ABC Four Corners Interview
Mon 13 Jun 2011, 8:00pm
Transcript of Interview
KERRY O’BRIEN, PRESENTER: A former naval recruit recalls an experience in the Defence Force that she says has marred her life forever.
Welcome to Four Corners.
Back in 1970 Four Corners first reported on brutality and abuse, described generically as bastardization, within the training establishment of the Australian Defence Force.
Now in our 50th anniversary year, here we go again.
At this moment, there is one formal inquiry and six other investigations underway into behaviour in different sections of the military, ordered by an angry and frustrated Defence Minister, Stephen Smith.
They stem from the scandal at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra back in late March, when an 18-year-old air force cadet was filmed allegedly without her knowledge, having consensual sex with a male cadet.
The images were allegedly shown by Skype to six other male cadets.
Stephen Smith says he wants action to end any suggestion that the Defence Force condones a culture of abuse but there have been many other inquiries going back decades, stemming from other scandals and allegations.
Australia’s military training establishments are moulding tomorrow’s fighting forces for war. Australian soldiers are dying in Afghanistan. It’s necessarily a tough road to the battlefield, where lives go on the line. But what happens when toughness becomes brutality, abuse, even sadism? And how many alleged perpetrators rise through the ranks, protected by a culture of silence.
Tonight Four Corners reporter Geoff Thompson talks with three ex-servicemen and women, who allege they were beaten, abused and/or sexually assaulted, and their claims hushed up.
For the first time since the Skype scandal, he also gained access to the Defence Force Academy to talk with trainee officers who tell a different story.
GEOFF THOMPSON, REPORTER: Early on a cold Canberra morning officer cadets of the Australian Defence Force Academy practice the parade they will perform on their graduation day.
Two months after the Skype story broke, the scandal still casts a long shadow over ADFA’s morale.
Their motto is: To Lead, to Excel. They pride themselves on being the best of the best. But with some in their ranks again accused of behaving like the worst of the worst, the military’s future leaders are feeling under siege.
The Skype incident has thrown a harsh light on the Defence Force as well as the academy.
ADFA CADET: It’s not at all what I’ve experienced. The way that we’re portrayed didn’t seem accurate but everyone has a right to their own perspective and people will believe what they want.
REAR ADMIRAL JAMES GOLDRICK, COMMANDER, AUSTRALIAN DEFENCE COLLEGE: I think it’s important the public perception of ADFA is one that becomes an understanding that ADFA has developed and changed and improved and grown.
But the events at ADFA have sparked one inquiry and six reviews of Defence Force culture.
Another will assess allegations of past abuse throughout the military, which threaten to expose it to fresh legal claims.
BRIAN BRIGGS, SOLICITOR, SLATER & GORDON LAWYERS: I’m hearing some horrific stories. Horrific. I’m getting a bit emotional… a guy who has a an industrial vacuum cleaner when he’s aged 20 shoved on to his testicles and all over his body over a period of hours, being held down, being admitted to hospital to have blood drained off his testicles with suction marks all over his body. Guys who have been anally raped with vacuum cleaners, broom handles, bashings, it, it, it’s not nice. No.
Tonight Four Corners speaks to men and women who say they were abused while serving their country and tell how a culture of silence has derailed their pursuit of justice.
PETER, FORMER CADET, AUSTRALIAN DEFENCE FORCE ACADEMY: The door’s been kicked in. I felt a punch. I then hit the ground and I felt the most severe pain ever of the sole of a boot on the side of my face just crushing my skull down.
CLAIRE, FORMER CADET, AUSTRALIAN DEFENCE FORCE ACADEMY: I was sexually assaulted at the time and I do remember they had opened the doors and people were watching in to see what was going on.
JOHN, FORMER CADET, AUSTRALIAN DEFENCE FORCE ACADEMY: I estimate there were about six to eight people in the room at the time. I was being struck at the same time by what I believe were blocks of soap tied in a towel, or something, and I was sexually assaulted in the course of that.
