A panel of multiple high ranking Army leaders has told a royal commission behavioural issues still exist at Townsville’s Lavarack barracks, and while efforts to deal with them have improved, the defence force is “not there yet”.
The royal commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide is in its second week of hearings in the North Queensland garrison city.
On Monday, Warrant Officer and panel member Brian Buskell said there were more avenues available for serving members to speak up about issues within the ranks compared to when he enlisted in 1988.
But when asked by counsel assisting Peter Singleton if serving soldiers would also think there was a better sense of inclusivity and respect in “recent times”, Mr Buskell acknowledged: “There are soldiers that will disagree with what I’ve said.”
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Commission chair Nick Kaldas queried how accountability and consequences for wrongful behaviour are enforced.
“There are avenues for concern to be raised. I know once we are aware of those concerns, action is taken against people who do the wrong thing,” Mr Buskell said.
“I’ve seen it happen in the last two years where the commander has been made aware of the wrong behaviour of teams doing the wrong thing, and he’s taken action against those individuals, but we are not there yet.”
The commission was told last week about hazing events and inappropriate behaviour within and outside of the Lavarack barracks.
Mr Buskell on Monday revealed 52 incidents had occurred this year, including eight of unacceptable behaviour and 12 civilian offences.
“The instance of unacceptable behaviour ranging from assaults, bullying, not sexual assault on the garrison, but in the community. Things like that,” he said.
Mr Buskell said those incidents involved no particular demographic of officer or soldier, and he didnt believe there was a “hub” of unacceptable behaviour at the barracks.
Fellow panel member Major Tony Kennedy said the army was relying on “self-regulation in a lot of cases”, and self-discipline and peer-discipline with regard to the behaviour of personnel.
The commission was told responsibility for lodgement of complaints rests with a member’s commanding officer, something chair Nick Kaldas probed with Mr Buskell.
“I’m sure you are aware of issues of retaliation that have occurred in the past … and the commanding officers have been found wanting,” he said.
“I think it is one of the failings of the system that the consequences of the commanding officer failing to protect those who have made a complaint don’t encourage anyone else to come forward.”
The royal commission is examining systemic and cultural failures that have led to high rates of suicide among members and veterans and will continue on Tuesday.