MEDIA – Mix 104.9FM – Transcript – Stripping MUCs from Australian troops who served in Afghanistan “morally injurious”

DARWIN, 19 April 2021

KATIE WOOLF, HOST: You may have heard or read this morning in the news that Australian soldiers who’ve served in Afghanistan won’t be stripped of their medals because of war crime allegations facing some Special Forces soldiers. That is what the Defence Minister, Peter Dutton, has announced. Now, joining us on the line to give us a bit more detail about this and also to get his take, is the federal Member for Solomon, Luke Gosling. Good morning to you, Luke.

LUKE GOSLING, MEMBER FOR SOLOMON: Good morning, Katie.

WOOLF: Luke, as I just mentioned, we know that Australian soldiers who served in Afghanistan aren’t going to be stripped of their medals because of the war crime allegations. That’s what the Defence Minister, Peter Dutton, announced a bit earlier today. What’s your take on this situation?

GOSLING: As you know, Katie, I’ve been consistent on this for five months now. And I think we had a conversation when it was first announced that the meritorious unit citation would be revoked.

WOOLF: Yes.

GOSLING: And, you know, not only there are a number of veterans in our community here in the Top End that receive that award for their excellent work over in Afghanistan. But it was morally injurious, I believe, to be taking away an award from 3,000 of our Australian patriots for the sins of a few. It was never a good idea. It’s a shame that it’s taken the sixth defence minister and five months for this to occur, but obviously I welcome that it’s been made official today.

WOOLF: Yeah and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there, everyone cannot be punished for the alleged bad behaviour from a few. It does go against what the Defence Force Chief Angus Campbell recommended, that that meritorious unit citation be taken from 3,000 soldiers from special operations task groups that served in Afghanistan from April 2007 to December 2013. Is it unusual really to see the Defence Minister go against what the Defence Force Chief had recommended?

GOSLING: It wouldn’t be the first time, Katie, and what we have is a process with the Brereton Inquiry where alleged war crimes in Afghanistan were investigated and there was enough concerning evidence that there were a number of recommendations made. It’s really important that there is a process of transparency and accountability and that those accused have their right to be presumed innocent until there’s a proper legal process.

There were some very good recommendations that came out of the Brereton Inquiry but in the case of this one, it was not right. In fact it was cruel to say that all those that served so well there should have an award stripped when people here in our own community and across the country can be extremely proud of the job they did in Afghanistan, often in incredibly difficult circumstances. So I hope we can move on now from this issue. I think it was good what the Chief of the Defence Force said, in that we must make sure when the ADF goes overseas,

they’re ambassadors for our nation so their conduct must always be exemplary. For those that are found guilty of war crimes in a court of law, of course they should be stripped of any award they were given.

WOOLF: As I understand, only soldiers found guilty of war crimes or dismissed from the Defence Force will now be stripped. So to me, that sounds like the commons ese approach here.

GOSLING: Yeah it is, for sure, Katie. We’re all well aware of how much our serving men and women and their families do for us. As I said, I’m not being political, it’s unfortunate it’s taken this long. I welcome the decision and I think there’s a lot on our plate. I want to know what Peter Dutton is doing about the terms of ref for a roy com the pm says he supports. But we’re still waiting to hear what’s going to happen with that. But just wishing our serving people and all our former serving people all the best in the lead-up to Anzac Day.

WOOLF: Absolutely, and we’ll be making sure that we certainly speak more about Anzac Day, it is just six days away, as we all know. Luke, just on that note, into the royal commission, is there any update?

GOSLING: No there’s not, Katie. What they did was, when the parliament said “we need a royal commission into defence and veteran suicide”, the Prime Minister said “well I won’t stand in the way of this motion”. He said that because obviously he didn’t want to have a vote against him on the floor of the parliament. And the public thinks we need the best possible veteran support system, the families and the serving members think we need the best possible support system, the best way to get that is through a royal commission and if they had started one 18 months ago when the calls were made for a royal commission we’d be putting those recommendations into action by now. So it worries me that they’ve gone quiet on it and I hope they can confirm, maybe they’re waiting til we get back to Canberra, I don’t know. The Prime Minister has a lot on his plate with the mishandling of this vaccine rollout, but he should be able to find time to say “we are going to have a royal commission, the terms of reference are now out for consultation”.

WOOLF: Luke, can I ask you, I understand, just on a separate note, there’s a bit of an update when it comes to Timor and the donations going across to Timor. I understand that Foodbank, who not only look after Territorians, but they’re also looking at sending some food over to Timor as well in the wake of the terrible situation that they’re going through.

GOSLING: That’s certainly in their plans, Katie, I’m standing out the front of Foodbank, I’ve had a great brief with them this morning, not only do they do a great job here in the Territory, their plans for the future involved being able to respond to humanitarian crises in our region.

Now an update this morning from East Timor is they are in a dire way. So I thank all those that have made donations. The reality of the situation up in some of the mountain areas of Timor is that the kids there were already malnourished before COVID, they’ve become more malnourished during COVID, due to the lockdown, and now after the floods have taken out roads and taken out bridges, some of those communities, these kids are getting by on a bowl of rice and a couple of leaves – leaves from tress – they’re getting by on that day by day.

So there is definitely a role for Australia to respond to the humanitarian crisis, that’s been requested by the Timor Government, so we look forward to the Federal Government providing some more support to those cut-off areas vis-à-vis Timor as soon as possible.

WOOLF: Luke, in the meantime, what can we as Territorians do if we are keen to assist in some way?

GOSLING: Katie, on my Facebook page I’ve got a link to an organisation called Caritas, an international aid organisation. but there are other aid organisations on the ground as well in East Timor. Whilst the donations in Darwin and Palmerston of goods have been fantastic, they’ll get there by shipping container, unfortunately via Singapore, but eventually they’ll get over there.

In the meantime they’re really struggling to feed people in Dili let alone in the outlying areas. So as these aid organisations start to respond, donations to them – and check that they are actually operating on the ground in Dili – donations to them is the best way to get some immediate support to people in Timor.

WOOLF: Well Luke Gosling, Labor’s Member for Solomon, our federal representative in Canberra, we always appreciate your time, mate. Thank you so very much for having a chat with us today.

GOSLING: Good on you, Katie, cheers.

ENDS