Morrison, David: UN speech on ADF sexism

David Morrison

United Nations International Women’s Day Conference: Address by the Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison, AO at the United Nations International Women’s Day Conference, 8-9 March 2013

The speech contains some musing about the impact of the Anzac spirit today on life in the Australian army. Morrison admits that ‘in too many cases the [army] team has been defined through exclusion of women’; it has been too good at bonding in a way that excludes women. He refers to ‘[c]ultural problems [which] are systemic and ingrained, not the work of a few rogues’.

Such cultural problems generally evolve over time into distortions of what began as an admirable quality in an institution or organisation, but they are hijacked by misguided or malevolent people and become a device to exclude the vulnerable and the different from the dominant group. Often in hyper masculine environments, like armies, the ‘other’ is defined by being weaker physically, not drinking ‘like a man’, being more introverted or intellectual, and of course female.

The Anzac spirit or tradition is a pillar of ADF culture; it helps attract male recruits. But Morrison has misgivings about an

Anzac legend – as admirable as it is – [which] has become something of a double-edged sword. Many Australians have an idealised image of the Australian soldier as a rough hewn country lad – invariably white – a larrikin who fights best with a hangover and who never salutes officers, especially the Poms. This is a pantomime caricature. Every soldier is Mel Gibson in Gallipoli and frankly it undermines our recruitment from some segments of society and breeds a dangerous complacency about how professional and sophisticated soldiering really is.

Morrison’s implication clearly is that young men come into the army with an Anzac-fuelled but mistaken idea of what is expected of them and this extends to their behaviour towards female colleagues.

Morrison also gives a particular perspective on the position of the army in Australian culture:

Our monopoly on violence and the particular place we occupy in our national psyche, demands that we must earn and maintain a high level of trust among our community. They are entitled to expect more of us than other institutions – and we keep telling ourselves that we are special – and custodians of the best of our military heritage.

A media report is here. Morrison later made speeches on sexist behaviour in the ADF and the future of the army. He repeated some of his New York remarks. He spoke about sexual violence in war. Morrison has also talked about his transgender speech writer, LT COL Cate McGregor.

The sources on sexual abuse in the ADF are numerous. Paul Daley discusses the issue here and the article includes some links to sources.

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