Army takes charge in rectifying past
While a litany of compensation claims paint a dark picture of life at the Defence Force, it has been praised for its moves to respond.
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) says it is dealing with a backlog of hundreds of compensation claims, which include allegations of gang rape, sexual harassment and bullying.
There are 105 compensation claims for physical and sexual abuse in the total 300 claims facing the ADF, relating to incidents from as long ago as 1963.
But Adair Donaldson, a partner at a law firm that represents many claimants against the ADF, says it has become much easier to resolve them quickly.
“They're looking for four things and the first thing is the acknowledgement, the apology, the assurance that steps are in place that it won't happen again,” Mr Donaldson told reporters this week.
“And finally they're looking for some form of assistance there, and whether it be in relation to counselling assistance and ongoing counselling assistance, or whether it be in relation to compensation.
“But in my experience the assistance comes as a distant fourth to the other three issues.”
The lawyer said expected the total bill to the Commonwealth would run up to many millions of dollars.
“They may be claims [of] more than $1 million,” Mr Donaldson said.
“In the more minor situations, they may be claims in the vicinity of $10,000 to $20,000.
“I think that what needs to be acknowledged is that the manner in which the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Government is handling these matters is to be commended, because what they're doing is they're trying to handle them as efficiently and collaboratively as possible to try to bring resolution.”
ADF has issued a statement saying it is committed to proper cultural reform, as seen in its recent Pathway to Change strategy.
Mr Donaldson said things were finally changing after reviews by the Defence Abuse Taskforce, and the former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick.
“The Australian Defence Force is the highest profile public service, employs around about 80,000 individuals, and you would expect that with the side of an organisation like that that there are going to be claims that exist at any stage,” he said.
"I think what the ADF has to be complimented on is the manner in which they are approaching the abuse claims, and historical abuse involving child abuse.
"We're dealing with 15- and 16-year-olds that suffered abuse when they were employed by the Australian Defence Force.
"It's like a breath of fresh air."
Mr Donaldson said other major institutions should take lessons from the ADF.
“That's not to say they are rolling over and simply accepting the claims,” he said.
“They're making sure that a vigorous approach is taken with respect to ensuring the validity of the claims, but they're doing those in a sensitive way and collaborating with the individuals to give them, to give them the justice that they deserve.”