Chief of Army - Press Conference
13 June 2013
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for your attendance.
Today I wish to speak, to you to the degree that I can, about an ongoing investigation by the Australian Defence Force Investigative Service, or ADFIS, in cooperation with the NSW Police, into the actions of a group of men – officers and non commissioned officers – of the Australian Army, alleged to have occurred in and since 2010.
The matters under investigation are serious and appear to centre on the production and distribution of highly inappropriate material demeaning women across both the Defence computer systems and the public internet.
As a result of information I received from ADFIS in April of this year, three Army personnel were suspended from duty for alleged breaches of the Defence Force Discipline Act and their access to Defence computer systems was removed. I am advised these three may also be persons of interest to the NSW Police and of the possibility that civil charges may be laid against them is a matter under consideration by the Police.
The ADFIS investigation also extends to other Army personnel, which evidence suggests, are linked to the three who have already been suspended.
Indeed, that evidence, at this stage, indicates another fourteen Army officers and non commissioned officers appear to have engaged in a series of actions that strike at the heart of our Army’s ethos and its contract with the Nation.
Of these 14, I have today initiated action to consider the suspension of five individuals who appear to be closely linked in distributing inappropriate emails.
Pending the outcomes of the on-going ADFIS investigation, I may consider further suspension decisions against nine others if circumstances warrant.
There are a number of service offences that may apply, ranging from the misuse of Defence computer systems, the distribution of emails and other material that denigrates other people, especially women, through to involvement with illicit drug use.
I have instructed ADFIS to pursue any and all service offences that might apply. If proven, these allegations could lead to the imposition of punishment and to these individuals being discharged from the Australian Army.
I have also been advised that a further 90 or so other Defence personnel, overwhelmingly Army personnel, may have been on the periphery of the group’s email exchanges. They will also be investigated and may also be suspended if circumstances warrant.
I am appalled at this situation. I am, of course, cognisant of the need to keep an open mind and to let the evidence speak in regard to how these men are dealt with, but I view the allegations that are being made in the gravest light.
After the significant effort we have made to encourage women to enlist and remain in the Army, I am extremely concerned at what appears to have been uncovered.
There is no place for this type of behaviour in our Army, and in a Defence Force that prides itself on teamwork, courage and respect, and where women and men work alongside each other as colleagues and professionals. It brings the Australian Army into disrepute and it betrays all those whose service has established its enviable status among our citizens.
I am resolved that where any serious case is proven, every step available will be taken to remove the individual responsible from the Army.
In the wake of the ADFA ‘Skype’ case, and the series of inquiries and reviews into various aspects of 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 does occur. 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.
Army and Defence (ADFIS) is engaging with and providing support to those women who have been affected by this disgraceful behaviour. I have also spoken today to some of these women who felt comfortable taking a call from me, and I have apologised to them on behalf of the Army.
The men who are subject to the types of adverse action I have mentioned, such as suspension, retain access to the support services available through Defence.
In conclusion, let me reiterate that the Army is changing and what you are seeing here today is evidence of that change, and my commitment to greater transparency. I have issued reinforcing guidance today on the standard of behaviour I demand from every Regular or Reserve soldier in the Army, and this can be viewed on the Army website. Individuals will be held to account for demonstrated misconduct, immediately and decisively.
We’re working to increase the number of women in our ranks. We know that we must build a critical mass of women if we are going to fully realise the value of a diverse and inclusive workforce in the Army. It is clear, however, that we have got to be relentless in driving this change.
If we do not do this, the parents of Australia simply will not entrust us with the wellbeing of their daughters. And who can blame them? Equally, the strong, educated and talented women of Australia will not choose a career with the Australian Army when the Army is perceived to be an institution which permits the degradation of women.
I will now take questions but there will be limits on what I can tell you as this is subject to ongoing investigation, by both ADFIS and the New South Wales Police. The last thing any of us wish to do is to impede those investigations.
QUESTION: What were the nature of the photographs that were distributed and what's the relationship between that and drugs?
