Australia: Overdue & appropriate, SD Commissioner to report on the ADFA’s ‘conduct unbecoming’ Print E-mail
April 18 2011

Culture trouble - the ADFA, the Ministers, and the Commissioner

By Jocelynne Scutt

One of the worst decisions made by the Fraser Government – amongst a panoply of poor decisions – was the establishment of the campus on the outskirts of Canberra, now known as the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA). It was here that the now infamous episode occurred of the transmission to what some may describe as a group of ADFA voyeurs of what was understood by the young woman involved to be an episode involving consensual sexual intercourse with a fellow cadet.

Before the exclusive Canberra campus was set up, some students in the military attended at the University of New South Wales campus. There, they tended to bunch together as a group. Yet at least they were on a campus amongst non-military students. At least they saw other students going about their studies – whether in the library, sitting on the lawns, eating and drinking coffee in the cafes, speaking out at demonstrations in the main quadrangle. At least they came into contact, however briefly, with other human beings. At least their exclusivity had some antidote.

Far from being a healthy environment, one which – like the Canberra campus – has no alternative vision, nothing in view which provides an exception to the notion that the world consists of cadets and military personnel, cannot be positive for students. To have students coming into contact daily with fellow military only is a recipe for conduct that, unfortunately, appears again and again in the military – just as it appears again and again in other institutions that lionise macho culture.

When I voted 'yes' to the Sydney Morning Herald poll asking: 'Is there need for a review of the Defence Force disciplinary procedures in light of recent incidents?' the grid showed 87% of respondents agreed. As the accompanying rider says, 'These polls are not scientific and reflect the opinion only of visitors who have chosen to participate.' Yet the poll on ADF discipline does tell us something. Even more, the regularity with which revelations emanate from various parts of the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) on bullying, harassment, bastardisation (euphemistically named 'initiation ceremonies') and even suicide, surely indicates the need for more than a review. At least, this time, there is a recognition on the part of the Minister for Defence that culture is in issue; that culture is the nub of the problem; that culture is a priority.

This matters, because review after review after review has been conducted into what surely must be acknowledged as endemic problems within the military. This surely follows when 'review' has followed 'review' – yet the stories continue to flow. Even more regrettably, those stories which do come to public attention must be the proverbial tip of the iceberg, as with all institutions and industries, cover-up will occur, whilst some recruits and others (often at relatively high levels) leave or hold on, remaining mute despite the stories of victimisation and survival that could fall from their lips, were they able to speak.

The ADF website tells another story: the ADF is 'committed to promoting equality and diversity, both in the workplace, and in its management practices'. The website reports the existence of an 'Equity Adviser Network' that 'supports Defence personnel at all levels to help maintain a working environment free of harassment and discrimination'. Furthermore, equity and diversity principles 'apply to all ADF personnel'.

The website defines 'equity and diversity' as meaning 'fair treatment' with equal opportunity extended to 'everyone' so as 'to make the most of their talents and abilities'. This, says the ADF, it 'aims to achieve' through applying the following principles:
Treating each other with dignity and respect;
Recognising that everyone is different and valuing those differences;
Maximising the different contributions people can make to the team;
Making judgements based on fairness and merit;
Eliminating artificial, unfair and inappropriate barriers to workplace participation;
Providing appropriate means to monitor and address discrimination and harassment;
Providing opportunities for flexibility when meeting organisational requirements;
Consulting personnel on policies and decisions that affect them.
Following the most recent revelation – described by Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston as 'isolated' – yet another review was announced as to occur within the organisation itself. Yet as with reviews, announcements of them have been publicised again and again. Problems have occurred at the ADFA, the Royal Military Academy, Duntroon, and at state military training establishments.

In 2000, Eleanor Tibble killed herself in fear that she would be dismissed from the military. An air cadet, she had allegedly engaged in a relationship with a senior officer in Hobart, at the Tasmanian Air Training Corps. At the time it was said her belief that she would be discharged was 'mistaken'. Yet the case disclosed a number of reasons for concern. What brought Eleanor Tibble to the point where she saw suicide as the only 'solution'? What was the lead-up to her forming that view? If the alleged relationship occurred, what circumstances permitted or enabled a senior officer to engage in conduct breaching the duty of care owed to Eleanor Tibble as an air cadet? Did these circumstances place at risk others in Eleanor Tibble's position?

In 2001 the former Justice Burchett undertook a review consequent upon concerns based in allegations of abusive conduct in the ADF and an alleged failure of disciplinary procedures. Reporting in August that year, he acknowledged the existence of bastardisation practices in military institutions 'in the past', but:

Whatever may have been the case with such practices in the past, they have not been followed in the great body of the Defence force for a number of years. Furthermore, establishing the inquiry demonstrated 'the depth of determination to expose the full extent of any failure in the ADF to follow the course of law'.

