As a place where the future leaders of the Australian Defence Force are trained, what happens at ADFA has profound significance for Defence and for our nation.
It is now more than one year since the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Review made a series of recommendations to improve the treatment of women at ADFA. These wide-ranging recommendations targeted many aspects of life at ADFA as well as addressing ADFA’s place within the Australian Defence Force. The ADF agreed to implement the recommendations in the Report – 30 in full and one in principle.
Our Review’s terms of reference require an independent audit of the implementation of the recommendations. I did not expect that cultural change of the scale envisioned by the recommendations would be fully achieved in 12 months. However, I did seek evidence of progress in implementing all the recommendations. This report represents a point in time perspective (as at March 2013). I will give ADFA the opportunity to provide an update on progress later this year when I conduct the audit of the implementation of the recommendations of the broader Review into the ADF.
Our audit process was comprehensive and forensic and I appreciate the efforts of all those who supported the audit team in conducting this independent assessment. I wish to acknowledge in particular the steadfast support I received from COMDT Bruce Kafer. There is no doubt that his leadership and commitment to cultural reform has driven the changes and improvements I observed over the last 12 months. I also wish to acknowledge the Review Implementation Team and ADFA staff for welcoming us to ADFA on every occasion, enabling meetings, focus groups and interviews to be held, and for providing the documentation requested by the audit team.
There is evidence that ADFA is changing. ADFA is making steady strides to improve its culture to build a more inclusive place for all its members, including women. For example, there has been significant progress in establishing the Residential Support Officers (RSO) program and providing better supervision and information for undergraduates. There are significant improvements to training, information systems and injury management. This includes positive developments in a values based approach to training in equity and diversity and unacceptable behaviour. ADFA has expanded its Equity and Diversity Network and is to be commended for taking the lead in implementing the Sexual Offence Support Person Network. These are important mechanisms and I look forward to ADFA’s engagement with the ADF’s new Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Office (SeMPRO) to ensure strong and effective support for victims.
However, there are areas which still require attention. These include the development and implementation, with an expert provider, of an evidence based sexual ethics program. The recent events involving a number of midshipmen and officer cadets allegedly participating in sexual initiation rituals underscores the urgency of implementing an appropriate sexual ethics education program, as envisaged by the Review’s recommendation. Despite the nature of these events, it was pleasing to observe that the sexual initiation rituals came to light because of reports made to ADFA’s senior leadership team by the RSOs. Although only in place for a short time, the RSO role is proving to be effective and valuable – both for the cadets and the staff.
Within the ADF there is still evidence of ambivalence about ADFA’s role. A clear and unified articulation of ADFA’s vision and purpose is fundamental to ADFA achieving its potential.
The right staff are vital in setting the tone and culture at ADFA. Staff have a direct and powerful impact on undergraduate experience and the achievement of superior outcomes. The Commandant now interviews staff before they arrive at ADFA. This is a positive development; however the interviews occur after the posting decision has been made. The Commandant does not have delegated authority to remove underperforming staff. I acknowledge that there are competing pressures across all ADF training institutions however the Commandant should have the right to veto staff selections, or at the very least, be able to interview staff before the posting decision is made.
Instances of sexual harassment and behaviours which are unwelcome, inappropriate or offensive continue to be present at ADFA. Most people who experience this do not report it and do not seek advice or support. As noted above, I urge ADFA to give priority to designing and implementing sexual ethics and healthy relationship training. Interactive, expert training is an effective primary prevention tool against unacceptable behaviour and sexual misconduct, and aids in the development of a more mature understanding of sexual ethics.
ADFA now has a promising annual Unacceptable Behaviour Survey in place and over time comparisons will be able to be drawn with other recruit and training establishments across Defence. This will be an invaluable aid to leadership to swiftly address issues and target action.
The acceptance and implementation of the Review’s recommendations clearly demonstrates the deep and unwavering commitment of the Chief of the Defence Force, Vice Chief of the Defence Force and the Service Chiefs to build a safe and inclusive culture for women.
I am confident that ADFA will continue to make progress on implementing the Review’s recommendations. Consistent and sustainable progress is essential to ensure that cultural change becomes embedded in the core values and operations of ADFA for the long term. The goodwill, energy and creativity of ADFA staff and the Review Implementation Team is clearly evident. I congratulate and thank each and every person who has contributed to these cultural reforms to date. I remain committed to ongoing dialogue and providing whatever assistance I can to ADFA to realise the intent of the Review’s recommendations.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner
Australian Human Rights Commission