DAVID MORRISON: I can't be explicit as to the material that was transmitted across either the Defence computing systems or the internet as they are the matter of further investigation, and indeed there are privacy concerns here with the women involved. But I can tell you that they were both very inappropriate emails and imagery distributed by this group that are subject to investigation and they, as I have said, took place across both Defence computing systems and the broader internet.
QUESTION: [Indistinct] there are women affected or women involved, does this suggest that it's imagery of them or messages concerning them, or simply that they are recipients of inappropriate...?
DAVID MORRISON: No. The text certainly was directed at them. Okay. So they are victims here. They are not in any way, shape or form part of what this group has done. They are victims. The imagery that you're referring too, I am not at liberty to discuss because the matter is under investigation.
QUESTION: How many victims are there?
DAVID MORRISON: I have spoken to four women so far today and I'll speak to another one who was not available this morning. There are several others. Again, this is a matter of investigation by ADFIS and the New South Wales Police, and I don't have a definite number.
QUESTION: Are they all ADF members?
DAVID MORRISON: No. They are members of the Defence Force. They are public servants. And they are members of the broader Australian public.
QUESTION: What's the nature of the New South Wales Police involvement if there's a Defence investigation - if this is being sent through a Defence network, why are New South Wales Police involved in it?
DAVID MORRISON: New South Wales Police became aware of what was happening as a result of cooperation with the ADF Investigative Service. I'm not at liberty to discuss the range of offences that they are considering other than they are looking at the transmission of inappropriate material across an internet carriage service.
QUESTION: Is this a repeat of the Skype scandal, just with more people?
DAVID MORRISON: I'd say it's worse than the Skype matter. Now look, the Skype matter is under investigation. It is still a matter of consideration by the Magistrates Court in the ACT and I am limited to what I can say about that. But it is alleged, of course, to have taken place on the grounds at ADFA and to involve, in the most case, cadets who had been in the military for 10 weeks.
QUESTION: [Inaudible interruption]
DAVID MORRISON: Let me, if I could, just finish. In the matters that we're looking at now, these are actions by men who have been in the Defence Force for in excess of 10 years. This goes to the heart of what I said about systemic problems with culture inside the Army. And it, in turn, shapes the approach that I am now taking with regard to how we deal with this.
QUESTION: Does it centre on one base in particular?
DAVID MORRISON: No. It is the - the men that I have identified, the three who've been suspended to date, the five who are now under consideration for suspension, the nine others who I will look at and then depending on the evidence that ADFIS is still trying to bring together who I will consider for possible suspension, come from all over Australia and indeed from a number of different areas within the Army.
QUESTION: What's the highest rank general of the person involved, and how many images are we talking about?
DAVID MORRISON: There is one lieutenant-colonel who is part of this group. The remainder are either majors, captains, warrant officers, sergeants or corporals.
QUESTION: I'm just going to ask for a bit more clarity around those numbers. How many in total - sorry the three suspended...
DAVID MORRISON: Seventeen are currently under investigation. The three who have been suspended already and who are persons of interest for the New South Wales Police. And then a further group, five of whom we are considering for suspension now because they're activities are linked to those three who have already been suspended on the evidence that ADFIS has been able to gain. And then a further nine who we are still collecting evidence on and I still haven't been able to make my mind up as to whether we will suspend them or not.
QUESTION: How did this come to the attention of authorities? Was it through some sort of technical sweep, or a complaint by an individual?
DAVID MORRISON: I'm not able to answer that question. That sits at the heart of ADFIS and New South Wales investigations. What I can say is that the CDF was made aware of this on the 10th of April by the Provost Marshal of the ADF Investigative Service.
And, as I was overseas at the time, I was made aware of it on return on the 12th of April. I then discussed with the CDF the actions that we would take.
And they centred on three matters. Firstly, advising Government, and that was done. And the Minister was fully informed very soon after, and has been kept very much informed as we progressed during the intervening period.
The CDF and I then directed ADFIS to look at specific issues, particularly in relation to the five members who we are commencing suspension actions, or consideration for suspension action against now. And then we looked hard at when we could make this circumstance or situation public.
