Australia’s apology for military abuse rapped as rushed

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2012, 3:53pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2012, 4:05pm

 Australia’s apology to sex abuse victims in the military was criticised on Tuesday as too rushed to allow the victims to witness it, even as it was welcomed as a necessary step.

When then-prime minister Kevin Rudd apologised in 2008 to the Aboriginal “stolen generations” of people taken from their families, large crowds were in Canberra to witness the historic occasion inside and outside parliament.

But when Defence Minister Stephen Smith delivered the apology to those abused in the military in parliament on Monday, his speech came just hours after the announcement that it would be made.

“The substance of the apology was great, the timing was lousy,” Independent Senator Nick Xenophon said.

“It’s baffling as to why he didn’t give warning to victims and victim groups in order that they could actually be in the chamber. That’s part of the healing process.”

Smith said the most important thing was that the apology was made in a timely matter. “My worry is that if it wasn’t done now, it wouldn’t be done until next year,” he told Sky News.

“This is unlike some of the other apologies we’ve seen where you’ve had longstanding groups in the community agitating for a change of view that’s important to Australian society.

“On this occasion, we’ve had people who... don’t want any publicity, want their privacy protected. And in the end, the most important thing is the giving of the apology.”

John Dawe, who was subjected to an unofficial initiation rite in the navy in 2008, agreed he would not have wanted to witness the apology but his wife and father would have wanted to attend.

“If we had known in time it would have meant a lot to be there,” he told The Australian newspaper.

In announcing the apology, Smith said he would also establish an independent task force to individually assess some 775 plausible allegations of sexual or other abuse uncovered by a report commissioned by the government last year.

The task force would be able to refer appropriate matters to police for formal criminal investigation and assessment for prosecution, and is likely to investigate some people still serving in the military.

A capped compensation fund will also be set up with the task force, deciding who qualifies for up to Aus$50,000 (US$52,000) each.

Former army chief Peter Leahy welcomed Smith’s actions. “An apology was necessary,” Leahy said. “It’s a pity it wasn’t made by the perpetrators.”

The abuse claims stem from the 1950s to the present day, involving both men and women.