The Hon. Darren Chester
Federal Member for Gippsland
PO Box 486
Sale VIC 3850
I am writing to you, belatedly, to discuss an article which you recently wrote in the Melbourne Herald Sun on November 11.
The article was titled, "Domestic Violence is not a Laughing Matter".
My name is Barry Heffernan, I am a Vietnam Veteran and one of a number of Vietnam and younger Veterans, who run the William Kibby VC Veterans’ Shed, in Adelaide.
Darren, I read your article and thought that it was pretty appropriate until I reached the end and read that you held the role of Assistant Defence Minister in the Coalition Government.
I need to tell you now, that our group has been very much involved in the ADF Abuse program, pretty well since it’s inception.
We became involved when a now 60 year old man, who back in 1971 was a Junior Rating at HMAS Leeuwin, approached me and told of his dreadful treatment at this Naval shore base in Perth.
He told me how he had been raped and had suffered other serious sexual abuses at the age of 15 and how that now he was an alcoholic and had not experienced any real life because of his abuses.
I reported his story to a member of DVA who told me that because he had not reported the incidents, there was nothing that they could do to help.
I then approached Senator Nick Xenophon who began to alert the media and the then Labor government, about his disgraceful experiences.
Straight away, many other victims of ADF Abuse began coming forward and reporting similar stories.
Subsequently a Senate hearing was set up, then the DLA Piper Reports were introduced to allow the many incidents to be recorded and examined.
Subsequently the DART was introduced to allow victims of ADF Abuse to have their tragic experiences brought to light, and also to have the government acknowledge that these terrible incidents and the effects on the many victims also be examined.
Darren, over the past nearly 5 years our organisation has in many ways, worked with and supported over 300 Victims of ADF Abuse and to this day we are still being approached by either current serving or former members of the ADF telling of their experiences of abuse during their times in the ADF.
Let me now go back to the original reason that I am writing to you.
While I thought that your article was good, I was amazed and disappointed that a person in your position within Defence did not or could not talk about the problems of Domestic Abuse and even Human Rights abuse within his own country, and more to the point, his own portfolio.
Surely if you are being paid a salary and given a title such as Assistant Defence Minister, you should at least have some sort of background into the workings and goings on in your Department.
But maybe not.
I spoke to Matt Williams, Federal Member for Hindmarsh, where our Shed is located and mentioned something as important as Abuse or Domestic Violence which occurs in a Department in which you could be called the Deputy CEO and not know about a subject this serious.
His reply, which I found also surprising, was that you are probably in a role within Defence which may not cover actual personnel.
Let me go on.
Darren, you made some more comments about how you thought that your government was to be commended in allocating some $100 million to supporting victims of Domestic Abuse and which included around $20 million to the Indigenous fight against Domestic Abuse.
Our organisation deals with many former members of the ADF, and some current as well, who have experienced single or multiple rapes.
Darren in our book, rape is a Human Rights abuse.
I don’t think that there are too many who will argue that point, do you?
Recently I wrote to the Prime Minister and asked why his government had allocated some $400 million to Syria, to support the fight against Human Rights Abuse in that country.
I asked him to explain to me his interpretation of Human Rights Abuse and suggested to him that we believed that Rape was a form of Human Rights abuse as much as it is a part of Domestic Violence.
I think that would be pretty fair to suggest, wouldn’t you Darren?
So far I have not received a reply.
So can you tell me please in your role as Assistant Defence Minister, if you applaud the $400 million to Syria and the $100 million to combat Domestic Violence in Australia, do you not see some very glaring hypocrisy in the decision of the previous Defence Minister, Andrews deciding not to continue to fund the DART which was introduced to allow those who had served , or were currently serving, to seek support and recognition for such Human Rights Violations and abuses, such as rape?
Darren both myself and my colleagues are outraged at this pathetic, mean spirited and moreover, hypocritical decision by your government.
The reason given was that members of the ADF had the opportunity to report any incidents of abuse to several investigative groups within the ADF and that the DART, so under the circumstances the DART was not required.
Darren, in September 2014, I spoke to Senate Hearing in Canberra about supporting victims of ADF Abuse.
In my statement, and you can read it in Hansard if you like, among other things I stated to the Senators, that almost without exception, when I had asked the several hundred victims of ADF Abuse who I had taken statements from ,why they did not report their abuses to the ADF Investigative bodies, they mostly answered by saying that they did not trust the ADF to report and investigate it’s own.
Having read all of the DART Reports I cannot disagree with that sort of logic.
The question was often asked, "how do I know that the person to whom I am reporting this or these incidents to, isn’t the best mate or a relation of the person who just abused or assaulted me?"
Again, having read all of the DART material, I cannot disagree with that logic either.
Now before I go, let me also touch on the role you also highlighted at the end of your article.
It was that of a “White Ribbon Ambassador”.
Very commendable Darren, but in the context of you being the “Assistant Defence Minister” and now having some shortcomings of your Department brought to your attention, do you think that you should give a bit more thought to wearing that title?
You see Darren that we at the William Kibby VC Veterans Shed, having dealt with many men and women who have been suffering and enduring their abuses and the memories on a year round basis, believe that to say that the ADF abhors abuse to women on one special day each year, is just tokenism.
It’s a bit like Anzac Day.
We believe that Veterans should just not be remembered on the 25th of April each year, they should be remembered the whole year around, because the memories I and my mates experience don’t just occur one day a year, they give all year round recurrence.
So there it is Darren.
I don’t expect that my letter to you will make any real difference to your government’s outlook towards those who had signed to serve this country and instead copped a life-long abuse of their Human Rights instead.
The sad thing about all of this is that your government, which is actually their government, seems to find it hard to recognise or accept, but you Mate, may just stop and think before you sit down and write a half baked uninformed letter such as the one which you did on November 11 this year.
Maybe Darren, you as Assistant Defence Minister and a White Ribbon Day Ambassador could write to the same paper, a retraction on what you wrote earlier and add that some facts which you were not aware of had recently come to light.
But that won’t happen I suspect, and we at the William Kibby VC Veterans Shed will just go on being contacted, as we were this week by 3 more victims of ADF Abuse from the early 2000s, who at this time of the year find themselves without friends, family and support so they get onto the grog and oddly enough the subject of suicide comes to the fore.
Suicide again is another story.
Darren, your government after the Senate Hearing I spoke at in 2014, instructed DVA to investigate ways of supporting our organisation to do it’s work in providing forms of assistance to the Victims of ADF Abuse who contact our Shed.
The day before the 12 months since I had spoken to that hearing had expired, two members from DVA turned up in Adelaide to announce to myself and one of my colleagues that they could not find any way in which they could support our work.
The point I am making here is simply that we raise all of our own funding to do the work we have been doing with the Victims of ADF Abuse and have done so for around 5 years now.
Anyway Darren, maybe you will take some notice of what I have said or maybe not.
My son lives in Sale as a matter of coincidence and I am there on a regular basis, so if you feel you would like to learn a bit more about the work we do, you may like to contact me.
Thank you for reading my submission.
The Veterans who work at the William Kibby VC Veterans’ Shed are very passionate about the work we do, but as you can see there is still a long way to go.
Barry Heffernan, OAM
Wiliam Kibby VC Veterans’ Shed