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Review into the Treatment of Women in the Australian Defence Force Academy

Sex Discrimination

Review into the Treatment of Women in the Australian Defence Force Academy

Speech by Elizabeth Broderick

Sex Discrimination Commissioner

Australian Human Rights Commission

Australian Human Rights Commission

3 November 2011

Good afternoon - and thanks very much for coming today.

Before I commence, let me acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation on whose land we stand today. I pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I’m here today to release the Report on the Review into the Treatment of Women in the Australian Defence Force Academy or ADFA.  This report has just been tabled in the Parliament.

In April this year I was asked by the Minister for Defence to conduct an independent Review into the Treatment of Women in both ADFA and the broader Australian Defence Force on behalf of the Australian Human Rights Commission. 

This is the first independent Review of ADFA since its inception in 1986.

In order that ADFA be given due attention, it was decided that the review should be split into two distinct phases.

The report tabled in Parliament today is the result of the first phase of this review which dealt with ADFA.

The second phase has recently commenced and will look more broadly at the treatment of women within the Australian Defence Force.

I was assisted in the Review by 3 expert panellists - individuals who have a deep experience in the operation of residential colleges, driving cultural change, command and control environments and the progression of gender equality.  I wish to thank my fellow panellists Sam Mostyn, Damian Powell and Mark Ney who have worked with me to complete our Report on the Review into the Treatment of Women at the Australian Defence Force Academy. I also wish to thank my small but committed and talented secretariat headed by Alexandra Shehadie.

I want to make it clear that this Review was broad ranging and comprehensive.  We consulted as widely as possible speaking to over a quarter of the cadet body, the entire leadership team, the majority of military and academic staff, medical staff, counsellors, cadets who have recently separated from ADFA, parents and sponsor families.  We met with trainees and staff from single service training colleges.  We also used quantitative tools such as surveys to complement our qualitative findings. 

I want to thank the large number of Defence Force personnel who have given their time to assist us.  I particularly acknowledge that it has been a difficult time for the ADFA community and I am grateful for their full co-operation in these circumstances.

Before I speak directly to the contents of the report, I’d like to take a moment to explain what this report isn’t.  Whilst prompted by a particular incident it is not an investigation into any specific allegation of misconduct, sexual or otherwise or any particular individual within ADFA. This includes what has been referred to as the Skype Incident.

The last comprehensive external review of ADFA was conducted in 1998 by Bronwyn Grey. That review, referred to as the Grey Review found, not only high levels of inappropriate sexual behaviour, but also a high tolerance of that behaviour amongst the cadets and members of the military staff.

Turning now to Phase 1 of our review, which has been tabled in Parliament today.  And when I refer to cadets today, I am also referring to midshipmen, who are navy cadets.

I am pleased to report that our review found that ADFA today is an improved institution, with a culture that has evolved significantly since the Grey Review.

We found that cadets are loyal to the institution and the vast majority tell a positive story of their experiences at ADFA. Through our research and consultations we heard that, for most women, most of the time, ADFA is a safe and rewarding place.

However it was telling that in the course of our enquiries into the treatment of women at ADFA, a much bigger picture emerged.

This picture was about the need for a firm re-commitment by the Defence Force to the role and place of ADFA as Australia’s pre-eminent junior officer education and training facility. 

Across the Defence Force there is ambiguity about the value and status of ADFA.

Many of the cultural deficiencies we observed stemmed from the ambiguity.

If Australia is to have the finest naval and military force it must have the finest officer education and training system – a system which values the contributions of both women and men.

Many things flow from a strong re-commitment to ADFA by the Defence Force leadership.  Amongst these, and most importantly for our Review, a better environment for women, and a greater recognition of the importance of women to ADFA’s success. 

The 31 recommendations that are contained in our Report are framed by this larger issue.

And now to the specific gender related matters which we encourage ADFA to address.  At ADFA we found:

  • First, widespread low level sexual harassment – an environment where the repeated and sustained telling of sexually explicit stories and offensive jokes is prevalent.
  • Second, there are inadequate levels of supervision of cadets after hours, particularly of first year cadets.  For example, there are mixed gender accommodation and bathrooms with very limited supervision particularly at night. 
  • Third, we found that ADFA has cumbersome complaints processes - there are many different processes for making a complaint, which often creates confusion and anxiety for the person making the complaint.
  • Fourth, ADFA has a high staff turnover particularly at the senior levels - for example there have been six Commandants in the last 5 years - this has led to instability and inconsistency.
  • And finally, though it is usual that principles of equity and diversity should be used to create a positive and inclusive culture, at ADFA equity and diversity is treated negatively, being reserved for punishment when cadets or staff are the subject of a complaint.

Having taken everything into account, the Review believes ADFA needs to move from an attitude of ‘managing and accommodating’ women to an attitude of full inclusion of women - where women are recognised as an essential and vital part of the future capability of the Australian Defence Force.

We believe that implementing the Review’s recommendations will support the achievement of this outcome.

Amongst its 31 recommendations, the Review has recommended:

  • That the Defence Force leadership  reaffirm ADFA’s pre-eminent role in the education and training of future leaders;
  • That, other than in exceptional circumstances, ADFA  should make the tenure for Commandants a minimum of 3 years,
  • That ADFA  put strategies in place to ensure the provision of the highest quality staff, while focussing on increasing the number of female staff;
  • That the Defence Force develop options for a one year immersion experience for all ADFA cadets prior to commencing at ADFA.  This would ensure cadets have an early exposure to their chosen profession, and have gained a level of maturity beyond high school before coming into ADFA;
  • That ADFA increase the supervision of cadets after hours, particularly cadets in their first year, by employing one male and one female residential advisor per division, who will live in the accommodation block;
  • That ADFA, as a priority, instruct an occupational health and safety specialist to conduct a risk assessment of the mixed gender residential accommodation, including the bathrooms
  • That ADFA engage an expert educator to provide cadets with interactive education on the meaning of consent, the appropriate use of technology and respectful relationships.
  • That ADFA review the alcohol pricing regime in the cadets’ mess to minimise the risks associated with over consumption and abuse of alcohol.  ADFA should also ensure the on going regular alcohol testing of cadets.
  • That ADFA take a leadership role by developing, in consultation with other university residential colleges, a common surveying tool to better understand the prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment.
  • That ADFA establish a dedicated toll free 24/7 hotline for all cadets, staff and families to seek advice or deal with a complaint.
  • That ADFA should teach equity and diversity separately from complaints procedures to ensure that equity and diversity are core values underpinning its culture, rather than being reserved as a punitive measure.

Our terms of reference specify that in 12 months there will be an independent audit of the implementation of the Review’s recommendations.

ADFA is not unique in dealing with the issue of the treatment of women. Other military educational establishments across the world are focussing on this issue. We have learned from our international research that the greater the presence of women and the breadth of the roles they occupy, the more likely women will be viewed as equal participants.  This should be the aim of the Australian Defence Force and particularly at ADFA which is where cultural attitudes are formed and Defence Force careers begin. 

I believe that if this Review’s recommendations are fully implemented, there is a strong future for ADFA - a future in which all cadets are able to live, study and work in an environment that values the contributions and potential of both women and men - one that is free from harassment and abuse.

That concludes my opening statement. I’m now happy to take questions.