Audit recommends urgent sexual ethics training

URGENT sexual ethics training has been recommended in light of continuing cases of sexual harassment within the Australian Defence Force.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick's final audit report into the treatment of women at the Australian Defence Force Academy also recommended the establishment of a Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Office and wider powers for the academy commandant.

And while her report said considerable progress had been made in the defence culture, more still needed to be done.

In particular, Defence Minister Stephen Smith said the review highlighted the "widespread low-level sexual harassment", inadequate supervision of cadets and a "cumbersome complaints process".

Mr Smith and Commissioner Broderick joined Defence Chief General David Hurley to release the final audit report of her review into the treatment of women at the academy in Canberra on Tuesday.

The review was part of the ongoing response to incidents of misconduct and allegations of sexual abuse within the wider Defence Force, and it focussed on the behaviour of cadets.

Ms Broderick said defence had made progress on establishing residential support officers, providing better supervision and information for cadets at the academy.

She said a new unacceptable behaviour survey had been developed to allow comparisons between other recruitment and training centres on issues like sexual misconduct, harassment and bullying.

However, Ms Broderick said the ongoing incidence of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, including events like those involving cadets in recently alleged sexual initiation rituals, underscored the urgency for more attention to be directed to the development and implementation, with an expert provider, of an evidence-based sexual ethics program.

"The fact that the initiation matter was brought to light by RSOs, who reported it to ADFA's senior leadership, demonstrates the importance, impact and effectiveness of the residential support program," she said.

"Nevertheless, proper sexual ethics training for all cadets would provide an effective primary prevention tool against unacceptable behaviour and sexual misconduct, and aid development of more mature understanding of sexual ethics."

She said more consideration needed to be given to the powerful impact of staff on cadets, suggesting the commandant needed the right to veto staff selections and remove those who were not up to standard.

He said in light of both the review at ADFA, and the wider review into the defence force which reported in August last year, a new Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Office would be created.

Mr Smith said the new office would co-ordinate victim support, education and policy initiatives and help to improve practice and reporting of sexual misconduct across defence.