Senator Penny Wong
Senator for South Australia
19 Gouger Street
Adelaide SA 5000
My name is Barry Heffernan and I am a Vietnam Veteran.
I along with several other Vietnam Veterans run the William Kibby VC Veterans’ Shed at Glenelg North.
Senator, I am writing to you not so much as a criticism but to voice the disappointment that we at the Vets’ Shed feel towards your comments yesterday about statements by Peter Dutton but more to the recurring double standards of this Parliament and it’s occupants.
Senator Wong, along with the running of our Shed as a Shed we, in particular myself, have been involved the Abuse in the ADF for something like 5 years now.
Back in 2010 along with the excellent support of Senator Xenophon, we were instrumental in the setting up an Inquiry into ADF Abuse, following an approach by a man who told stories of immense sexual and physical abuse he suffered when he was a 15 year old Junior Rating at HMAS Leeuwin, a naval shore training base at Perth.
Following that meeting and subsequent media exposure,we were approached by something like 200 people who made similar claims of abuse while serving.
Since that time I have dealt with between 300 and 400 victims of either Rape sexual assault and many other abuses as I have explained to Senator Gallacher when I spoke back in 2014 to the FADT Committee on Supporting Victims of ADF Abuse.
We are now contending with a suicide rate of around 280 since 1986, of either serving or former serving ADF Members.
And this bloody parliament wants to debate who said what to who?
With due respect Senator how can yourself and all of your colleagues run such obvious double standards?
To us, the seriousness of ongoing sexual assaults and rapes should take take precedence over some poor misguided comments by people who should know a lot better.
I have recently written to Coalition MP Darren Chester chastising him about an article he wrote in the Melbourne Herald Sun on November 11 last year about Domestic Violence.
I thought that it was a good article until I read the last box which gave his title as Assistant Defence Minister AND White Ribbon Ambassador.
In his article although wearing the Defence Minister title, he did not once mention ADF Abuse to both men and women which angered me immensely.
White Ribbon Day and what it represents should be adhered to all year round and not held up to the description of being a day of glaring tokenism.
It also should be addressed to males who again in our view, make up a large target of abuse.
How much does he know about his role in Defence but how much does he really want to know?
Abuse, both physical and verbal goes on all the time in particular in the areas where our Organisation spends a lot of time supporting the victims.
To your party’s credit, it was Labor who introduced the DART.
Unfortunately on some bad advice and judgement from the Coalition ranks this body was disbanded which now leaves both men and women from both inside and outside the ADF with nowhere to voice claims of Abuse.
I am not going to go about all that has ensued from then.
But Senator, we are continually approached by both former serving and current serving men and women, who are either still facing sexual or other types of abuses, and are in many cases still reliving their experiences years later.
All of these chapters in the life of the William Kibby VC Veterans’ Shed pale into insignificance when Peter Dutton writes an SMS supposedly to Jamie Briggs and “accidentally” sends it to Samantha Maiden with some "unsavoury" message
Senator I have probably gone on too long with my letter, but the point I am making is that although we do not condone Dutton’s letter and Briggs’ behaviour, there are a lot more important and more serious issues to do with abuse in this country, than who said what to who, which we need to have addressed as more of a priority.
I would like to meet with you and further discuss the work of the William Kibby VC Veterans’ Shed, work which I have not mentioned in this letter.
Senator, I am also keen to meet with both Senator Conroy, your Shadow Defence minister and David Feeney, the Shed Veterans Minister and discuss their thoughts about supporting the work we at the Shed do in particular with the ADF Abused and to also talk about the reintroduction of a DART or similar body to allow those with claims of ADF Abuse to have their grievances examined.
Our Organisation is still very much in the corner of a Royal Commission into Abuse in the ADF.
Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
William Kibby VC Veterans’ Shed