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Got Abused in the Australian Military? Today's your Last Chance to File a Claim

David Hicks' US lawyer, Dan Mori, is now assisting in representing 80-odd ADF personnel abused while serving their country. We talked to him about the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce and why they aren’t bending over backwards to publicise the looming...
May 30, 2013, 2:24am

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If you happen to be an Australian Defence Force abuse victim, you have until the end of the day to file your claim to the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce, and potentially receive reparation payments of up to $50,000.

The Australian Government implemented the Taskforce in November 2012, just after the DLA Piper Report surfaced which examined allegations of abuse in the ADF.

The allegations date back 60 years with acts of bastardisation, brutal attacks and sexual assaults being committed against boys as young as 13, according to an article in The Drum

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The ADF don’t exactly have a stellar track record of good behaviour, after coming under perusal last year following a Skype sex scandal involving two cadets.

Fortunately, opening up that can of worms spurred the inquiry of abuse in the military, so that the Defence can finally begin repatriating victims who were suffering long before any scandals emerged.

Dan Mori, former US military lawyer for David Hicks and newfound Melbournian who is working on getting qualified to be lawyer down under, is assisting in Shine Lawyers’ representation of 80-odd ADF victims who have suffered sexual and other forms of abuse during their service.

We had a chat to Dan, or Major Michael Mori as you would have referred to him in back in the Marine Corps days, to discuss the Taskforce and why they aren’t bending over backwards to publicise the looming deadline.

VICE: The window for filing and approving claims is open till 31st of May, where do victims go from there?

Dan Mori: If they don’t have their name submitted to the Taskforce then that’s it, they’re done.

So, there’s no other avenue for them to lodge their claims?

They may be able to pursue a DVA (Department of Veteran’s Affairs) claim or take civil action – but this would need to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Are they aware of this?

That was the problem when the Task Force was first being publicised in November 2012 and beginning of January, the media wasn’t writing about this deadline. It just wasn’t out there. I think recently it’s gotten a little bit more attention. The last time they had an announcement it was to say the Taskforce was being extended until 2014, but that was just outlining their operation not the actual deadline.

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Apparently 2,000 ‘plausible’ claims have been put forward, how are they deemed plausible?

That term comes from the DLA Piper Report, and it’s also comes from the Defence Abuse Taskforce – meaning that it is not necessarily of evidentiary standard. When they receive these claims, they aren’t doing what a civil court would normally do, use probability of the evidence. In this case, it just has to be plausible and doesn’t have to reach that threshold.

The problem with the DVA is, let’s say if you were raped and were filing a claim with the Department, they follow the same probability standard even if you never reported it, you never told anybody and there’s nothing to substantiate it except your word. So, the DVA was not necessarily accepting people’s claims.

Are they doing that with this scheme?

I think that’s the theory behind lowering the evidentiary standard. Which is what’s strange with the DVA process. A criminal court could take just one victims word for a crime and find someone committed a crime, beyond reasonable doubt. How can you not use someone’s word to find that 51 percent in a civil court?

Although 2,000 claims is a significant amount, do you think there’s more that aren’t coming forward?

I think so. Those that probably just don’t want to disclose what happened to them or do not know about the deadline.

Or just not be bothered with the added level of bureaucracy?

Could be. It’s capped at $45,000 with potentially the extra $5,000, but that’s really not enough. How does that quantify or pay someone who was raped at a young age, and then take into account the damage that does to people?

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Exactly, how do they even go about quantifying that kind of damage?

That’s a good question for them. It would be interesting to know what someone might get out of a civil claim and what has been given in compensation, and compare it to what they are offering these people.

The problem with the reparation scheme is the arbitrary cap of $45,000; it doesn’t offer final closure or a resolution for the individuals. And for someone who was raped just once in the military by fellow service member, at a time where there were no services or support for victims, and the impact if that’s caused them to have problems in there life – $45,000 is probably not even close.

$45,000 does seem a bit low…

Your natural question to me is well what other options do they have? That’s the problem, this process does not provide the victims with closure and not with a final resolution, the damage just continues. We’re recognising that there’s a problem lets really resolve it.

Is their recovery even a question of money?

Think about this, do you remember the David Jones sexual harassment case? Where Kristy Fraser Kirk sued them over sexual harassment? That was supposedly an $850,000 settlement. But ADF members who suffered far worse abuse are only receiving $45,000. It’s just a shame.

Perpetrators receive free legal aid. What about the actual victims, what are they provided with?

They’re not provided with anything. Not even provided with a few hours of paid legal assistance to get advice on this.  It’s interesting to compare it with the sexual abuse commission that’s going on, where they’re spending $400 million.

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Does it have something to do with the Taskforce?

I think there could be an overlap for very young 15-16 year olds. $45m of that $400m is being allocated to helping victims tell their story, including getting legal advice. Whereas none of the $120m used to run the Taskforce, is being allocated for legal representation of the victims.

Seems to be a lot of money being thrown around ($83.9m to cover reparation payments) and not much of that is going towards the victims…

That’s where you take the 2,000 plausible claims and assume there’s more. If everyone got $50,000, that would be a total of $100m in claims.

Is there a chance victims won’t get repatriation payments? 

I’m sure, you never know, they might just get small amounts. Have you seen the handout on the different levels of repatriation?

*Excerpt from Australian Government’s Defence Abuse Reparation Scheme Guidelines

The Defence knows that the majority of claims are very old, so there are time limitations in civil cases. Yet the Minister for Defence gets up there and says “…don’t forget there’s nothing stopping them from potentially taking civil action”, being well aware of the time limitations.

What are these limitations?

It depends on what state they live in, potentially, anywhere between three to six years. But they know many of these claims are well older than that. That’s the interesting thing, DLA Piper get everyone’s information, so they know this. It would be like Ford having a defective car and saying to everyone out there wanting to file a claim tell our lawyers your story first, it was kind of strange.

That’s pretty messed up. Hey while I’ve got you, any chance I can get a comment on the upcoming Nauru 10 case you’re working on?

No, we’re not talking about that…