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Australian Army domestic violence awareness – ‘Silence is the Accomplice’ – Address by Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, to the National Press Club, Canberra,16 Aug 17

16 August 2017

Check against delivery.


Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, AO, DSC
Chief of Army


Australian Army domestic violence awareness - ‘Silence is the Accomplice’


Address to the National Press Club of Australia, 16 National Circuit, Barton, Wednesday 16 August 2017. 12.30 pm


Final 16 August  

3,140 words


Mr Chris Uhlman, President of the National Press Club, and our Chair today; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.


I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we are meeting this afternoon, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to their elders, both past and present.


Today, I will be speaking about Family and Domestic Violence.

This long planned engagement with the National Press Club arises both from my duty as Chief of Army and my role as an Ambassador for the White Ribbon organisation.


I know some commentators decry ‘agendas’, which they regard as detrimental to the war fighting capability of the Australian Defence Force.

And some note, that in their view, there are many other important and serious Defence and Security issues to be talking about.

Be assured, these other issues are also receiving my full and appropriate attention, and that of the other Chiefs. But we can walk and chew gum at the same time. Indeed, as I will explain, the two are intimately connected: the cultural development of the force directly helps to build the war fighting capability of the force.


Last Friday, I was the reviewing officer at the graduation of our newest infantry soldiers at the Army’s School of Infantry, Singleton.

Twenty One steely eyed young Australians: fit, keen and determined. They had completed recruit and infantry training: a tough six months, with no free passes.

Nineteen men and two women. All volunteers, all passed the tests, all soldiers in our team. So you can understand I was surprised to hear that day of incorrect reports that the Army had stopped recruiting men.  We haven’t. To put things into perspective, last financial year (FY16/17), 670 men and 23 women entered our 1st Recruit Training Battalion, Kapooka, seeking to qualify for service in the infantry. 670 men and 23 women … does not a revolution make.


I do want to see more women and more indigenous Australians serving in our Army, and more culturally and linguistically diverse Australians for that matter. I want the best and most talented Australians to serve their nation in their Army. And to get the best, I need to draw from the widest breadth of our nation. And to what end?

Whether we look at Exercise Talisman Sabre 2017, the largest and most sophisticated exercise the ADF has undertaken in the modern era, or the consistent excellence of our people on operations, it is clear to me, to my fellow Chiefs, and to many others, that for its size, the ADF has never been a more capable, ready and lethal instrument of war.

So, keep that in mind, as we turn to Family and Domestic Violence, and why it matters to me, our Army and our nation.


(90 second video excerpt from Silence is the Accomplice)


The excerpt we just watched is from a video titled Silence is the Accomplice, produced and released by the Army earlier this year. The video includes the first person accounts of four brave members of the Australian Army, who courageously share their experiences of Family and Domestic Violence. Our aim in producing the video was to raise awareness of the impacts of Family and Domestic Violence on individuals, their families and the Army as an organisation.

The video has been viewed more than 49,000 times on Facebook and had over 3,000 views on YouTube.

Silence is the Accomplice is just one product in a body of work that began some years ago: important cultural reform work, set within a wider context of Army, Defence and National expectations of military behaviour and accountability.

To see the full video, go here:

The catalyst for much of this modern wave of reform was the ADFA Skype incident of April 2011. It’s important to understand this journey, in order to see just how far we have come.

Following the Skype Incident, and subsequent inquiry, allegations of abuse in Defence were raised to the attention of the Defence Minister, leading to a series of reviews into aspects of Defence culture. The Minister of the day commissioned the law firm, DLA Piper, to review all the individual allegations, and make an assessment of their management by Defence.

The DLA Piper Review concluded in 2012. It considered systemic issues and made recommendations to the Minister for further action, from which arose the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce or DART. DLA Piper and the DART brought to light many appalling revelations of abuse over 60 years.


Along with the rest of the Defence senior leadership group, Army’s leaders, from Colonel to General, subsequently participated in restorative engagements with the victims of abuse. These were deeply moving experiences for all participants. In my own engagements, the victims described systemic and individual ethical failure and abuses of power at many levels.  Instead of building we were too often breaking. Instead of teaming we were too often tearing.

Several cultural reviews were also launched after the ADFA Skype incident. The Sex Discrimination Commissioner led an independent review during 2011 into the treatment of women at ADFA. The review focused on the adequacy and appropriateness of measures to promote gender equality, ensure women’s safety, and to address sexual harassment, abuse and sex discrimination. Subsequently, the Commissioner reviewed the treatment of women in the Australian Defence Force, and that report was released in 2013.

The Broderick Review had a significant effect on Defence at many levels. My predecessor, David Morrison, tells of a meeting organised by Ms Broderick, with three of our Army women. They spoke traumatically of the abuse and discrimination they had experienced during their service.