GEOFF THOMPSON: The history of Australia’s elite officer training institutions is littered with scandals and inquiries.
REPORTER (Excerpt from Four Corners, 1970): Since last year’s scandal over bastardisation, the college is undergoing changes that are dragging it slowly if reluctantly into the 1970s.
GEOFF THOMPSON: In 1970 Four Corners went inside the Royal Military College at Duntroon after allegations of bastardisation raised by history lecturer Gerald Walsh were leaked to the media.
(Extract from Four Corners, 1970)
GERALD WALSH, HISTORY LECTURER, DUNTROON: I don’t regret it all actually. I think the whole, all the publicity I think is the best thing that’s happened to Duntroon in the past 60 years.
REPORTER: Broadly, bastardisation is mental and physical harassment at a cadet, aimed at instilling respect and discipline. At best it was a mild form of fagging, at worst sadistic and psychologically harmful. Keeping a lavatory seat warm for a senior cadet was among the more debasing refinements. One slip of the tongue could mean a long cold shower in full uniform.
(To Gerald Walsh) Do you believe barstadisation is now finished for good at Duntroon?
GERALD WALSH: I think it’s certainly finished for the time being but I’m not so sure about it being finished for good. I wouldn’t be so confident on saying that.
(End of excerpt)
GREG PEMBERTON, DUNTROON CADET 1973-76: Once the media spotlight had gone off Duntroon it was very quickly reintegrated into the culture. I mean only one officer was ever disciplined over the scandal of 1969 because the officers themselves were all products of the system.
GEOFF THOMPSON: When a young Greg Pemberton arrived at the army’s officer training establishment in 1973 he discovered that the bad old days were back.
GREG PEMBERTON: I vividly remember the first evening at Duntroon and we went in for the evening meal and the beginnings of a ritual psychological abuse designed to humiliate you.
Once they’d allowed you to sit down you would rarely be allowed to eat. A stream of verbal abuse and phrased in terms of humiliating questions would follow. You know, does your sister fuck? Do you masturbate? Are you a poofter?
You were completely unaware of why this was occurring and so you’d stumble and fumble your answers and it didn’t matter anyway cause if you said yes they’d humiliate you more, if you said no they’d humiliate you more. It was, it just didn’t matter. You were going to be humiliated.
NEIL JAMES, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AUSTRALIA DEFENCE ASSOC.: My golden rule when I was at Duntroon, I had several golden rules, and one was you never did anything to anyone else that wasn’t done to you. There had to be a military point to it and the person who was on the receiving end had to see the humour of it. And if you couldn’t fulfil those three golden rules, you didn’t do anything to anyone.
Not everyone followed ah those type of golden rules. But the real question surely we’re addressing here is whether these were widespread and systemic problems or just the odd isolated incident, or whether they’re the result of a sick culture. Now my own personal experience and certainly the Defence Association view is that they’re not the result of a sick culture.
GEOFF THOMPSON: Nineteen-eighty-six marked a bold new direction for Australia’s officer training institutions. The year Duntroon opened up to women, ADFA was born next door. Here, men and women could earn degrees while training to be officers in all three services.
Warnings were sounded that the old culture could infect the new academy. They proved to be alarmingly prescient.
JOHN: The people who assaulted me were obviously very intoxicated and I could tell because they had this real stink of alcohol on them. And one of the people who, as I was being held down sort of yelled into my face or ear, the side of my head, his breath was overpowering with alcohol and it’s one of those things that every time I smell that now I get a little bit re-traumatised.
GEOFF THOMPSON: John, as we’ll call him, is now a successful barrister but to this day he remains haunted by his experiences at ADFA 1989, when he’d just turned 18. He says his troubles began when he went to the aid of a fellow first year cadet who was being beaten by seniors.
JOHN: I stepped in and tried to calm things down and was hit in the face with a bottle of what I found out later was bleach. And the bleach went in my eyes and I was hospitalised for a day or two.
GEOFF THOMPSON: Do you regret doing that now?