Lt-General Peter Cosgrove, then head of the ADF, said this 'reinforced' what he had 'always believed' – namely, that there was no culture in the army of 'widespread or systemic avoidance of due disciplinary processes or the use of violence to maintain discipline…' The government and the wider community should take note of the Burchett Review as 'an important demonstration' that 'we are a disciplined force', he said, adding that it was time to 'get on with that work'.

The work continued, and in January 2006 the ADF announced it would undertake an inquiry into bullying and harassment. This followed a Senate inquiry which uncovered suicide and other damage and injury caused to cadets and military members of the ADF by a culture of bullying, harassment and intimidation. Yet this was one more announcement about one more inquiry – following earlier announcements, earlier inquiries, and earlier revelations about bullying, harassment, injury, damage and suicide.

During Bronwyn Bishop's time as Minister for Defence Industry, Science and Personnel, a portfolio she held from March 1996 to October 1998, she spoke publicly of her intent to address the issue. Her concerns were located in revelations of harassment and bullying within the ADF.

Before Minister Bishop became involved, whilst the Liberal-National Party were in Opposition, Peter Reith brought the problem of harassment and bastardisation to the attention of the then Minister, John Faulkner. Subsequently, in 2000, he became Minister for Defence. The problem remained.

So – with the latest revelations and the ADF's announcement of 'an inquiry', we could rest assured it was full steam ahead until the next cycle. Allegations of abuse, exploitation, bullying, bastardisation. Next, the making of a complaint or complaints when someone – victim/survivor, parent, sibling, or some other brave soul believes their concerns will be taken seriously and dealt with. When this belief fails to be fulfilled – it's out to the media or some other external agency in the hope that this will ensure the problem is addressed. Once publicity descends, it's time for the follow-up – an announcement of, yes, that ubiquitous 'review'.

This time, a football official said the problem should be dealt with by the ADF employing consultants to review processes and 'train' personnel in 'conduct becoming'. This is surely ironic, for it can hardly be imagined that football is free of abusive conduct: indications to the contrary assail readers' eyes, listeners' ears, and viewers ocular and olfactory nerves on what often seems to be a daily basis. In any event, the ADF had already tried this: at one stage, consultants were brought in to 'solve' the problem. On another occasion, consultants were asked to review and propose equal opportunity and associated measures.

Clearly, more than one cadet or member of the military was not listening, more than one was not 'retrained', more than one was not 'persuaded' of the need to re-adjust.

Rather than continue with the notion that 'culture' is not the problem, that these events are 'isolated' (each of them, however many there may be proven to be), and that another review is the answer, the ADF needs to acknowledge that these 'episodes' arise directly out of a military and militaristic culture that relies upon power and subordination at its very heart. Power and subordination lie in the notion that women and gays are unacceptable in the ranks – whatever the rules are, as to women and gays. Power and subordination are promoted through notions that cadets are 'sissy' if they do not perform at a particular standard, whether or not that language is alleged to be 'outlawed'.

Like other organisations and institutions that face regular exposes of a similar kind, particularly (although not only) directed against women, the ADF will continue to be subjected to necessary public scrutiny. If only those in power within the military could orientate themselves to a position that acknowledges the nature of the problem rather than relying upon the conservative notion that all's right and proper, 'the culture's fine', the issue is bound to return – time and again.

For once, a Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith, has had the wit to name the real problem as one of 'culture'. He says this is 'the first step in the comprehensive review of the culture both within ADFA and the ADF to address ongoing areas of concern in relation to promoting appropriate conduct, including the treatment of women, alcohol use and use of social media and representational behaviour more generally'.

That culture is unlikely to change, so long as the ADFA remains cocooned in Canberra, along with the students and personnel. If the ADFA is to stay as the centre of training for cadets, the winds of change need to be blown through it at a furious pace – and not just on a 'one off'. Continuing and continuous training in anti-discrimination has to be entrenched.

The role of the military is changing – significantly. Today 'peace keeping' is a major responsibility. 'Peace keepers' don't – or ought not to – engage in sex/gender and sexuality superiority. The culture has to change not only to ensure that the cycle of problem-review-problem-review-problem … ceases, but so that the military accommodates to its changing role.
The report of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, will be awaited with interest, just as will the reports of the other reviews the Minister has initiated. The Minister's approach is to be applauded. Will the ADFA and the ADF be able to meet the challenge?

Let's trust that the Commissioner for Sex Discrimination and her team can make a crucial difference to what has been a saga of reviewing. Let's trust that this time, the outcome is not just another report that precedes another episode of culture trouble.

About the Author
Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt is a Barrister and Human Rights Lawyer in Mellbourne and Sydney. Her web sites are: HERE and HERE