Tuesday, 1 December 2020
Australian Defence Force
That the Senate—
(a) notes that:
(i) the Chief of the Defence Force, General Angus Campbell, committed to writing to the Governor-General to request he revoke the Meritorious Unit Citation for Special Operations Task Groups who served in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013, as per the recommendation in the Brereton Report,
(ii) despite General Campbell's statement, the Department of Defence told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Insiders program that the final decision on whether to accept the recommendations of the Brereton Report is a matter for Government, and
(iii) stripping the Meritorious Unit Citation from the Special Operations Task Groups would punish over 3,000 troops who have bravely served our country for the actions of a small number of people; and
(b) calls on the Morrison Government to reject the recommendation to strip the Meritorious Unit Citation for Special Operations Task Groups who served between 2007 and 2013.
No decisions have yet been made with regard to the appropriate options and approaches to implement the more than 140 recommendations as the complexity and sensitivity of the issues outlined in the report will take extensive and considered deliberation. The Chief of the Defence Force is leading the development of an implementation plan to action the recommendations made in the Brereton report and any other matters arising from the report that will require action. The government has established the Afghanistan Inquiry Implementation Oversight Panel to oversee all aspects of Defence's response to the Brereton report. The government will have input into the proposed implementation plan and any actions as necessary.
Labor won't be supporting this motion, but we do acknowledge it's a difficult and sensitive issue. As the shadow minister for defence has said, the alleged behaviour of a few cannot be allowed to overshadow the contributions made by thousands of men and women who have served our country with distinction in Afghanistan. Labor notes the statement released last night by the Chief of the Defence Force, that no decisions have yet been made with regard to options and approaches to implement the recommendations of the Brereton report and that further action in response to the report's recommendations will be considered as part of an implementation plan that is under development. The Brereton report contains over 140 recommendations. It is entirely appropriate that Defence is given time and space to methodically work through those recommendations and its proposed responses.
I have a concern that removal of this citation will affect more than 3,000 people, most of whom served their country extremely well. The removal of the citation may, perhaps, wrongfully imply wrongdoing. We should specifically target those people who have done wrong in Afghanistan and be very, very specific and surgical about how we do that. That includes soldiers and officers. At this stage, we should rule out removing that citation unless we get an understanding that there was significant knowledge right throughout the units as to the conduct. The Brereton report does not in any way suggest that is the case.
All who served in Afghanistan and did the right thing deserve recognition for their service. The reality is that these war crimes are horrific and cast a shadow over everyone who served, tainting their service experience. Whilst the removal of the meritorious unit citation recognises this reality, the impact must not be felt by the troops on the ground alone. It is so important that the chain of command, the military top brass, are held to account for their failure to take action. We cannot allow Defence leadership to apply one rule to their subordinates and another rule to themselves. Top levels of Defence must face similar disciplinary actions whilst this investigation takes place, and parliament—MPs—must be held responsible for their role in deploying our forces overseas.