General Angus Campbell continued his evidence at hearings in Townsville this week, after previously saying defense “is not doing enough” to address suicides.
- The royal commission heard defense promoted a person with a reported history of “unacceptable behaviour”
- Chief of Defense Angus Campbell rejected introducing legal protections for defense force members making submissions to the commission
- Evidence was given of personnel involuntarily leaving the defense force at higher rates
On Friday, General Campbell was asked why an officer — known as Person C — was promoted despite a record of unacceptable behavior that dated back at least five years.
“Do you remember that Person C had received a promotion since that period when reports of unacceptable behavior had begun appearing on AIMS [Army Incident Management System]?” counsel assisting Peter Gray QC said.
General Campbell offered an explanation.
“No decision-maker or delegate had been in a position to consider Person C’s repeated unacceptable behavior displayed over a number of years,” he said.
General Campbell said the incidents related to “different units and environments holistically and (there had been) repeated informal attempts by Person C’s chain of command to correct his behaviour.”
Mother’s probing into son’s suicide led to investigation
The officer in question eventually ceased to serve with the ADF, but only after the mother of a veteran alleged the officer’s bullying had contributed to her son’s death by suicide in 2017.
General Campbell was probed as to whether Person C would have remained in the defense force without the mother’s intervention.
“It’s possible,” General Campbell said.
“Both are possible — that he may have stayed [or] that he may have ceased to serve.”
General Campbell said superiors did not necessarily review a member’s history of unacceptable behavior during the promotion process.
But he rejected the idea put to him by counsel assisting that that was a “profound systemic failure.”
“I see it rather as evidence of a developing system that has in it an innate tension between the responsibility to deal with incidents and seek to develop your people,” General Campbell said.
No legal protection for personnel making submissions
So far, the commission has received 1,683 submissions.
About 13 per cent are from current serving personnel.
But the commission heard there were no legal protections in place for current serving personnel or veterans for “fear that they would get into trouble” for revealing sensitive information.
“I very strongly encourage current serving or veterans and families to come and speak to the royal commission,” General Campbell said.
“There will be no consequences whatsoever and any supervisor who might think of that will be held to account.”
However, I have rejected the idea that as Chief of Defense he should issue a directive that would provide legal protection for those wishing to come forward.
“I don’t actually think that direction from me obviates the responsibilities to preserve issues of national security classification,” General Campbell said.
“But more particularly, I’m concerned that it’s not appropriate for me to direct people to speak to the royal commission.
“So it would not be phrased as an order or direction, but rather a strong encouragement.”
Recruitment and retention struggling
The commission also heard of risk factors that rendered a defense member at a higher risk of suicide.
They included men, those not of officer rank, and those under 30, along with members who had left the defense force involuntarily or on medical grounds.
In his submissions, the Chief of Defense Force said the number of personnel “separating” from the defense force in May 2022 had increased by 2 per cent in the past year.
“My views are the separation rate is higher than we need it to be in order to meet current and future recruiting and workforce objectives,” General Campbell said in his submission.
“How is it that there are so many people recruited to the ADF who are so often and in such a short time found to be unsuitable for service?” counsel assisting Peter Gray asked.
“I think it reflects the challenge of recruiting into an organization that… may not either suit the person or the person may not be suited to it,” General Campbell said.
“Of course, I would like a different dataset here.”
He was questioned about the effectiveness of the ADF’s current recruitment drive, which has recently slightly reduced its standards for physical fitness.
“Doesn’t this have the potential to create adverse outcomes and possibly a vicious cycle where more and more people will be recruited unsuitably who will discharge early, adding to the churn the ADF is facing?” he was asked.
“I see the logic in your point,” General Campbell said.
The hearings will continue in Townsville next week.
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