The Honourable Malcolm Turnbull
Prime Minister of Australia
Canberra ACT 2600
Dear Prime Minister
I am writing to voice my disappointment and dismay at the direction taken by your Coalition Government with several of your government’s policies.
My name is Barry Heffernan, I am a Vietnam Veteran and also Shed Coordinator of the William Kibby VC Veterans’ Shed, in Adelaide.
Prime Minister, our Shed is a member of the Australian Men’s Shed Association and is the first Shed in Australia particularly set up to cater for anyone who has ever worn the uniform of this nation, regardless of gender and irrespective of whether they have served overseas.
Our organisation is run by a number of Vietnam Veterans and is also supported by some of the younger Veterans from more recent conflicts.
Although our group advocates for and provides both Pension and Welfare support to those who have served, our main direction is in an entirely different area.
Prime Minister, for nearly 5 years now the William Kibby VC Veterans’ Shed has been very much involved with many victims of ADF Abuse and our claim is that we were partly responsible for the introduction of the DLA Piper Report and the subsequent introduction of the DART over 4 years ago.
This all came about with the strong support from Senator Xenophon and his office, after bringing to light the story of a former Junior Rating form HMAS Leeuwin, who had suffered horrific injuries as a result being seriously assaulted and abused during his time at this Naval base back in 1971.
Prime Minister, since then we have advocated on behalf of over 300 Victims of ADF Abuse in various forms and still to this day we are supporting former and some current serving members of the ADF, who have suffered abuse and assault during their terms.
In many of the cases we deal with are cases of rape against both male and female service personnel which we consider as a violation of their Human Rights.
Prime Minister, to most people in the everyday community, rape is rape and assault and abuse are assault and abuse.
I don’t think that there is too much to question there.
Our organisation is very aware that the Coalition government has recently sent some $400 million dollars to Syria to support the many victims of Human Rights abuse in that country, many of whom could be termed as rape victims.
More recently our organisation has noticed that your Coalition government had set aside $100 million dollars to combat Domestic Violence in Australia, which included $20 million to be allocated to the Indigenous domestic violence problem.
Please note, we do not question either of those decisions.
However, by those decisions from your government, we believe a precedent has been set.
On the 26th of September 2014,I attended a Senate Hearing in Canberra to address the FADT Committee and speak on “Support for the Victims of ADF Abuse", which is an area we believe the William Kibby VC Veterans’ Shed has become quite expert in.
The results from the Senate Hearing were eventually released and in part it was suggested that DVA in particular, should look at avenues to support the work of a ”grass roots group” (namely our Shed) in providing support for the Victims of ADF Abuse.
Both myself and my colleagues followed the passage of this resolution quite closely because as you can understand we carry out our work only through private donations and running a bbq at our Shed each week.
That is all we receive.
We have not received in the past or even to this day, one cent from either State or Federal Governments to do our work in dealing with these victims all around the nation, largely because as we have been told recently there are no grants to do the sort of recovery work we do.
Prime Minister, I have to tell you that the people from DVA took the full 12 months to inform us, regardless of the direction from the Senate Committee, that the William Kibby VC Veterans’ Shed does not qualify through any particular area of DVA Legislation, to receive funding to support it’s work with the increasing number of ADF Abuse Victims who have approached us.
That decision, we feel Prime Minister, is farcical.
Let me take you back to the earlier part of my letter where I said that the man in the street would say that "rape is rape and assault and abuse are assault abuse” irrespective where it occurs, either overseas or in this country or next door and so on.
If we agree there Prime Minister, can you answer this question for me please?
If this country can hand out large sums of money to support victims of Human Rights abuse overseas and probably countries other than Syria, and also provide substantial funding to support victims of Domestic Violence in this country, why did the previous Abbott government stop the existence of the DART which was the only safe way for victims of Rape and Abuse within the ADF, from coming forward to report their brutal treatment?
As I stated earlier, we believe a precedent has been set and to not continue with the DART, is a clear message to those victims who have suffered during their terms in the ADF, that the possibilities of receiving a fair hearing to their claims of rape and/ or assault and other forms of abuses have all but been denied, not to mention that the perpertrators have got off scot free.
I wrote to the then Defence Minister Kevin Andrews and asked the same question.
His reply was one from a man who had absolutely no idea of the extent of the problem of abuse within the ADF.
His reply astounded me to say the least and went along the lines that there were in his opinion, enough support systems within the ADF for victims to come forward to report incidents of abuse.
He cited ADF groups such as SEMPRA and ADSIS as areas to turn to.
Prime Minister, in all of my experiences with victims of ADF Abuse, I have never heard any of those I have met say, when I have asked them why they didn’t go through these groups, that they had confidence in them to do their job and investigate with total impartiality.
In other words the reply to my question to the victims, is along the lines of “how do I know that the person I am reporting to is not the best mate of the person who just raped me?”.
Also it is well known that within the ADF there is almost nothing kept confidential, in situations such as we are talking about here.
I brought this point up at the Senate Hearing I spoke to in 2014, but obviously I was not taken seriously, because we still hear from victims who answer the same way.
Prime Minister, I mentioned earlier of the funding the Coalition Government had directed to other areas of abuse both in Australia and overseas, and I also asked the question why in the cases of ADF Abuse Victims Support and Recognition of their abuses had gone in the other direction.
To myself and the other members of our organisation, and I would say most normal thinking Australians, that the Government cannot walk both sides of the street.
On one hand it cannot be seen to hand over funding to overseas countries of need and on the other hand be selective in it’s own country, where funding is paid and also be selective to which part of the community will funding be directed.
Prime Minister you don’t need me to tell you of the serious suicide rate among serving and former serving members of the ADF.
The William Kibby VC Veterans’ Shed is continually made aware of the instances of bullying within the ranks and on board ships, which are obviously the beginnings of Abuse and in some cases, suicide.
In closing, our group is not looking for the millions I have identified to you earlier, but we are looking for fairness and the opportunity to do our work properly.
Should you ask me what sort of figure I would like to have as a starting amount, I would suggest that a figure of around $100K would be what we need to visit and provide individual support to these victims.
Our recommendation to you also would be that your government examine the reintroduction of the DART, or a form of the DART, where victims of ADF Abuse would be encouraged to come forward to voice their stories of abuse and assault.
This would go a long way to eliminating claims that the government is not denying members and former members of the ADF the right to have their claims of various serious abuses heard.
Should you decide to go in this direction Prime Minister, the William Kibby VC Veterans’ Shed would gladly provide it’s support and comments on the best ways to introduce and operate such a scheme.
I thank you for your time in reading our submission.
Barry Heffernan, OAM
William Kibby VC Veterans’ Shed