It is an honour to be invited to address this conference today. For some time the Australian Defence Organisation has formally observed International Women’s Day. That is altogether appropriate. However, as all of you are no doubt aware, such formalities are rendered much less meaningful unless they are underpinned by tangible progress for women. And that necessarily implies cultural change in environments which have not been as conducive as they must be to women realising their full potential.
And finally, it is truly fitting that I bring this message to an event held under the auspices of the United Nations. The UN does so much to alleviate suffering and disadvantage amongst women throughout the world, not least in peace building efforts in fractured states and societies, where violence against women and girls is horrific in both its nature and scale.
Firstly, I must of necessity express some obvious qualifications about my remarks. Foremost, I can never fully imagine, much less experience, the issues faced by any woman. I was born male in an advanced Western nation, to comfortably well off parents. I have never routinely experienced discrimination in my career, nor the apprehension of violence in my personal life. Far too many women regardless of nationality, religion, or class status have known both. Most benefits of masculinity and patriarchy have accrued to me. Nonetheless, I hope those considerable limitations in my perspective can in part be offset by my sincere intent to support women in my organisation to thrive in the absence of both.
Of course, that is probably an unattainable state of perfection. But I hope to establish my bona fides in striving towards them through what I say today, and through my actions as Chief of the Australian Army.
I have set tangible goals against which I am willing to be judged. Ultimately, though, true and enduring progress in the status and security of women and girls will only be achieved through the collaborative efforts of women and men. There is a need, in my view, for some men to be reminded by male leaders and champions of change that violence towards women and girls is never acceptable and that their female colleagues deserve their trust and respect.
That is no easy thing for a General to say in public, and yet I have now said it publicly in Australia many times. It involves Liz Broderick, and it marked a watershed for me. I invariably recount it when I am asked to explain why I have placed so much emphasis on gender issues within the Army and why I committed a large part of my effort as Chief of the Australian Army to championing change.
I was no longer comforted by the cliché that a ‘few bad apples’ were undermining the great work of the vast majority. Nor was I willing to argue that a widely publicised incident at our Defence Academy - where a sexual encounter between a young female cadet and a colleague was telecast via Skype - was no worse than conduct among young people on civilian campuses.
We in the ADF occupy a special constitutional role. We train for mastery of military force and are entrusted and sanctioned by the Government to employ extreme violence in support of national interests. Moreover, I am all too aware, that in many conflicts, rape is systematically employed by soldiers against women. Any nexus between an Army such as the one I aspire to lead and sexual assault is absolutely unacceptable. I will take all necessary steps to stamp out any hint of it among my soldiers.
Our monopoly on violence and the particular place we occupy in our national psyche, demands that we must earn and maintain a high level of trust among our community. They are entitled to expect more of us than other institutions – and we keep telling ourselves that we are special – and custodians of the best of our military heritage. This places a very great burden on us, which warrants zero tolerance towards those who violate that fragile community trust.
As an aside, my father commanded a battalion during the Vietnam war and I can happily report that whatever our fellow Australians think about any of the operations upon which we have deployed, they do not vent their objections against our soldiers as they did in my dad’s day. This is a welcome development. Indeed, at no time in my thirty four years of service have we been so highly regarded by our fellow citizens. But this is a call to live to our true ideals not to rest on our laurels.
Sadly, it had become clear in recent years that the tribal culture, through which we sought to build small teams capable of enduring combat, had become distorted, misinterpreted and abused. And the evidence of that was brought home to me in a very personal, poignant and confronting way by Elizabeth Broderick.
One day early last year she called me and suggested that I needed to hear from some of the women whose experiences she had been collating. I agreed, not reluctantly but certainly with some trepidation. Not long after I was sitting very uncomfortably, and with mounting disbelief, through lengthy face-to-face meetings with three women who had endured appalling physical and emotional abuse at the hands of their fellow soldiers; so much for our pride in looking after our mates. These women had been let down by their leaders and their comrades. They had been robbed of that irreplaceable component of their individual human personal identity – their dignity and self respect. This was not the Army that I had loved and thought I knew.
