Lieutenant General David Morrison announced last week (13 June) that three members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) had been suspended from duty, and action had commenced to consider the suspension of five others, pending the outcome of civilian police and military investigations.
The men, who include a lieutenant colonel and other senior officers, are accused of producing and distributing “highly inappropriate material demeaning women” across the Defence computer systems and the public internet.
Slater & Gordon military compensation group leader Brian Briggs (pictured) praised the move by Morrison as a positive step in addressing the “systemic culture of abuse, vilification, bastardisation, bullying and harassment” in the military. Briggs added that further suspensions are likely as the investigation continues.
“Eventually, if the higher in command have zero tolerance and start turfing a few [offenders] out, dishonourably discharging them, then it might get through to the knuckleheads that the behaviour is not going to be tolerated,” he told Lawyers Weekly.
Briggs said his sources within the Department of Defence claimed Morrison was not pressured to go public out of fear of exposure by others.
“It wasn’t a cover-up by any means; what David Morrison has done shows true leadership at the very top ... he came out of his own volition once he had all the information he needed.”
In a public statement, Morrison described the images and the text of the emails as “explicit, derogatory, demeaning and repugnant”.
Morrison admitted that he has spoken to four women so far regarding the allegations. But, according to Briggs, a class action is unlikely. He explained that compensation depends on the nature of injuries suffered, if any, which will be unique to each victim.
“This is not a situation where we’ll be leaping into any class action because every one of them will be affected differently,” he said.
The victims are also unable to seek the assistance of the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce. The production and distribution of the material in question dates back to 2010, and the cut-off date for the Taskforce accepting complaints of abuse alleged to have occurred prior to 11 April 2011 has now passed.
Even so, Briggs claimed the ADF will fast track any investigation and seek prompt redress for victims who have suffered injuries. “My sources say [the ADF] is going to want to deal with this quickly,” he revealed. “They’re going to want to send a clear message, as soon as possible, that they’re not going to tolerate this anymore.”
The sources also claimed that the ADF’s mandatory Equity and Diversity Awareness Training is not getting through to some personnel, said Briggs. The concern, he added, is not that the military has a higher number of perpetrators than the rest of society, but that victims can be forced to continue serving with their abuser while civilians “can get away from it”.
In July 2012, the first volume of the DLA Piper report into allegations of sexual and other abuse in Defence was released by Stephen Smith, the Federal Minister for Defence. The report included 775 allegations of abuse in the ADF and stated that the “overwhelming majority” of these allegations were “plausible”.