Defence Minister Announces Review Of ADF Treatment Of Women

The Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, has announced that Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick will lead “an examination of the treatment of women at the Australian Defence Force Academy.”

The review will include an examination of “unhealthy drinking cultures”, the impact of social media, and a “cultural stocktake” that will look at the ADF’s codes of conduct and behaviours.

The review was announced by Smith at a press conference this afternoon. He was accompanied by the Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Houston.

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This is the text of a media release from the Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner to lead review of the Australian Defence Force Academy and the Australian Defence Force

Today I announce that Ms Elizabeth Broderick, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, on behalf of the Australian Human Rights Commission, will lead an examination of the treatment of women at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA).

She will also review the progress of existing strategies identified by the Chief of the Defence Force’s Women’s Advisory Group, including pathways for women into Australian Defence Force (ADF) leadership. This will be an important step in commencing a far reaching cultural appraisal and ongoing change program for Defence.

The Australian Human Rights Commission, at the request of the Minister for Defence, has agreed for the Sex Discrimination Commissioner to lead a small team of men and women with relevant expertise in this area to do this work.

Ms Broderick’s work 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.

These comprehensive reviews are being initiated by the Chief of the Defence Force (CDF) and the Secretary of the Department of Defence.

These reviews will audit and assess the good work that has been done to date in these areas, see what improvements can be made and what lessons can be learnt from other organisations.

There will be a separate review to improve pathways for women in the Australian Public Service (APS) in the Defence organisation.

As well, the CDF will bring forward for implementation by the Government the opening up of all roles in the ADF to women, including combat roles, on the basis that determination for suitability for roles in the ADF is to be based on physical and intellectual ability, not gender.

Additionally, a cultural stocktake and review of alcohol and binge drinking, the use of social media and personal conduct at ADFA and in the ADF more generally has been commissioned.

  • Drinking and inappropriate behaviour often go hand in hand and we continue to need to understand better how to manage unhealthy drinking cultures.
  • The impact of social media – online technologies enabling people to communicate and share information and resources via the internet – has created new challenges for the ADF and the Defence organisation. Things which are conducted privately may be appropriate, but they are not appropriate if they are conducted in public, including through the use of social media. We must ensure that the use of new technologies is consistent with ADF and Defence values.
  • Each member of the ADF, from the most junior cadet to the most senior officer, is a representative of Defence and our nation. The Defence leadership and the Australian community have a right to expect the highest standard of behaviour and professionalism. The cultural stocktake will assess the ADF’s codes of conduct and behaviours against them, including for personnel serving overseas, to ensure they reflect the Defence leadership’s expectations of the high standards that those serving their country should demonstrate at all times.

Events over the last week have also raised public concerns over the ADF and Defence’s management of complaints and dealing with allegations of misconduct and abuse.

It is essential that the ADF and Defence promotes and enforces the highest standards of behaviour and creates an environment where complaints can be aired and appropriately addressed.

  • I have therefore asked the independent Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force to conduct a review of the management of incidents and complaints in Defence with specific reference to the treatment of victims, transparency of processes and the jurisdictional interface between military and civil law, which may lead to untimely decision making processes.
  • This will be considered together with the second report from Roger Gyles QC in relation to the HMAS Success Commission of Inquiry, which will deal with Defence Administrative Inquiry processes.

This past week has also seen a large number of public or private allegations of sexual or other forms of abuse drawn to the attention of my office, as well as to the attention of the Department of Defence and the media.

These allegations are of concern and must be dealt with methodically and at arms length from Defence. The Secretary of the Department of Defence will engage an independent legal firm to review each allegation raised to determine the most appropriate way for these complaints to be addressed and whether further independent action is required to deal with any such matters.

Finally, Defence and ADFA will engage with a panel of selected University Vice Chancellors and residential College heads to assess increased cooperation between ADFA and Australian Universities on the challenges facing higher educational institutions and residences in relation to student behaviour and cultures.

Further details of the reviews and the review teams will be provided in the near future.
Subject to the usual consideration of personal, privacy and legal issues, it is proposed to make these reviews public.

As well, today the Vice Chief of the Defence Force will appoint an inquiry under the Defence (Inquiry) Regulations 1985 into the management of the ‘Skype’ incident. Mr Andrew Kirkham QC will lead the ‘Inquiry into the Management of the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) Skype Incident of March 2011’ and its aftermath.

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