Echoes of Dreyfus: An inquiry is now needed

From the beginning, the Australia Defence Association has unreservedly condemned the despicable abuse of a female cadet at ADFA when her consensual sex with a male cadet was allegedly filmed and relayed to others without her apparent consent. But two wrongs do not make a right . There are two sides to every story. Now there are two victims: the female cadet wrongly filmed and the commandant being wrongly scapegoated.

The ADA does not consider this one incident is indicative of a systemic problem or a diseased culture at the Australian Defence Force Academy (although the academy did have some serious problems in the 1990s). [A subsequent detailed report from the Australian Human Rights Commission concluded the same].
We have also therefore condemned the largely inaccurate and sensationalist media coverage that has confused many Australians into believing that the commandant and staff at ADFA have somehow been derelict in their professional duties, or that they have somehow behaved dishonourably in grappling with this complex incident, or that there is a widespread or institutionalised problem involved.
Unfortunately the level of public confusion about this matter has continued to be whipped up by false, exaggerated, anonymous, sensationalist or mistaken allegations being irresponsibly published and broadcast by the media as fact.

This has been worsened by uninformed comments by public figures who could not possibly know, and in many cases understand, all the circumstances and the law involved.
Even when the Minister for Defence has finally confirmed various allegations as incorrect, the media has continued to make them. This has deepened public confusion and anger about the original incident.
It also seems that the defence force has been gagged by its Minister in explaining what actually happened. It certainly seems the case that ADFA in particular, and the defence force in general, have been prevented from doing so in a timely enough fashion to stop public concern becoming confusion and increasingly much worse. 
This media sensationalism and widespread public confusion has led to mistaken and unfair calls for the Commandant of ADFA to be sacked, and to mistaken and false allegations about him, his actions and ADFA as a whole. Such public hysteria, if not lanced by facts and calm refutations, risks ending up as the type of injustice that put Alfred Dreyfus before previous kangaroo courts.
The Minister for Defence's horror at the original incident is justified, but some of his statements and interventions have unfortunately exacerbated, not helped fix, the situation.
Particularly his unprecedented and unfair public scape-goating of the Commandant of ADFA for doing his duty as the commander of all those involved, the Minister's apparent inattention to the provisions of the Defence Act relating to how our defence force is properly commanded under his civil control, and his unwarranted (and potentially unlawful) interference in separate, very low-level, very minor, disciplinary proceedings contrary to precedent, the letter and spirit of the Act, and the principles of both the separation of powers and of administrative law.
An independent inquiry is now required to establish and publicise the facts of the matter. This will restore public confidence in the way our defence force handles such incidents, and allow those falsely accused and defamed the opportunity of defending themselves and their honour.

[The subsequent independent inquiry by a respected QC vindicated the actions of the ADFA Commandant. Minister Smith sat on the report for nearly 12 months before releasing it].
The terms of reference of such an inquiry should include the actions of the Minister and his staff. [Unfortunately the terms of reference did not allow this].
The ADA also considers that the Minister for Defence should publicly apologise to Commodore Bruce Kafer in the interim. [Unfortunately this apology never occurred].

Finally, this matter has nothing to do with politics or the defence force somehow resisting ministerial control or reform of the Department of Defence. Indeed the Minister's actions appear to have undermined the principle of civil control of the military and the necessary apoliticism of our defence force in both fact and perception.


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