JOHN: With hindsight, I might have done things differently but no, it was the right thing to do. The reaction from the senior cadets was what was wrong. Because I had dared to challenge their power, I from that point on became a marked man.
GEOFF THOMPSON: John says he reported the incident to an officer who told senior cadets that he had complained about bastardisation. Later, while asleep in his room, John was attacked.
JOHN: I was trying to escape, and there was people pulling at my clothes and then I felt a large amount of pain and… um and then I was being struck again on my head several times, and I was trying to scream. I remember one of, someone told me that because I had been a jack bastard and complained about them, they were going to fuck me up the arse.
GEOFF THOMPSON: So something was stuck inside?
JOHN: Yeah. No, but um I didn’t see it because of the way I was being held down.
GEOFF THOMPSON: So you don’t know what it was?
JOHN: No and I don’t like to think about it.
GEOFF THOMPSON: While he has strong suspicions John says he’s not certain enough who assaulted him to prove it in court – it was dark and he was held face down. Embarrassed and humiliated, and stung by his earlier experience of reporting abuse, John told only an ADFA doctor what had happened.
JOHN: It was hushed up, because of the nature, the sexual nature of the assault. And it was made sort of clear to me that because of the stigma against homosexuality in the army at that point in time that that was in my best interests.
GEOFF THOMPSON: And you were encouraged to be complicit in hushing it up?
JOHN: Yes. Well I was told that, you know, I shouldn’t tell anyone about it and I was told that I was very lucky I was getting a second chance by being transferred to Duntroon.
GEOFF THOMPSON: While at Duntroon, John says he continued to be targeted for harassment.
There he met Greg who became a firm friend. In an army career spanning almost 20 years, Greg reached the rank of Major.
Both now lawyers, the two men have hobby farms in the same area where they get together with their families. Because Greg’s children hope to follow him into the military, he’s also requested anonymity.
(To Greg) Do you think John would have made a good soldier?
GREG: Absolutely. I would have followed him anywhere. I found him to be, whilst we were at Duntroon, his knowledge of tactics was outstanding. He came from a proud military history in his family and I think that he would have made an outstanding junior officer and if not progressed further. Certainly a lot of the officers that I’ve served with and under, John is equal to and better than the best of them.
GEOFF THOMPSON: But John would never get the chance to serve his country.
JOHN: I suffered from very bad depression and became suicidal in May 1991. I went to see my commanding officer and I said look, I need help with this. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I’m just not right. I’m not feeling right. And he basically told me that I just had to toughen up and put up with things. And following that I became suicidal.
GEOFF THOMPSON: After taking an overdose of sleeping pills, John awoke in hospital where he recalls being visited by his commanding officer who was unaware of the assault at ADFA.
JOHN: I vividly remember him standing at the foot of my bed and telling me that if I didn’t resign I would be show cause and forced to leave the Australian army.
GEOFF THOMPSON: Years later, John attempted to pursue his case with the Defence Department.
JOHN: I, after I left the army, wrote to the Defence Minister on a number of occasions, and was told that there’s no record of these events occurring on my cadet file, therefore they didn’t occur.
GEOFF THOMPSON: Four Corners has obtained what appears to be an internal Defence Department review of John’s claims.
It states that:
EXTRACT FROM DEFENCE DEPARTMENT REVIEW OF JOHN’S CLAIMS (voiceover): It is probable that the allegation… of bullying and assault whilst a cadet at ADFA in 1989 is correct.
GEOFF THOMPSON: The document suggests that Defence misled the Government in relation to John’s case.
EXTRACT FROM DEFENCE DEPARTMENT REVIEW OF JOHN’S CLAIMS (voiceover): This information demonstrates that the representations and materials provided to various ministers in response to past ministerial requests could be construed as misleading and not a true representation of the actual facts.
GEOFF THOMPSON: However, handwritten notes at the top of the document state:
EXTRACT FROM DEFENCE DEPARTMENT REVIEW OF JOHN’S CLAIMS (voiceover): Unacceptable. Remove from file and do not distribute. This document criticises former decision makers!!
