A sex scandal in the Defence Force has led to Australian women finally being allowed to fight on the front line and opened a conversation on misogyny and the culture of Australia’s defence force academies.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith has opened his own war of words with defence officials, with Defence Chief Angus Houston apparently threatening to resign in a meeting with Smith on the weekend.
Smith said in a press conference yesterday: “Culturally we need to ensure that members of the Defence Force understand that there will be no tolerance for [poor behaviour] and we need to educate and effect cultural change.”
Smith criticised how the Defence Force have handled the recent sex scandal, and announcing a fast-tracking of a program begun back in 2011 to allow female soldiers to fight on the front line. Currently only 93% of defence jobs are open to women.
Smith also announced a number of reviews and investigations to examine chauvinistic culture in the force, including a look at the culture of alcohol and binge drinking.
Elizabeth Broderick, the Sex Discrimination Comissioner, will lead the inquiry into the treatment of women at the Australian Deforce Force Academy (ADFA) in Canberra, where the recent sex scandal — involving an 18-year-old girl being filmed having sex without her consent — took place.
Here’s a round up of what the commentariat are saying:
editorial: Coming to the defence of women in forces
“What began as one reprehensible incident at the Australian Defence Force Academy is now a passionate debate about defence force culture.
The abhorrent betrayal of a young woman’s trust by fellow cadets always warranted a thorough investigation, but this incident has uncovered deep-seated and widespread concerns about sexism in the defence forces, triggering a range of reviews, actions and inquiries.”
Michelle Grattan: Brave or rash, Smith starts an uphill battle with Defence
“Stephen Smith has used a relatively low level – albeit highly distasteful – incident as a sledgehammer to try to impose a sweeping cultural shake-up on the often intransigent Defence Force”
Peter Leahy: These cadets are neither officers nor gentlemen
“While we are at it, why not add another review – the future of ADFA. ADFA does not make officers for the Australian Defence Force. Those attending ADFA receive degrees from the University of New South Wales and then proceed to the officer-producing establishments of the army, navy and air force. ADFA is essentially a ”university college” where cadets wear a uniform and receive a small amount of military training in a generalised ”military” environment. In an era of commercialisation, cost savings and strategic reform, we should ask if this task can’t be better performed in the broader tertiary education sector.
“Students could attend local universities with their friends in a known and stable home environment. They could, if they wished, enlist in the Army Reserve to receive financial assistance, training support and mentoring during their university education. When more mature and sure of themselves they can then apply to join the services and proceed straight to Duntroon, Point Cook or Nowra.”
Stephen Dawson: The real defence exception
“Almost all of the recent commentary on the scandal at the Australian Defence Force Academy is uninformed, due to a widespread failure to understand that military organisations not only are different to other organisations, but that they must be. A military career is not, and cannot, be grouped with any other. It is objectively exceptional. In one significant respect, employment as a builder’s labourer has more in common with the work of the chairman of the ASX than either has with being a soldier.”