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The facets of Australian fascism: the Abbott Government experiment (Part 26)

By Dr George Venturini*

Testing the thesis . . . Rampant sexism (continued)

The most significant Review into the Treatment of Women in the Australian Defence Force was presented by the then Sex Discrimination Commissioner of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Ms. Elizabeth Broderick, with a speech on 22 August 2012.

The Review was directed both to the Australian Defence Force Academy, A.D.F.A., and in the broader, to the Australian Defence Force. The Review had come about as part of the response to the Skype incident at A.D.F.A. in 2011.

Early in 2011 a young woman, barely 18, was standing before the commander of the prestigious Australian Defence Force Academy. She was in trouble for having had sexual intercourse with an army cadet who had thought no better than broadcast the event by Skype to half a dozen fellow cadets sitting in a nearby room. Distraught, the young woman went to a commercial channel and told the story – in anticipated self-defence.

The Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith and the Chief of Defence Force, Air Marshall Angus Houston went on television and radio to express their puritanical indignation – “abhorrent” but “isolated” said the Chief, to welcome an investigation, to threaten vindication as if the item was news. Perhaps what was news is that the victim this time went outside the system. There had been episodes of improper behaviour and investigation of predatory sexual practices, drunkenness and indiscipline in the Navy, for years and years.

Radio and television had a field week, with much ado and salacious ‘revelations’ – porno really. Seriously, a former cadet at A.D.F.A., now a prominent barrister, wrote a piece to describe the physical, sexual and psychological abuse to which he had been subjected twenty five years ago. He did so, needless to say, under condition of anonymity. In his view, after all the investigations, “a culture of abuse … has not changed in 20 years.” Is it now?

The Report on the first phase of the Review, which dealt with an examination of A.D.F.A., was tabled in Parliament on 3 November 2011.

Tabled in federal Parliament on 22 August 2012 was the Report on the second phase of the Review, dealing with the treatment of women across the entire A.D.F. – across Navy, Army and Air Force.

The Review was broad ranging and comprehensive. It was not an historical examination of the A.D.F. over the last few decades. Nor was it merely a desktop analysis of policies and processes or other written material. What the Review did was examine the then current ‘culture’ of the A.D.F. and the impact which it had on women.

In doing so, the members of the Review Panel were determined to speak to as many A.D.F. personnel as possible, as well as to others with military experience.

In consulting as widely as possible, they visited 36 military bases in Australia and 6 in deployed environments, including two forward operating bases outside the wire in Afghanistan, and they spoke to over 2,000 people in bases across Australia, Timor Leste, the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan.

In summary, they spoke with personnel from almost every rank and occupation, as well as Reservists and people who had discharged from the military.

Importantly, they also spoke to members individually and confidentially. The stories these members told – many positive, but some deeply personal and distressing – many told for the first time – shaped much of the Review’s thinking and approach.

It was important that the Chiefs of each Service also heard these stories. The Sex Commissioner facilitated one on one meetings for these members with the Chiefs.

Apart from this qualitative research, the Panel developed two surveys to inform the findings. The members surveyed over 6,000 A.D.F. personnel.

For the first time, data exist which compares the prevalence of sexual harassment in the A.D.F. to other Australian workplaces.

The Review also examined the experience of overseas militaries struggling with similar challenges.

The Review Panel specifically wanted answer to the following questions: How inclusive is the A.D.F. of women?; How are women perceived in the A.D.F.?; Is the A.D.F. recruiting sufficient numbers of women? Do they have the same opportunity as men to rise through the ranks?; Does the current A.D.F. culture support a member’s ability to balance career and family?; and, finally, does sex discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual abuse exist ?

And here are six facts as they related to the A.D.F.:

Fact 1: Numbers in the 17-24 age group – the A.D.F.’s traditional recruiting pool – had flat lined, with increased competition for this talent from other sectors, particularly resources.

Fact 2: The A.D.F. had only achieved a 1 per cent increase in the recruitment of women over the previous 10 years, and 2 per cent over the previous 20.

Fact 3: 80 per cent of the A.D.F. were men who speak English at home. Yet, males who speak English at home represent less than 40 per cent of the general Australian population. This meant that the A.D.F. had not capitalised on demographic shifts in the Australian population and remained ‘frozen’ at its 1990 demographic.

Fact 4: Many people left for reasons which were within the control of the A.D.F., including lack of flexible work arrangements. Given that defence talent is developed from the ground up, when someone leaves after ten years, it is not possible to do what most civilian organisations do and laterally recruit to fill that position. The average cost of losing a member was estimated at $ 580,000 to $ 680,000, whilst the cost of recruiting a new member had tripled.

Fact 5: Modern warfare requires new and different abilities, such as technological skill, rather than simply manual or physical strength.

