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It is an honour to follow Justice Michael Kirby whose personal example and tireless efforts to improve the lot of marginalised Australians are truly inspirational. Moreover, I am privileged to share the platform today with Elizabeth Broderick with whom I have worked closely over the past year in seeking to identify and overcome cultural obstacles to enhanced equity and diversity in the Australian Defence Force.
I have been asked to provide my perspectives on how to turn non-believers into believers. There is a hint of evangelism in that language. It implies a conversion experience. It is not that simple and while there was a sharpening of focus for me, and a clear understanding that I had only a limited time as chief of Army, I want to start by saying that culture is quintessentially a human trait and because of that is intrinsically complex.
Time doesn't permit me to offer any insight into the concept of culture and in any case I am no anthropologist whose views would have a gravitas that I would never presume. But let me just say that while Army has a problem with its culture, a point I will expand on in just a moment, there is also much to admire in our Army. Our latest VC recipient, Dan Keighran is a product in part of our culture. So are the thousand of men and women who have fought for this country throughout its history.
However, when I assumed command of the Australian Army in July 2011 it was apparent that we needed to squarely face some serious cultural problems, in particular the manner in which we treated our female soldiers, those from ethnic minorities and those with alternative sexual preferences. And a recurring problem with alcohol abuse and the inappropriate use of social media had periodically detracted from our reputation.
I came to my role as Chief convinced that we had a real and systemic problem in these areas. In that sense I was already a believer. Moreover, the evidence had become incontrovertible. Since 1995 there had been 13 substantial inquiries into aspects of Defence culture often prompted by public exposure of sexual assaults as well as harassment based on race or gender, some of which had culminated in incidents of self- harm by the victims.
I was no longer comforted by the cliché that a ‘few bad apples’ were undermining the great work of the vast majority. Nor was I willing to argue that the Skype incident at ADFA was no worse than conduct among young people on civilian campuses. We occupy a peculiar constitutional role. We train for mastery of violence and are entrusted and sanctioned by the Government to employ extreme violence in support of national interests.
For that reason alone we must earn and maintain a high level of trust among our community. Furthermore, we occupy a special place in the affections of the nation. They are entitled to expect more of us than other institutions – and we keep telling ourselves that we are special – and custodians of the best of our military heritage. This places very great burden on us, which warrants zero tolerance towards those who violate that fragile community trust.
Don’t get me wrong – over the period since the deployment to east Timor in 1999 – the ADF, especially the Army, has sustained a very demanding operational schedule and our young men and women have performed superbly. In so doing they have won the respect and affection of the nation.
As an aside, my father commanded a battalion during the Vietnam war and I can happily report that whatever our fellow Australians think about any of the operations upon which we have deployed they do not vent their objections against our soldiers as they did in my dad’s day. This is a welcome development. Indeed, at no time in my thirty-four years of service have we been so highly regarded by our fellow citizens. But this is a call to live to our true ideals not to rest on our laurels.
Sadly, it had become clear in recent years that the tribal culture through which we sought to build small teams capable of enduring combat had become distorted, misinterpreted and abused. And the evidence of that was brought home to me in a very personal, poignant and confronting way by Elizabeth Broderick.
One day early this year she called me and suggested that I needed to hear from some of the women whose experiences she had been collating. I agreed, albeit with some trepidation.
Not long after I was sitting very uncomfortably – and with mounting disbelief through lengthy face-to-face meetings with three women who had endured physical and emotional abuse at the hands of their fellow soldiers; so much for our pride in looking after our mates. These women had been let down by their leaders and their comrades. They had been robbed of that irreplaceable component of their individual human personal identity – their dignity and self-respect. This was not the Army that I had loved and thought I knew.
My disbelief gave way, in turn, to shame that this had occurred in the institution to which I had devoted my entire life and of which I had been fiercely proud since I was young boy. That was my conversion experience and it had all the qualities of the road to Damascus apart from the fall from the horse.
