AFP – A senior army psychologist responsible for the mental health of Australia’s deployed soldiers has accused the defence force of being more focused on covering up abuse cases than helping victims.
Lieutenant Colonel Paul Morgan’s comments follow a government report late last year that detailed more than 1,000 claims of sexual or other abuse in the forces from the 1950s to the present day, involving both men and women.
The report also highlighted brutal initiation ceremonies and depicted a culture in the military of covering up, failing to punish perpetrators and hostility towards victims who complained.
Morgan, who said he himself had been the victim of a gay hate vilification campaign, claimed that recent reviews had done nothing to change Australian Defence Force culture.
“The way army deals with abuse is entirely consistent with how you would run a cover-up,” Morgan told ABC television late Thursday.
“My personal experience tells me that the army’s abuse management strategies that I’ve seen — delay, deter and deceive — are still in force now.
“I’m speaking out because I’m concerned about the well-being of our junior soldiers who are experiencing abuse in Defence today,” he added.
“If I as a senior officer can’t get Defence to do the right thing, they have absolutely no hope.”
Morgan, who has served in Bougainville, East Timor, the Solomon Islands, Iraq and the Middle East, fears he could lose his job by speaking out, but said it had to be done.
“There are hundreds of abuse victims currently serving in the Defence Force today, and somebody has to say something,” he said.
In November, the Australian government made a parliamentary apology to victims of abuse in the military and set up a compensation fund after hundreds of claims of rape and sexual assault.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith also established an independent task force to individually assess each allegation and refer appropriate matters to police for formal criminal investigation.
Morgan said an outside body should step in and help abuse victims.
Defence Force chief General David Hurley, who also apologised last year, told ABC that a sexual misconduct protection and response office had been set-up, tasked with putting in place support mechanisms for abuse victims.
“I sympathise with where Colonel Morgan finds himself, but let me just say that actions speak louder than words,” he said.
“From the very day that we received the reports in after the six cultural reviews were completed… I put up in headlights in the department that our approach to victim support in the ADF had to change.”
He inisted Morgan would not lose his job for breaking ranks.