Fact 6: Sexual harassment and abuse existed at the time in the A.D.F. – with the obvious consequences: lives ruined, teams divided, damaged operational effectiveness.

These facts provided a compelling case for change.

In the Report the Panel described the issues, summarised its findings and made twenty one recommendations in a number of key areas, and under five main headings: combining a military career with family; women’s participation, recruitment and retention; diversity of leadership; targets and differential treatment; and exclusion and sexual assault.

Changes had been marginal.

Towards the end of November 2013 twelve Australian Defence Force members were being investigated over the sexual abuse of female cadets in the 1990s, as the A.D.F. Vice Chief Mark Binskin had confirmed.

The Defence Abuse Response Taskforce, which had been established as part of the Australian Government’s response to the D.L.A. Piper Review into allegation of sexual and other forms of abuse in Defence, had completed its assessment of the so-called A.D.F.A. 24 – which involved allegations from 19 complainants about rape at the Defence Force Academy.

Meanwhile, the Taskforce, led by retired Judge Len Roberts-Smith, was investigating more than 2,400 allegations of abuse.

Air Marshal Binskin said none of the 12 officers was ranked higher than a major and some had left the A.D.F.

“Defence is now reviewing the Taskforce advice and assessing options available in relation to each of the cases of alleged abuse” said Air Marshal Binskin. And he added: “All options available will be considered and those cases in which the alleged perpetrator is still providing active duty will be considered in priority.”

He indicated, however, that criminal charges were unlikely at the stage of the investigations.

“Defence understands only six complainants related to the A.D.F.A. 24 cases contacted the Taskforce and none of these individuals have agreed to their matter being referred to the police” he said. “Accordingly Defence understands none of the A.D.F.A. 24 cases the Taskforce has assessed has been referred to civilian police by the taskforce.”

In June 2012 then Defence Minister Stephen Smith had told Parliament that abuse was more widespread than previously thought. He highlighted A.D.F.A. and the Navy’s H.M.A.S. Leeuwin training base in Fremantle as two institutions where there had been a number of abuse complaints. He asked the Taskforce to prioritise the cases involving 24 allegations from 19 complainants about abuse in the 1990s.

The A.D.F.A. 24 had been first identified in the Grey Review in 1998.

The Taskforce was considering whether a royal commission was needed into the allegations of abuse at A.D.F.A and H.M.A.S. Leeuwin; it was looking at complaints made to it and complaints raised in other reviews such as the DLA Piper review, and would have continued to investigate complaints for a further twelve months.

On 9 November 2013 the news was circulated that the Army had dismissed one of the men at the centre of the A.D.F.A. Skype scandal.

The cadet was responsible for secretly filming himself having sex with a female cadet and the vision had been broadcast via Skype to several of their colleagues in 2011.

In October 2013 he had been sentenced to two 12-month good behaviour bonds by the A.C.T. Supreme Court and had been cleared to resume his studies at A.D.F.A. But early in November the Chief of Army David Morrison defended Defence’s handling of the case after the victim, known as ‘Kate’, had questioned why the cadet had been allowed to continue his military career.

In response, Defence had released a statement saying the cadet found guilty had been told in mid-September that it intended to dismiss and, after giving him an opportunity to respond, his services were terminated as of 8 November 2013. Defence had formed the view that the conduct of the cadet in question was inconsistent with the Army’s values and the standards expected of a member. Another cadet involved in the scandal, was sentenced to a 12-month good behaviour bond and had subsequently left the military.

The female cadet at the centre of the scandal said that it resulted in her being bullied out of the military and her dream job. In an exclusive interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s 7.30 programme early in November 2013 ‘Kate’ said that she had been determined to pursue a military career even after she went public about her ordeal. However, she said that she had been harassed repeatedly at different Defence bases around the country.

“[Some] boys in the room across from me thought it was fun to terrorise me and call me the Skype slut continually every time I left my room” she said. The best she could obtain out of this ordeal was a discharge from the military on medical and psychological grounds.

She still intended to take legal action against Defence Force. Her hope was that the action would change the ‘culture’ within the Force.

Tomorrow: Testing the thesis . . . Rampant sexism (continued)

GeorgeVenturini * In memory of my friends, Professor Bertram Gross and Justice Lionel Murphy.

Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975 he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra. He may be reached at

⬅️ Part 25

➡️ Part 27

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1 comment

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  1. wam

    No woman should support the premise that they are not and can never be the equal of a man. This is pure white supremacy and unsustainable by any research beyond god did it by giving you menstruation.
    Oops there is the answer! No athiests can support the premise that woman are not the equal to men. All religious women know they are inferior physically and mentally for, at least 25% of their fertile life.
    How many women believe their men?? How many men believe their women? How many women hide their superiority? How many men hide their inferiority behind violence?

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