Ben Roberts-Smith needs to do exactly what the journalists he employs demand of others facing damning accusations in public life: step down immediately.
This week’s revelations — true or false — are calamitous. Images alleging war crimes. Ugly promises, caught on audio, to “destroy” enemies trying to bring him down. Photographic evidence highlighting a ruthless disregard for the religions and cultures of others. Pictures of parties, devoid of adults or ethics.
If these accusations were made against a junior solider serving in our armed forces, the public would want that soldier dismissed. They would smear the good name of so many other young soldiers, who wake up each morning with a determination to give their best for their country.
If it was a former senior soldier, the good name of our army would be threatened and our judgement would be questioned by our allies. It would be ludicrous if they kept their army job, or their senior job in private enterprise, while investigations were ongoing. They would be stood down, perhaps even on full pay.
But these accusations are not against anyone junior, or anyone fairly senior. They are directed at the person we — as a nation — have awarded the highest accolade available in our honours system, the Victoria Cross.
This, along with a Medal for Gallantry, and a Commendation for Distinguished Services, means Roberts-Smith should be the poster boy for service; the embodiment of courage, bravery and selflessness here and abroad.
But even if Roberts-Smith is being falsely accused of war crimes — which he strongly asserts — it does not erase some of the photos showing evidence of a gross lack of leadership. Naked adult men acting like irresponsible teen idiots. Simulated sex acts that speak to a culture women and many men in this country are sick of seeing. Ku Klux Klan costumes. Burning crosses. Trophy hunting.
Roberts-Smith is in some of these photos, and not in others. But even in those he’s not, wouldn’t his seniority dictate some sort of awareness that this is how our troops carried on? On that basis, it’s hard to provide any rationale for him remaining in his powerful and influential position.
Roberts-Smith is now a formidable businessman, having done a Master of Business Administration at the University of Queensland. As a stage speaker and communicator, he’s had adults crying into handkerchiefs as he relays stories of mateship, leadership and service. He is as charismatic as he is clever. He is currently the big boss of Seven Network Brisbane and Queensland: a position that affords him considerable power both publicly and politically and in terms of media exposure.
And the man propping him up, at least financially, is his boss Kerry Stokes — who is also chairman of the Australian War Memorial!
That’s not right. What is Stokes’ responsibility, given that chairmanship, with these accusations being both so public and monstrous? What did he think when he saw them unfold, one after the other, slowly on Sunday night?
Sticking by him, as Seven announced yesterday, just doesn’t wash.
It’s hard to fathom why investigations into Roberts-Smith are taking so long. It’s also hard to fathom the rigour — or lack of it — behind panels which judge our nation’s most prestigious awards. But it should be easy to understand the impact of Ben Roberts-Smith remaining in his current role.
Are Seven viewers getting an untarnished appraisal of these accusations, carried heavily on the Nine Network? And what do Seven journalists, who call Roberts-Smith their boss, do the next time one of Australia’s most awarded businessmen is accused of murder or threatening shareholders — all while crowing about how the company’s finances are being used to support them?
Ben Roberts-Smith should do the decent and brave thing, and step down. That’s the standard we apply to politicians and other office-holders accused of far less. And it’s the standard we need to be apply to our most highly decorated soldier.