A committed desire for change, by Defence’s leadership, was evident in the March 2012 release of Pathway to Change: Evolving Defence Culture. This initiative was more than a response to the various reviews into aspects of Defence and Australian Defence Force culture. It was a statement of Defence’s cultural intent, led by the Secretary of the Department of Defence and the Chief of the Defence Force. Pathway to Change was and remains a clear commitment to shape Defence’s collective and individual attitudes, systems and behaviours to improve capability, and in doing so assure the continued support of the Australian public. Importantly, it articulated Defence's intent, that we are: trusted to defend, proven to deliver and respectful always.

The Navy has led many Service specific initiatives under the banner of New Generation Navy, later joined by Air Force’s New Horizons program and Army’s Good Soldiering initiative. Of course, it’s not just your ADF that has been on this journey. The imperative for ongoing cultural change in Defence, reflects the wider demands within Australian society.


The hard-nosed capability fact for any organisation is obvious: if you depend on talent and teamwork, and you allow your people to be abused, rather than grow to their full potential, you’re not doing your job.

That desire for change in the community was also reflected in Rosie Batty’s appointment  as Australian of the Year in 2015.  The continuing support for Rosie’s work demonstrates how far our society has come in recognition of the seriousness of the issue of family and domestic violence. You can change the way we see the world. Rosie has, and people are listening.

Sarah Ferguson’s ABC production Hitting Home also had a significant effect on the public discussion.   The documentary was confronting, showing stories of courage and determination from women living in violent and sometimes lethal relationships. It showed the effect that Family and Domestic Violence, and its consequences, have on the wider community in which the Army is a significant national institution.


As a continuing element of Defence’s cultural reform, our senior leadership has been working to change the attitudes and behaviours that allow such violence to occur, within our workforce and the wider community.

In March this year, the Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon. Marise Payne, launched The Defence Family and Domestic Violence Strategy. The Strategy seeks to support the safety of those subjected to, or affected by, Family and Domestic Violence.

It sets out the principles and methods Defence uses to assist individuals and families, and seeks to create a more supportive and responsive workplace. It’s basic premise is that Family and Domestic Violence is never acceptable, and that perpetrators will be held to account.

In June 2016, Defence released a Commanders and Managers guide to responding to Family and Domestic Violence. The purpose of the guide is to assist ADF and APS leaders to support those who are affected by violence. The guide provides information about Family and Domestic Violence, practical advice on Defence policies and entitlements, and the services and support that are available within Defence and the wider community.


Firm direction on necessary actions was also established. For example, when a member of the ADF is a respondent to a protection order, he or she must notify their commanding officer in writing as soon as possible, but no later than 24 hours after becoming aware that they are subject to a protection order. As an initial step, their Commanding Officer is then expected to immediately restrict the member’s access to weapons.

To complement policy, and to keep the conversation alive in the work place, in 2016, I directed that across the Army everyone watch Hitting Home, accompanied by a session of moderated discussion. The conversation this started within Army informed our approach to the production and release of Silence is the Accomplice, which was also compulsory viewing within the Army in 2017.

My point in outlining this story of change is that a great deal has been done, within a wider context of cultural improvement by Defence, the ADF and Army, in an effort to build a better force and in so doing contribute to our wider society.


Family and domestic violence and other ills persist of course.  Sustained change takes time and perseverance. And while we do this broad spectrum of cultural reform work, the fact that we’ve never had a more capable ADF is, to an important measure, the result of better harnessing the talents and motivation of our team, which such reform provides.

During a recent interview, Andrew Greene asked me if the Army has a problem with family and domestic violence. I responded that Australia has a problem with family and domestic violence – which means that we do too.

My position as the Chief of the Army does not give me any special agency or right to speak out on family and domestic violence. But being an Australian does. What being Chief of Army gives me, is the responsibility to build and lead an Army of which Australians can be proud, both for its courage and its compassion. So, while working to reduce the incidence of family and domestic violence is the right thing for everyone to do, it is my professional duty that brings me here today, rather than in any private capacity, as social commentator or advocate.


Let me explain.


The Australian Army, and our Service partners, the Navy and Air Force, exist for the lawful, disciplined use of violence to defend Australia and its national interests. The ill-disciplined and illegal use of violence on operations is a war-crime.

At home it’s a crime.

Today’s Australian soldier, is the most lethal this nation has ever fielded. Each is given the skills, knowledge, weapons and communication systems to kill our nation’s enemies more assuredly than any preceding generation. This is the grim reality of what’s known as the ‘science of war’. And as Plato said millennia ago…only the dead have seen the end of war


You won’t be a soldier in whose hands I place such lethality, if you don’t live by Army’s values: Courage, Initiative, Respect and Teamwork. Always. 

When you’re scared, exhausted, confused and your mates are dead, our weapons won’t discriminate the innocent from the enemy combatant; you will. Success in battle requires great self-discipline and a willingness to sacrifice for others.

The journey of self-discipline starts at home, not in the heat of battle.

When one of my people engages in the illegal and ill-disciplined use of violence at home, in training or on exercise, my confidence in them to execute their duties lawfully and discriminately in circumstances of immense stress on the battlefield is deeply undermined.