I hasten to add that I had already concluded that the ‘bad apple’ theory was a comforting self-delusion. Police forces throughout Australia only started to come to grips with systemic corruption when they came to the same realisation – cultural problems are just that; they are systemic and ingrained not the work of a few rogues. Such cultural problems generally evolve over time into distortions of what began as an admirable quality in an institution or organisation.
But they are hijacked by misguided or malevolent people and become a device to exclude the vulnerable and the different from the dominant group. Often in hyper masculine environments like armies the ‘other’ is defined by being weaker physically, not drinking ‘like a man’, more introverted or intellectual, and of course female.
In an excellent report compiled by Major General Craig Orme titled Beyond Compliance: Professionalism, Trust and Capability in the Australian Profession of Arms this aspect of our culture was analysed with piercing insight and frankness. Yes, we do need to bond our soldiers to one another and instill toughness and resilience into them. But when this goal is invoked to degrade and demonise women and minorities it is undermining rather than enhancing capability. We need to define the true meaning of teamwork to embrace a band of brothers and sisters.
After that searing meeting with those female soldiers I was determined that I was going to achieve real change in our culture. I will outline some of the specific goals that I have set and describe some of the means we are employing to achieve them.
But firstly let me make a couple of things abundantly clear. I am not doing this to win plaudits. I am doing this out of love for the Australian Army and for the men and women who serve in its ranks. As the Chief of the Army I ultimately set the tone for the organisation and exemplify its values. Those values – Courage, Initiative and Teamwork are noble when they are lived as intended.
But in too many cases the team has been defined to exclude women, or gay men or people of a minority ethnic background. This simply has to stop – both for altruistic and pragmatic reasons. I like to think I am as altruistic as the next person but my motives could also be described as hard headed pragmatism. Organisations with high levels of what I have heard referred to as ‘social capital’ are more effective in their performance and retain their highly skilled personnel much longer. In other words making the most effective use of our female soldiers makes good sense. It enhances our capability. That is a simple truth.
Indeed, given the demographic changes affecting the Australian labour market over the next few decades, the Army will simply not be able to meet its recruiting targets or maintain its range of skills unless we become fully representative of the community from which we draw.
In that regard the Anzac legend – as admirable as it is – has become something of a double edged sword. Many Australians have an idealised image of the Australian soldier as a rough hewn country lad – invariably white – a larrikin who fights best with a hangover and never salutes officers – especially the Poms. This is a pantomime caricature. Every soldier is Mel Gibson in Gallipoli and frankly it undermines our recruitment from some segments of society and breeds a dangerous complacency about how professional and sophisticated soldiering really is.
I was angry, that in a crisis, those three women – and many more whom Liz Broderick had spoken to – had not been able to rely on their mates. In other words the very thing that we claim as our defining ethos had been used to exclude and humiliate others. I resolved that changing this was going to be a major part of the legacy I wish to leave the Army.
How am I going about it? Well I hope that by providing a personal insight into my own journey into greater understanding you will accept my bona fides in this matter. I am deadly serious about this. And in an organisation built on a chain of command senior leaders can make a very real difference when they are determined to implement change.
But as you all know too well a top down approach can take you only so far – even in a hierarchical organisation like an Army. I can impress my senior leaders with the need to change and give them clear guidance as to how to proceed. But you all know that it is vital to get buy in at all levels of the organisation.
In that regard we are especially blessed by the way we prepare our junior leaders. We possess a superb training system and through the inculcation of common doctrine we can socialise concepts and behaviours very effectively. Moreover, our command structure is readily accessible. I can readily reach out to my unit commanding officers and RSMs (Regimental Sergeant Majors) and impress on them the need to implement change. They have more impact on the climate of the Army than any one else.
In recognition of this fact, Army is harnessing the power and influence of its middle and junior leaders by investing a great deal of responsibility for implementing and supporting cultural programs with them. This is noteworthy in Project Iris, a program designed to stamp out unacceptable behaviour in the workplace, and Force Protection Alcohol, Army’s program encouraging responsible use of alcohol. This approach ensures that not only are our leaders at all levels responsible for actively engaging in cultural reform, they are also accountable for its performance.
