OPINION: PM complicit in attack on the ‘meritorious many’

I am not an alarmist by nature; but I am a proud Australian veteran with 16 years of service including combat in Afghanistan.

It was insulting enough to suffer the Chief of the Defence Force threatening to write to the Governor General to remove the Meritorious Unit Citation from every special operations soldier who had served in Afghanistan between April 2007 and December 2013.

This threat has done untold psychological and emotional damage to veterans and their families, those living and deceased.

It has inevitably led to a heightened instance of suicide or the contemplation of such a final act within our veteran community.

I have expressed publicly, on the behalf of veterans, my anger and anguish at such a callus response to the Brereton report, which the Prime Minister acknowledged he had not read.

This threat has opened old wounds in a way that politicians, defence hierarchy and civilians may not understand.

However, it is now clear that this threat had been contemplated months before the release of the Brereton Report.

The Letters Patent providing for the award of the Meritorious Unit Citation, not to individuals but to a unit, were issued by Her Majesty the Queen on the 15th of January 1991. They were countersigned by Prime Minister Hawke.

Those Letters Patent did not provide any powers to revoke the citation from a unit – namely any Special Operations Task Group, or Task Force 66.

That will be transparent in the documents attached.

It now transpires that the response by General Campbell to the report via the threat to write the Governor General was not spontaneous.

Sadly, the Prime Minister appears complicit in all of this because, well before the release of the report, and presumably anyone’s ability to read it, changes were made to the Letters Patent, dated July 13, 2020.

The Brereton Report was released on November 19, 2020. That is five months after the Prime Minister’s changes to the Letters Patent giving powers to the Governor General to revoke the Citation from an entire unit, not the revoking of the right to wear, but the total revocation of the Citation, innocent and guilty alike.

And this extreme change, without any public announcement, without any public debate, without any public scrutiny, and I presume without any endorsement from the parliament of Australia, has been countersigned by the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrision – five months before the release of the report.

In other words, the psychological, emotional and traumatic damage to Australia’s service men and women had been planned months in advance of the report’s release, a report that is now still to be investigated and tested.

I have said before, that this goes to the very heart of our constitutional and democratic rights – the constitutional obligation to the proper defence of the nation has been seriously compromised by the threat to the morale of those serving, those who have served and those a government would hope to recruit to serve.

The simple threat to our democratic fabric derives from the denial of the presumption of innocence by so called credible information that has not been tested in a court of law.

I hereby call upon the Prime Minister to explain his actions to change the Letters Patent months prior to the release of the Brereton Report. To explain what recommendations were provided to him and by whom, and to produce these documents for review.

I call upon all parliamentarians, as our elected representatives, to challenge why these actions were allowed to occur.

How and without any accompanying plans or actions to support our veterans and their families who have been gravely impacted by the actions of our Prime Minister and his senior defence leaders.

I further demand, on behalf of all veterans, an apology from the Prime Minister, the Minister for Defence, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, the Chief of the Defence Force and the Chief of Army, for the reckless and calculated damage that has been done.

The more than 65,000 Australians who have joined our petition to “Maintain the Memory of the Meritorious Many” at voiceofaveteran.org deserve a response.

I suspect that millions of others, if they knew of the background to all of this, would feel similarly.

Heston Russell
Former Special Forces Officer
& Founder of Voice Of A Veteran

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Brian Hartigan

Managing Editor Contact Publishing Pty Ltd PO Box 3091 Minnamurra NSW 2533 AUSTRALIA

10 thoughts on “OPINION: PM complicit in attack on the ‘meritorious many’

  • 11/04/2021 at 1:00 pm
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    I can’t see how any of the SAS Regt can have a fair trial as they have been called guilty by the higher echelon staff and some politicians before charges have even been laid. Definitely a Kangaroo court.

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  • 17/12/2020 at 2:18 pm
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    Laws and courts decide guilt not popular or unpopular opinions.
    I wonder what the politicians would do or say if they were told to return all their travel payments as some politicians had abused the system. Or as a result their political party was “disbanded”.
    Punish the guilty on proof, not on opinions.

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  • 13/12/2020 at 7:06 pm
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    Well said Heston,
    These disgustingly invisible toads in the HQ of the ADF and the Department of Defence have also quietly gone about dismantling 2 SQN SASR in the last week to avoid any unpopular responses from the public. I guess with Christmas and New Year coming on they are hoping that this period of celebration will wipe people’s memories of 2 SQN SASR.
    Dept of Defence and the HQ ADF have really got it soo wrong this time and perhaps it is time the federal Politicians involved, Brereton himself, the academia and the media types who have contributed and cashed in on this Report, the Department of Defence Senior Public Servants, and the Senior Leadership of the ADF accepted responsibility for this colossal mess that is going to back fire upon them and come back to haunt them all many times over.
    If the PM and his cronies are complicit as Heston has suggested, then we will remember the actions of Liberal Coalition politicians at the next election – have no fear.

    Reply
  • 13/12/2020 at 4:37 pm
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    You and the entire Veteran Community have my total support – I am not one of the silent ones, having had a letter published in the daily press concerning that abominable starched shirt desk jockey decision to revoke the Meritorious Unit Citation. On a wider front, I have also written to my local Federal MP whose electorate the SASR Campbell Barracks falls in – no acknowledgement to date.

