AFP – The Australian government said Monday it would make a parliamentary apology to victims of abuse in the military and set up a compensation fund after allegations of rape and sexual assault.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith will also establish an independent taskforce to individually assess the hundreds of claims of abuse uncovered by a report commissioned by the government last year.
The taskforce will be able to refer appropriate matters to police for formal criminal investigation and assessment for prosecution, while offering help to access counselling, health, and other services.
“I will say sorry to those people who have been subject to inappropriate abuse over their time in the Australian Defence Force,” Smith told reporters ahead of the apology to be made in parliament later Monday.
“There will be no more turning a blind eye to inappropriate conduct.”
He added that a capped compensation fund would be set up with the taskforce, headed by former West Australian Supreme Court judge Len Roberts-Smith, deciding who qualifies for payouts of up to Aus$50,000 (US$52,000).
The move follows an independent report that was sparked by the so-called Skype scandal, when footage of a young male recruit having sex with a female classmate was streamed online to cadets in another room without her knowledge.
The report detailed 24 allegations of rape that never went to trial, among more than 1,000 claims of sexual or other abuse dating back to the 1950s, involving both men and women.
As well as the rape claims, it said that “from the 1950s through to the early 1980s, many boys aged 13, 14, 15 and 16 years of age in the defence force suffered abuse including serious sexual and other physical abuse”.
Until the 1960s, boys as young as 13 were recruited into the Navy, while 15-year-olds were accepted into the Army, Navy and Air Force up until the early 1980s. The minimum enlisting age is now 17.
Smith said the Defence Force would bear the financial burden of the compensation.
Defence Force chief General David Hurley has vowed the military will cooperate fully with the government and warned that any serving personnel found guilty of abuse will be brought to justice.