My disbelief gave way, in turn, to shame that this had occurred in the institution to which I had devoted my entire life and of which I had been fiercely proud since I was young boy. That was my conversion experience and it had all the qualities of the road to Damascus apart from the fall from the horse.
I hasten to add that I had already concluded that the ‘bad apple’ theory was a comforting self-delusion. Police forces throughout Australia only started to come to grips with systemic corruption when they came to the same realisation. Cultural problems are just that; they are systemic and ingrained, not the work of a few rogues.
Such cultural problems generally evolve over time into distortions of what began as an admirable quality in an institution or organisation, but they are hijacked by misguided or malevolent people and become a device to exclude the vulnerable and the different from the dominant group. Often in hyper masculine environments, like armies, the ‘other’ is defined by being weaker physically, not drinking ‘like a man’, being more introverted or intellectual, and of course female.
In an excellent report compiled by Major General Craig Orme titled Beyond Compliance: Professionalism, Trust and Capability in the Australian Profession of Arms, this aspect of our culture was analysed with insight and frankness. Yes, we do need to bond our soldiers to one another and instil toughness and resilience into them. But when this goal is invoked to degrade and demonise women and minorities it is undermining rather than enhancing capability. We need to define the true meaning of teamwork to embrace a band of brothers and sisters.
After that searing meeting with those female soldiers I was even more determined that I was going to achieve real change in our culture.
I will outline some of the specific goals that I have set and describe some of the means we are employing to achieve them, but firstly let me make a couple of things abundantly clear. I am not doing this to win plaudits or to satisfy a personal magnanimous desire. I am doing this out of love for the Australian Army and for the men and women who serve in its ranks. As the Chief of the Army I ultimately set the tone for the organisation and exemplify its values. Those values – Courage, Initiative and Teamwork, allied with respect for our institution and each other are noble when they are lived as intended.
But in too many cases the team has been defined through exclusion of women. This simply has to stop – both for altruistic and pragmatic reasons. I like to think I am as altruistic as the next person but my motives are essentially pragmatic. Organisations with high levels of what can be termed as ‘social capital’ are more effective, both in their performance and ability to retain their highly skilled personnel much longer.
In other words, making the most effective use of our female soldiers makes good sense. It enhances our capability. That is a simple truth.
Indeed, given the demographic changes affecting the Australian workforce over the next few decades, the Army will simply not be able to meet its recruiting targets or maintain its range of skills unless we become fully representative of the community from which we draw.
In that regard the Anzac legend – as admirable as it is – has become something of a double-edged sword. Many Australians have an idealised image of the Australian soldier as a rough hewn country lad – invariably white – a larrikin who fights best with a hangover and who never salutes officers, especially the Poms. This is a pantomime caricature. Every soldier is Mel Gibson in Gallipoli and frankly it undermines our recruitment from some segments of society and breeds a dangerous complacency about how professional and sophisticated soldiering really is.
I was angry, that in a crisis, those three women, and many others to whom Liz Broderick had spoken, had not been able to rely on their mates. In other words the very thing that we claim as our defining ethos had been used to exclude and humiliate others. I am resolved to make improvements to our culture one of the fundamental elements of the legacy that I hope to leave the Australian Army.
So what am I doing? Well I hope that by providing a personal insight into my own journey into greater understanding you will accept my bona fides in this matter. I am deadly serious about this. In an organisation built on a chain of command, senior leaders can make a very real difference when they are determined to implement change, and they are.
But a top down approach can take you only so far – even in a hierarchical organisation like an Army. I can impress my senior leaders with the need to change and give them clear guidance as to how to proceed but it is vital to get buy in at all levels of the organisation.
In that regard we are especially blessed by the way we prepare our junior leaders. We possess a superb training system and, through the inculcation of common doctrine, we can socialise concepts and behaviours very effectively. Moreover, our command structure is readily accessible. I can readily reach out to my unit commanding officers and RSMs (Regimental Sergeant Majors) and impress on them the need to implement change. They have more impact on the climate of the Army than any one else. In other words there is no more important element to bring in non-believers with you than enlisting leaders and role models at every level of the Army.