And I want to make a comment about that if I can. We understand, the Defence leadership team - the CDF, David Hurley, myself, the Vice-Chief, the other two Service chiefs - understand the need for as much transparency in dealing with these matters as we possibly can. It's recognition of a systemic problem inside the Army that is the first step to trying to correct this.
As we became more confident that the evidence presented a case to answer, then we started to engage other people. I spoke to Elizabeth Broderick yesterday. This morning I spoke to Libby Davies, the CEO of White Ribbon, of which I am an ambassador. I was able to speak to four of the victims - the women concerned. And, as I said during the intervening period, the Minister and the Government have been kept fully informed of developments.
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]
DAVID MORRISON: Yes. I can't say too much more than in some of the texts that have been looked at by ADFIS, there is a suspicion of reference to illicit drugs, and no more than that at the moment. But again, I'm trying to be as transparent and as open as I can here without prejudicing in any way the investigative endeavours of both the New South Wales Police and ADFIS.
And I must make the point here too, the presumed innocence of these men. Yes we have commenced suspension action - we've completed suspension action against three, and we are considering suspension action against a further five. That is to ensure that they do not have access to the Defence computing systems based on the evidence provided to date. And my judgement that they are best taken out of the workplace and the workforce that they have been in.
But they will have access to the full range of support measures within Defence available to them as we consider whether we are going to take disciplinary action or administrative action should that be warranted.
QUESTION: [Indistinct] you've been in the military for decades now, would you say this is your darkest day in Defence?
DAVID MORRISON: No, the darkest day is learning of a soldier's death, and you must always be careful about making a subjective judgement on subjects such as you've raised, but it is a very low point of course. It goes to the heart of our culture in an organisation that I have been a part of for three and a half decades, and that I love deeply.
I do want to make the point that the overwhelming majority of our men and women in the Army - in our defence force, do extraordinary jobs without fanfare, often, well removed from the public spotlight. They, I know, will be as horrified as I am at these allegations. They too will be concerned at how their nation will view the national institution of the Australian Army.
I think that being open with you, and through you the Australian public, is the best way to assure Australia that that contract with the Government and the nation is in good form - is in good shape. That we will deal with these matters and that we are improving our culture. That there are setbacks such as the one that we're seeing now, but we remain absolutely focused on making a difference.
QUESTION: So after everything that Defence has been thorough on the culture question, from Skype through Pathways to Change, what's the best explanation you can come up with for why those behaviours persist? Context is everything here and this behaviour seems to have spanned a period of great attention to this issue.
DAVID MORRISON: I don't have one. I can't be more honest with you than that I think. I can't put a theory on it. I mean, the culture of the Australian Army puts men and women at short notice in harms way almost every day of the year. It takes men and women away from their families at incredibly short notice on a New Years Eve to deal with fires or floods around Australia.
It's something not just to be deeply appreciated, but in many respects celebrated, and yes, the same culture can, if it's distorted and corrupted by individuals, be used poorly. And in this case it's certainly, on the face of the evidence I've been given so far - would indicate that it has been. But I can't put my finger on this, and I certainly can't find an easy switch to flick to turn it off. I suspect that it's rooted in part in human nature, but that's no excuse either.
It's on me. I'm responsible for this, I'm the Chief of the Australian Army, the culture of the Army is in my hands during my tenure, and I am doing as much as I possibly can to improve it. This is a set back, but I'm going to pick myself up, use it in conversations with the work force of Army, reflect on where things have gone wrong, and try and put them right.
QUESTION: [Indistinct] men know it - do they know each other? Do they have any common background or links?
DAVID MORRISON: The link that has been established between them has been across email chains. So names have appeared in address groups for example, and that's as much as I can say at the moment. That's as much evidence - or as much information as I've been given by ADFIS.
QUESTION: Are they in a similar form of job? How has this email chain been established, how did they all come into contact across the country these people?
DAVID MORRISON: This is part of the challenge that ADFIS face. I talked about 90 or so Defence personnel who are on the periphery, who are under investigation. ADFIS, which is a relatively small organisation, and very hard working, is now working their way through thousands of emails, looking at who is in various address groups, under various subjects, trying to discern a link between these individuals. That's the reason why it's taken some time since the CDF and I were informed about this on the 10th and 12th of April, respectively, to get to a point where I feel confident about talking to the Australian public about this.
