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I will commence this address with the words provided to me last week at a meeting in Canberra where I gathered 135 RSM’s of the Army. It is an affirmation of the service we all offer to the Nation. It is an affirmation that will be made available to every soldier from this morning.
“I'm an Australian Soldier, an expert in close combat. I'm physically and mentally tough, compassionate and courageous. I lead by example. I strive to take the initiative. I am committed to learning and to working as a team. I believe in trust, loyalty and respect for my Country, my mates and the Army. The Rising Sun is my badge of honour. I am an Australian Soldier.”
Further to that, it must be remembered that the oath to serve our country as a soldier does not include a contract for the normal luxuries and comforts enjoyed by our society. On the contrary, it implies hardship, loyalty and devotion to duty regardless of rank.
This is the essence of the core behaviours that define us as Australian soldiers and serves well as an introduction to the concept of ‘Respect’ as the fourth value of the Australian Army, along side Courage, Initiative and Teamwork.
The profession of arms is unlike any other, because the soldier carries two heavy burdens. Firstly, we bear the onerous responsibility to employ organised, lethal force in pursuit of Australia’s security.
And secondly, in the course of that duty, a soldier may be required to lay down his or her life in the service of the Country. It is a contract of unlimited liability.
Now you all know this, and so do the soldiers you lead. Throughout the 112 years we have served the Nation, we have honoured that contract in wars great and small; popular and unpopular. We have won a special place in the hearts of our fellow Australians, for whom the Slouch Hat and the Rising Sun Badge embody the best qualities of what it means to be an Australian.
Today, the people of Australia hold us in very high regard. You and your soldiers deserve that, and it’s your efforts that have earned it. But trust and respect are fragile. They cannot be taken for granted nor abused.
The Army is part tribe, part family, but above all it is a reflection of our society. Those who are soldiers know they are contributing to one of the big stories in Australian life. They know that every small step they take can leave a footprint in our national history. All of us carry the weight of the achievements and sacrifice of those who have gone before. Indeed, for this reason, many feel drawn to our culture and our ethos of service long before they join us.
Having spent my entire working life in this organisation, I love it and I respect it. And the soldiers of today are as good, if not better, than those who forged the ANZAC legend. I do not believe that we are in some constant retreat from some magical golden age. Nor that standards have been falling over time. Quite the contrary.
Why am I making such a long introduction to get to my point across? Well simply I want you to know that I have great confidence in you and our institution.
Our chain of command is the central nervous system of our Army. We set the tone for the organisation. Without us enforcing standards, correcting faults, setting an example of what right looks like, nothing I say matters a jot outside my office in Canberra.
So if an initiative such as I am announcing today is to work in the Army, I need you to back me to the hilt.
We need to build toughness, cohesion and resilience in our teams, which in turn are the building blocks of our formations. In short, we need to mould soldiers who can display courage, initiative, respect and teamwork and if we fail in that task, then we fail as an Army. And the cost of failure in our calling is very high and irrecoverable.
Recently, however, I made some severe public criticisms of aspects of the culture which I just praised. No doubt some of you, and some of your soldiers, have wondered why I spoke directly to the Australian public to criticise our Army.
If I love the Service and believe it has a unique culture worthy of defending, then why did I do that? Don’t I risk sending mixed signals?
Well to those asking that question I would respond; “We are the Australian Army. We belong to the Nation. We are funded by their taxes. We recruit from their families and ultimately we prosper, or we wither away, dependant on their ongoing trust and support. That is integral to our contract with the nation.
We are a national institution. Our ranks are open to every person whose allegiance is to Australia regardless of their race, their gender, their sexual preference or by what name they call their God.
So when I became aware of the latest serious scandal involving our treatment of women, I decided that drastic action was necessary. Now let me go into even more detail about why I took the steps I did and why I chose the language that I did.
Over the past 16 years there have been 13 major inquiries and reports into various aspects of the Australian Defence Force, its culture, its treatment of recruits, women, minorities, the abuse of alcohol and the way bullying emerges from our attempts to build small teams.
That is why I stated to the Australian people that we have a systemic problem in our culture. To pretend otherwise, after so many repeated scandals and so much adverse scrutiny, is simply dishonest and self-delusional. It takes courage to engage in rigorous self-examination; courage I need you to display and act on.
As a further testament to the challenge we face, let me give you some facts.