EXTRACT FROM DEFENCE DEPARTMENT REVIEW OF JOHN’S CLAIMS (voiceover): This may have civil liability issues.
GEOFF THOMPSON: ADFA’s culture of bastardisation could not remain hidden forever.
In 1992, three years after John was assaulted, five cadets were fined for applying a vacuum cleaner nozzle to another cadet’s testicles – a practice known as “woofering”. The practice was made fun of in a cartoon responding to the recent Skype scandal.
Lawyer Brian Briggs is acting for a man who claims that just seeing this cartoon triggered a psychotic attack.
BRIAN BRIGGS: His wife came home from work, he’d destroyed the house, he had tore the whole inside of the house to bits, smashed everything up. She’s had to call the police. He’s had to be hospitalised. She’d never known about what had happened to this man. This is 20 years later.
GEOFF THOMPSON: The man is too traumatised to appear on camera but in an email to Four Corners he described his abuse at ADFA over four hours in February of 1990.
EXTRACT FROM EMAIL FROM FORMER CADET (voiceover): Using an industrial strength vacuum cleaner… they put the suction hose to my genitals …
I was in unbearable pain and was screaming in pain for them to stop… More than 30 people would have been involved and no one got me help…
When turned up for parade training I couldn’t march properly… with testicles the size of black grapefruits.
We were always taught that if we “dogged” on anyone else we would get severely bashed by the third years, who I was afraid of. We all were.
GEOFF THOMPSON: He’d kept it bottled up?
BRIAN BRIGGS: He’d kept it bottled up and all of a sudden the story and happening around his birthday and that’s how much it affected him. Now he’s on medication; he’s been hospitalised. Something that you kept bottled for 20 years, I mean a horrific story.
GEOFF THOMPSON: As concerns about ADFA mounted, an intensive study of the institution was ordered. What the Grey Review found was shocking.
Almost all cadets surveyed had experienced offensive behaviour – 60 per cent said it was sex or gender related. Actual or attempted sexual assault was reported by 15 cadets.
Sociologist Dr Stephen Mugford was a key member of the review team.
DR STEPHEN MUGFORD, VISITING FELLOW, AUSTRALIAN DEFENCE COLLEGE: There would be these moments where people had been assaulted either in the classic sense or sexual assaulted. That was a kind of underneath current but the main thing that was really the focus was this concept of bastardisation and the way that that had grown up over the years from the time that ADFA had been opened up.
GEOFF THOMPSON: ADFA’s first year cadets now take turns commanding themselves, under the watchful eye of staff officers.
In the past a rigid class system meant that senior cadets wielded immense power. The Grey Review identified this hierarchy as the dark heart of the academy’s dysfunction.
Rear Admiral James Goldrick is Commander of the Australian Defence College, which oversees ADFA.
JAMES GOLDRICK: So the reform removed the hierarchy, removed the idea of any cadet being able to assess another cadet in terms of leadership and behaviour, brought in additional military staff, and a particular fact was bringing to each division of 45 cadets a senior non-commissioned officer.
GEOFF THOMPSON (to Aisling Wells): So this is where you live?
MIDSHIPMAN AISLING WELLS, THIRD YEAR CADET, ADFA: Yeah this is my room.
GEOFF THOMPSON: Midshipman Aisling Wells will graduate in December after three years at the academy.
GEOFF THOMPSON (to Aisling Wells): And how many people live in this block?
AISLING WELLS: In the building it’s a division, there’s 40 of us living here. We’ve got males and females, army, navy, air force, but we’re all third years.
GEOFF THOMPSON: So this is home, this little space?
AISLING WELLS: Yes, this little piece is all mine.
GEOFF THOMPSON: Food and board costs cadets just $130 a week while Defence pays them up to $50,000 a year.
Their highly structured days start early. Lectures are compulsory and so is physical training.
Ninety percent of the 919 cadets are aged under 22 and just 200 of them are women, living, eating and studying alongside the men.
