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United Nations International Women's Day Conference

Address by the Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison, AO at the United Nations International Women’s Day Conference, 8-9 March 2013.

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It is an honour to be invited to address this conference today. For some time the Australian Defence Organisation has formally observed International Women’s Day. That is altogether appropriate. However, as all of you are no doubt aware, such formalities are rendered much less meaningful unless they are underpinned by tangible progress for women. And that necessarily implies cultural change in environments which have not been as conducive as they must be to women realising their full potential.

I am especially delighted to be invited to participate in an event, which involves such a diverse range of organisations, both public and private, across such an incredible spectrum of women’s experience. Moreover, I am doubly privileged to share the platform today with Elizabeth Broderick with whom I have worked closely over the past couple of years in seeking to identify and overcome cultural obstacles to enhanced participation and representation for women within the Australian Army.

And finally, it is truly fitting that I bring this message to an event held under the auspices of the United Nations. The UN does so much to alleviate suffering and disadvantage amongst women throughout the world, not least in peace building efforts in fractured states and societies, where violence against women and girls is horrific in both its nature and scale.

I was privileged to serve on one such mission in the then East Timor in 1999. It was a life changing and life affirming experience for me.

Firstly, I must of necessity express some obvious qualifications about my remarks. Foremost, I can never fully imagine, much less experience, the issues faced by any woman. I was born male in an advanced Western nation, to comfortably well off parents. I have never routinely experienced discrimination in my career, nor the apprehension of violence in my personal life. Far too many women regardless of nationality, religion, or class status have known both. Most benefits of masculinity and patriarchy have accrued to me. Nonetheless, I hope those considerable limitations in my perspective can in part be offset by my sincere intent to support women in my organisation to thrive in the absence of both.

Of course, that is probably an unattainable state of perfection. But I hope to establish my bona fides in striving towards them through what I say today, and through my actions as Chief of the Australian Army.

I have set tangible goals against which I am willing to be judged. Ultimately, though, true and enduring progress in the status and security of women and girls will only be achieved through the collaborative efforts of women and men. There is a need, in my view, for some men to be reminded by male leaders and champions of change that violence towards women and girls is never acceptable and that their female colleagues deserve their trust and respect.

Today I want to share with you one of the early experiences I had soon after becoming the Chief of Army. It brought into sharp focus that the institution that I love, that has shaped my adult life and the one I now lead, was, despite all the good work done in terms of cultural reform, still falling short in its treatment of women.

That is no easy thing for a General to say in public, and yet I have now said it publicly in Australia many times. It involves Liz Broderick, and it marked a watershed for me. I invariably recount it when I am asked to explain why I have placed so much emphasis on gender issues within the Army and why I committed a large part of my effort as Chief of the Australian Army to championing change.

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. There was, and still is, a recurring problem with alcohol abuse and social media which has 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. 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 a widely publicised incident at our Defence Academy - where a sexual encounter between a young female cadet and a colleague was telecast via Skype - was no worse than conduct among young people on civilian campuses.

We in the ADF occupy a special constitutional role. We train for mastery of military force and are entrusted and sanctioned by the Government to employ extreme violence in support of national interests. Moreover, I am all to aware, that in many conflicts, rape is systematically employed by soldiers against women. Any nexus between an Army such as the one I aspire to lead and sexual assault is absolutely unacceptable. I will take all necessary steps to stamp out any hint of it among my soldiers.

Our monopoly on violence and the particular place we occupy in our national psyche, demands that we must earn and maintain a high level of trust among our community. 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 a 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 men and women, most of them young, 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 last year she called me and suggested that I needed to hear from some of the women whose experiences she had been collating. I agreed, not reluctantly but certainly 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 appalling 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’, being 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 insight and frankness. Yes, we do need to bond our soldiers to one another and instil 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 even more 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 or to satisfy a personal magnanimous desire. 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, allied with respect for our institution and each other are noble when they are lived as intended.

But in too many cases the team has been defined through exclusion of women. 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 are essentially pragmatic. Organisations with high levels of what can be termed as ‘social capital’ are more effective, both in their performance and ability to 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 workforce 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 who 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 others to whom Liz Broderick had spoken, 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 am resolved to make improvements to our culture one of the fundamental elements of the legacy that I hope to leave the Australian Army.

So what am I doing? 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. In an organisation built on a chain of command, senior leaders can make a very real difference when they are determined to implement change, and they are.

But 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 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 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 no mean feat 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 Financial Year 2012/13, 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 trialing 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 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, and received the Chief of Defence Force's full assistance.

I am confident they will serve to make Army a more inclusive employer that is better able to retain our service women.

At a level above the ADF, the Australian Government has been a world class leader in gender and equity. 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.

It is impossible to overstate the significance of this. This is the last citadel for women in our Army. The bias towards officers with an arms corps affiliation in choosing senior leaders has some justification. Close combat is the core business of the Army. But women are already ‘in combat’ due to the changing character of war. Formal recognition of this removes the last defence of those who are resistant to the widest employment of women in the Army, and by extension their promotion to the most senior ranks. It is quite conceivable now that a woman will serve as the Chief of the Army in light of this decision.

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 and we most emphatically do not accept or condone violence outside of these parameters. This is why Army is a Campaign Partner with White Ribbon, which as many of you would know, is a global movement to stop violence against women.

Our partnership is embodied in a Memorandum of Understanding which I signed on 11 September 2012. Army is participating in the White Ribbon Workplace Accreditation Pilot Project through the Royal Military College for officers, at Duntroon, and our soldier recruitment establishment at Kapooka, 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.

As Army’s White Ribbon Champion, I encourage my commanders to become White Ribbon Ambassadors and our soldiers to swear the White Ribbon oath to never condone violence against women. All units, formations and commands are encouraged to include White Ribbon events or activities as part of their annual activities including:
• White Ribbon Ambassadors participating in leadership, ethics and equity and diversity training / presentations;
• White Ribbon events or activities in support of White Ribbon Day (25 November);
• White Ribbon awareness, through Ambassador participation and White Ribbon resources at open days.
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 curve when compared to other corporate and public institutions, but we 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.

In this, Elizabeth Broderick has again taken a prominent lead. She invited me to join a very select group, the Male Champions of Change, which comprises many of Australia's leading CEOs and public service heads. They are using their individual and collective influence to ensure the issues of gender equality and women's representation in leadership are elevated onto the National business agenda.

Through their work in highlighting the role of the leader, making workforce flexibility a mainstream of Australian workplaces and looking for, and implementing "game changing" initiatives they are making a telling contribution to this vital area. I am deeply proud to be a Male Champion of Change and an Ambassador for White Ribbon. The values and aspirations inimical to both are completely aligned to those I hold as the Chief of the Australian Army.