    Today’s Sunday press informs us that 2 Squadron has already been secretively disbanded – the brass has well and truly mishandled (I refuse to use the word “managed”) the Brereton Report right from the get-go.

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    • 17/12/2020 at 12:59 am
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      I have now received a reply from my Federal MP for Curtin – rather than a stero type letter one has come to expect from politicians “put on the spot” hers is a genuinely supportive heartfelt and very logical response – she is on our side and I salute her. Others in the political field with whom I have shared her response have favourably commented to me on her logical openness and support. We need more like this lady.

      Regardless of ScoMo’s initial comments I think we should praise him for finally stepping in and squashing revocation of the Meritorious Unit Citation. Let’s hope he comes to his senses and does the same for 2 SQN SASR

      Reply
      • 17/12/2020 at 12:12 pm
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        That’s good to hear Sid. If it is appropriate to share the actual letter, I (and I’m sure many others) would love to see it.
        Brian Hartigan, Editor

        Reply
        • 17/12/2020 at 7:30 pm
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          Dear Brian,
          Certainly it is appropriate to share and here is Celia Hammond MP reply to me along with my link to a video of her speech to Parliament plus Sky News interview. The Sky News interview is essential viewing.

          My local MP is one gutsy woman who, while keeping things in perspective, stands up for not only the SASR but her constituents – pity we don’t have more like Celia.

          Just for the record, I asked and Celia readily agreed, that I may share her email reply with whomever I wish.
          She is one genuine woman and MP who is prepared to stand by the courage of her convictions

          Here is the link to Celia’s address to Parliament 30 November 2020
          https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=392530668534269

          And her interview on Sky News 04 December 2020 – essential viewing
          https://www.skynews.com.au/details/_6214100370001

          Same interview on YouTube – note comments from keyboard warriors who would be first to scream for help when in real trouble https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BsRbLYj9H6M

          Dear Sid
          Thank you for email. I completely appreciate your anger and concern at how this situation has evolved. I am truly heart-broken for all the good SAS and defence force men and women who are still serving, all the Veterans – and all of their families who are being unfairly and wrongly tarnished by this.

          With regards to the Meritorious Unit Citation, I also completely agree with you (as do many people in our community) that this should not be revoked for everyone. I strongly believe that this would be unfair and unreasonable.

          On the matter of a Royal Commission into veteran suicides, please be assured that I really do appreciate and understand the arguments for this. I recognise and understand that for many people a Royal Commission would – seemingly – be the most effective mechanism to respond and provide recommendations to this crisis. However, as much as I recognise this, I have also seen the limitation of ‘time-limited’ Royal Commissions – and the additional grief that they can cause when they are finished – with a lot of hoopla – but then ultimately filed away on to shelves and forgotten (I am sorry if I seem a bit cynical on this… but – there is precedent… and I personally think this increases the pain: people think things will improve with a RC – and so they are doubly let down when things don’t really change at all). The Government’s proposed National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention will have powers broadly equivalent to a Royal Commission – statutory independence from Government, the power to summon witnesses and gather evidence and make recommendations to Government – but, unlike a Royal Commission, it will be a permanent office. The benefit of it being a permanent office means that the Commissioner will be able to examine new issues and monitor its own recommendations to ensure long-term solutions are being delivered – and it won’t just become an historical footnote. Again though I would stress – these are my views – and I will continue to pass on the feedback of others so as to ensure that views, needs and desires of those who will actually be impacted are being represented.

          Again – thanks for your email. I wish you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas and a joyous New Year.
          Kind regards
          Celia
          Celia Hammond MP
          Federal Member for Curtin

          Reply
          • 17/12/2020 at 8:27 pm
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            Thank you Sid. And, you are right – that’s a very impressive and noteworthy reply to your correspondence.
            I was also impressed by the speech she gave in Parliament – so I’ve transcribed it into its own post her on CONTACT, for the record – here.
            Thanks again for the heads-up on this. Much appreciated.
            Brian.

            Reply
  • 13/12/2020 at 1:19 pm
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    I am surprised the PM sought approval to strip the unit citation several months in advance of the B report being released, even more so to read he had not, at that time read the report, this suggests to me that he was responding to a briefing recommending this action be taken. In fact for the document to be signed in July could mean the decision to amend/change the letters patent could have been made in June – not that we would ever know I suppose.
    While I appreciate decisions (sometimes unpopular) need to be made, there are some decisions (even in the military) that should not imposed without thought and consultation as to possible fallout and wider implications, lets not forget that civilians are also involved. The decisions emanating from the B report arguably come under this category.
    I am not being critical of the report per se as it seems that issues have been raised that require further investigation and perhaps action however, in my view to take action without testing the validity of allegations is premature.
    Our legal system is mature and robust but to respond to allegations without them being tested in court is actually avoiding the presumption of innocence (and if this is the case why do we bother with a judge and jury) to the detriment of the accused.
    I can see no easy way of dealing with this issue however, the part that is easy is to ensure that natural justice is applied and that the innocent victims (some 3000 personnel) are not punished and stained forever by some arbitrary decision.

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  • 13/12/2020 at 11:05 am
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    Well said Sir!

    Be assured you many many people supporting you who will remain silent (as usual).However there are others, many others, who have never heard the zip of a bullet past the ear or had to listen, not being able to move, to an incoming mortar round. They do not/will not understand.

    “No one loves a soldier until the enemy is at the gate”

    Peter.

    Reply

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