AISLING WELLS: I think we’ve been hit pretty hard recently, which is sad because I do think this is a really worthwhile institution. But I think there’s nothing we can do about that except continue to prove to the, to the public that we are, you know, we are a good group of kids. We are a good institution
GEOFF THOMPSON (To a group of four cadets): Have any of you ever experienced bastardisation?
AISLING WELLS: Absolutely not. No.
GEOFF THOMPSON: So anyone been or heard of anyone else being woofered?
AISLING WELLS: What’s woofered?
CADET 2: Can you elaborate on that term please?
GEOFF THOMPSON: You’ve never heard of woofering?
CADET 2: No.
AISLING WELLS: No.
GEOFF THOMPSON: And what about turkey slapping? Any turkey slapping?
AISLING WELLS: No. No.
CADET 2: Haven’t heard of it, no.
GEOFF THOMPSON: Nothing like that?
AISLING WELLS: Not even remotely.
ADMIRAL CHRIS BARRIE (RET), CHIEF OF THE DEFENCE FORCE 1998-2002): We’ve had ADFA now for nearly 25 years. I know that a lot of the captains and colonels that are running our Defence Force are ADFA graduates. I know a lot of them and my son went there.
Yeah, I think it’s a pretty good place, but every now and then we’re gonna have an issue that needs to be solved, it’s gotta get sorted out and then we get on with business as usual.
GEOFF THOMPSON: But claims of bastardisation is not exclusive to Australia’s officer training institutions. Strict discipline and drills testing recruits ability to perform under stress have always been a part of any military training.
Breaking down individuals to function as part of a unified team is a universally accepted method of forging fighting forces. But there’s a fine line between discipline and degradation.
DR BEN WADHAM, LECTURER, FLINDERS UNIVERSITY: It is difficult sometimes to work out where the line should be. On some occasions it’s totally clear where the line has been transgressed. You move into the training institution and the process is to break you down, to take you away from your civilian background, and to reconstruct you as a, as the Australian Digger.
GEOFF THOMPSON: Former soldier Ben Wadham spent five years in the army, first in the infantry and later as a military policeman.
BEN WADHAM: Some of these photos here are of one particular experience I had of being “basted” – it was my farewell from the military police.
GEOFF THOMPSON: And what have they done to you?
BEN WADHAM: They’ve surprised me as I’ve come into work, tied me onto a chair and proceeded to put a brown paper bag over my head and used Sellotape to wind it up very tightly.
GEOFF THOMPSON: He’s been smeared with foul food, fire-hosed and had his eyebrows and pubic hair shaved off – none of which he particularly minded.
(To Ben Wadham) It wasn’t consensual but it’s something which you expected as part of life in the military.
BEN WADHAM: That’s right, yeah and I knew it was because the guys liked me funnily enough.
GEOFF THOMPSON: Now at Flinders University researching bastardisation, Dr Wadham also has first-hand experience of how sinister it can turn.
BEN WADHAM: An example for me is learning how to manage and handle ah POWs. The first part of that lesson was to be to be caught as a POW and then exposed to hardship. And I remember being placed in the dog pose with three other guys and our trousers dropped, and the corporals at the time used rifles and sticks to, you know, play around with our, our, our bottoms.
Now I don’t understand why that helps me to understand anything about dealing with POWs.
GEOFF THOMPSON: In 1999 the infantry men of the 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment were riding a wave of patriotism with their deployment to East Timor putting the most boots on the ground since the Vietnam War.
But at home, 3RAR was about to be ambushed by revelations of “rough justice” in its ranks.
Corporal Craig Smith was a whistleblower.
(Extract from Senate Defence Committee, October 2000)
CORPORAL CRAIG SMITH, ROYAL AUSTRALIAN REGIMENT: On one occasion in late ’97, the senior non-commissioned officer stated to the whole company of 100 blokes, there was no senior officers in the area, but two soldiers he had standing in front of the company were to be dealt with by the members of the company and they were to be outside his office the next morning bashed bleeding and bruised.
QUESTIONER: And to the best of your knowledge what happened?
CRAIG SMITH: I heard later on the next morning that those two soldiers had been bashed and were hospitalised.
