Slater & Gordon military law claims’ practice group leader Brian Briggs (pictured) spoke to Lawyers Weekly after it was announced late last week that the Sexual and Other Abuse Report into the Australian Defence Force (ADF) had been referred to the Senate’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Reference Committee.
“The Government hasn’t come out and told us anything, and now with the backing of the Greens and the Opposition they will have a Senate inquiry, which I welcome, as to why it is taking so long,” said Briggs. “It took them a week to resolve the issue of the asylum seekers after the report came down and four months later we are still waiting on service personnel.”
On 14 June, Defence Minister Stephen Smith released the executive summary of Volume One of the DLA Piper report into allegations of sexual and other abuse in Defence. On 10 July the Minister released the whole of Volume One of the DLA Piper report.
That report included 775 allegations of abuse in the ADF. The report said the “overwhelming majority” of these allegations were “plausible”.
The allegations of abuse include more than 20 allegations of rape and numerous allegations of sexual assault and molestation.
At that time, Lawyers Weekly spoke to a victim of abuse on the condition of anonymity. He said that as a member of the Royal Australian Navy in the 1970s he was abused on three separate occasions while serving on three different vessels, including being sodomised by a broom handle.
“My youth was stolen,” he said.
Briggs has spoken to hundreds of current and former members of the ADF, and he said that victims of abuse are upset at the lack of action from the Government.
“They are angry, pissed off and frustrated,” said Briggs. ‘There are a lot of people [the alleged abuse] still affects severely. They are saying: ‘what is happening’?”
In releasing the initial report on 10 July, Defence Minister Smith said that he expects the Government will announce a response to the review “in the near future”.
Left in the dark
Briggs said that he has contacted the Department of Defence and Department of Veterans’ Affairs on numerous occasions since the release of both the executive summary and the initial report in an attempt to ascertain if any official Government response would be forthcoming, but he has received no response.
“There is definitely a touch of the Yes Prime Minister’s about this,” said Briggs. “We have one department not communicating with another department.
“I don’t think even think Warren Snowdon and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs [Snowdon is the portfolio’s minister] knows what Smith and the Department of Defence are doing with respect to the inquiries.
“They haven’t come out and told us anything.”
The DLA Piper report has previously canvassed a Royal Commission, the facilitation of victims meeting perpetrators and a personal apology from the Prime Minister to give “recognition for persons that have made plausible allegations of past abuse”.
Briggs supports a formal apology from the Prime Minister and also believes there is no reason why an ex-gratia compensation scheme can’t be set up to compensate victims.
“It will save so much time and energy if they set up an ex-gratia scheme, instead of time and money being spent on Royal Commissions and lawyers.”
The Senate inquiry will also look at the best method to compensate victims.