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Push for defence system to go under the microscope after vets and diggers called for Angus Campbell’s medal

Ellen Ransley
The Nightly
After a group of active and former defence personnel called on Labor to revoke Angus Campbell’s DSC, the senate will be asked to consider the integrity of the honours and awards system.
After a group of active and former defence personnel called on Labor to revoke Angus Campbell’s DSC, the senate will be asked to consider the integrity of the honours and awards system. Credit: MICK TSIKAS/AAPIMAGE

The Senate will be asked to put the defence honours and awards system under the microscope after it was revealed dozens of retired and serving personnel had written to the Defence Minister demanding urgent change.

The Nightly on Monday revealed Richard Marles had received numerous letters from veterans and serving personnel between November and March, requesting he revoke outgoing defence chief Angus Campbell’s distinguished service cross and make changes to how military honours are bestowed and reviewed.

Among their concerns, the group have questioned how General Campbell could have been “in action” - as the criteria for his medal stipulated at the time - when he spent two-thirds of his tenure as commander of Afghanistan troops in the United Arab Emirates and was never in close proximity or under fire from an adversary.

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The group also put to Mr Marles that the honours and awards system was being regularly abused by high-ranking personnel, saying there was “tangible evidence of this abuse going back nearly 30 years”.

In an attempt to further escalate the issue – which members of the defence community say is contributing to serious morale problems – Senator Malcolm Roberts will on Wednesday seek to refer “the integrity and efficacy of the defence honours and awards system” to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade references committee.

In his notice of motion, he said an inquiry must consider: the integrity of awards to senior officers for conduct in the Afghanistan conflict; the experiences of defence force personnel progressing the honours and awards system; and the effect of awards and honours on maintaining morale within the defence force.

Chief of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) General Angus Campbell delivers the findings from the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force Afghanistan Inquiry, in Canberra, Thursday, November 19, 2020. A landmark report has shed light on alleged war crimes by Australian troops serving in Afghanistan. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING
The senate will be asked to put the defence honours and awards system under the microscope. Credit: MICK TSIKAS/AAPIMAGE

If his motion is successful, the inquiry will also need to focus on the effect of changes in criteria for some honours and awards, including the 2011 change for the DSC from “in action” to “in warlike operations”.

That follows multiple members of the defence community telling The Nightly the change in criteria was “dodgy”, with the group putting to Mr Marles the Letters Patent had been changed because “the ADF was aware, and had been for many years, that the requirement for recipients to be ‘in action’ was problematic”.

After some members of the community suggested decisions regarding honours and awards needed to be completely removed from Defence’s remit, Senator Roberts will request that should the motion pass, the inquiry consider the operation of the independent Defence Honours and Awards Appeal Tribunal, and whether there are any potential improvements needed to the defence honours and awards system more broadly.

The Senate will be asked to consider whether or not the matter should be sent to an inquiry later on Wednesday.

If it is successful, the committee will be asked to report back by November.

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