Thursday, 27 August 2009

Is Australia's military a law and power unto itself?

"The military justice system is a shambolic, dysfunctional mess and it is failing the young men and women who enlist to serve their country. This report is a damning indictment of a system that fails 21st-century standards of justice. It comes after some 20 months of evidence gathering. It details flawed prosecutions and failed investigations into suicides, accidental deaths, major illicit drug use and serious abuses of power in training schools and cadet units.
"The major recommendations call for a major overhaul of the system. This report demands action, not at the edges but at its centre. It demands military justice be taken out of the hands of the military and replaced with a transparent, independent system which ensures our service people have the same rights to justice as all other Australians - a system based on impartiality, transparency and accountability …"  From here.

This was 2005.  The Parliamentary Committee who produced this report had heard, most sadly, from parents whose children had been treated shabbily and shamefully by the Australian Department of Defence to the extent that they died - either in severe preventable accidents or, in deep distress, by their own hands.

Here is what the Military Justice section
I wonder if it will be altered?
A robust and dynamic military justice system underpins our discipline and command structures. It provides the appropriate balance between discipline and the rights of individuals, and ensures our personnel work in an ordered but equitable environment. It is critical to maintaining command, retaining our people, our reputation and is ultimately critical to operational effectiveness.

Defence has been working to fundamentally change almost every element of the military justice system. This follows the 2005 Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee report, 
The Effectiveness of Australia’s Military Justice System. The changes being made to the military justice system are the most significant since the current Defence Force Discipline Act was introduced more than two decades ago.
Well, Australia's military justice system has turned out to be neither robust nor dynamic.  As for underpinning, the foundation was faulty and has collapsed. The High Court unanimously declared the Australian Military Court unconstitutional yesterday, saying the legislation that created it in 2006 was flawed.

There are suggestions that the Howard Government went against its own advice and allowed Defence to have its own way when drawing up the new system of Military Justice which was the outcome of the 2005 Parliamentary Committee Report.

Which brings us back to the culture of Defence and its penchant for having its own way for a long time. Take a look, fellow Networkers, at Laura Tingle's article here. Consider the events of earlier this year when there was every appearance of Defence itself politically undermining its Minister with its own dirty tricks campaign.  

Defence should ask itself - is it the master or the servant?  My view is that Defence is the servant of the people.  It is not a department of privilege.  It is not an organisation that rises up against the realm who gives it life, breath and budgets.  Australians spend a lot of money on Defence - and a lot of it is wasted in failed and faulty procurement.  If the boys want the toys, dear Networkers, then let them pull their horns in and deliver professionally and put the politics aside.  

Clearly, Defence has got away with too much success in special pleading - as police forces frequently do.  We appreciate the service provided by Defence and Police in undergirding our security.  However, it is quite clear that justice and Defence are not easy bedfellows and no amount of special pleading can paper over the cracks.  

Clearly, the Rudd Government recognises the problems of Defence.  One wonders - did they see this problem coming, too?  At least one knows that the right person is in the right place this time: someone knowledgable; someone with Defence experience; political knowledge, clout and nous; someone who is a wake-up to Defence.  Defence has met its match in Senator John Faulkner.

One looks forward to seeing this mess, this writhing can of worms that is Military Justice, cleaned up and the Masters of Defence becoming true Servants of the Nation.


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