15/3/13 David Wroe
The lawyer appointed by the Gillard government to lead an inquiry into abuse in the military has questioned Defence Minister Stephen Smith’s commitment to bringing justice to victims, in a stinging attack on the government. Gary Rumble, a former partner at DLA Piper – the law firm hired by the government to review hundreds of claims of abuse in the armed forces – told a Senate committee on Thursday he had lost confidence in Mr Smith because of delays and inaction. Dr Rumble led the 2011 review of allegations of sexual and other abuse, set up by the government after the so-called ”Skype scandal” at the Australian Defence Force Academy.
Commitment to justice questioned: Defence Minister Stephen Smithe
The review documented about 800 plausible cases of sexual assault and other abuse since the 1950s and made a long list of recommendations. In November, Mr Smith announced a taskforce to investigate those claims, headed by retired military judge Len Roberts-Smith, and made a general apology to victims.
But in an explosive statement to the parliamentary committee overseeing the whole process, Dr Rumble said ”with a heavy heart” that he regretted expressing ”my confidence in the minister’s commitment to the review process” in June 2011. He said Mr Smith had simply convened ”a new taskforce to reconsider the allegations from scratch” – referring to the Roberts-Smith taskforce. Nothing had happened last year ”to advance a single one of the matters reported on in volume two in April 2012”, he added. Volume two of the DLA Piper review, which has not been published, contained all the details of individual allegations.
Furthermore, the government had not made a decision ”on a single one of the thousands of recommendations in volume two”.
Dr Rumble said if he had known such actions would not be taken, he would ”not have made a public statement of confidence in the minister’s commitment to phase one of the review process”. The DLA Piper review was divided into ”phase one”, which investigated allegations and made recommendations to the government, and ”phase two”, which would look at systemic failings in the military and make sure Defence was acting swiftly on the problems raised. Among the most serious of the allegations contained in the review were 24 cases of rape at the Defence Force Academy in the 1990s and allegations of abuse of young boys at HMAS Leeuwin in Western Australia in the 1960s and ’70s.
Mr Smith wrote to Dr Rumble a week ago after the lawyer raised these issues directly and said it would ”not have been appropriate” for the government to send a working version of volume two of the report to the department secretary because this was an independent process. He also wrote that it would be up to the Roberts-Smith taskforce to consider the systemic issues raised in the DLA Piper review. Mr Smith told Parliament on Thursday that about 15 new cases of abuse were being referred each week to the Roberts-Smith taskforce – bringing the number of cases to more than 1000.
The taskforce’s first interim report, released on Thursday, backed claims of widespread bullying and violence against sailors at the former HMAS Leeuwin, including boys possibly as young as 13.
http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/political-news/lawyer-attacks-delay-over-abuse-20130314-2g3k9.html#ixzz2NdIydHTd; David Wroe; http://www.smh.com.au/national/protesters-angry-at-dropping-of-case-20130325-2gq9r.html