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Published: 29 June 2016
Author: RCT Abuse Law team

Child protection in ADF needs "jolly good nudge along"

Case study 40 - Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

The Royal Commission has continued its investigations into the Australian Defence Force this week, hearing evidence today from John Devereux, previous Wing Commander of the Australian Air Force Cadets (‘AAFC’) and CJF, a current Instructor and previous cadet in the Australian Air Force Cadets.

The need for uniformity

Professor John Devereux continued his evidence today with a strong emphasis on the need for uniformity across all states in relation to child protection within the AAFC and the handling of complaints of abuse.

The Commission heard that on 24 April 2014, Professor Devereux was informed of allegations of abuse by Todd Oakley, a civilian Staff Instructor at the time, against a 16 year old cadet. Professor Devereux told the Royal Commission that at the time that he was informed of these allegations there was no formal process in place in regards to handling complaints of abuse and complaints were responded to on an ‘as fits’ basis.

The hearing revealed that Professor Devereux failed to contact external authorities, such as the Queensland Police, immediately after learning of the allegations against Mr Oakley, but rather sent an email to Mr Ken Gibbon, the Commander of the Australian Air Force Cadets at the time.

At the time that the allegations against Mr Oakley became known, the Commission heard there was a policy in place whereby issues of importance were circulated within the organisation by way of a ‘hot issue brief’. Only after Professor Devereux emailed the ‘hot issue brief’ to Mr Gibbon, was it agreed it would be necessary to contact the police steps were taken to suspend Mr Oakley. The AAFC also commenced their own investigations into the matter.

The questions of Counsel assisting the Royal Commission then turned to the policies, or lack thereof, that the AFFC had in place at the time to deal with allegations and complaints of abuse. Although there were regulations in place in relation to the suitability of staff to work with children (Clause 10 of the Cadet Enforcement Regulations), the Commission was told there  were no procedures in place to ensure that staff were periodically reviewed to determine whether they continued to be suitable to work with children.

Professor Devereux acknowledged the obvious lack of regulations in relation to child protection in an email back in 2014 to which the Commission referred. The email stated: “might I suggest given the current climate regarding institutional child sexual abuse that the child protection chapter needs a jolly good nudge along”.

‘Blue Book Distance’

The Royal Commission also heard from the witness identified as ‘CJF’, an Instructor for the AAFC. CJF joined the cadets in 1991 when she was 13 years old and remained a cadet with the AAFC until 2010 when she became an adult cadet with the AAFC.

CJF gave evidence to the Royal Commission about the policy of ‘blue book distance.’ CJF informed the Royal Commission that all cadets, instructors and officers had to keep ‘blue book distance’ between each other at all times, unless consent was given.

CJF indicated that the ‘blue book distance’ rule would have been known to all cadets, instructors and officers. CJF stated that the rule was also based on intent of the touching. The Commission heard the main purpose of the rule was to stop cadets and other staff being intimate with one another, but did not prevent incidental contact. The rule was also in place to prevent fraternising between all cadets, instructors and officers.

CJF stated that most viewed this rule as a joke and the rule was laughed at between the cadets.

CJF stated in her evidence that despite the ‘blue book distance’ rule, it was common for instructors and cadets to fraternise. It was also common knowledge to members of staff that this was occurring.

The Royal Commission was told by CJF that she was intimate with a cadet instructor when she was just 17 years old. CJF said that she and other cadets were bought alcohol by her instructor and other instructors after they did combined activities together. CJF informed the Royal Commission that on this occasion she went back to the instructor’s house with other cadets and instructors and was intimate with her instructor. CJF believes the other instructors and cadets who were present during the activities and at the house would have been aware of the relationship between her and her instructor.

Despite an obvious breach of the ‘blue book distance’ rule between CJF and her instructor, nothing was done to reprimand CJF’s instructor and no steps were taken to ensure the wellbeing of CJF.

It was clear from CJF’s evidence today that the AAFC continually turned a blind eye in relation to fraternising between cadets and instructors that CJF reported was well-known by staff members. It was also clear that the ‘blue book distance’ rule was regularly breached throughout many squadrons within the AAFC, leading to a culture of abuse.

Case Study 40 is to continue.

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