The former chair of the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce has told a federal inquiry ADF members felt “betrayed” when filing historic complaints.

Giving evidence at the second week of hearings of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide in Townsville, DART chair Leonard Roberts-Smith said the feedback received in a backlog of complaints was scathing of the armed forces.

The taskforce was established in 2012 to assist complainants who had suffered sexual and physical abuse,  and work place harassment in Defence prior to April 2011.

Its second interim report was tabled in 2013 by the then defence minister, who noted allegations of serious abuse at HMAS Leeuwin which was more widespread and persistent than that reported in the 1971 Rapke Report and 1988 Grey review.

There were particular issues which arose that could also be seen at other ADF recruit schools and training institutions. 

Leeuwin was closed in 1984 but Mr Roberts-Smith told the commission of alleged sexual abuse at the Australian Defence Force Academy and said the effects upon complainants remained.

Appointed chair of DART in November 2012, he said he was aware of a backlog of 770 earlier ADF claims and a “high volume” were experienced from its outset.

The commission heard the taskforce received a further 2439 complaints by an extended cut off date of 15 September 2015 that pertained to just women personnel between 1991 and 1998.

Mr Roberts-Smith said the complaints received during his time as chair conveyed an overwhelming sense of feeling betrayed.

He said one might typically say: “What really disturbed me is the fact that the service I was in – Navy, Army, Airforce – let me down, they let this happen to me.

“They are supposed to look after me but they let it happen to me. I reported it and they didn’t do anything about it.”

Mr Roberts-Smith said it was no exaggeration to say that in very many cases that came to the taskforce, the lives of those abused had literally been destroyed as a consequence.

“The actual incident may not have lasted very long in a particular case but … certainly the mental, emotional and psychological consequences literally last a lifetime.”

Asked had some been suicidal, he said :” Yes, absolutely.

“And I think in my statement I actually included quite a number of actual quotes where people had talked about … either contemplating suicide, suicide ideation or actually attempting suicide.