Ms Broderick is leading the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Review into the Treatment of Women in the Australian Defence Force.
The ADF and the Federal Government asked Ms Broderick to perform the review following the shocking ‘Skype scandal’ that became public in April 2011, when it was revealed a female cadet at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) was filmed, without her knowledge, while having sex with a male cadet.
Ms Broderick tabled a report in the Federal Parliament in August 2012, causing a huge stir in terms of media headlines when it detailed the ADF’s culture of sexual abuse and sexual harassment of women.
Serving women were found to be facing issues of sexual abuse, violence and harassment in the military. Furthermore, women were discouraged from making a complaint for fear of reprisals and the belief that perpetrators may go unpunished.
Now a year later, Ms Broderick’s first audit has been released, detailing the ADF’s response and showing the ADF is so far holding true to its agreement to implement the 21 recommendations.
The recommendations made by the Review into the Treatment of Women in the Australian Defence Force are related to: diversity of leadership; the participation, recruitment and retention of women; workplace flexibility; harassment, violence and abuse; as well as, crucially, the responsibility of Defence leadership itself to deliver and ensure effective reform.
“That audit shows what we have said in recent times, that good progress has been done – good progress has been made, but more work needs to be done,” said Defence Minister Stephen Smith at a July 23 press conference, where he announced the ADF’s creation of a new Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Office (SeMPRO).
Mr Smith said the launch of SeMPRO was a “deeply significant milestone” in the continuing work of the ADF leadership, following the aftermath of the Skype Scandal.
“This is to ensure that every man and woman in the Australian Defence Force can feel confident, comfortable, and safe in making complaints of sexual misconduct or sexual mistreatment and most importantly, the role of SeMPRO is to be victim orientated,” Mr Smith explained.
“It is not an investigative body. It is to provide the method of reporting but also to provide counselling, support, and also to perform a preventative and educative role.”
Ms Broderick told Australian Women Online she was pleased that SeMPRO would help empower women to take their complaints outside of the chain of command.
She also applauded the ADF’s appointment of residential support officers at the Australian Defence Force Academy.
Ms Broderick says “it may take a few years” but she believes more higher ranking women are also needed.
“We need to see the promotion of women to senior levels, and that needs to happen in tandem with fixing these issues, building a culture that’s much more inclusive, ensuring that people who do speak out will not be victimised for speaking out.”
The damning statistic of one in four ADF servicewomen experiencing some level of sexual harassment is changing “as we speak” said Ms Broderick.
Mr Smith said the Australian Defence Force leadership was continuing its work to ensure there was a zero tolerance for inappropriate conduct.
The ADF’s stance on zero tolerance has in the past been labelled a “rhetoric” by Greg Isolani, from KCI Lawyers in Melbourne, who is regarded as a leader in the field, having represented ADF personnel in sexual harassment cases and appearing in numerous Senate and Government Committees on military compensation issues.
Mr Isolani tells Australian Women Online he sees the new SeMPRO as a “step in the right direction” but “time will tell” if it is an effective addition to existing layers of framework “such as the Defence Force Disciplinary Act, which has been around for 30 years.”
He says there remains cynicism over whether complaints would actually be acted on when it came to “pornography that goes around, the rapes, the lewd comments”.
“It has to be transparent and it has to work so people have confidence in it, so it has to be part of the breakdown of the culture,” Mr Isolani said. “You’ve always been able to complain … but what happens?”
“Those who are serving – the people this matters to – they have to have the confidence that SeMPRO is a place they can go to and doesn’t impact on them in terms of performance reviews and medical reviews about their state of health because some of my clients in the past have copped it twice, so to speak, and been given a medical discharge.”
Ms Broderick says she sees SeMPRO as offering a “safer reporting culture” for women, meaning more scandals will come to light such as the recent allegations which went public in June. A large group of male army officers formed an email ring known as the ‘Jedi Council’ back in 2010 and shared degrading comments and footage of members having sex with women.
Seven News reported 17 men were under investigation, eight were suspended, and three were facing criminal charges, as police accused the ADF of covering up the scandal when detectives started to make inquiries last July.
“When I hear those things revealed, I do feel deeply upset … because I’ve worked with such good women and men across Australia within the ADF,” said Ms Broderick.
“I think what’s changed is the handling of these cases because for many women I met, not only was the incident traumatic, but it was the subsequent handling that really compounded the trauma.”
“As the chief of army said, this is not a case of a few bad apples, this is about a systemic cultural deficiency where … there are a minority group of women who have really deeply distressing stories, and when you look at why that is, I do think it’s still about a systemic issue and that’s what the ADF is working to change.”
Chief of the ADF, General David Hurley, has also acknowledged there would be no “quick fix”.
He told a press conference in July that it would take a sustained effort “over many years” for the ADF to succeed in the type of deep, far-reaching reform they were seeking.
“We do share [Ms Broderick’s] view more work needs to be done and I look forward to our continued engagement with her and the audit team as we move into the next phase,” said General Hurley.