We are able to receive reports of serious abuse within the Australian Defence Force (Defence).
Our service is a free and confidential way for Defence members and former members to report serious abuse for those who feel unable, for whatever reason, to access Defence’s internal mechanisms. Reporting abuse in Defence through our Office is non-adversarial, and you do not need a lawyer or someone to represent you.
Serious abuse means:
- sexual abuse
- serious physical abuse, or
- serious bullying or harassment
which occurred between two (or more) people who were serving members at the time.
The deadline for applying for a reparation payment is 30 June 2021. You can continue to make reports after that date but you will not be eligible for a reparation payment, although you may be eligible for participation in a Restorative Engagement conference.
If you are feeling distressed and need to speak with someone, please call one of the 24-hour support services listed below:
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
‘Abuse’ is defined as sexual abuse, serious abuse or serious bullying or harassment of a complainant. Only bullying and harassment of such seriousness that it amounts to serious abuse, as well as sexual abuse and serious physical abuse, is included for the purpose of the Defence Force Ombudsman (DFO) function.
‘Member of Defence’ is defined to include a person who was, at the time the abuse occurred, a member of the Defence Force or another person deployed overseas with the Defence Force (whether as an employee or contractor). The complaints regime only relates to abuse by people who were serving defence personnel at the time the abuse occurred.
The abuse must have a sufficient connection to a person’s employment in Defence for it to be accepted under the DFO complaints function.
Timeframes for deciding reports of abuse
Usually, it takes about six months for a decision to be made on a report of abuse. However, for a range of systemic reasons, including an increase in reports received and impacts on resources and working arrangements due to COVID-19, it may take between six to 12 months from the date of lodgement for a decision to be made on a report.
Restorative Engagement conferences and COVID-19 (coronavirus) restrictions
While the situation with COVID-19 has impacted on the delivery of Restorative Engagement conferences, we are holding conferences for reportees wherever possible.
We can receive reports of abuse from:
- serving members of Defence
- former members of Defence
- Australian Public Service employees (or contractors), if the abuse occurred while deployed overseas in connection with Defence activities.
There is no need to have reported the matter to Defence before coming to us.
You can report experiences of serious abuse to us without legal representation. Our staff are here to support you through the process of making a report of abuse.
You can make a report and not provide your personal details. The information in your report can assist in identifying systemic issues or areas of concern in Defence.
But we will need certain information, including your identifying details, to progress an assessment of your report. We will also need your consent to share some information with Defence to progress an assessment.
Someone else can make a complaint on your behalf, but you will need to complete our Permission for another person to act on my behalf form and ensure you have their permission to make the complaint.
You can report experiences of serious abuse while employed by Defence to us by:
- our online Reporting abuse form below
- fax, or
- in writing.
Reporting abuse form (MS Word) - Download Form
Reporting abuse in Defence – Nominating another person to act on behalf of a reportee (PDF) - Download factsheet
Reporting abuse in Defence – Role of a Legal Representative (PDF) - Download factsheet
When you are ready to submit your report, you may email it to us at email@example.com or you can post it to us at GPO Box 442 Canberra ACT 2601.
If you need help completing the form or documenting your report, please contact our Liaison Team on 1300 395 776 during business hours, 9am–5pm (Canberra time), Monday to Friday (calls from mobile phones at mobile phone rates).
If completing our online form causes you any distress or you would like support, please call our Liaison Team on 1300 395 776. If we cannot answer your call, please leave a message and we will return it as soon as possible. If you need to speak to someone outside of our business hours, or to speak to someone urgently, please call these 24-hour services:
Lifeline: 13 11 14
beyondblue: 1300 224 636
Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling: 1800 011 046
We will conduct a thorough assessment of each individual report of abuse we receive. We can accept reports where we are satisfied:
- the report is serious abuse
- the abuse is reasonably likely to have occurred
- you were, at the time of the alleged abuse, a serving member of Defence
- the alleged abuser was a serving member of Defence
- there is a connection between the alleged abuse and your employment in Defence.
We will notify you of the outcome of our assessment process and whether we have accepted your report. We will tell you what options may be available and appropriate to respond to your report.
Read further information about our trauma-informed service delivery approach in our factsheet below.
We will not share any information with Defence or any other agency without your consent, except when we need to disclose information under law, or to protect the safety of an individual or others.
As part of the process, we will seek your consent to provide information about your report of abuse to Defence, so that it can provide information to assist us with the assessment process.
We will only do so with your consent, after close and informed consultation. You may withdraw your consent at any time and we will stop taking any further action.
Records relating to Defence abuse – administrative access scheme (the scheme)
About the scheme
This is an administrative access scheme for the release of documents held by our Office relating to its Defence Force Ombudsman functions, and specifically those relating to reports of abuse within Defence. The scheme design helps the release of documents, in response to a specific request, outside the formal process set out in the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act).
Records of the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce have been transferred to the Office and are in the possession of the Office for the purposes of the FOI Act and can also be requested under this scheme.
