‘Failed experiment’: Lambie’s demand

Senator Jacqui Lambie has made a big call on part of the Australian Defence Force. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

Crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie has called for the institution that trains Australian military officers to be shut down after the chair of the royal commission probing veteran suicide took aim at Defence leadership.

Commissioner Nick Kaldas issued a stinging rebuke of military leaders’ lack of action on personnel mental health after the royal commission’s ninth block of public hearings wrapped up in Perth on Thursday.

He said the evidence heard by the commission raised serious questions as to whether Defence leadership had been doing enough to respond to the “very real and pressing issues of suicide and suicidality within its ranks”.

“We are yet to find sufficient evidence of urgency in responding to these complex issues holistically – even with this royal commission on foot,” Mr Kaldas said, with the next round of hearings to be held in Adelaide in July.

Senator Jacqui Lambie has made a big call on part of the Australian Defence Force. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

Senator Lambie weighed in on Friday, saying Mr Kaldas’ comments were “spot on” as she accused senior military leaders of being at the heart of the problem.

The former soldier turned firebrand Tasmanian independent senator said these issues could be improved by radically changing the way army, navy and air force leaders were selected and trained for their positions.

She is calling for the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA), the residential college that has been training the nation’s fledgling military leaders since 1986, to be closed down.

Senator Lambie claimed ADFA was a “failed 1980s experiment” where junior officers gained “almost no experience in managing actual people”.

“ADFA is an institution for the privileged where they’re told they’ll be commanders but aren’t taught how to actually lead,” she said.

Instead, Senator Lambie said soldiers, sailors and airmen and women should be sent to officer training after they had been identified as potential leaders during their 12-week recruit course or through their service.

She suggested ADFA’s alleged cultural problems flowed through to at least some of the leaders it trained given the institution “boasted a litany of scandals and poor behaviour”.

“Is this the standard we should walk past, and accept? That’s who we have in charge today,” she said.

“There is a massive difference between being a commander in name to being an actual leader.”

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A review in 2011 examined the way female cadets were treated at ADFA. Picture: Glenn Campbell

The most recent public review of ADFA was carried out nearly 10 years ago, with the Defence abuse response taskforce handing down its final report in 2016 right before it ceased operating.

However, the taskforce and two other high-profile reviews before it all unearthed evidence of cultural problems at the institution, including cases of alleged abuse, bullying and harassment.

Former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick led a review of the treatment of women at AFDA in 2011 following a scandal in which a female cadet was secretly filmed having sex with another student.

Ms Broderick said in her report that ADFA had improved since the earlier Grey Review in 1998 found there were high levels of inappropriate sexual behaviour that was generally tolerated by cadets and members of the military staff at the academy.

Defence did not respond directly to Senator Lambie’s criticisms of ADFA.

However, a spokesman said it prioritised the mental health and wellbeing of its people and was committed to ensuring serving and former members had access to the right support when they needed it.

“Defence is committed to continuous improvement – while our health system provides high-quality care, we recognise there are always opportunities to do more,” the spokesman said.

“Defence welcomes the royal commission as an opportunity to learn and strengthen our approach to mental health, welfare and suicide prevention.

“Any current or former ADF member who may be struggling with their mental health is strongly encouraged to reach out for support.”

* The Open Arms hotline offering free and confidential counselling to current Defence members, veterans and their families can be reached 24/7 on 1800 011 046.