Since I gave my series of media interviews three weeks ago there have been reports of three alleged sexual offences, and 14 other offences, alleged to have been committed by Army personnel which are now being investigated by the civilian police. In addition, there are a further four reports of sexual harassment, and 16 cases of workplace bullying, now the subject of internal Defence review.
This year, to date, Army personnel are facing 53 offence charges, excluding assault. If you include assault, the number is 83.
18 Army personnel are being investigated by the civil police for sexual offences.
There have been 22 reports of unacceptable behaviour involving sexual harassment that are being investigated either by the ADF Investigative Service or the Army chain of command.
There are a further 106 instances of other types of unacceptable behaviour involving bullying, racial discrimination or abuse of power.
There have been, so far this year, 244 cases of either drunken and disorderly conduct or DUI.
There are 55 cases of the use of prohibited substances under investigation.
In addition, there have been 52 reports of discrimination and bullying reported to the Fair Go hotline by Army personnel.
All of these statistics, ladies and gentleman, are just for this year. These grim statistics, and the most recent incident of which I spoke to the Nation, goes to the heart of the future of the Army.
We are in sight of concluding our commitment to the longest war we have ever fought, and we are scaling back after 14 years of uninterrupted operations in a number of theatres. This will present different, but in some ways more complex, challenges for the future.
I know this because I lived through a period just like that as a junior officer. We had come out of Vietnam. In the years following, the Army was not viewed as an essential tool of statecraft by the Government or the Nation. Our budget was cut and so was our strength. Too many of our brightest and best left the Army to find a more rewarding life outside.
Our fragile contract with the Nation was ruptured. Questions were asked as to whether we continued to reflect the very best values of Australia. We must do everything possible so that we ensure we do not walk that path again.
In addition to the pressure to justify every dollar spent on Defence we are going to face mounting difficulty meeting our recruiting targets. Australia’s population is ageing and diversifying. The proportion of men and women of military age is shrinking. We cannot waste a single suitably qualified man or woman. Merit must be our only guide. We cannot run a training system where potentially good soldiers are bullied by some of their peers on grounds of race, sexuality or gender.
Common sense, and the fundamental concept of an Aussie Fair Go demand nothing less. Note that I said: “suitably qualified.” Nothing I have said in public, especially about the necessity of increasing our proportion of women in our ranks, is an argument for lowering our standards or undermining our warrior ethos.
That ethos is essential to who we are. But as I have also said - no one has ever explained to me how a coward in barracks is a hero on operations. And bullies who humiliate their comrades are cowards - as are those who passively watch victimisation without the moral courage to stand up for their mates.
So that is why I moved swiftly to explain to the people of Australia that the Army remains an institution worthy of their sons and daughters. And that is why I am not going to stand by idly and allow a small minority to tarnish our reputation.
We need warriors; plenty of them. But if you have the physical, mental and moral fibre to be an Australian soldier then we want you. And every other Australian soldier will respect you when you join us.
That is why we are adding ‘Respect’ to our trio of existing values. It must be the glue that binds the other three together. It is the quality which will both temper, and sharpen the hard edge that must be a part of our service if we are to survive and prevail in war.
If we are to maintain our capability the Nation needs to respect us. They must trust a standing Army to respect the law of the land and be capable of restraint and prudence in the use of appropriate and sanctioned violence. Nothing I have said should be misunderstood as watering down our capacity to wield force.
The bond between us and the Australian people and the Army is the essential core of our being. We are a reflection of the society from which we are drawn and we are held to a higher level of account because our place as defenders of the Nation and its interests demand it of us.
So “Respect”, as an Army value, helps to define us, both as a Service and as individual soldiers.
Think of the Institution. Respect for the legacy bequeathed by those who have served before us; respect for all the men and women in our ranks today, whose service secures the Nation; respect for the legacy we will leave, in turn, to those who will continue to protect Australia into the future; to be held to account for how we exercise that respect which is both a privilege and an honourable burden.
And at a personal level - respect for who you are; for your self discipline; for the standards of your personal behaviour; for the respect you show to your mates and their respect for you – an expert in close combat; physically and mentally tough; compassionate and courageous; committed to learning and working for the team; a believer in trust, in loyalty and Country. An Australian Soldier.
Courage, Initiative, Respect and Teamwork. That is the foundation for the contract we must maintain if we are to be protectors of the Nation. And I will have no tolerance for those who cannot live to that standard. Good Soldiering.