CANBERRA, Australia - Australia's defence minister on Monday apologized to military personnel past and present who were sexually abused or otherwise mistreated during their service. He also started an inquiry into hundreds of allegations of abuse over six decades.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith made the apology in Parliament on behalf of the government in the latest step in a two-year effort to reform the culture of the Australian military and it make more accepting of women.
"Young men and women have suffered treatment which no member of our defence force or our community generally should experience," Smith said.
"Young men and women have endured sexual, physical or mental abuse from their colleagues which are not acceptable and do not reflect the values of a modern, diverse, tolerant, Australian society," he added.
He noted claims that officers had abused their positions of trust through their own behaviour or by turning a blind eye to the actions of others.
Smith also announced that retired judge Len Roberts-Smith had been appointed to examine allegations of abuse by more than 1,000 alleged victims across every decade since 1950s.
The earliest case relates to the alleged abuse of a 13-year-old navy trainee in 1951, while the most recent relates to events in 2011.
A preliminary review of these allegations by a law firm found that 750 were "plausible," Smith said.
The three-month inquiry could result in compensation of up to 50,000 Australian dollars ($52,000) for each victim and the alleged perpetrators being referred to criminal authorities for prosecution.
Smith said some of the perpetrators could still be serving in the military.
The government started inquiries last year in response to a young woman's allegation that a fellow cadet had secretly filmed a sexual encounter between the pair and broadcast it to their colleagues at the Australian military officer training academy. The incident and the attention the government focused on it provoked a wave of complaints of sexual misconduct over the decades.