ALISON BROINOWSKI. Quiet Australians wait for the truth

Forty-four Australian servicemen have been killed in action or have died in accidents since our forces went to Afghanistan in 2001, and since the deployments to Iraq and Syria. But in that period, at least ten times that number of Australians serving or no longer in the military have died of suicide. This week, former Commander Kevin Frost was the latest.

His story became familiar when he confessed to the ABC in 2016 that he had been complicit in covering up the alleged murder of a prisoner, shot through the forehead in Afghanistan. He fully expected that for revealing this and other alleged crimes he would be severely punished. Nonetheless, he gave evidence about ADF behaviour to the Brereton inquiry, which continues. Frost did not live to see its conclusion.

The 45 year-old former Commando disappeared from his Busselton, WA home on Tuesday 10 December, and his body was found the following Saturday. This was reported on 16 December by the Daily Telegraph, which has been campaigning for a Royal Commission into serving military and veteran suicides for six months. Warriors Return reported on Facebook that 412 such suicides had occurred between 2001 and 2016. But 85 were recorded between 2017 and 2018, making the total of those known about, and counted as suicide, much higher.

Shocking and sad as these consequences of unjust war are, the way we learn about them is seriously deficient. Frost’s death was not announced by Defence or by Veterans Affairs, although a message of condolence was tweeted by former commando and Federal Labor MP Luke Gosling. Quiet is what the Prime Minister wants from the electorate. Quiet has descended over military suicides.

Even the mainstream media, which seem already to be forgetting about the Your Right to Know campaign, gave great prominence to the White Island volcano, and precious little to Frost’s suicide. Those who have quietly been waiting for reports on four related matters remain unrewarded. All located in the ACT jurisdiction, the matters are:

· The trial of David McBride. A former military lawyer, accused of leaking details of alleged war crimes to the ABC for its series ‘The Afghan Files’, knew that by stating that members of the Special Forces shot and killed unarmed civilians including children, he would face legal consequences and could get ‘unlimited’ time in jail. Representing himself, and displeased with the ABC’s version of events, he may seek to subpoena Attorney-General Christian Porter and former head of the ADF General David Hurley (now Governor-General). His defence, similar to that of Kathryn Dun in Official Secrets, is likely to be that Australian leaders did things in their self-interest that were bad for Australian security. The trial is set for March 2020.

· The trials of Witness K and Bernard Collaery. Expected to be charged with disclosing information about ASIS, their cases arose from Alexander Downer’s order to ASIS, as Foreign Minister in 2004, to bug government offices in Timor Leste during negotiations about oil and gas with Australia (a beneficiary of which would be Woodside Petroleum). ASIS officers did this, posing as aid workers, and later a senior member of the team, ‘Witness K’ expressed his concern to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. On her recommendation he consulted Canberra solicitor Bernard Collaery, after which the media learned about these events. Collaery’s office was raided, his papers seized, and Witness K’s passport was confiscated to prevent them giving evidence at Timor Leste’s hearing in The Hague. K intends to plead guilty, but both men may seek the opportunity to state that they refused to condone immoral and illegal acts of government – the opposite of the Nuremberg defence. Most of the proceedings have been in secret, and whether Collaery’s case, now postponed to May 2020, will be held in open court is unknown, as are the detailed charges against him.

· An unnamed Australian soldier. Secretly jailed in Canberra in 2018, a man contacted journalist and author Robert Macklin for help in publishing his memoir, which included criticism of the Alexander McConochie Centre where he is held. Nothing further has been reported about any charges, trial, or sentence for this man, or whether he is the only such prisoner.

· Annika Smethurst and the ABC. On successive days in June 2019, ABC offices in Sydney and the home of a Newscorp journalist in Canberra were raided. One group of officers were apparently seeking sources for classified information accessed by the ABC for ’The Afghan Files’. Others wanted to know how Smethurst received classified information about the proposed extension of the powers of the Australian Signals Directorate to monitor private communications inside as well as outside Australia. Both cases turn on the validity of the search warrants used, and Smethurst’s case went to the High Court in November.

All this adds up to the consequences of speaking truth to power anywhere. In the US, people whose interests were affected apparently wanted Seth Rich and Jeffrey Epstein dead; they probably want indefinite imprisonment or death for Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning; and now we see similar desires at work in Canberra. Justice, it seems, counts for little: no-one, those in power repeat, is above the law. Cause embarrassment to them and you will be made an example of. If slow, deliberate, unrelenting pressure has not yet killed most of the people listed here, it still could.