(End of excerpt)
GEOFF THOMPSON: Over a two year period, at least 10 men within 3RAR were bashed. This is one of them. We’ll call him Peter.
(To Peter) Do you blame the guys that beat you up?
PETER: No, I don’t blame them. It’s, as far as I’m concerned they were following orders.
GEOFF THOMPSON: Like the rest of the battalion he was trained for one of the army’s toughest tasks – parachuting into battle.
Peter joined the battalion in 1996 when he was 20 and went on to complete 30 jumps, training which cost the taxpayer tens of thousands of dollars.
PETER: Parachuting is fun, the exercise was fantastic, the mateship was good, yeah everything was good about it.
GEOFF THOMPSON: A year later he claims a misunderstood prank led to him being accused of theft along with another soldier.
PETER: We were then both dragged in front of the company and the company sergeant major had then turned around and said this is what I’m talking about, these thieves you don’t want them in your army, you don’t want them watching your back. He called it a holdy-hand poofy army and said I’ll let you deal with it and walked away.
GEOFF THOMPSON: Peter says shortly after the order was given there was a knock on the door of his room.
PETER: When I answered the door I vaguely remember the two faces that were there and I felt pain in my face, I’d been punched. I hit the ground. I was repeatedly kicked, stomped, kicked in the face, kicked in the body, in the groin, the legs, punched and I then passed out and when I gained consciousness I looked at the clock again and I’d been out for a good two hours.
Ah there was two fractures in the skull, orbital fractures, there was one up by the eyebrow and there was one underneath, there was soreness in the jaw, I had a boot print on my kidney, I had bruising down both arms, I had a boot print on my backside and just bruising down both sides of my legs as well.
GEOFF THOMPSON: The abuse within 3RAR was first exposed by the media before becoming the focus of two inquiries.
After he came forward as a witness, Corporal Craig Smith was harassed and received death threats.
The inquiries found that there were illegal bashings within one company of 3RAR, but it was not condoned by officers or widespread within the ADF.
CHRIS BARRIE (Extract from educational video): When you are aware of an injustice or a breach of our rules you have an obligation to correct it if it is within your powers to do so or report it to an appropriate authority if it is not
GEOFF THOMPSON: Responding to the inquiries, then Defence chief, Admiral Chris Barrie backed the appointment of a military inspector general to hear complaints outside the chain of command.
CHRIS BARRIE: I think there are more avenues today than have ever been to make complaints and to bypass what’s always seen to be the barrier of my chain of command, so my boss. I guess it’s people still fearing that by making a report or a complaint they’re gonna suffer in some way, and you know I as hell hope that they don’t let that stand in the way of getting things done.
SENATOR DAVID JOHNSTON, OPPOSITION DEFENCE SPOKESMAN: I think the perception is that it’s not entirely independent and it only makes recommendations. Now you know, you go to a lot of trouble to research and find out about things and investigate things and hear complaints and you’re appalled and then you make a recommendation. Well you know that, it’s like you know, being slapped with a wet toilet roll.
GEOFF THOMPSON: Shadow Defence Minister David Johnston helped produce a major Senate review of military justice in 2005.
It identified a culture of silence and recommended the creation of an entirely independent grievance board. Defence rejected it.
DAVID JOHNSTON: Defence is very, very reluctant to have independent people looking over their shoulder. Now I think that is a mistake. I think we’ve got to bring independence to the fore so that the values and ethics that we have in civil society can be reflected. That doesn’t mean it becomes a lawyer’s feast but can be reflected and we can all take confidence from the fact that what’s wrong in our day to day lives as civilians is going to be wrong in the ADF.
CLAIRE: Unless they change their procedures on the way that these things happen and actually put the message out there that these things aren’t okay and try and sweep – which they do – sweep these instance, you know these incidents under the carpets… yeah, if any woman or any man is going to complain of abuse they are going to basically cop the same treatment as what I did.
GEOFF THOMPSON: This mother of two young children knows precisely how badly military justice can fail.
