Wed, 27 Jan 2021

After government pressure, Chief of the Australian Defence Force Angus Campbell has publicly retreated in the dispute over revoking the Meritorious Unit Citation for the Special Operations Task Group serving in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013.

When he released the Brereton report on alleged atrocities by some special forces soldiers, Campbell said he would write to the governor-general asking for the citation - which is a group award, separate to those for particular individuals - to be revoked.

Brereton said while many of the soldiers showed great courage and commitment and the group had considerable achievements, "what is now known must disentitle the unit as a whole to eligibility for recognition for sustained outstanding service."

But as a strong backlash came from some special forces veterans, members of the general public and sections of the media, Scott Morrison indicated he opposed the revocation.

The position shifted at the weekend to putting the future of this and other recommendations in the government's hands - although Campbell did not himself say anything until late Monday.

In his Monday statement he noted Defence was developing a comprehensive implementation plan on the Brereton recommendations.

"No decisions have yet been made with regard to the appropriate options and approaches to implement the more than 140 recommendations," he said.

This was a different tack to the impression he gave in releasing the report, when he said he accepted all Brereton's recommendations.

He said on Monday "the complexity and sensitivity of the issues outlined in the report will take extensive and considered deliberation".

"Any further action in response to the Inspector-General's recommendations will be considered as part of the implementation plan, which is being developed with the oversight of the Minister for Defence and the independent Afghanistan Inquiry Implementation Oversight Panel.

"Key issues of public interest such as accountability, referrals to the Government-established Office of the Special Investigator, compensation, honours and awards including citations, ethical development of the force and command, and control of the Australian Defence Force in coalition operations, will all be addressed through the implementation plan."

When the implementation plan was developed it would be "first considered by Defence leadership and presented to government for consideration and input".

Campbell's hasty retreat from his citation decision of less than a fortnight ago will raise questions about whether there will be soft pedalling on other aspects of the Brereton report, although it is considered likely most will be implemented.

However the government now appears locked into letting the citation stand, despite some military experts believing the view of Brereton and Campbell is the correct position.

Author: Michelle Grattan - Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra The Conversation

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