01 June 2010

Petty Officer in HMAS Success inquiry: Sailors exhibited "constant disregard for standards of Royal Australian Navy"

Today's continuation in Sydney of the Commission of Inquiry into the HMAS Success allegations of serious misbehaviour subjected Petty Officer Jason Patrick Smith - a 21 year Navy veteran - to a grueling day of questions. (I have previously discussed the accusations of sexual misbehaviour here, here, here, and here.)

Petty Officer Smith who wasn't in uniform but wore a suit and tie, at some point or another, spent a total of 14 years serving on board the HMAS Success and knew the ship's culture well. He testified before retired Federal Court Judge Roger Gyles, AO QC - the President of the Commission of Inquiry - that there was a "constant disregard for standard of the Royal Australian Navy," or RAN. Smith said there was a culture as far back as he could remember of bullying.


The type of disregard for RAN standards included male sailors constantly making insulting comments to female sailors, fraternization of middle management sailors having sex with junior sailors and photographs being taken, illicit drug and steroid abuse, male sailors dressing up in female costumes -- such as Snow White and school girls -- whilst out on shore leave at a bar in Hong Kong. Some male sailors stripping off their clothes to just their underwear in public. Smith approached one junior sailor at a Hong Kong bar in May 2009 to tell him to put his clothes back on and was told "F--k off, don't talk to me anymore about this s--t or I will kill you."

In March the inquiry had heard HMAS Success sailors had sex in a Chinese bar and smashed another bar in Manila on a goodwill tour last year in Asia. At one point the Success' then-Captain, Commander Simon Brown, told his superiors at Fleet Headquarters in Sydney that the "ship has a rotten core and it has to be removed."

Smith tried to resolve the misbehavior he observed by contacting the President of the Petty Officer's Mess and Chief Petty Officer Thomas and requesting that action be taken but to no avail. The President of the PO Mess and CPO Thomas have been alleged to not have addressed the incidents and the misbehaviour continued. Smith testified that he "grew tired of coping it" from senior leadership for the actions of a few sailors. He later took his complaints to an "equity and diversity team" which boarded the ship in Hong Kong in May 2009. Smith feared CPO Thomas would have told another sailor "it would be a shame if this bastard had an accident." The 21 year veteran petty officer feared for his safety and was growing more stressed as each day passed.


Last December the Defence Department issued an instruction, known as a "DefGram," which can be found here. This DefGram concerned instructions regarding submissions of ADF members to Parliament which had started to investigate the allegations of inappropriate behaviour by sailors of the HMAS Success. The Clerk of the Senate wrote about the DefGram:
"At best, the directive is a misrepresentation of the Goverment Guidelines for official witnesses before Parliamentary Committees and related matters (November 1989). At worst, it represents a potential improper interference with the free exercise by a committee of its authority and, therefore, a possible contempt under resolution 6(1) of the Senate's Privilege Resolutions, dated 25 February 1988."
A copy of letter from the Clerk of the Senate can be found here.

On 18 December 2009, Senator Russell Trood, Chair of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee sent this letter to Minister of Defence Senator John Faulkner addressing serious concerns.

The Senate Committee then issued a Report on Parliamentary Privilege which can be found here.


On 18 March 2010, the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee issued this interim report. There were six public submissions made to the committee, including one from the Returned & Services League of Australia (Disclaimer: I am a member of the RSL and I spoke with the National Secretary of the RSL, Derek Robson AM, last evening who had understood that the RSL's submission was going to be made public.) However, the Committee is not making those submissions available to the media and general public and are keeping them "confidential."

I have attempted to obtain copies of the submissions and received an email this morning along with a telephone call from a senior policy advisor and the Secretary of the Senate Committee stating that the submissions will not be released at this stage. Further, that the submitters - - including the RSL - - cannot release the submissions to media or the public citing a standing committee order preventing them from doing such.


Following the testimony of Smith, the Commission of Inquiry is intending on a public directions hearing scheduled on 9 June 2010 and public witness hearings recommencing on 21 June 2010.

The President of the Inquiry, Mr Roger Gyles AO QC, is expected to issue his report to the Senate Committee by 30 June 2010.

(I was on active duty in the U.S. Navy during the early 1990s Tailhook scandal -- which I remember well as we had global stand down training on harassment ordered by the Chief of Naval Operations . . . these Aussie RAN allegations make the U.S. Navy's Tailhook scandal look reticent.)

1 comment:

  1. Senate submissions are kept confidential until the report is completed. They are then released on the aph website if the person/s agreed to having their submission made public.