that he considers an extension of this deadline is necessary as there is no realistic prospect the work required by the Terms of Reference could be completed within the present 12 month timeframe.
The Government has therefore agreed that the duration of the Taskforce be extended from 12 to 18 months. The Taskforce is now due to complete its work at the end of May 2014.
The Minister also announced that the cut-off for the Taskforce accepting new allegations of abuse that are alleged to have occurred prior to 11 April 2011 will be 31 May this year, giving the Taskforce a full year in which to assess these allegations and conclude its work. This announcement will ensure that people who have experienced abuse prior to 11 April 2011 but who have not yet brought their case forward have the time to consider doing so.
The serious nature of the matters being considered by the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce requires the highest levels of oversight. The Government supports Parliamentary oversight in the ongoing management of these matters.
This has already commenced with the establishment of the Senate Standing Committees on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Inquiry into the Report of the Review of allegations of sexual and other abuse in Defence, conducted by DLA Piper, and the response of the Government to the Review.
Today, that Committee will hold hearings at which the Chair of the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce, the Secretary of the Department of Defence and the Chief of the Defence Force will appear.
I also propose to discuss with members of the Committee how Parliamentary oversight of the management of allegations of abuse in Defence, and Parliamentary oversight of implementation of cultural change measures in Defence can be effected.
Annual Report on the Defence cultural reform program
This Parliamentary oversight will be in addition to the first Annual Report to the Parliament on Defence’s implementation of the cultural reform program, Pathway to Change.
Ongoing implementation of all of the Pathway to Change reforms is critical to ensuring that Defence’s culture meets modern day standards.
To ensure that ongoing implementation of these essential reforms receives the highest levels of oversight, Defence will provide, through the Minister, an Annual Report to the Parliament on Defence’s implementation of the reform program.
The first Annual Report will be provided in June.