Calls louden for action on military abuse

Defence Minister Stephen Smith is not ruling out a royal commission into allegations of abuse within Defence, but says he is not ”talking it up” either.

This comes as more detail has been revealed about claims of abuse within Defence that stretch back to the 1950s.

Last night the full 24-page executive summary of the report by law firm DLA Piper was released to ABC TV’s 7.30 program under freedom of information laws.

The report, commissioned by Defence Minister Stephen Smith last year in the wake of the ”Skype scandal”, includes shocking claims that boys are young as 13 were abused.

The Australian Defence Association is calling for a royal commission into the claims to get the facts out.

Mr Smith flagged the possibility of a royal commission when he released a redacted version of DLA Piper’s report in March.  Today, he said he was still considering a royal commission among a range of options including compensation and an apology.

”I haven’t discounted a royal commission but I’m not talking it up,” he told ABC TV.

Mr Smith said there were complexities and sensitivities due to the number of cases that stretch over five decades.

”Do you really want to put individual complainants through such a process?” he said.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard today called the report deeply distressing but would not commit to a royal commission.

”We are working through the best way of responding to that report,” she told reporters in Sydney.

Opposition Defence spokesman David Johnston told ABC TV today he would like to see victims receive compensation.

”The minister has sat on this material for more than 12 months now,” he said.

”I’m very concerned that a royal commission would take a number of years and cost an awful lot of money.”

Senator Johnston said that the government had to deal ”expeditiously” with the claims, adding that he would also support an apology to victims.

”The minister really has to do something rather than make media appearances and wring his hands,” he said.

Military compensation lawyer Brian Briggs – who represents some of the alleged victims – is also calling for compensation.

”I don’t think the money should be spent on lawyers,” he told ABC TV.

Mr Briggs said a royal commission would take too long and cost too much money.

”I want to press that the compensation scheme is the way to go,” he said.

”Let’s not spend money endlessly on more inquiries.”

The DLA Piper report also highlights concerns that perpetrators of abuse may now be in middle and senior ranking leadership position within Defence.

Mr Briggs suggested there could be ”dozens” of people in this position.

Senator Johnston said he was very concerned about the prospect.

”I think that’s an internal governance issue that the minister must take a hands on approach with,” he said.

Mr Smith conceded there was a ”risk” that serving ADF personnel were the subject of abuse claims. But he said they were ”untested allegations” and individuals were entitled to rebut the claims.

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