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The enemy within: Defence Force must face up to cultural challenges

The Australian Defence Force’s “greatest enemy” lies within itself, with deep-rooted cultural challenges revealed by a royal commission, its chair says.

Mar 04, 2024, updated Mar 04, 2024
Detail of an Australian flag pictured on the uniform of Australian Army personnel on assignment to the Gold Coast, Tuesday, January 9, 2024.  (AAP Image/Dave Hunt) NO ARCHIVING

Detail of an Australian flag pictured on the uniform of Australian Army personnel on assignment to the Gold Coast, Tuesday, January 9, 2024. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt) NO ARCHIVING

Opening the final public hearings block of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide on Monday, Chair Nick Kaldas urged cooperation and accountability to address the issue.

“We are not the cause of the ADF’s troubles, our data analysis has confirmed that their greatest enemy lies within the ADF itself and its resistance to change,” he said.

“It is apparent from the evidence we’ve uncovered that there are deep- rooted cultural and systemic challenges within the ADF and DVA (Department of Veterans’ Affairs) which have had dire consequences.”

Mr Kaldas said no more can the “siloed, fragmented and incremental approach to veteran support be tolerated”.

“No longer can these systemic issues be denied, dismissed, diminished or deflected by those in the halls of power and positions of leadership,” he said.

“Their lack of ownership of these issues, their lack of curiosity about contributing issues, and their willingness to accept glossy versions of history over stark facts cannot continue.”

Defence Minister Richard Marles and other senior military leaders will give evidence at the hearings.

The last of the public hearings have started in Sydney and will wrap up at the end of March.

It will be the final chance for the inquiry to ask questions of senior Defence and government figures about evidence before its final report is handed down in September.

Vice chief of the defence force Vice Admiral David Johnston will give evidence on Monday, with Independent Senator Jacqui Lambie to appear the following day.

Australian Defence Force chief General Angus Campbell has already faced questioning at the royal commission.

The commission has previously expressed its frustration at the slow response from commonwealth agencies to requests for information, as well as claims of confidentiality, parliamentary privilege and public interest immunity.

The final report was originally due in mid-June, but a three-month deadline extension was granted and it will now be handed down in early September.

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