It is impossible to overstate the significance of this. This is the last citadel for women in our Army. The bias towards officers with an arms corps affiliation in choosing senior leaders has some justification. Close combat is the core business of the Army. But women are already ‘in combat’ due to the changing character of war. Formal recognition of this removes the last defence of those who are resistant to the widest employment of women in the Army, and by extension their promotion to the most senior ranks. It is quite conceivable now that a woman will serve as the Chief of the Army in light of this decision.
A core function of Army is the application of violence to protect and defend national interests. While violence is an essential part of our business, it is employed in a tightly regulated and controlled manner and we most emphatically do not accept or condone violence outside of these parameters. This is why Army is a Campaign Partner with White Ribbon, which as many of you would know, is a global movement to stop violence against women.
[The] Army understands that cultural change is a long term process that requires commitment, diligence and continual evaluation. We recognise that in many ways we are behind the curve when compared to other corporate and public institutions, but we are determined to enact change in a meaningful and enduring way. We are dedicated to drawing on, and implementing, best practice by engaging with leaders who have undertaken successful and innovative programs in this field including Deloitte, the National Rugby League and the Australian Federal Police. Through these relationships we will develop methodologies and approaches to ensure sustainable diversity.
Through their work in highlighting the role of the leader, making workforce flexibility a mainstream of Australian workplaces and looking for, and implementing "game changing" initiatives they are making a telling contribution to this vital area. I am deeply proud to be a Male Champion of Change and an Ambassador for White Ribbon. The values and aspirations inimical to both are completely aligned to those I hold as the Chief of the Australian Army.
Earlier today, I addressed the media, and through them and the Australian public, about ongoing investigations in to a group of officers and NCOs whose conduct, if proven, has not only brought the Australia Army into disrepute, but has let down everyone of you, and all of those whose past service has won them the respect of our nation.
There are limits to how much I can tell you because the investigations into this network by both the New South Wales police and the ADF investigative service are ongoing. But evidence collected to date has identified a group of men, within our ranks, who have allegedly produced highly inappropriate material, demeaning women and distributed it on the internet and defence's email networks. If this is true, then the actions of these members are in direct contravention to every value that the Australian Army stands for.
By now I assume you know my attitude to this type of conduct. I have stated categorically, many times, that the Army has to be a inclusive organisation, in which every soldier, man and woman, is able to reach their full potential and is encouraged to do so. Those who think that it is okay to behave in a way that demeans or exploits their colleagues, have no place in this army. Our service has been engaged in continuous operations since 1999, and in it’s longest war ever in Afghanistan.
On all operations, female soldiers and officers have proven themselves worthy of the best traditions of the Australian Army. They are vital to us, maintaining our capability now, and in to the future. If that does not suit you, then get out! You may find another employer where your attitude and behaviour is acceptable, but I doubt it. The same goes to those who think toughness is built on humiliating others.
Every one of us is responsible for the culture and reputation of our army and the environment in which we work. If you become aware of any individual degrading another, then show moral courage and take a stand against it. No one has ever explained to me how the exploitation or degradation of others, enhances capability, or honours the traditions of the Australian Army.
I will be ruthless in ridding the army of people who cannot live up to its values. And I need everyone of you to support me in achieving this. The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept. that goes for all of us, but especially those, who by their rank, have a leadership role. NB While on Q & A, ABC TV on 1st February 2016, Australian of the Year, Lieutenant General David Lindsay Morrison attributed; "The standard you walk by is the standard you accept"; to David Hurley, former Chief, Australian Defence Force, explaining the quote; " ... doesn't belong to me or [my former speechwriter] Cate McGregor, it belongs to the Governor of NSW, David Hurley."
If we are a great national institution, if we care about the legacy left to us by those who have served before us, if we care about the legacy we leave to those who, in turn will protect and secure Australia, then it is up to us to make a difference. If you’re not up to it, find something else to do with your life. There is no place for you amongst this band of brothers and sisters.