Taskforce to examine hundreds of allegations of abuse in ADF

A FORMER Western Australia Supreme Court judge is heading up a review into allegations of abuse in the Australian Defence Force.

Len Roberts-Smith QC will chair the taskforce which has been charged with examining hundreds of allegations of abuse stemming from the DLA Piper Review, which reported in April.

The DLA Piper Review heard allegations of abuse from more than 1000 people dating back to the 1950s, with 775 of those found to be "plausible allegations of abuse".

It came as Mr Smith issued an historic apology in the Parliament to victims of abuse in the ADF.

The apology and the establishment of the taskforce were among the recommendations arising from the DLA Piper Review.

"Today as Minister for Defence I deliver an apology on behalf of the government to the men and women of the Australian Defence Force who have suffered sexual or other forms of abuse in the course of service to the Australian Defence Force and their country," Mr Smith said.

"The men and women of the Australian Defence Force, past, currently serving and future, are entitled to be and deserve to be treated with the highest levels of admiration and respect. Not just by the Australian people, but also by fellow members of the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Defence Organisation generally.

"But, terribly and sadly, the experience of some members of the Australian Defence Force over the years has not always reflected these high standards. Not all members of the Australian Defence Force have been treated with the necessary respect required to meet both common decency and these high standards."

ADF Chief General David Hurley also issued a statement apologising to victims of abuse and outlining the steps being taken to address these issues.

"The ADF has begun addressing these causes through its cultural reform program. But I, as the head of the ADF, recognise the suffering that some have experienced. On behalf of the ADF, I say that I am sorry to those who have suffered sexual, physical or mental abuse while serving in the ADF," Gen Hurley said.

Mr Smith's apology also had the "strongest and unqualified" support of the Coalition.

The taskforce, also comprising Robert Cornall, Susan Halliday and Rudi Lammers, will have 12 months to conduct its work, but will get an extension if required.

Mr Smith said additional taskforce members would be made available if the need arose.

The taskforce will focus on six areas: engaging in restorative justice; determining compensation for victims, up to $50,000; referring victims to counselling or other health services; referring matters to police, referring matters to the military justice system, and; allegations of rape at the Australian Defence Force Academy and child sexual abuse at HMAS Leeuwin in the 1960S.

On the rape allegations, Mr Smith said the taskforce would be granted the powers of a royal commission if required.

The taskforce will administer the compensation scheme.

Mr Robert-Smith, the father of Victoria Cross winner Ben, said the role of the taskforce would be to "deal with individual cases".

He said the taskforce would ensure the identity of victims was not compromised.

The costs of establishing the taskforce and its operations will be met from the existing defence budget allocation.

Mr Smith said it was only right for defence to wear the costs.

"If any organisation sees on its watch inappropriate or bad conduct, in the end there is a price to pay," he said.

Ms Smith also revealed the defence minister deliver an annual report to the Parliament on cultural reforms in the ADF.

A number of actions were taken in the wake of the ADFA Skype sex scandal in April last year, including a series of cultural reviews into the ADF, a study of the way women are treated in the armed forces and the DLA Piper Review.

Mr Smith gave an update on these matters on Monday.



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