Reporting abuse in Defence
The Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, as Defence Force Ombudsman (DFO), is able to receive reports of serious abuse within the Australian Defence Force (Defence). This provides a confidential mechanism to report serious abuse for those who feel unable, for whatever reason, to access Defence’s internal mechanisms.
Serious abuse in this context means sexual abuse, serious physical abuse or serious bullying or harassment which occurred between 2 (or more) people who were serving in Defence at the time.
If your report of serious abuse is assessed as being within the DFO’s jurisdiction - including that it meets this definition and is reasonably likely to have occurred – several options are available to the Ombudsman to take appropriate action in response. If you choose, this can include participating in the Ombudsman’s Restorative Engagement Program.
The Ombudsman’s Restorative Engagement Program is designed to support you, as a reportee of abuse, to tell your personal account of abuse to a senior representative from Defence in a 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. More information can be found below.
Our Liaison team can also assist with a referral to counselling with Open Arms. The DFO also uses reports of abuse to contribute to Defence’s commitment to cultural reform.
For reports of serious abuse made prior to 1 July 2022, the DFO had a limited power to recommend that Defence make reparation payments to the victims of such abuse. However, access to reparation payments has now closed unless you reported your abuse, or lodged an intent to report abuse, prior to 1 July 2022. If you lodged an intention to report prior to 1 July 2022, you must lodge your report with the DFO on or before 30 June 2023.
On this page, you will find details of:
- what abuse is within the DFO’s jurisdiction
- how to submit a report of serious abuse and what to expect after you lodge a report
- information about our Restorative Engagement program
- other ways you can report abuse, and
- how your information is managed and your rights to access information.
The Defence Force Ombudsman (DFO), can receive and respond to reports of serious abuse that has occurred in the Australian Defence Force (Defence) at any time in the past. The earliest report of abuse the DFO has received occurred in 1946.
For this purpose, serious abuse means:
- sexual abuse
- serious physical abuse, or
- serious bullying or harassment
which occurred between 2 (or more) people who were serving members at the time.
Only bullying and harassment of such seriousness that it amounts to serious abuse within the meaning of the Ombudsman Regulations 2017, as well as sexual abuse and serious physical abuse, is within the DFO’s abuse reporting 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 reporting abuse function 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 abuse reporting function.
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. Alternatively, someone else can make a report of abuse on your behalf, but you will need to authorise them to act on your behalf by completing our Permission for another person to act on my behalf form.
If you need assistance with completing this form, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org and seek further information or request that someone contact you. Also, please see our Nominating another person to act on behalf of a reportee Fact Sheet for more information.
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.
You can report experiences of serious abuse while employed by Defence to us in writing by completing our Reporting Abuse in Defence Form:
Your report must be provided in writing using this form.
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. You will receive an acknowledgement from our office when the report is received. This acknowledgement will be sent by email when an email address is provided otherwise it will be sent by post.
Some factsheets that may be relevant are:
If you are lodging a report of abuse in order to access the Restorative Engagement program and you previously lodged a report of your abuse to the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce (DART), you do not need to complete the Reporting Abuse in Defence form. Please contact our Liaison team directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your details.
If completing the Reporting Abuse in Defence form is causing you difficulty or you would like support, please contact our Liaison Team by email at email@example.com or on 1300 395 776. We can assist you in finding supports, such as RSL advocates, who can support you through the reporting process.
If you need mental health support, please call these 24-hour services:
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: 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.
The Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, in handling reports of serious abuse, as the Defence Force Ombudsman, uses a trauma-informed service delivery approach. This approach builds on respectful practices and service standards already valued by staff in our Office. See our Trauma informed service delivery Fact Sheet for more information.
When you make a report of abuse, how long the assessment process takes will vary depending on the nature and extent of the report, and the information provided. It may also depend on which era the abuse occurred in, what service it pertains to, and whether external parties were involved.
The assessment process requires information be provided by Defence. This part of the process usually takes 16 to 28 weeks, but may be longer depending on whether further information needs to be requested. Overall, assessments are usually finalised within 12-18 months of the report being submitted. If the process is expected to take longer than this, your Ombudsman Liaison Officer will let you know.
If part or all of your report of abuse is out of the DFO’s jurisdiction to take further action, you can request a review of the decision. A request for a review should be submitted within 28 days of the Ombudsman’s decision being made. This should include additional information about the abuse you experienced. Should you require more time you are able to request an extension past 28 days.
More information on review processes can be found in the Defence Abuse Review Processes Fact Sheet.
If your report of abuse is accepted as being within the DFO’s jurisdiction, you may choose to participate in the Office’s Restorative Engagement Program.
This program is designed to support you, as a reportee of abuse, 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.
For more information, please read our Restorative Engagement Fact Sheet which provides an overview of the process for those thinking of participating in the program.
Reportees are able to nominate a support person to enhance the process and provide support throughout their engagement in the program. Read our Support Person Fact Sheet (PDF) for more information.
Our Liaison Team can support reportees interested in accessing counselling with Open Arms - Veterans & Families Counselling (formerly known as the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service).
Reports of abuse can also be made internally within Defence. An overview of the various Defence internal mechanisms can be found at: https://www.defence.gov.au/about/complaints-incident-reporting/unacceptable-behaviour.
If you experienced sexual abuse and were under the age of 18 years at the time, you may be eligible for a reparation payment from the National Redress Scheme. Please see the National Redress Scheme website at www.nationalredress.gov.au for more details or contact Knowmore (https://knowmore.org.au/) who provide free advice and assistance with the National Redress Scheme.
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 (DART) 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 (DART) 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.
In addition, the National Redress Scheme (NRS) (www.nationalredress.gov.au) 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.
You can find the current ‘Reporting abuse in Defence’ statistics below:
Please see our Fact Sheets and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for more information about reporting abuse in Defence.
You can report experiences of serious abuse while employed by Defence to us in writing by completing our Reporting Abuse in Defence form:
Your report must be provided in writing using this form.