The Australian Defence Force is engulfed in a fresh sex scandal, with three members already suspended and under police investigation for allegedly circulating material demeaning women, and the conduct of many more being examined.
The Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison said another 14 officers and non-commissioned officers appeared to have been involved. Five of them are likely to be suspended.
A further 90 people on the “periphery” of the scandal are also being investigated. The affair is even more damaging for the ADF than the Skype scandal because long-serving personnel are involved, not cadets.
Morrison said he was “appalled” at what had happened, which centred on the circulation of images and text that was “explicit, derogatory, demeaning and … repugnant.”
The material was spread across Defence computing systems and the internet, and also included “veiled references” to illicit drugs.
The men include a lieutenant, majors, warrant officers, sergeants and corporals. Morrison said that the scandal, which dates back to 2010 and continued, was worse than the 2011 Skype affair - in which a cadet was filmed having sex with a fellow cadet while the incident was broadcast to others in another room.
The Skype matter led to multiple inquiries and a promise by the government and the ADF that there would be cultural change in the force.
Chief of the Defence Force General David Hurley said he was disturbed by the nature of the evidence and “angered by the actions of those who were associated with these activities”.
The ADF and the NSW police are working together in investigating cases.
Morrison said he had spoken today to four women who were victims and was planning to speak to a fifth. He said the women were angry and concerned.
“In the wake of the ADFA Skype case, and the series of inquiries and reviews into various aspects of the ADF culture and military justice over the last 20 years, the leadership of the ADF no longer accepts the "bad apple” argument when one of these incidents occurs,“ he said.
"These behaviours are symptoms of a systemic problem and we will continue to address them in a comprehensive manner, through Defence’s Pathway to Change strategy,” Morrison said.
Hurley said the ADF’s actions in publicly disclosing the allegations and imposing the suspensions “should send a very clear message to all Defence personnel - there is no place for illegal, offensive or discriminatory behaviour in the Australian Defence Force”. It should also show the Australian community that he and the Defence chiefs were “serious” about addressing these issues.
“The behaviour of these issues reflects poorly on all of us,” he said.
Apart from any criminal charges, men found guilty will be dismissed from the army.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith said he welcomed “the strong response that demonstrates in the post-ADFA Skype environment a zero tolerance for this type of behaviour”.
Opposition defence spokesman David Johnston said the allegations were serious but he had confidence that they would be investigated thoroughly and properly. “I know that the senior leadership in the ADF are committed to changing the cultural issues that have been a source of discouragement to women joining the ADF.”
The head of the Australia Defence Association Neil James’ reaction was one of “incredulity”.