Informed debate about the incidence of bullying, harassment and sexual abuse in our defence force is hampered by many Australians seeming to be in denial about three key aspects:
- Our defence force is comprised of fellow Australians. It is not somehow a moral praetorian guard that has been, is, can or should be totally divorced from our society and its problems.
- Current statistical evidence continues to indicate that ADF rates of sexual crime are markedly lower than virtually all other institutions in our society involving young Australians.
- Over the last two decades and probably longer, not one independent judicial inquiry into specific incidents of misbehaviour by ADF personnel has concluded that it resulted from systemic or deep-seated cultural failings across the force.
There are therefore seven reasons why a Royal Commission or judicial inquiry is now the best way to resolve the 775 widely varying and untested allegations made to the commercial law firm, DLA Piper.
First, because of all the inaccurate and sensationalist media coverage, many Australians incorrectly believe that all the allegations involve serious sexual abuse, and that this was or remains pervasive in our defence force.
Second, contrary to the evidence, many also wrongly assume that the ADF is somehow riddled with sexual and other abusers, or that a cover-up has allowed perpetrators to go unpunished.
Third, the ensuing risk of a serious loss of public confidence in our defence force — and its ability to undertake its essential national role — must be reversed by establishing the truth.
Fourth, we also need to reverse serious losses of confidence by former and serving ADF members in the integrity of media coverage of defence matters and, indeed, in the ability of Australians generally to discuss or debate them objectively, fairly and calmly.
Fifth, a Royal Commission or judicial inquiry would prevent further politicisation of the issue by the Minister for Defence in both fact and perception.
Sixth, testing every allegation is essential to bring true justice to victims and target apologies and all the compensation to those who need it. The “stolen generation” example in Aboriginal affairs provides a telling example of perpetual controversy when claims are frequently made but never tested.
Seventh, the predictable DLA Piper recommendation to further the issue instead through another private effort like theirs would also solve nothing, because no evidence is ever tested and commercial and conceptual conflicts of interest abound.