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IGADF Joint Press Conference Melbourne 19 November 2020

19 November 2020

SUBJECT: IGADF Afghanistan Inquiry

RICHARD MARLES MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE
MEMBER FOR CORIO
 
MARK DREYFUS MP
SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL
SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS


E&OE TRANSCRIPT
PRESS CONFERENCE
MELBOURNE
THURSDAY, 19 NOVEMBER 2020

SUBJECT: IGADF Afghanistan Inquiry.

 
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: In the history of our nation’s Defence Forces, today is one of its most difficult days. The allegations which are contained in the report of Major General Paul Brereton are simply appalling and this report makes for extremely difficult reading. It leaves all of us who value the place of the Australian Defence Force in our nation's history and culture with a very heavy heart. As Justice Brereton said, the events discovered by this inquiry occurred within the Australian Defence Force by members of the Australian Defence Force, under the command of the Australian Defence Force. It is all just very sad. Today our thoughts are with the victims of these alleged events and with their families. And to them, and to the people of Afghanistan, we say sorry. We acknowledge that the expressions of regret and sorrow on the part of the Chief of the Defence Force and on the government have been utterly appropriate. In Justice Brereton's report there are recommendations which deal with a process of developing recompense for those families and that is as it should be. Today we call on the government to implement all of the recommendations of the Brereton Report and I know that they will. Today is not a day for politics. Today is a day where we come together and support the very difficult work which lies ahead in restoring integrity to Australia's Defence Forces.
 
We stand in support of the actions that the government has and will take in this regard. That includes the establishment of the Office of the Special Investigator under the banner of the Australian Federal Police, which will be principally responsible for taking the next steps in this process. I want to acknowledge Justice Brereton. His report is searingly honest. It is extremely thorough. It is actually the basis upon which we as a nation are able to heal and in the fullness of time, I have no doubt that his work will come to be regarded as extremely profound. I also want to acknowledge General Angus Campbell. I must confess that prior to becoming a Member of Parliament I had not had a lot of contact with the Australian Defence Force, but since being an MP and particularly since being the Shadow Minister for Defence, I have been consistently taken by how impressive are those who are charged with the responsibility of leading our Defence Forces and no more so than in the person of General Angus Campbell. He's a man of enormous integrity and capacity and we have seen that in the last few hours. I take great comfort from the fact that he's the Chief of the Defence Force at this moment in time and that it will be him who is principally responsible for leading the Defence Force along its path of recovery. It would be a tragedy if Australians were to see our nation's involvement in Afghanistan solely through the prism of these allegations.
 
We should remember that when Australia first became involved in Afghanistan as part of an international force in the early 2000s, our objective was to deny Afghanistan as a base for international terrorism. We should never forget that Australians lost their lives on September 11. We should never forget that the organisation which perpetrated the Bali bombings utilised training camps in Afghanistan. This objective was achieved. From there, Australia stood in that group of nations which were willing to give help to a country which sought assistance as Afghanistan did. Thousands of Australian soldiers gave distinguished service in supporting the Afghan Defence Forces in building their capabilities, so they could provide for their own security and enabling a more effective Afghan Government. Now, there is a long way to go, but for the thousands of veterans and existing service personnel who gave service in Afghanistan, they should feel proud of that service. The allegations in respect of a few, do not detract from the sacrifice of the many. As a nation we continue to express our gratitude for the exemplary and distinguished work that these service personnel gave. I particularly want to acknowledge the bravery of those soldiers who stood up and called out when they saw wrong occurring within their own ranks. This was enormously courageous. In my book, this is bravery of the highest order and it is these people who are the true custodians of the morals and ethics of the Australian Defence Force. It is because of them that these wrongs have been uncovered. We owe to them, as a nation, an enormous debt of gratitude. I particularly want to acknowledge the moral courage of Major General Jeff Sengelman.
 