She was just emerging from childhood herself when she joined the navy aged 17 and trained as a cook at HMAS Cerberus on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.
We’ve concealed Claire’s identity at the request of her family.
CLAIRE: That was the career that I wanted, you know. I didn’t think it would get you know cut short as quickly as what it did I, you know, so…
GEOFF THOMPSON: Just three months after joining Cerberus, Claire spent an evening drinking with friends who brought alcohol back to the base.
CLAIRE: I was coming back from a friend’s room when I got pulled into another male’s room who had two males in there. I couldn’t leave. I was locked in there. I had three males in there.
There’s no there’s no way they would have let me out until they sort of had finished what they had done and they thought, as I said, I do remember one of them had opened the doors for, and there were people standing at the door watching what was going on but nobody helped me whatsoever.
After they had finished what they were doing, they threw me out into the corridor, ah naked.
GEOFF THOMPSON: So in a sense it wasn’t just a sexual assault, which clearly it was, but it was a ritual humiliation, a bastardisation.
CLAIRE: Well and truly. Well and truly. I mean as I said by the time I’d gotten up the next morning half the naval base had found out so… yeah. It was humiliation at its best. It’s bad enough that I was being assaulted by three males, let alone having other people watch what was going on as well and then have the story spread around the next day that I’d been found sleeping with three males and I was a slut and I was a whore and you know… yeah, it doesn’t make you feel good as a person. That was, I have, that was the lowest point of my life.
GEOFF THOMPSON: Claire says what happened the next day made matters much worse. She recalls being summoned to an office where two naval police coxswains were waiting with a tape recorder.
CLAIRE: They started the tapes rolling and they were, I mean there was no prior warning that’s what was going to happen. They started the three tapes rolling and in the end they basically said to me that if I didn’t say that it was consensual sex that I would lose my career and that they would keep me here for hours and they would make my life in the Defence Force very difficult.
So they actually turned off the initial three tapes, discarded those and made me start the interview again and I basically at the time said it was consensual sex. It was very stressful. I was 17-and-a-half, I didn’t know what my rights were. You know after being in that interview for hours I was charged not long after that with sexual misconduct. I got fined $150.
GEOFF THOMPSON: As a sexual offence committed within Australia, Claire’s allegation should have been immediately reported to civilian police. But her complaint was not seriously considered until she had left the navy and raised it with the Commonwealth Ombudsman.
In 2004 the Ombudsman found that she had made, “Serious allegations (which were) not appropriately acted upon; (that she was) intimidated; (that) the tape recorder was stopped and tapes (were) removed during (her) interview.”
The Commonwealth Ombudsman also recommended the navy apologise to Claire for its treatment of her. The navy says it sent a letter of regret. Claire says she hasn’t received it.
CLAIRE I think if I would have gotten some sort of recognition, some sort of help while… just someone to say I’m sorry, what they did was wrong, acknowledged it on some level, I think it would have probably it would have gone a long way. It would have absolutely have gone a long way.
GEOFF THOMPSON: Former ADFA lecturer, Dr Kathryn Spurling hears from many women in the Defence Force who also feel they are unable to complain about their own claims of abuse through official channels about their own claims of abuse.
DR KATHRYN SPURLING, VISITING FELLOW, UNSW@ADFA: Because I was ex-navy, had a son in the navy, was married navy, they gradually decided they could trust me. So that’s why even now I have women coming to me, seeking me out to tell me their stories because they have lost confidence in the organisation. There are so many procedures in place to help them but they believe they have not been looked after by those protocol issues and so that’s how they keep coming to me. I mean it’s hard actually because they have the most terrible stories.
GEOFF THOMPSON: About 14 per cent of the Australian Defence Force’s 60,000 people are women and almost one third of the ADF is younger than 25.
Defence chiefs have identified the recruitment and retention of personnel as the ADF’s greatest challenge. A public perception that a culture of silence means justice can only be found outside Defence is a far from ideal recruitment tool.
