‘Don’t sign your life away’, grieving Navy father begs
A senior ranking Navy commander has blamed a "few bad apples" for the bullying and abuse inside the Australian Defence Force, after a grieving father interrupted a recruitment event.
The "I can, you can women in Defence luncheon" event was held for young women wanting to join the ADF at the Gold Coast on Saturday.
However, a distraught Alan Bailey took the opportunity to tell potential recruits to "think before you join" after losing his Navy daughter Teri.
Mr Bailey's daughter took her own life on her 25th birthday in December last year following a traumatic experience in which he says she was subjected to an attempted sexual assault and was then abused by the Navy when she reported the incident.
"Ladies, please make an informed decision before you are recruited. Do your own research into psychological, sexual and physical abuse in the ADF before you sign your life away," he said.
After Mr Bailey was escorted from the venue, Commander Phillipa Hay quickly addressed his comments as she attempted to reassure the room that the culture within the ADF had changed.
"Make no mistake, when you join the Australian Defence Force you're not joining a cooking club (or) a social crib. You're going off to serve your nation," she said.
"And there may be a time when you are called upon to give the ultimate sacrifice which may be your life."
Speaking generally about the issue, Commander Hay added, that the organisation was "not immune" to having bullying and sexual harassment cases, but put it down to a "few bad apples".
"Let me put it to you in this context, the number of suicides that we have suffered in our Australian Defence Force community- and it's predominantly in the veteran community -is reflective of the Australian community," she said.
"The ADF is continuing to look after our current serving members and our veterans …. regrettably we don't catch everyone.
"But are losses reflect the same numbers in the community which also faces the same strain."
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that between 2001 and 2018, 36 women who had been in the armed forces during that period took their own lives, with 25 of them ex serving.
Their suicide rate between 2002 and 2018, was 127 per cent higher than the general population.
There have been more than 16 defence suicides in the past three months, nearly twice the figure from the previous three months, prompting renewed calls for a Royal Commission.
In the ADF's 2019-2020 annual report, 161 sexual assault incidents were listed reported that year to the defence force's police agency, the Joint Military Police Unit.
The report also lists 368 people having accessed SeMPRO's 24/7 telephone services that year for either case management for victims of sexual offences, harassment or sex-based discrimination; or for assistance navigating the system, resources, referrals or further education for individuals and their families.
Military academic Deborah Morris says every few years, the ADF make public declarations of "zero tolerance", yet fail to hold service members to the same standards of behaviour as civilians.
"It's not a 'few bad apples' within the ADF who perpetuate a culture of abuse. Military abuse is intrinsically linked to the structural organisation of the institution," she said.
"Too often, such abuse leads to poor mental health outcomes and contributes to suicide.
"We know that female veterans have a suicide rate double the national average and that many who have a diagnosed mental health condition have also been victims of military sexual trauma.
"Yet many women, and men, who have recently raised complaints of abuse with the ADF are still victimised, vilified with complaints mishandled, downgraded, or dismissed."
Originally published as 'Don't sign your life away', grieving Navy father begs