As more dire details ooze out, it becomes clearer that something has been festering in Defence for decades.
The Government released the DLA Piper report into allegations of sexual and other abuse in Defence yesterday, and it was grim reading. Our military institutions over the past six decades have provided an excellent petri dish for abuse, cultivating many factors that increase risk.
Many of the findings were released earlier this year. Of 775 allegations most were plausible and “probably substantially accurate” and there were probably many more that weren’t reported to the review.
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The gallant defenders of Fort Fumble, AKA Defence HQ in Canberra, have heard the bugle call and trained their guns on a new enemy. Stephen Smith, they cry, is unfit for office and must resign as Defence Minister.
Smith has refused to apologise for accusing the Commandant of the Australian Defence Force Academy, Commodore Bruce Kafer, of an error of judgement during the so-called “Skype Affair”.
Andrew Kirkham QC, a barrister hired to inquire into the matter, disagreed with Smith’s characterization of the Commandant’s actions, so of course the minister is deemed to be wrong.
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Rising proudly from the rich green lawns between the main Defence Department buildings at one end of Canberra’s Kings Avenue stands an enormous concrete eagle atop a giant octagonal spire.
A gift from the Americans, the militarily erect structure brooks no ambiguity and invites no compromise. Its clean straight lines proclaim strength and purpose.
Its positioning is important too, across the basin of Lake Burley Griffin where it forms a counterpoint to the four-strutted flag of democracy over Capital Hill.
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It’s a pretty special set of circumstances when a tax-payer-funded body releases a series of reviews exposing decades of cultural problems, including 775 allegations of sexual assault, and the Minister is the one facing questions over why he won’t apologise for standing down one of the people in charge.
Last night on the ABC’s 7.30 Defence Minister Stephen Smith was asked in numerous ways why he wouldn’t apologise to Australian Defence Academy Commandant Bruce Kafer, who has been reinstated this week, 11 months after being stood down over the so called “Skype” scandal.
When the scandal broke, involving an 18-year-old woman cadet being filmed without her consent having sex, and the vision broadcast via the internet to some of her classmates, Smith went in pretty hard and fast.
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Claims of abuse with the ADF have emerged again. Community concern with a Defence culture has again been reignited; the continuing fallout of the ADFA Skype Affair and other occurrences like the HMAS Success and Cerberus sex incidents.
The more things change the more they stay the same. There comes a point when we must call a spade a spade and make a clean sweep. These may be clichés but I am in keeping with tradition.
In 1983 Major General Coates, the commandant of RMC, explained to the Melbourne Sun that bastardisation at the college was not of a ‘general or systemic’ nature. Major General Coates assured us, civil society, that he was ‘certain’ of this.
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Safe sex used to be simple. Step A: take one vending machine prophylactic. Step B: use it.
These days, everything is much more complicated. These days, protecting yourself from “going viral” may also involve checking for hidden webcams and erasing your ex-partner’s flash drive.
Most of Australia is now familiar with the case of the 18-year-old Australian Defence Force Academy cadet whose peers called her a “skank” and a “dirty whore” after a male cadet secretly recorded the two of them having sex.
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Forget Iraq, Afghanistan and any other theatres of battle Australia has been involved in recent years. The Australian Defence Force is in the middle of a battle of its own - and the enemy is within.
The latest flashpoint started just over a week ago after revelations that a young female cadet at the Australian Defence Force Academy was allegedly secretly filmed having consensual sex with a male counterpart, and that he had allegedly broadcast the tryst to other soldiers via webcam.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith’s forthright and outspoken condemnation of the way the incident was handled and military culture in general blew the lid off a simmering internal dispute over incidences of bastardisation, bullying and the gender divide, and opened the wider question of whether women should be allowed to fight on the front-line.
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Once upon a time when you engaged in sex, whether within a relationship or casually, the most you had to worry about was who had a condom nearby. Or about remembering to take the pill every day. Now we have to worry about being filmed. So other people can watch us.
Having sex with someone involves a certain amount of trust. It can be argued that you can’t expect trust (or fidelity) with a one night stand or casual sex. But you can and should expect respect. Whatever happened to that?
I think it left the building around the same time iPhones turned up and started to run the show.
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In 2006 I spent a couple of days at the Australian Defence Force Academy.
I inspected its organised dormitories (where male and female cadets shared the same buildings - but separate rooms). It’s like an upmarket youth hostel with communal kitchen and bathrooms at the end of each hallway. While there, I fired weapons, ate in the mess and spoke to staff including officers, professors and historians. It’s an impressive place.
ADFA at first glance looks like a tidy university, but walk into the bookshop and titles like Knife Fighting Techniques by inmates at Folsom Prison remind you this is a different world. This is a frat house with guns.
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