Defence releases a plan to restore trust and confidence in military

4 Aug 2021

Defence has set out a four-year plan to reform the culture of the ADF, weed out wrongdoers and strip medals from unworthy recipients, in its long-awaited response to the Brereton war crimes inquiry.

The report, uploaded quietly to the Afghanistan inquiry website on July 30, sets out a plan to ­restore trust and confidence in the nation’s military forces, restore the ADF’s reputation, and improve its ability to spot warning signs of ­improper conduct.

Released eight months after the Brereton report alleged 25 Australian soldiers were involved in the murder of 39 Afghans, it sets out a series of steps to address past failings and prevent future misconduct.

It commits Defence to making “initial determinations” by the end of 2021 on disciplinary and administrative action against individuals, including reviews on whether to strip their honours and awards. A whole-of-government approach on compensating the families of victims in Afghanistan is due to be finalised by the end of the year.

The response pledges a “transformational reform” package to be delivered through to the end of 2025, focusing on improvements to ADF culture, chain-of-command accountability, recruitment and performance management.

It says Defence will become “more data informed” to help “identify indicators and warnings” of bad behaviour. Defence will also work more closely with coalition partners and international organisations, which it concedes were not listened to.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton says he wants to send a “very clear message” of support to the ADF, by overruling the decision to strip troops of their medals in the aftermath of the Brereton Report. Three thousand special forces soldiers were set to be have their citations removed More

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In the forward to the document, Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell and Defence secretary Greg Moriarty say they ­accept responsibility for the failings in systems, culture and ­accountability exposed by the Brereton report, and will work to restore the ADF’s reputation by undertaking “deep and enduring reform”.

General Campbell says the plan will “restore the moral authority, trust, confidence and respect essential to achieving the Defence mission”.

He says senior officers have been appointed to oversee each ­element of the reform package, and will be held “personally ­accountable” for their delivery.

To support the response, the CDF has ordered two new studies be undertaken – a “consideration of organisational learnings” from the Afghanistan experience, and an independent report on tactical-level individual and command performance and behaviour.

An independent study of Australian special forces and their ­operations in Afghanistan by Professor Tom Frame, already ­revealed by The Australian, will also form part of the response.

General Campbell said all members of the ADF would have to absorb “the learnings and changes in command, leadership and behaviour arising from the ­Afghanistan inquiry”. “The people of the Australian Defence Force must be in no doubt as to what is expected – the highest professional, ethical, legal and command accountability standards,” he said.

The four-year Brereton inquiry found credible information of 23 incidents of unlawful killing – some involving more than wrongful death – and a further two incidents of alleged “cruel treatment” of non-combatants. It recommended 19 special forces soldiers face criminal investigation.

Military lawyer and former army officer Glenn Kolomeitz, who is completing doctoral ­research into command responsibility for war crimes, said the ­Defence response was “a remarkable piece of spin” demonstrating its inability to come to terms with its own organisational failures.

“This document would have we ignorant civilians believe that ­accountability only applies to more junior commanders and the senior leadership is somehow ­remote from Defence,” he said.

He said it was also an admission that Defence had not yet implemented, in its own words, “appropriate controls to prevent and promptly detect and respond to departures from required ­standards”.

But military sociologist Samantha Crompvoets, who helped uncover allegations of war crimes while completing a study on special forces culture, said the plan set out a clear reform path “that must be adopted if we want an ADF that is fully battle-ready”.

“This isn’t some woke agenda. This is about ensuring the ADF is as strong and resilient as possible,” she said.

The reform plan follows ­Defence Minister Peter Dutton’s move in April to overturn General Campbell’s decision to strip meritorious unit citations from more than 3000 special forces soldiers as a “collective punishment” for the alleged crimes uncovered by the Brereton inquiry. Mr Dutton said Afghanistan veterans should wear the citations with pride, saying “99 per cent of our ADF personnel serve, and have served, our country with distinction”.

BEN PACKHAM The Australian Newspaper – Foreign Affairs and Defence Correspondent – August 3 2021

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