Commissioner’s Message

I am pleased to present the Report of the cultural review into the Treatment of Women at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA). This report concludes Phase One of the Review. Phase Two of the Review will examine the treatment of women across the broader Australian Defence Force (ADF).

I wish to thank my fellow Review Panellists – Sam Mostyn, Mark Ney and Damian Powell – for their wise and insightful observations and for being actively involved in the Review process. Each panellist brought to the Review a depth of experience in cultural change programs, the operation of residential colleges in educational settings, command and control environments, sex discrimination and gender. The Review Panel was ably assisted by a small but highly skilled secretariat led by Alexandra Shehadie.

The Review was initiated by the Australian Human Rights Commission at the request of the Minister for Defence, the Hon Stephen Smith MP. The Commission developed the Terms of Reference and appointed the Panel members who, after extensive consultation, designed the methodology. Our Review represents the first independent examination of ADFA since its inception in 1986. This is an important distinction between this Review and previous reviews as it has enabled us to bring a broad societal context to this Review.

The work of the Review was fully supported by senior military and academic personnel and the leadership team at ADFA. Requests by the Review received expeditious and comprehensive responses. I wish to acknowledge the significant contribution and advice over the course of the last five months from former Chief of the Defence Force ACM Angus Houston AC, AFC and his successor GEN David Hurley, AC, DSC. In addition the Review benefited from the assistance and insights of MAJGEN Craig Orme, AM, CSC, Commander Australian Defence College; MAJGEN Mick Crane, AM, DSC, Head, Defence Cultural Reviews Secretariat; RADM James Goldrick, Acting Commandant, ADFA; COL Paul Petersen, Deputy Commandant, ADFA; SQNLDR Glenn van der Kolk, Liaison Officer, Reviews and Inquiries; and Ms. Annebelle Davis, Director General, Strategic Integration, Department of Defence; Professor Frater, Rector and Professor Arnold, Deputy Rector. The Review consulted with CDRE Bruce Kafer, AM, CSC who undertook an examination of ADFA’s culture at the behest of RADM Goldrick in mid 2010. These findings and observations helped to inform the Panel’s thinking. The Review has also been expertly advised by LTCOL Natasha Fox who provided all assistance sought generously and diligently.

The Panel appointed by the Commission commenced its Review at the same time as other investigations into behaviour in the ADF and at ADFA were being undertaken. These examinations followed a widely publicised incident involving allegations of inappropriate behaviour and use of technology leading to a police investigation. Our Review did not investigate that incident but rather undertook a wide-ranging cultural review of ADFA, with a specific focus on the impact of that culture on women. It examined the adequacy and appropriateness of measures to promote gender equality and to ensure women’s safety.

The impact that the incident and the associated publicity has had on ADFA has been far reaching. Midshipmen, cadets and staff with whom the Review spoke expressed frustration about the negative publicity resulting from the incident. I recognise that it has been a difficult time for the ADFA community and I am grateful for their full cooperation in these circumstances.

One of the most extensive examinations of the culture of ADFA was conducted in 1998, following reports of a high level of inappropriate sexual behaviour. The Grey Review, as it was known, examined the policies and practices to deal with sexual harassment and sexual offences. It reported on a range of problems and observed that ‘there would also appear to be a high level of tolerance of the unacceptable behaviour amongst the cadets and many members of the military staff.’[1]

Our Review found that ADFA today is a vastly improved institution, with a culture that has evolved significantly since the 1990s. This view was articulated by one recent former female cadet when she said:

During my time at ADFA, at no time did I feel that I was treated any differently due to my gender. All cadets were treated more or less equally in accordance with their own personal abilities. In true military fashion, there was a clear standard to be reached and if you reached that standard, you were recognised for that fact.[2]

However, our Review also found widespread, low-level sexual harassment; inadequate levels of supervision, particularly for first year cadets; an equity and diversity environment marked by punishment rather than engagement; and cumbersome complaints processes.

The Review recognises that the issue of sexual misconduct is not unique to ADFA. However, the vulnerability of women at ADFA to such misconduct was noted by the Review and illustrated by a recent former female cadet who stated that in her experience:

... amongst cadets there was a strong culture of commodification of women, particularly as sexual objects. Female cadets were often treated as “game” after hours, rather than as respected colleagues. Female cadets were often harassed by male cadets [and] these sorts of actions were simply part of the culture at ADFA.[3]

At the time of writing this Report, I was advised of another incident at ADFA involving allegations of a male cadet secretly filming a female colleague in the shower. This incident was immediately referred to police, who laid a charge of committing an act of indecency. The matter is now subject to criminal proceedings. This alleged incident underscores the importance of ensuring that the recommendations contained in this report are implemented as a matter of urgency.

Also of concern to the Review was the high military staff turnover at all levels at ADFA. This turnover significantly impacts not only on the stability of the organisation but also on its status within the wider ADF. Indeed, the Review found that there was a degree of ambivalence toward, and inconsistent support for, ADFA from within the ADF. If Australia is to have the finest naval and military force it must have the finest officer education and training system – a system that acknowledges the complexity of modern warfare and the need for deep connections between members of the services. ADFA, a vital part of this system, has already achieved much but, if it is to be successful, the ADF must recommit to the tri-Service training model.

ADFA should harness the best talent Australia has to offer. Fundamental to achieving this is ensuring ADFA is one of the highest priorities for each of the Services. This necessarily also requires a shift from managing and accommodating women to an attitude of full inclusion, where women are recognised as an essential and vital part of the future capability of the ADF. The importance of women has been identified in all industry sectors across Australia and the ADF should be no different.

As the Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley, AC, DSC says:

The ADF can only perform at its best today and into the future if women are equal members and equal contributors who are respected and valued for their service.[4]

The Review’s ambition for ADFA is that it be a model learning and training institution, where all midshipmen and cadets have an equal voice, an equal place and are of equal value. All midshipmen and cadets should be able to live and work in an environment that is safe and free from harassment and violence. I am confident that with the effective implementation of the recommendations contained in this report, ADFA will be better placed to achieve this.

The reaffirmation of ADFA as a fine institution within the Australian community will require the ADF and the ADFA leadership to reflect not just on our recommendations but also on the observations contained in our Review. This involves identifying continuing limitations and developing a plan for cultural evolution which is more inclusive of women. To do otherwise would be to leave unfulfilled the considerable potential that ADFA offers.

Elizabeth Broderick
Sex Discrimination Commissioner
Chair, Review into the Treatment of Women in the ADF


[1] Australian Defence Force Academy, Report of the review into the policies and practices to deal with sexual harassment and sexual offenses,Department of Defence (1998), p ix.
[2] Confidential submission 11.
[3] Confidential submission 13.
[4] GEN David Hurley AC, DSC, CDF, Statement from the Chief of the Defence Force to the Review, 2 September 2011.