It should be just a matter of trust

By Heston Russell

I have taken the past few months to meet with a considerable number of veterans and their families who have reached out following the release of the Brereton Report in November last year. I listened to accounts that made me shocked, saddened, disappointed and disgusted at the way that these Australian citizens had been treated.

With Australia Day just passed, the irony of just how un-Australian some of the stories are is not lost on me, confirmation of the toxic leadership culture in our defence force. I listened as wives told me how they watched their husbands deteriorate from proud patriots to being so fearful that they would take their own lives.

Mothers told me how they were torn apart deciding to send their children across the country to live with their grandparents because they were fearful for their safety at home.

Fearful because they had been contacted by members of the Australian media and faced threats that if they didn’t support an article or comment their stories would be made public.

These accounts came directly from the families of those who have already had actions taken against them by the Australian Defence Force before and after the official release in November 2020.

I heard of how during the Brereton Inquiry, actions were still initiated as far back as March 2020 to remove current serving members from active service. The removal of their financial allowances and placing them on restrictions. I heard of the complete isolation of these military personnel and their families from their workplace supervisors and support. As I sat and listened, often coming to tears as they also told of the incredible trauma this has caused their families, marriages and children, I continued to ask one simple question: Have any charges been laid? With every response: No. I even went further to ask: Have you been questioned by the police? Every response: No.

Then with the issuing of notices calling for their termination from the Army, families ‘endured’ these periods without response, filled with uncertainty for their futures.

Of all the questions and emotions that arose, I simply found myself asking: Why are these actions being taken now.

It has been seven-plus years since the last Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) returned from Afghanistan.

Veterans of all ranks, trades and experiences are filled with disgust and outrage at our most senior military and political leaders. Many felt abandoned and left with mortal injury, many veterans spoke of how this had caused them to feel tarnished and ashamed at the lack of leadership.

They query how they could identify with, let alone trust them.

However, many veterans were grateful the Australian public had front row seats to finally see these toxic leaders and their culture of securing personal and political advantage through focusing their service and support to those above but not below their rank or authority.

My hope is that all actions from here will allow this due process the support and integrity it requires. While some may speak of ‘a few bad eggs’, culture comes down from those who lay the path by example for others to follow. We must now work to further support these veterans to bring more transparency and accountability up and down the chain of command.


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