Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel have an extra year to report complaints of abuse under the Defence Reparation Scheme.
The impact of COVID-19 on staff resourcing has played a role in defence’s decision to extend the reporting period of the Defence Reparation Scheme, according to the website of the defence force ombud. So too has an increase in the number of abuse reports received.
The defence ombud made 1,493 assessment decisions under the scheme as at 30 March 2021, with about 85% qualifying for consideration under the scheme. Bullying and harassment claims comprised the greatest number of reports (957), followed by complaints of sexual abuse (812) and physical abuse (757). Over $39 million in reparations have been issued to date.
Last week defence issued a statement that said the deadline extension recognised the importance of ‘ensuring as many individuals as possible who have experienced serious abuse are provided an opportunity to submit a report’.
“Abuse, in any form, is neither tolerated nor accepted in defence, and affording those who were subject to serious abuse additional time to come forward is key to the healing process,” the statement read.
According to the ombud’s website, a report decision usually takes six months to process. That process has experienced delays due to COVID-19 and a range of other ‘systemic reasons’, the website said. Current advice guidelines suggest that it may now take up to a year from the date a report is lodged before a decision is handed down.
The ADF launched the scheme in 2017 to former and current members ‘who suffered abuse by another ADF member’ prior to 30 June 2014. The scheme’s definition of ‘serious abuse’ covers misconduct such as sexual abuse, physical abuse and bullying and harassment.
The scheme is billed as an alternative mechanism that allows complainants to confidentially report serious abuse and who feel unable to pursue their complaints through internal reporting systems. As part of the reporting process, all complainants are assigned a liaison officer to facilitate counselling, engage the reportee in a ‘restorative engagement program’ and assess the complaint against a reparation payment framework.
The scheme has two tiers of potential reparation options: a payment of $45,000 to acknowledge ‘the most serious forms of abuse’; and a $20,000 payment that recognises ‘other abuse involving unlawful interference accompanied by some element of indecency’.
An additional award of $5,000 is available in instances where the ombud deems the ADF’s response to the report of abuse was not appropriate. To date, the additional $5,000 payment has been made for 11 reports ‘on the basis that defence knew, or could have reasonably been aware that the abuse occurred, and did not adequately respond to it’.
The ombud will accept reports to the scheme to the extended deadline of 30 June 2022. Complainants are required to either submit a report of abuse by this date, or provide written notice of their intention to submit a report (with a complete report lodged by 30 June 2023).
If this article causes you distress and you need to speak with someone, you can call one of these 24-hour support services:
- Defence All-hours Support Line – 1800 628 036
The All-hours Support Line (ASL) is a confidential telephone service for ADF members and their families that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- Open Arms – 1800 011 046
Veterans & Families Counselling (formerly VVCS) provides free and confidential counselling and support for current and former ADF members and their families. They can be reached 24/7 by telephone or at the Open Arms website.