Government to apologise to ADF abuse victims

The government will establish an independent taskforce, headed by a QC, to assess individual allegations of abuse within Defence and will make a parliamentary apology to victims today.

Announcing the inquiry into allegations of abuse within Defence across every decade since the 1950s, Defence Minister Stephen Smith did not rule out a royal commission into some episodes of abuse.

He said he would deliver a parliamentary apology at midday (AEST) to Australian Defence Force members and Defence employees who had suffered sexual or other abuse.

Mr Smith said that the independent taskfoce, headed by Len Roberts-Smith QC, would determine if individuals should receive compensation of up to $50,000, counselling, restorative justice or referral to the police or military police.

He said his apology to parliament today would be a general one that did not impact on legal liability. He said he would be not be delving into facts and circumstances of particular cases.

Major General Roberts-Smith is a former military judge and former Justice of the Supreme Court of Western Australia. Last year he retired as commissioner of the WA Corruption and Crime Commission.
He is the father of Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith.

The government’s response follows a review into Defence abuse, announced in April 2011, in the wake of the so-called ‘‘Skype scandal’’ at ADFA.

The review, by law firm DLA Piper, received allegations of abuse from more than 1000 people, dating back to the 1950s.

Mr Smith said he had told his Cabinet colleagues Defence would bear the financial cost of the compensation.

"In the end there is a price to pay," he told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

From today, complainants can access information about the government's response at a free telephone hotline (1800 424 991).

Mr Smith said that a Royal Commission could still be recommended for two episodes of abuse. This includes 24 cases of rape at ADFA in the 1990s and allegations of abuse of young boys at HMAS Leeuwin in Western Australia in the 1960s and 1970s.

‘‘There are very serious allegations of abuse,’’ Mr Smith said of the HMAS Leeuwin allegations.

Mr Smith said he did not support a broad based Royal Commission into the cases of abuse, because it would not resolve individual claims quickly. ‘‘There has to be a focus on giving the individual concerned an outcome,’’ he said.

Major General Roberts-Smith said he was horrified at the levels of abuse which had come to light in recent years.

He said during his career in the Army Reserve he had seen low levels of abuse.

‘‘Things like hardening people up,’’ he said. ‘‘I saw that sort of thing, I didn’t like it.’’

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The story Government to apologise to ADF abuse victims first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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