General Angus Campbell speaks during Senate estimates.
Defence chief General Angus Campbell admits women may be put off by the force's internal culture. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

ADF culture may put women off, defence chief admits

Tess Ikonomou June 6, 2024

Three years after a survey found one in three female defence recruits were victims of sexual misconduct, Australia’s armed forces chief has admitted the culture of the military might deter women from joining.

Some 36 per cent of women at the Australian Defence Force Academy experienced sexual misconduct, the survey carried out in 2021 revealed.

Six per cent had been sexually assaulted or subjected to an attempted assault, compared to zero for men.

More than 60 per cent of females experienced unacceptable behaviour, but 43 per cent took no action.

The most common reasons cited for taking no action included “the behaviour is accepted around here” and “it was easier to just keep quiet”.

The survey, tabled during the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, was raised during a Senate estimates hearing on Thursday.

Greens senator David Shoebridge pressed defence leadership on whether the culture of the Australian Defence Force put women off joining.

Chief of the Defence Force General Angus Campbell said it might be a consideration for female applicants and their families, amongst other factors.

A previous hearing was told defence was set to achieve just 57 per cent of its recruitment target this year.

Senator Shoebridge grilled defence officials over the military justice system, saying it rarely kicked out people found to have committed serious offences.

The hearing was told an analysis of outcomes showed cases of indecent assaults or theft were punished with small fines or reductions of rank.

Senator Shoebridge said that when offenders left the military for civilian life their records were “completely wiped” and asked why criminal records weren’t transferred.

“They carry with them no record of the criminal convictions, and therefore, if they’re brought before a criminal court outside of the military, they’re treated as a first-time offender,” Senator Shoebridge said.

General Campbell said he was aware of the issue but had not raised it with Defence Minister Richard Marles.

“The military justice system is independent of command … I have not done anything because it is not within my purview to do something,” he said.

One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts, alongside Senator Shoebridge, asked the military top brass about “deeply inappropriate” comments made by an army chaplain to the partners of two pilots killed in a helicopter crash in July last year.

The women alleged during an inquiry into the fatal incident that the chaplain had told them, in two separate incidents, that one was young and would “find somebody new” and the other needed to think of her future husband and children.

Deputy Chief of Army Major General Chris Smith had to take the questions on notice, saying he didn’t “know the details”.