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Sex scandals

Nick Bryant | 10:31 UK time, Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Up until a week and a half ago, the Labor state government in New South Wales was Australia's prime source of sex scandals. In its enforced absence, the Australian Defence Force has stepped into the breach.

Members of Australia's special forces conduct an exercise in Melbourne

The latest tawdry tale comes from the Australian Defence Academy in Canberra, where an 18-year-old cadet claimed she was secretly filmed having consensual sex with a fellow first year cadet, who used Skype to webcast it to six other cadets watching in another room.

The woman told Channel Ten that her world came crashing down after being approached by investigators who had been tipped off by another cadet, and that she was physically sick during an interview in which she was told that still photographs had also been distributed at the academy.

To add to her humiliation, this morning the door of her room at the academy was daubed in shaving cream.

She also had to attend a disciplinary hearing on a different matter - the teenager pleaded guilty to being absent without leave and drinking - the scheduling of which was described by the visibly angry Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, as "insensitive or completely stupid". There are even suggestions that she was threatened with disciplinary action for speaking out.

Coming little more than a fortnight ahead of Australia's most solemn day, the scandal reeks of Animal House rather than ANZAC.

In recent months, two very different faces of the Australian Defence Force have been on public display, and bona fide heroes have shared the headlines with bone-headed bozos.

Back in January, Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith received the Victoria Cross for Australia, the highest award in the Australian honours system.

A giant of a man and a member of the Special Air Service Regiment, he had single-handedly charged and destroyed two separate Taliban gun positions in Afghanistan.

A few weeks afterwards came the release of a scathing report on the activities of a group of sailors aboard the inaptly named naval supply ship, HMAS Success. It exposed a culture of predatory sexual behaviour and fiercely tribal behaviour in which women sailors were treated with disdain, public sex acts performed while on shore leave and the misuse of alcohol. Sailors believed they could act with impunity because discipline had broken down.

Only two weeks ago, another investigation was launched after Australian soldiers serving in Afghanistan allegedly posted racists messages about Afghans on the social networking site, Facebook.

Recently, the Australian Defence Force even raised the spectre of compulsory breath-testing to cut down on the drunkenness of its sailors.

The ANZAC revivalism of the past decade has not only engendered much greater public respect for the veterans of past wars but much greater public recognition for the defence force personnel who continue to serve their country in trouble-spots like Afghanistan.

But even the former Liberal defence minister, Peter Reith, took to the airwaves today claiming there was a misogynistic culture within the Australian military, and an institutional reluctance to confront the problem.

The front page of the Australian Defence Force's website proudly displays a photograph of cadets at the Defence Academy hurling their caps and hats into the air on graduation day. It's real An Officer and a Gentleman stuff, but these latest allegations suggest that the behaviour of certain cadets at the academy has been anything but.


  • Comment number 1.

    Much has been written about the culture of bullying in the ADF, but it seem nothing has been done to effectively address it. These are supposed to be the future leaders of the armed forces. If they act in this barbaric and cowardly way against each other, how can they be trusted to take responsibility for younger soldiers who be reliant on them for leadership and care? My father was a reluctant national serviceman who said his training was harsh and the staff were bullies. But he said he survived it because of the comradeship that developed in his unit. Looks like the 21st century diggers need to re discover what mateship really is about.

  • Comment number 2.

    As a serving member of the ADF, I undergo annual training in equity and diversity, fraud and ethics and Crew Resource Management. All of the serving members undergo this training and therefore these people are fully aware that what they did is wrong. The zero tolerance policy currently in force is led by the Chief of the Defence Force who is determined to stop incidents like this happening.

    If these people are proved to have committed offences, they will be prosecuted and punished in a military court of law, if a civilian court of law is more appropriate they will be handed over to the Federal Police for prosecution.

    In my place of work, we are fully aware of the meaning of mateship and do not consider people who would commit such acts as mates and if they are proved guilty, will look forward to the day that they are discharged from the ADF.

  • Comment number 3.

    Couldn't help but be reminded of the Paul Hogan Show from when I was a teenager!

  • Comment number 4.

    There are more reasons for the Defence Minister's anger than misogyny and bullying,the Defence Department also has an amazing capacity, to waste enormous amounts of taxpayers' money,with impunity.
    Previous Defence Ministers have tried, and failed, to change the organization's culture. Let's hope that some progress is made this time.

  • Comment number 5.

    @Treaclebeak Defence seems able to squander our taxes on their toys confident in the knowledge its budget is quarantined from any distresses that might be suffered elsewhere, like shortcomings in mental health coverage.

    Neil James of the Australian Defence Association is rushing to the defence of management hiding behind the untouchable “chain of command”, probably the reason why this type of behaviour is so hard to clear up. He also says it is no worse then what happens in the community, but aren’t ADFA cadets subject to a selection process and subject to a higher level of scrutiny and discipline than the community generally?

    I am glad to see you mentioning the proximity to ANZAC Day as I am sure the mythical ANZAC Day hero trotted out at this time by Defence PR would find the situation and the executive’s insistence on proceeding with the minor charges as abhorrent as the minister does. After all the Minister is ultimately responsible to the electorate but Neil James thinks the purity of the chain of command more important.

    Initially the Federal Police thought no crime had been committed under ACT law but they may not have examined the Listening Devices Act 1992, being too consumed by the concept of the video of the incident, while neglecting the audio.


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