Institutional Abuse and Organizational Reform in the Australian Defence Force (1969-)

Ben Wadham1
1Flinders University, Bedford Park, Australia

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse has exposed the extent of child abuse in some Australian institutions. In 2011 (after a national sex scandal), the ADF commissioned legal firm DLA Piper to review allegations of sexual and other abuse in Defence. In 2016, Elizabeth Broderick, the former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, tabled a review for the Australian Federal Police (AFP), finding cultures of bullying, harassment and sexism. The South Australian Police (SAPOL) were reviewed by the South Australian Equal Opportunity Commissioner with similar findings only months later. The historical character of these cases demonstrates the persistence of this feature of institutional life. A key feature of institutional abuse is the gendered character of organisational cultures within which it occurs. The reviews highlight a principal focus: men, their cultures of masculinities and their traditions of othering and violence. Institutional abuse in the ADF is a key marker of the tension between diversity and uniformity in the military – of the overwhelming force of the masculine and martial norm and the management and governance of difference. The ADF has faced the problem of abuse since its inception, but it is only since 2011 that the leadership of the organisation has attempted to identify and change the cultural drivers that enable abuse. This paper outlines the subject matter of institutional abuse in the military as a criminological concern. A short history of Defence Abuse is presented within a gendered institutional/organizational frame, and within the context of state, military and civil society relations.

Ben’s main research interest is militarism and militarisation in Australia. Of particular interest is crime and the military. His research has focused on military cultures and their propensity for internal violence. He is interested in how mono cultural institutions can be diversified, the institutional strategies for achieving this, and the manner in which this contest plays out across state, military and civil society. In order to understand these forces of change he focuses on scandals, and how they act as a catalyst for transformation and/or reproduction. Ben’s background in governance and public policy locates these activities in the changing character of key social institutions. He currently holds an ARC Discovery 2018-2021 on Institutional Abuse and Organizational Reform in the ADF (1969-) with Dr James Connor UNSW ADFA.


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