DAVID JOHNSTON: Mums and dads will not give their children to serve in the ADF unless they are confident that the system is running well and professionally and equitably and you know, the latest incident at ADFA causes me great concern that that damages the reputation of the organisation as a whole.
GEOFF THOMPSON: Do you think there has been a reluctance to report abuse within the military?
NEIL JAMES: The Defence Association view is that that problem is no worse than it is in any other organisation in society. You’re never going to eradicate it entirely. You can’t eradicate it in schools and banks and churches and you know that you’re not going to eradicate it completely in the Defence Force. But we don’t believe it’s any more serious in the Defence Force.
I mean it’s like this whole ADFA thing. I mean ADFA as a tertiary institution has a remarkably lower rate of sexual harassment and sex crimes than any other university in Australia, and yet that’s not the picture that was painted in the newspapers. And people need to keep a sense of perspective and a sense of balance about things like this.
GEOFF THOMPSON: The system’s failures over decades are now permeating the present.
BRIAN BRIGGS: There’s been a great influx of these inquiries. This folder just what I have received – I conduct the inquiries – in the last 4-6 weeks.
GEOFF THOMPSON: Legal firm Slater & Gordon says it’s received scores of enquiries seeking compensation from Defence for past abuse.
BBRIAN BRIGGS: The general public should look at military personnel and say we will look after them if they are injured, if they’re hurt, whether it be serving in Afghanistan or whether they get abused in a military educational facility. Wherever it is, they should be looked after and I’m not, it’s not my role to say well, this could expose the Government to 10 years of claims – that’s for the government. That’s their decision as to how they treat these people.
CLAIRE: I don’t think the world owes me but I think the navy, oh the navy owes me. That may sound really selfish but yeah, I will be seeking com- I will be seeking compensation.
GEOFF THOMPSON: What about the suggestions that some sort of ex-gratia scheme is set up?
CHRIS BARRIE: Well, what you’re saying is some sort of payment or compensation? Ah well, um how much? In what circumstances?
My gut feel is unless we’re very careful we’ll end up not satisfying very many, they may feel that the amounts aren’t enough, and it will still end up being a very difficult process.
GEOFF THOMPSON: For John, a recognition of wrongdoing would suffice.
JOHN: I don’t need money. I am not interested in being given 30 pieces of silver by the army.
STEPHEN MUGFORD: Whether money is the answer to that I rather doubt. I mean the studies are fairly clear on this. If I come back and say to you I am genuinely sorry, I should not have done that, you did not deserve that, this was you know not your problem but mine, that’s going to be worth in most cases a lot more than the money. And again the studies support that, you know, forgiveness, apology, reconciliation work a lot better than dollars.
GEOFF THOMPSON: Peter, Claire and John each feel their lives have been forever marked by their experiences in the military.
PETER: I did find it difficult to sleep at the time. I wouldn’t look at people in the eye even walking down the street. I would shuffle to the left or the right, couldn’t make eye contact with anyone, pretty much terrified of anyone that walked in my direction no matter how big or small, man, woman, child just thought something was going to happen.
CLAIRE: It’s… it’s changed me. What I was, who I was before is not who I am now. I’ve had failed relationships, I still suffer within, you know, issues of self-confidence. There’s not really a day that goes by where I don’t think about it and just the injustice.
JOHN: I’m still very angry about it, especially because I am aware that there are people that I’m certain who were involved in the assault on me who are now senior officers in the Australian Defence Forces and I have concerns about that.
GEOFF THOMPSON: We haven’t seen the last Defence Force scandal, round of reviews or recommended reforms, but time is running out for our next generation of leaders to feel they can counter the culture of silence.
KERRY O’BRIEN: One of the Government’s various investigations into Defence Force culture is an external legal review into allegations of sexual or other forms of abuse. The deadline for current for former Defence personnel to report abuse cases to that review is June 17, just four days away.
Incidentally the Defence Minister Stephen Smith, the retiring ADF head, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston and the new chief, Lieutenant General David Hurley all declined to be interviewed for this program.
[END OF TRANSCRIPT]
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