Federal Politics

COMMENT

David Morrison was prepared to learn. Now it's time to teach

It said a lot that three of the key players in the military's long, hard look at itself over its treatment of women were nominated for Australian of the Year.

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Army chief's scathing warning

Then-chief of army David Morrison sends a stern warning to Australia's armed forces regarding unacceptable behaviour in June 2013.

Former Army Chief David Morrison has emerged as the winner. But Elizabeth Broderick kept Defence on its toes with regular reports on its gender progress as Sex Discrimination Commissioner. Catherine McGregor connected with the nation by crafting searing words as Mr Morrison's speech-writer, while also embodying the value of diversity as the military's highest-ranking transgender officer.

It all shows what a watershed period this has been for the Australian Defence Force.

War fighting is physical. It is violent. Throughout history it has been conducted overwhelmingly by men.

Military forces typically have therefore had male-dominated cultures and it takes an effort of will to overcome that.

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Because of the unique nature of what soldiers do, Australia's Army, like that of most other countries, clings hard to its traditions and its internal culture. It is, by and large, a conservative institution. But it is also a highly respected one.

It was, therefore, always vital that in a nation and a century that refuses to accept sexism, sexual abuse and turning a blind eye to both, the Army should be, if anything, a leader, rather than a reluctant follower, in stamping out such attitudes.

Mr Morrison's greatest contribution is that he has embraced the need to face up to these realities with a kind of zeal.

He is as traditionally army as you can get – the son of a former Duntroon commandant who went on to serve for 36 years himself. He has often remarked that as white, middle-aged man, he's never been a victim of discrimination himself.

Indeed, his merits as a driver of change are precisely that there are so few white, male, middle-aged products of traditional institutions who've been forced to grapple with the sorts of issues he faced with the Army sex scandals on his watch.

Mr Morrison's strength is that he was prepared to learn.

Now it's time to teach.

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