Dr Alison Broinowski AM is an Australian former diplomat, academic and author


Dr Alison Broinowski AM is Vice-President of Australians for War Powers Reform. She joined the Australian Foreign Service in 1963, lived in Japan for a total of six years, and for shorter periods in Burma, Iran, the Philippines, Jordan, South Korea, the United States of America and Mexico, working alternately as an author and Australian diplomat.

Since leaving the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, she has received a PhD in Asian Studies from ANU, and has continued to lecture, write, and broadcast in Australia and abroad on Asian affairs and cultural and political issues.

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7 Responses to ALISON BROINOWSKI. Quiet Australians wait for the truth

  1. Michael Gallagher says:

    Our War Museum is an example of how we glorify war – its a continuing disgrace that we do so little to help our returning warriors

  2. Rex Williams says:

    Thank you Alison

    Let us see how many others bother to comment on the state of play in this country in 2019.

    The ten times ratio of suicides when compared to deaths in military action should warrant an investigation. Worse in the USA with ex-servicemen suicides at 20 every day.
    These Australian suicides are a shame on this country and could perhaps have been avoided in the main by proper treatment and care. One would have to say such care would be something very much more important and less costly than spending a gross amount of money on Nelson’s Palace (The Australian War Memorial), an unnecessary edifice to past years of battles won and lost even back to 1918, an era of little interest to anyone 100 years on.
    Who really cares in 2019?
    But we do care about protecting our ex-servicemen from suicide.

  3. ANDREW FARRAN says:

    This culture as described and reflected within the security/intelligence ranks is becoming more disturbing by the day. Interestingly parliamentarians, who are sworn to safeguard our democratic values, rarely speak up in defence of those values, other than in the abstract, when they are being violated. In the rare cases when they might
    so, it is, more often often than not, after their retirement. When high ranking personnel of the intelligence/security establishment speak up, even after retirement as in a recent example, what they say is rarely reassuring. Usually, only a huge injustice to an individual gets public attention and leads to a correction. The Dreyfus Affair in France is notable in that regard. Public opinion here is slow to react or slow to appreciate that perversion of the justice system in the public arena, when it occurs, harms us all.

    As for the tragic suicides of former ADF personnel resulting from service in Afghanistan, and described in the above article, what can one say if all they get is just a few lines of media attention, usually when notified by their families, not their respective services. The numbers quoted for just the last decade are appalling. We learnt this week in relation to the military campaign in Afghanistan, a campaign that has already lasted for some 18 years, that US governments have failed to provide their military commanders with clear statements of objectives and purposes and had been misleading the public as to the state of the conflict, repeating over and over that it was being won. At the same time Australian governments were repeating the same misleading statements, leading the public to believe similarly that the commitment had a viable and valid purpose.

    Previous calls for an inquiry into the Iraq War of 2003, on the lines of that undertaken in the UK, have been vigorously rejected by Australian governments. Notwithstanding, what must now be called for is an inquiry into the 18 year long fruitless and damaging campaign in Afghanistan so that the armed forces themselves, and the public more generally, can better understand how and why such huge resources, manpower, materiel and money has been spent in this manner with all of its destructive consequences.

  4. Jim KABLE says:

    Thanks, Alison for keeping these cases before us. We have become the police state we once warned against. It makes me think – as I look back over the descent of other states into this fascist contempt for the citizens by their rulers that only a revolution by the citizens is able to effect a recovery to democratic values. Recently I was in Armenia – just last year they had a successful revolution against their oligarch – they called it the Velvet Revolution – no lives lost but the “rulers” ousted! Maybe it’s time for something similar against the holidaying happy-clapper – his Deputy – acting at will against legal advice – and all the other undemocratic ways in which their government is lying to us. Not listening to us!

    • Rosemary O'Grady says:

      I also liked the holding hands from ? TALLINN TO sT pETERSBURG? I forget – but it was a million + made the effort. Then there was the Singing Revolution (Latvia? Estonia?) smart-thinking. Not to mention Hong Kong SAR!
      Oh to have been in Armenia – how lucky you are!

  5. James O'Neill says:

    One of the most appalling facts of the three wars you mention, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria is that all three were based on lies by the governments concerned and all are illegal under international law. Not one politician has been held to account, much less charged and imprisoned. In Australia both major parties are complicit, not only in the crime of waging an illegal war, but in refusing to even debate those wars in the House or Senate, and as you document, pursuing and trying those who have pointed out some of the outrages. The Nuremberg principles have been entirely forgotten. In a very real sense Australia is no longer a democracy.

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