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Politics with Michelle Grattan: Defence expert Allan Behm on the background to the Brereton report

Defence expert Allan Behm on the background to the Brereton report.

The findings of the inquiry by Justice Paul Brereton into the misconduct – including allegations of murder of non-combatants and mistreatment of prisoners – by Australian special forces in Afghanistan are released on Thursday.

Scott Morrison last week warned these findings will be “difficult and hard news” for Australians.

The leadership of the Australian Defence Force will drive a program of reform in the wake of behaviour that puts a deep blemish on what the ADF and most Australians see as the nation’s proud military tradition.

Allan Behm, from The Australia Institute, an expert on defence and security issues and a former senior public servant and ministerial adviser, joined the podcast on the eve of the release to discuss the background to the report, the nature of the special forces, and what comes next.

“I think it is going to be quite shocking for many of us. And I think … we will feel a sense of shame.”

“It will get many people to think about issues of moral hazard. It will certainly get people to think about what kind of administrative and organisational arrangements within the Australian Defence Force permitted this to happen.”

“I think it will cause a lot of Australians to think quite deeply about the moral peril that we expose young soldiers to in warfare.”

If reports are true “that prisoners were shot dead, that noncombatants were simply ‘wasted’, to use the language of warfare, as collateral damage in pursuit of military objectives, many, many ADF people will be very perturbed by that”.

Asked about the culture of these soldiers, Behm described the special forces as “elites”. “Elites can be highly problematic,” he says.

In the wake of the inquiry, there will be the question of whether special forces are needed, he said.

If they are to be retained, “the second thing will then be to decide whether we need to have the special forces quarantined, separate from the rest of our forces … or whether the special forces should be more clearly part of our standing army”.

Having the special forces work across a wider base within the military could “militate against the formation of uncontrollable elites or rogue elements”.

“And there’s history to be dealt with.

"I mean, we have a regiment which is highly decorated and highly recognised. At the same time, it is this regiment and this function, which … has brought this shame upon us.

"And that will require a lot of evaluation.”

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Additional audio

A List of Ways to Die, Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive.

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