An inquiry has heard close to 700 complaints of unacceptable behaviour have been lodged with Royal Australian Navy Fleet Command in the past two years. 

A recent hearing at the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide in Perth was told that within the Royal Australian Navy Fleet Command, nearly 700 complaints regarding unacceptable behaviour, ranging from sexual misconduct to bullying and harassment, have been reported since 2021.

More than a quarter of the reports made in one of those years were substantiated. 

According to an internal report from the Fleet Command Board, 342 complaints were lodged in the 12 months leading up to February 2023, with an additional 348 complaints in the preceding year.

Fleet Command, which oversees the command, operations, training, and force generation of all ships, submarines, aircraft squadrons, diving teams, and shore establishments of the Royal Australian Navy, has been plagued by these issues.

During the inquiry, it was disclosed that 27 per cent of the incidents involving unacceptable behaviour in the past year were substantiated. 

Even senior ranks, including captains and commodores, were involved in the substantiated complaints. 

More than two dozen complaints against lieutenants and lieutenant commanders were also found to be valid.

“Unacceptable behaviour - even if it's a complaint that's not upheld - is unacceptable,” said Commodore Heath Jay Robertson, the Shore Force Commander.

“It is absolutely to the disadvantage of our ability to fight it and when it's seen…it's important, because perception is reality for that person making the complaint and there was probably still not appropriate behaviour that's occurred. So we need to get on top of it.”

In addition to the revelations surrounding unacceptable behavior, the hearing also touched upon the sensitive topic of suicide within the command. 

Captain Gary Lawton, the former commanding officer of naval base HMAS Stirling, revealed that there were approximately 11 suicide-related incidents each year within his command.

While specific data regarding suicide-related incidents at HMAS Stirling was not released to the public, it was disclosed during the hearing that there were no deaths by suicide within the command of approximately 2,000 people during Captain Lawton's two-and-a-half-year tenure, which recently came to an end. 

However, Captain Lawton admitted that there was no formal process in place for collating data on suicide-related incidents within his command, nor were efforts made to analyse these incidents for trends or themes.

During the subsequent hearing, Justine Greig, Deputy Secretary of the Defence People Group, acknowledged the need for increased focus on suicide prevention within the Defense establishment. 

The commission also examined a report analysing individual reports of 57 deaths by suicide among Australian Defence Force (ADF) members, which were notified to the ADF between 2016 and 2022.

The analysis revealed that on average, it took 575 days for the inspector-general of the ADF to release a report into a death after the member had passed away. 

Notably, the report did not find any significant trends related to unacceptable behaviour, sexual misconduct, or the military justice system. 

Mental health problems and relationship breakdowns were cited as the most prevalent likely factors contributing to a member's suicide.

Of the 17 reports that indicated a defence nexus to the deaths, only five contained actionable recommendations. The Perth hearings of the royal commission are set to conclude this week.