As difficult as this day is, their actions, the inquiry, this report, the investigations still to come and the processes which follow are enormously important and we should pause and just acknowledge how from a global perspective this is extremely unusual. This demonstrates that Australia has the capacity to acknowledge and deal with its own mistakes. We should take heart from that because it is through this that we can have a sense of confidence about the ethics and morality of us as a people, and about the ethics and morality fundamentally of the Australian Defence Force. And it is these processes which will ultimately provide the basis upon which as a nation we are able to move on and we are able to restore integrity to Australia's Defence Forces.
 
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks very much, Richard, I would of course echo and endorse all of the remarks that Richard has just made. This is a very sad day for the Australian Defence Forces. It is a very sad day for our country. But I think we should take heart from this report, which shows that we are a country that respects the rule of law. And as a country that respects the rule of law, we gain strength, our democracy gains strength, our country gains strength, from that respect for the rule of law. There is a great deal of very difficult work ahead for the civilian criminal justice system. There is a recommendation that 19 individuals be referred to the office of the special investigator within the Australian Federal Police for investigation and if that investigation produces sufficient evidence, admissible evidence, of an appropriate standard, that there then be consideration of prosecution for war crimes of one or more of those 19 individuals. That is going to be a difficult task.
 
I would stress, as has everyone who has spoken on this matter today, that this inquiry was not a criminal trial. The work of the criminal justice system, work by the AFP, work by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, that lies ahead, but I would say again, as a country, we should take heart from this report because it demonstrates our respect as a country for the rule of law, thank you.
 
REPORTER: Can I ask you, how you personally felt when you were reading through the details of these allegations?
 
MARLES: These are appalling allegations. These happened by people wearing our nation's uniform, in the name of our country. That is profoundly difficult to accept. It is profoundly difficult to accept, knowing as I do, the incredible service that has been provided by thousands, tens of thousands of Australians in our defence forces and in Afghanistan. I feel for the victims. I really feel for those who have provided distinguished service, which is the vast majority of those who went to Afghanistan wearing our nation's uniform. This day for them is a really difficult day. I want to say sorry to the victims. I want to say to those Australians who did provide distinguished service in Afghanistan, notwithstanding this, we thank you for that service and that service was distinguished and the country continues to owe you a debt of gratitude and my thoughts are with them today.
 
REPORTER: What does it do to Australia’s reputation around the world?
 
MARLES: It is a difficult moment for Australia, there is no hiding that. These events occurred, they are shameful and there is no hiding from that.  That said, we have been able as a nation to call these events out, that those who blew the whistle on this were the Australian Defence Force itself, that we have had the capacity to investigate and work through the processes of this is a matter about which we should take heart and I do think does provide us with standing on the international stage.
 
REPORTER: What did you make of General Angus Campbell's apology and how much do you expect will be paid in compensation, or should be paid in compensation?
 
MARLES: Well, I think those details need to be worked through. I thought General Campbell's performance this morning was extraordinary. I think that we are really lucky that Angus Campbell is leading the defence force at this moment. I think his apology was heartfelt. I think you couldn't help but be moved as he spoke about his own service of command in respect of Afghanistan. It gives me an enormous sense of comfort and confidence that a person of his integrity is leading the defence force and is in charge at this moment.
 
REPORTER: Is it believable that more senior command were not aware or did not know what was going on?
 
MARLES: I take the report as we find it. I mean, this report doesn't pull any punches. This report is searingly honest. This report is as difficult reading as has been produced, I suspect, by any country in respect of its own defence force. So, for all of those reasons, I think we can also take comfort when that observation is made in relation to the senior command. I mean, General Campbell made it clear today that there is a collective responsibility that is shared at the highest levels of command, and he's not seeking to shirk that, and nor did he say that this lets anyone off the hook. Command comes with it, a sense of enquiry and curiosity about what is happening under your command and there were failings in that, but I take the report as we find it, in terms of what it says about the knowledge of those in senior command and I absolutely accept the findings of the report in that regard. Thank you.
 
ENDS