They are not living by Army’s values: I see cowardice not Courage, comfortable habit not the Initiative to break the cycle, I don’t trust them to Respect the innocent, the weak and the wounded, nor to serve the Team rather than themselves.


Perpetrators of family and domestic violence are fundamentally at odds with the meaning and profession of Australian soldiering.

This is why family and domestic violence is a war fighting capability and workplace issue. And why addressing it is a necessary part of our continuing work.

The fight against Family and Domestic Violence is about living the Army’s values.

And of course it’s also the right thing to do, for any citizen of Australia.

Silence is the Accomplice reminds us, in a raw and compelling fashion, that family and domestic violence happens to real people in our Army, in our workplace, and in our community.  It brings the issue close to home, with the aim of starting a meaningful conversation within the Army about this serious issue and inspiring action. I hope it prompts the audience to consider what they can personally do to address the problem in a practical way. Whether this is through providing support, reporting the violence, or (where appropriate) confronting the perpetrator; practical action matters.


Army’s approach to family and domestic violence reflects this premise: that ‘action matters’. In November 2015, we became the largest workplace in Australia to achieve White Ribbon accreditation.  In complementary action, we have rolled out ‘mentors in violence prevention’ training across the Army, to educate our people in bystander intervention.

Army’s statistics with respect to family and domestic violence remind us that we’re on a journey. In 2014, we recorded 41 cases; 2015, 56 cases and last year saw 125 reported cases. And, for the 2017 year-to-date, we have recorded 62 cases of family and domestic violence. As with other social ills that gain our attention, these figures do not reflect a recent outbreak of domestic violence; rather, an increased willingness to report it. For example, the release of Silence is the Accomplice and associated training saw a short term 18% increase in reporting.

These statistics paint a picture. Perpetrators are being identified and action, on a case by case basis, is being taken. Equally importantly, victims of family and domestic violence are being seen and heard. This means that we can assist them in their time of need. I am increasingly confident that our work is reaching all three groups involved in family and domestic violence: the perpetrators, the victims and those who are aware of it. 


Let me share some examples.


Shortly after the release of Silence is the Accomplice, an Army Headquarters Staff Officer received an anonymous phone call from an Army member, who admitted to being a perpetrator. He said that he had seen the video, and it had changed how he felt and he now wanted to seek help to stop. The caller admitted that he regularly assaulted his wife and children; for many years. The officer who took the call was able to point to a list of agencies and resources that could help him address his behaviour. Across Army we have seen an increase in our people seeking help via support agencies, the medical system and our network of Padres.

An incident in Darwin earlier this year provides example of positive bystander behaviour. A soldier from a Darwin based-unit was walking down Mitchell Street with a civilian mate when he saw a woman being assaulted by her boyfriend. The two men intervened to stop the assault. They restrained the perpetrator until the police arrived, and comforted the victim. They provided statements to the police, who later informed them that the victim was grateful for their assistance as she had been physically abused for over 12 months.

Elsewhere, as one of our Platoon Commanders was walking by, he overheard what he later learnt was a recruit's ex-husband very loudly abusing her during a phone conversation. She described a very controlling relationship, in which her ex-husband was continually pressuring her to quit her training and return home. The commander mentioned one of the accounts told by a victim in Silence is the Accomplice. He informed her of the avenues available in Army to seek assistance if and when she felt the need to do so.  She has since graduated and I hope she continues to enjoy her service in a regiment that values and supports her as a member of our team.

The four soldiers who had the courage to come forward and expose their experiences of family and domestic violence in Silence is the Accomplice  have done a tremendous thing - for all of us.  All have said they felt empowered by telling their story. They have shown, despite their own pain and vulnerability, that a victim can take back control of their life. While the first step to support may be the hardest, Australians are a compassionate people and support will be there. That’s who we are.


As a White Ribbon accredited workplace, the Army is committed to increasing awareness of domestic violence, both within Army, and more broadly in the communities where we work, at home and abroad.  We share this commitment with Navy, Air Force, the Department of Defence, and many other organisations across Australia.

I know more than anyone that the Australian Army is a very big ‘human’ organisation. By definition then, we are imperfect and flawed. Working to stop family and domestic violence not only makes us a better Army, it makes us better Australians.


I greatly appreciate the support of the National Press Club in helping to raise awareness of Family and Domestic Violence, and our responsibility to act. If you haven’t seen the full 20 minute video, Silence is the Accomplice, I strongly encourage you all to watch it, promote it and discuss it; for it is only in silence that such behaviour thrives.


In my opening remarks I noted the number of Facebook and YouTube hits we’ve had. It’s sobering to remember that a cat playing the piano, indeed almost any cat video, will get ten times as many hits.

I like cats, but really?

Social apathy, a sense of helplessness and the easy distractions of modernity all stand against change. But instead I say, let’s think big for our nation and its future, in every way. I proudly stand and speak up for our soldiers, our Army, and the nation we serve.


Thank you for your interest in our work on the important issue of Family and Domestic Violence. I welcome your questions and comments.

Last updated
26 February 2018
Army: Courage. Initiative. Respect. Teamwork.
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