Admiral Barrie told the Herald, “I’m sorry, I don’t accept that … the purpose of having national command responsibilities in the theatre [of operations] is to make sure that our people are behaving themselves and doing what is right and proper according to the Australian government’s direction.
“I think the mums and dads of Australia need to know what was going on and what needs to be done about it and I don’t think that the current CDF [chief of the defence force Angus Campbell] has the responsibility or ability to do that.
“His job is running the defence force today, not to sweep up the mess of 12 years ago.”
Admiral Barrie was responding to an analysis of the Brereton report scheduled to be released on Saturday by the Australia Institute.
Penned by former senior defence official Allan Behm, who heads the institute’s international and security affairs program, the paper argues for a royal commission on the basis that the Brereton report strays from its terms of reference by “exculpating higher command and the government”.
Mr Behm writes, “by placing responsibility for the alleged crimes committed on the shoulders of the alleged perpetrators, [it] overturns a long tradition of command responsibility for the deeds and misdeeds of troops and in consequence absolves higher levels of command and senior commanders of responsibility for the moral consequences of their command.″
Admiral Barrie says as a junior officer he watched two royal commissions into the 1964 naval tragedy in which HMAS Voyager was sunk on a training exercise by the much larger HMAS Melbourne, and saw “a whole bunch of changes came out of that.”
He said the government’s announcement of a new Office of the Special Investigator to prosecute the alleged offences in Afghanistan would not satisfy the need to look at institutional failings in the way that a royal commission or similar-style inquiry would.
“I would also like to know what advice was given to government by the various chiefs of the defence force at that time, what decisions were made by the government and what were the reports from visits by ministers to Afghanistan,” Admiral Barrie said.
“Those questions … need much more extensive inquiry to determine who was in possession of what information, what decisions were made and at what level, and did leaders walk past things that were wrong and do nothing about them.”
Deborah Snow is a senior writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.