Lance Corporal Mason Edwards who was killed during a training accident at Cultana, South Australia. Photo: Defence
The Defence Department could face fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars over the shooting death of a soldier and the wounding of a comrade on a firing range four years ago.
The army is being prosecuted in the Federal Court over an alleged litany of health and safety breaches that led to the death of Lance Corporal Mason Edwards on the Cultana training base in South Australia in October 2009.
Federal workplace safety authority Comcare has launched the court action in Canberra, asking for fines and other undisclosed penalties to be imposed on the army for failing to provide the 30-year-old commando and his colleagues with a safe workplace at the base near Port Augusta.
Lance Corporal Edwards was killed by small-arms fire that passed through a wall he was crouching behind during a live-ammunition training drill on the night of October 20, 2009 as he and his colleagues from A Platoon, Second Commando Regiment, practised attacking Afghan-style compounds.
A defence inquiry, held behind closed doors, identified a series of safety shortcomings which contributed to the death of the commando, a psychology graduate who was preparing for his third tour of Afghanistan.
The cloak of secrecy surrounding the incident continues with Comcare submitting a "confidential statement of claim" to the Federal Court.
After inquiries by the Defence Force, the South Australian coroner and police into the death, the army made changes to the running of its live-fire training exercises.
But Comcare is continuing to pursue the case, alleging that the army failed to provide bullet-proof barriers on the range "to prevent live fire from continuing past the targets and placing at risk any person behind the targets".
It is also alleged that the army failed to provide the "necessary information, instruction and training to those involved in training exercises using live rounds".
There is also an allegation of a "supervision breach" of the occupational health and safety laws with the army failing to provide proper supervision of the exercise to ensure it was carried out safely.
The court documents criticise the planning for the fatal exercise and the "range instructions" used to assign soldiers' roles in training. In the aftermath of Corporal Edwards' death, "administrative" disciplinary action was taken against five soldiers with two of them asked in 2012 to show cause why they should not be sacked from the army.
An ADF spokeswoman refused to say on Monday if the two soldiers had been dismissed. "Defence can advise that administrative action was initiated against five members involved in the incident and that after due process and careful consideration, adverse consequences were imposed on two of the members," she said. The department would not comment on Comcare's legal action. Defence could be hit with fines of up to $374,000 for the breach of occupational health and safety laws alleged by Comcare.