In other words there is no more important element to bring in non-believers with you than enlisting leaders and role models at every level of the Army.
Now I will turn to some of the specific initiatives that are being implemented in Army right now. My major goal for Army is to substantially increase the number of women in the Australian Regular Army, from its current level of approximately 3,000 to 3,600 by mid 2014. While this increase may appear small, it represents a considerable challenge for us and the changes we will make to implement this increase will set the preconditions for subsequent growth. This goal has both a recruiting and a retention element.
For the first time, specific recruiting targets for women have been set. Army's goal is to recruit 660 women in FY12/13, up from approximately 300 in the previous year. This represents a considerable challenge to us and we have worked hard to remove barriers that women face when they consider a career in Army. In particular, we are trialling a 12 month Initial Minimum Period of Service for selected trades and we are working to offer a pre-enlistment fitness program for women candidates, to improve their chances of success in the pre-enlistment fitness assessment.
We have also confirmed, via the Australian Government Solicitor, that having specific recruiting targets for women is not discriminatory under the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 giving us legal support to proceed.
The retention element involves working to ensure Army provides a more inclusive and supportive workplace for our female members. The outcomes of Defence’s cultural reform strategy Pathway to Change will no doubt assist in this area.
Having a better and more inclusive culture will influence retention, an area Army has struggled to manage in the past. My focus in this area has been to engage with service women to understand their needs, notably through the creation of the Army Women’s Forum. This advice has been tempered necessarily by an understanding of what is administratively possible and affordable. The initiatives that have emerged are all motivated by retaining women in Army, but necessarily have a broader focus to support families or to develop our employment offer to all service men and women. Among these initiatives are:
• An initiative to allow service men and women to purchase leave and to share leave between Service couples;
• An investigation into childcare options to better support service families, including holiday day care, the coordination of home day care provided by service spouses and providing advice on local childcare options;
• Consideration of allowing for an additional bedroom entitlement in Service residences if a family utilises a live in carer to provide childcare; and
• Reviewing career management in Army with a view to removing barriers to service women reaching their full potential and to better accommodate career development and family responsibilities;
In many cases these initiatives are broader than Army and we are working with the other Services and Groups to develop the proposals. The development and execution of these initiatives will present challenges to Defence and I have sought Chief of Defence Force's assistance, but I am confident they will serve to make Army a more inclusive employer that is better able to retain our service women.
In September 2011, a critical barrier to women’s inclusion in Army was eradicated with the removal of gender restrictions in the Australian Defence Force. This decision by the Government has enabled the full integration of women into Army by opening up the Infantry and Armoured Corps, and the remaining Engineer and Artillery roles.
Career choices will now only be restricted by an individual's physical and intellectual capacity. Physical Employment Standards have been developed to enable Army to remove gender restrictions by providing scientifically engineered standards, based on bona fide trade tasks, to ensure the right person is selected for a trade. Commencing in January 2013, Army will implement trade specific physical standards based on capability, not age or gender.
A core function of Army is the application of violence to protect and defend national interests. While violence is an essential part of our business it is employed in a tightly regulated and controlled manner, we do not accept or condone violence outside of these parameters. This is why Army is a Campaign Partner with White Ribbon, as many of you would know a global movement to stop violence against women. Our partnership is embodied in a Memorandum of Understanding which I signed on 11 September. Army is participating in the White Ribbon Workplace Accreditation Pilot Project through the Royal Military College, Duntroon, with a focus on cultural, behavioural and attitudinal changes regarding the protection and improved treatment of women being an integral part of their training programs.
These are only a few examples of Army’s current efforts to improve its culture. We may have a long road ahead of us but success is not an option, it is imperative.
Army understands that cultural change is a long term process that requires commitment, diligence and continual evaluation. We recognise that in many ways we are behind the eight ball when compared to other industries but are determined to enact change in a meaningful and enduring way. We are dedicated to drawing on and implementing best practice by engaging with leaders who have undertaken successful and innovative programs in this field including Deloitte, the National Rugby League and the Australian Federal Police. Through these relationships we will develop methodologies and approaches to ensure sustainable diversity.