QUESTION: What was the time period over which these email chains were being sent out? Was this months, six months?
DAVID MORRISON: No I don't have that level of specificity, other than to say that it dates back to an initial incident that has been seen to occur in 2010, and then continued on from there.
QUESTION: So this has been continuing on since 2010?
DAVID MORRISON: That's the first point that it was identified as having occurred, yes.
QUESTION: General, can you just - regarding the text of the emails, or the non imagery side of the emails, are they - is it fair to say that they're generally of a sexual nature, or are they jokes, or attempted jokes, can you tell us a bit more?
DAVID MORRISON: Well, I didn't see any humour or anything funny about it. I think I can only say at the moment that it's explicit and demeaning.
QUESTION: Were any of them violent?
DAVID MORRISON: No. Not to the best of my knowledge, and not that I have seen. But I have only seen a small amount of the evidence personally, and in any case I think I've probably said all that I can say as the matter is ongoing.
QUESTION: So you can't say it's sexual?
DAVID MORRISON: I would prefer to just leave it as I have stated it today, that the matter's - both textual and imagery are demeaning, explicit, and profane.
QUESTION: General, what were the female reactions when you spoke to the women involved today, how did they react to your phone call?
DAVID MORRISON: They were angry, they were concerned, they - when I asked them, indicated that they felt that the support that had been provided for them by Defence and by the Army was appropriate and - to their circumstances at this time. I, as I said, apologised to them on behalf of the Australian Army and I gave them a commitment, as I give to the Australian public, I will do everything within my power, within, obviously, the law and the Defence Force Discipline Act, to ensure that everybody concerned here is held accountable for their actions.
QUESTION: Were they aware that they were the subject of these emails?
DAVID MORRISON: They had been informed about them over a period of time leading up to today.
QUESTION: It was only after investigation was sparked that they become aware of the emails?
DAVID MORRISON: I think it's probably best to say that each case has to be looked at as an individual instance. The victims aren't a group in their own right. They have been targeted by these men, and so what has happened to them has occurred at different times and different offenses may relate to each particular woman in turn, and that's as much as I can possibly say.
QUESTION: Are any of them public figures?
DAVID MORRISON: No, not that I know of, other than we're all public figures and we all have a basic right to dignity, and at least on the evidence that I have seen to date that dignity has been traduced.
QUESTION: Had they been recipients of any of the emails?
DAVID MORRISON: I don't know.
QUESTION: How long do you expect the investigation 'til it's finalised?
DAVID MORRISON: This is a very complex matter. At the moment we've had enough evidence collected for me to consider suspension actions. I'll refer the five army personnel, and as I said, in turn I will consider whether suspensions are warranted for a further nine, but we have that peripheral group which numbers at this stage at about 90, and these matters are detailed and intricate and will take a time to establish fully.
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]
DAVID MORRISON: I would think so. I mean, the matters are of great concern, are intricate, are spread across both the defence computing systems and the internet, involves the New South Wales police, and ADFIS's resources are limited, although they certainly have been bolstered to allow for proper and appropriate investigation in this case. Nonetheless, I'm certainly not putting a time frame on it because we need to establish whether there is a case to answer here, and I will go back to the point and make it one more time that even though suspension action has taken place or is being considered, that is not a presumption of guilt. Those matters, each individual will be looked at in turn and held to account on the strength of the evidence collected.
QUESTION: I understand the constraints on you about the images, but just so I can get some parameters around this, would they be material obtainable from third parties, i.e. over the net, or are they images that have been taken, photographs taken of these ADF - female ADF members? Do you understand the…
DAVID MORRISON: I understand the question, and I understand why you would ask it. I still think I need to say that I can't speak specifically about this imagery, because it is the matter of investigation, other than to go back to the point that I've made a couple of times: the imagery, as is the text, is explicit, derogatory, demeaning and is repugnant to me.
Okay, thank you very much.