I rise today to speak on the Defence Legislation Amendment (Military Justice Enhancements—Inspector-General ADF) Bill 2014. As my colleague has said, this is a non-controversial bill, which Labor supports. We support it because it puts further emphasis on transparency, predictability and accountability in decision making affecting Australian Defence Force members. That can only be a good thing.
It does this by further strengthening the independence, powers and privileges. The bill separates the inspectorgeneral from the ordinary chain of command, ensuring that the IG cannot be forced or ordered down an avenue that he or she considers inappropriate. It enables the IG to be used to investigate a broad range of matters as requested by the minister or the Chief of the Defence Force. It makes clear that privilege against self-incrimination is abrogated in relation to IG inquiries and that such evidence cannot be used in civil or military proceedings. It requires the IG to prepare an annual report relating to the operations of the IG for tabling in parliament. It gives the IG discretion to cease any inquiry directed by the CDF.
It continues the bipartisan approach to reforming the military justice system that has been pursued by successive governments. These are all positive steps for the Australian Defence Force and for our country more broadly. That is why Labor is supporting this bill in the House.
The Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force was established by the CDF in 2003 to provide a means for review and audit of the military justice system independent of the ordinary chain of command. The IGADF was made a statutory position in 2005. It is also an avenue by which failures of military justice may be exposed and examined so that the cause of any injustice may be remedied.
In relation to the military justice system, the IG receives submissions and investigates complaints, conducts performance reviews, provides advice and contributes to awareness and improvement. Submissions may be received by any person on any matter concerning military justice—for example, abuse of authority or process; denial of procedural fairness; avoidance of due process; cover up and failure to act; unlawful punishments; victimisation, harassment, threats, intimidation, bullying and bastardisation; and suggested improvements to military justice.
As you can see, the IG plays an incredibly important role within the ADF. According to the Defence Annual Report 2013-14:
The operating tempo in the Office of IGADF remained relatively high in 2013–14 and was characterised by increases in the number of submissions received for investigation or inquiry and the number of military justice performance audits completed into the military justice arrangements of ADF units.
During 2013–14, the IGADF received 60 inquiry submissions, an increase of approximately 10 per cent on the previous year. In recent years, the trend has been that submissions disclose issues of greater complexity than in previous years, and this continued in 2013–14. During the year, the IGADF resolved 42 submissions by way of inquiry, investigation and review.
The IGADF conducted 49 ADF military justice unit audits, or audits of about 10 per cent of all auditable ADF units. In three of those units, potential material deficiencies were identified. In all, a total of 714 recommendations and suggestions to improve military justice arrangements, practices and procedures were made during 2013–14. The overwhelming majority of the recommendations and suggestions related to minor compliance or procedural issues.
I am continuing to quote here, Mr Deputy Speaker:
During the conduct of military justice unit audits, 2,552 ADF personnel participated in focus group discussions, raising to 24,641 the total number of focus group participants since the pilot program commenced in 2004. Focus group survey outcomes in 2013–14 indicate a stronger endorsement of, and confidence in, the military justice system and the chain of command to take action to resolve military justice problems.
There is also strong evidence to indicate that incremental cultural change under Pathway to Change: Evolving Defence Culture occurred within the ADF during the year.
During 2013–14, the Office of IGADF conducted 50 face-to-face courses and seminars at locations around Australia, attended by 1,599 ADF members. Of those, the vast majority attended inquiry officer familiarisation training. A further 1,058 undertook the IGADF online inquiry officer familiarisation course on campus. Other practical training opportunities offered by the IGADF included seminars on administrative sanctions, complaint handling and conducting quick assessments.
The principal themes affecting the ADF military justice narrative in 2013–14 included the attention given to cultural issues addressed in Defence’s Pathway to Change policies, the work of the Human Rights Commission’s examination of gender issues throughout the ADF, and the continuing speculation as to the future arrangements for ADF investigation, inquiry, review and redress of grievance processes arising from the finalisation of the Defence Re-thinking Review.
More broadly, in the public domain, credit for dealing with the reportedly large numbers of cases of abuse within Defence over time exposed by the DLA Piper Report and the activities of the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce tended to be counterbalanced by continuing adverse media coverage of such cases, resulting in further reputational impact for Defence.
As Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, has said:
… it's a time for continued reform for the ADF.
The role of the IG is absolutely fundamental to this continued reform, and I wholeheartedly support any measure which seeks to strengthen the role of the IG.
In closing, this bill provides our Defence Force with the ability to investigate failures or flaws in the military justice system and administrative processes, as well as incidents. It allows it to do that with greater confidence in the integrity, reliability and independence of its investigations.
This bill, more generally, goes to the ever-evolving and more open culture of the Australian Defence Force and continues the ongoing process of reform of military justice and Defence personnel administrative processes. Labor is very conscious of the need to ensure proper treatment of ADF members in terms of their pay, their housing, their health needs and other needs. But this bill reminds us that we must also ensure there are other protections of a more intangible nature, and these include ensuring that military justice is provided with safeguards.
It is a fact of life that sometimes a system of justice, be it civil or military, will not work as it should—that it needs improvements. And for this reason the possibility of redress must be present. In the ADF, the position of Inspector-General is part of this protection. This bill provides for significant improvements to the position of the Inspector-General, and I commend it to the House.