Bullying: ADF under fire

The Chief of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has called for an inquiry into the training culture at ADF schools and establishments, after allegations that it may contribute to inappropriate and possibly destructive behaviour in the military

THE CHIEF of the Australian Defence force (ADF) has called for an inquiry into the training culture at ADF schools and establishments, after allegations that it may contribute to inappropriate and possibly destructive behaviour in the military.

“Military discipline does not in any way imply bullying or harassment,” said Andrew Podger, former public service commissioner and head of the inquiry.

“But military discipline is not for everyone and ADF training necessarily involves shifting recruits some distance away from the highly individualistic culture they are used to in their civilian environment. Building loyalty and teamwork in a military environment does present extra risks,” he said.

While the ADF may not condone abusive behaviour, Podger said the culture of military training may present some challenges that need improving. Furthermore, he said, there are complex issues around finding a sufficient balance between human rights and military discipline in the ADF.

In managing these issues, it was important for the ADF to embed values such as integrity, teamwork and loyalty, Podger said.

“Such values should preclude bullying or harassment, but loyalty and teamwork in the ADF does involve greater limits on the rights of individuals than would be acceptable in the civilian community,” he said.

“Service men and women also come under closer scrutiny by the public, rightly, because of the role they play on our behalf, and the responsibility which comes with bearing arms and being required to use lethal force in certain circumstances.”

A Defence spokesperson said the audit of the ADF schools and training establishments was part of the Government’s response to the damaging Senate inquiry that identified ADF culture as a possible cause of glitches in the military justice system.

The spokesperson said the inquiry was not the result of bullying and harassment allegations: “The number of incidents reported represents less than one per cent of the Defence workforce, but there remains improvement and Defence will continue its program to eliminate unacceptable behaviour from the workplace.”

Furthermore, bad publicity in the face of cases of abuse and harassment is not the cause of difficulties in recruiting and retaining personnel. “Defence is meeting its general enlistment targets for the regular component of the ADF, but the recruiting and retention shortfalls are mainly in some professional, technical and trade careers and appears to relate to demographic and market forces rather than as a result of any perceived shortcomings in military justice.”

Innovative programs to attract people to the ADF are still underway, which include careers promotion, working with careers advisors in schools, universities and other educational institutions and engagement with community-based ADF Cadets and youth forums.

Podger said a layered approach will be adopted, to gather both subjective and objective information, as measuring culture is no easy task because it comprises both behaviours and feelings. Visits and focus group discussions with both instructors and trainees, as well as a detailed look at service policies and procedures will be included in the report.

The audit team will also comprise Catherine Harris, a company chairperson and former university councillor and retired major-general, Roger Powell, also a team leader of major public inquiries. The report is scheduled for completion in June.

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