AN INTERNAL Defence Force investigation is poised to hand over material to police that could incriminate serving military members in cases of rape, either as alleged perpetrators or witnesses who helped cover up the assaults.
The revelation came as the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, made a historic apology to military victims of sexual and other abuse dating back to the 1950s.
He also announced a high-level taskforce, headed by a QC, to investigate abuses and left the door open to a future royal commission into 24 cases of rape at the Australian Defence Force Academy in the 1990s and allegations of abuse of young boys at HMAS Leeuwin in Western Australia in the 1960s and 1970s.
It is the cases of rape at ADFA that are now set to be investigated by police. A review into Defence abuse by law firm DLA Piper, ordered by Mr Smith in 2011 in the wake of the so-called ''Skype scandal'' at ADFA, found that perpetrators or witnesses could now be fairly senior officers.
Mr Smith said he gave the ADF chief, General David Hurley, the opportunity to hold an initial investigation through the ADF Investigative Service.
''The result of that work by General Hurley has come to the conclusion that, yes, there are people still in the system who are the subject of those allegations and there are also people in the system who may well be the victims,'' he said.
''ADFIS and General Hurley are now in a position to hand that work over to investigative authorities, either state or federal police.''
Mr Smith said the independent taskforce, headed by Len Roberts-Smith QC, would determine if individuals should receive compensation of up to $50,000, counselling, restorative justice or referral to the police or military police.
In his apology, Mr Smith said in the Parliament: ''To those men and women in the Australian Defence Force or the Department of Defence who have suffered sexual or other forms of abuse, on behalf of the government, I say sorry.''
General Hurley also issued an apology, saying some ADF members had ''failed to understand the responsibility that rank imposes, that rank is a privilege and not a licence for domineering, belittling or predatory behaviour''.
Ginger Bartlett, 48, who served in the Navy from 1982 to 1986 and says she suffered serious sexual intimidation, welcomed the announcement. Ms Bartlett says she was forced to quit the navy after continuing harassment culminating in a petty officer at Victoria's HMAS Cerberus cornering her while she was on duty and masturbating in front of her.
''I felt threatened,'' she said. ''People who do that, you don't know where they might go. I thought I'm no longer safe in the navy.'' Ms Bartlett, who lodged a report with the DLA Piper inquiry, said the announcement was a chance to improve the culture in the ADF.
Major General Roberts-Smith is a former military judge and former Justice of the Supreme Court of Western Australia.
Mr Smith said Defence would bear the financial cost of the compensation.
''If any organisation sees on its watch inappropriate or bad conduct, in the end there is a price to pay,'' he said.
For help visit sexualassault. nsw.gov.au.