The purpose of this scheme is to deal with requests that could also be made under the FOI Act.
Accessing documents through the scheme
A person who reported Defence abuse to our Office or the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce may request access to documents held by our Office, which contain the personal information of the person who reported the abuse.
We may not give access to documents or parts of those documents where access would not be required under the FOI Act. For example, personal information of a third party will be deleted, as will any information which would damage national security.
The scheme's procedures
How to make a request
To request access to documents under the administrative access scheme contact:
Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman
GPO Box 442
Canberra ACT 2601
The request should:
- clearly state the documents which you are requesting
- provide your contact details (including an email address if available). If you are making a request on behalf of someone else, include that person’s written, signed consent.
We will deal with requests by complainants for access to their own information within 30 business days of receiving the request.
Referral to FOI process in appropriate cases
A request will be initially considered to determine whether it is appropriate to be dealt with under the administrative access scheme. If it would be more appropriate for the request to be dealt with under the FOI Act, the person requesting the information will be notified of this and of the Freedom of Information process within seven days of receiving the request.
Proof of Identity
We require proof of the requestor's identity before we can grant access to any documents. A copy of a photographic identification document, such as a driver’s licence, will be enough.
Form of access
Unless otherwise requested, we will give access electronically to the relevant documents. You can request for access in another form, such as paper form.
There is no charge for the costs associated with providing access to documents under the scheme.
Requests for access to documents under the FOI Act
Any person who makes a request for access under the administrative access scheme is also entitled to make an application to the Office for access to documents under the FOI Act. A person can choose to make a FOI request rather than seek access via this scheme.
You can get information about making a FOI request from our website. You can lodge a request via the contact details below:
Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman
GPO Box 442
Canberra ACT 2601
Your rights under Freedom of Information
The FOI Act gives any person the right to:
- seek access to documents
- ask for further information about them in documents to be changed or annotated if it is incomplete, out of date, incorrect or misleading
- seek a review of the decision not to allow access to a document or not to amend your personal record.
You can ask under the FOI Act to see any Defence Abuse Response Taskforce document that is held in the Office’s record storage facilities. Access can be refused to documents or parts of documents that are exempt. Exempt documents may include those containing personal information about someone else, where disclosure would be unreasonable and contrary to the public interest, documents containing material obtained in confidence or other matters set out in the FOI Act.
One of the responses that might be available to a person who reports serious abuse in Defence is participation in the Office’s Restorative Engagement Program.
This program is designed to support you, as a reportee, to tell your personal story of abuse to a senior representative from Defence in a safe, private, facilitated meeting—a Restorative Engagement Conference. The conference also provides the opportunity for Defence to acknowledge and respond to your personal story of abuse.
Please read our factsheet which provides an overview of the process for participating in the program, as well as answering some frequently asked questions about the conference process itself.
Counselling is available to people who report serious abuse to us, following an assessment of their matter. In some circumstances, a counselling referral may occur before the outcome of an assessment if a reportee is in urgent need of support.
Our Liaison Team will support reportees interested in accessing counselling with Open Arms - Veterans & Families Counselling (formerly known as the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service).
The Australian Government has introduced the ability for the Commonwealth Ombudsman to recommend a reparation payment in response to a report of serious abuse in some circumstances. This is limited to the most serious forms of abuse and/or sexual assault. Not all reports of abuse will meet this higher threshold.
Our Office may recommend to Defence that a reparation payment be made in relation to a report of serious abuse which has been accepted, if:
- the abuse occurred on or before 30 June 2014
- the report of abuse was made to our Office on or before 30 June 2021
- the Ombudsman is satisfied the report involves the most serious forms of abuse and/or sexual assault.
There are two possible payments which we may recommend:
- a payment of up to $45,000 to acknowledge the most serious forms of abuse
- a payment of up to $20,000 to acknowledge other abuse involving unlawful interference accompanied by some element of indecency.
If we recommend one of these payments, an additional payment of $5,000 may also be recommended if we are satisfied that Defence did not respond appropriately to the incident of abuse.
The above payments may be reduced if a reportee has already received a reparation payment relating to abuse in Defence, such as from the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce.
There is no need to have legal representation to apply for a reparation payment.
More information about reparation payments can be found in our factsheet and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommended that redress be given to people who experienced institutional child sexual abuse. In response, the Australian Government set up the National Redress Scheme. This scheme started on 1 July 2018 and will run for 10 years. Further information about the National Redress Scheme can be found at www.nationalredress.gov.au.
The National Redress Scheme (NRS) sends requests for information (RFI) to Defence. In response to the NRS request, Defence contacts our Office, as custodian of the DART records and in relation to our reporting abuse function, to request advice about the following:
- whether a person was a complainant to the DART,
- if they received a payment from the DART, and if so, when the payment was made and for what amount,
- details about the reported conduct (ie sexual abuse), and
- we also confirm if a person has lodged a report of abuse with our office.
Please see our factsheet and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for more information about reporting abuse in Defence.