ADF members betrayed by abuse: inquiry

The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide
The veterans inquiry has been told ADF members felt betrayed by abuse within the ranks. -PR Handout Image

The former chair of the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce has told the veterans inquiry ADF members felt "betrayed" when filing historic complaints.

Giving evidence at the second week of hearings of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide in Townsville, former DART chair Leonard Roberts-Smith said the feedback received in historical complaints was scathing of the armed forces.

The taskforce was established in 2012 to assist complainants who had suffered sexual and physical abuse, and workplace harassment, in Defence prior to April 2011.

Mr Roberts-Smith said complaints received during his tenure as DART chair conveyed an overwhelming sense of feeling betrayed.

He said one might typically say: "What really disturbed me is the fact that the service I was in - Navy, Army, Airforce - let me down, they let this happen to me."

Mr Roberts-Smith noted it was no exaggeration to say that in very many cases that came to the taskforce, the lives of those abused had literally been destroyed as a consequence.

Asked had some complainants been suicidal, he said :" Yes, absolutely.

"And I think in my statement I actually included quite a number of actual quotes where people had talked about ... either contemplating suicide, suicide ideation or actually attempting suicide.

The taskforce's second interim report was tabled in 2013 by then defence minister Stephen Smith, who noted allegations of serious abuse at the HMAS Leeuwin training base in Western Australia, and the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra, were more widespread and persistent than previously reported. 

Leeuwin was closed in 1984, but Mr Roberts-Smith told the commission that although the abuse was historical, its effects on complainants continued.

"We were talking about men, and they were men at the time, men in their 60s and 70s ... whose lives had been destroyed by the abuse, and had in many instances, if not most, never told anybody about the abuse they had suffered or the impact it had on their lives," he said.

"So, in that sense, we were then, in dealing with them, dealing with a current situation."

Mr Roberts-Smith will continue his submissions to the royal commission on Wednesday on the topics of deployment and medical discharge.

Lifeline 13 11 14

Open Arms 1800 011 046

Lifeline 13 11 14

beyondblue 1300 22 4636