SYDNEY: Australia should hold a public inquiry into abuse at a prestigious military academy, a long-awaited report into disturbing mistreatment within the defence force found Wednesday.
Taskforce chair Len Roberts-Smith said two reports tabled in parliament on Wednesday contained “shocking accounts of abuse suffered by people who have served in defense”.
The report, which looked at abuse at the Australian Defense Force Academy (ADFA) in Canberra, recommended a major formal public inquiry examining allegations from its inception to the present day.
“… the only way of ensuring confidence that the allegations of very serious abuse at ADFA can be thoroughly and completely investigated — and appropriately dealt with — is by way of a royal commission,” Roberts-Smith said.
Roberts-Smith said complaints about ADFA dated from its inception in 1986 when it was opened to provide undergraduate education and military training to midshipmen and officer cadets.
The taskforce reported a disturbingly high incidence of sexual abuse of female cadets at the academy during the 1990s while the defense force, in a number of cases, did not take appropriate disciplinary, administrative or management action, the report said.
It added that it was aware of at least 13 individuals allegedly responsible for sexual abuse at ADFA in the 1990s who were still serving.
A national inquiry into abuse in the Australian military was set up by the government in 2012 after the service was rocked by claims of rape and sexual assault, a culture of cover-ups and a failure to punish perpetrators.
Roberts-Smith said complaints about abuse in the defence force more generally stretched across all services and were from every decade since the 1940s until the taskforce’s cut-off date in 2011.
The taskforce received more than 2,400 complaints from former and current military personnel which it said presented a “disturbing picture of the nature and extent of abuse”.
Complaints included those of physical violence as well as sexual abuse by more senior members of the military in positions of trust and power.
Relentless and degrading harassment and bullying which targeted people based on their gender, age, race, sexuality and physical abilities as well as the serious mismanagement of complaints of abuse were also raised.
“Many complainants have never spoken of the abuse they suffered before, even to their close friends and family,” Roberts-Smith said as he commended the courage of those who came forward.