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Taking the Cultural Temperature in Combat Brigades

This is the standard we walk past

In a 2013 video message to our Army my predecessor Lieutenant General David Morrison challenged us to examine our individual and group behaviours, and to consider whether our personal actions accorded with the values required for continued service in the Australian Army.

This three minute video caught the attention of many in our Army, the broader Australian community and the global community. It also issued a challenge: the standard you walk past is the standard you accept. This challenge remains true for the Army of 2017.

At my invitation, Kate Jenkins and Emilie Priday of the Australian Human Rights Commission visited some of our brigades to take the measure of our culture and to examine how far we have come and how far we have to go. This is important work and I applaud Kate and Emilie for the thoroughness of their research and the scrutiny they bring to Army.

The process of cultural renewal is never immediate, nor is it painless. Calling out bias and prejudice tends to be most confronting to those who seek to protect and perpetuate it.

I am very encouraged and gladdened by the progress the great majority of us have championed in recent years and I commend this ongoing effort. Thank you to those who are standing up for our people and our values! However, this article highlights that there remains a vocal group in our Army who view diversity as ‘lowering our standards’. This group uses belittling, racist and sexist epithets as a normal and acceptable means of communication between peers and colleagues; in doing so promoting exclusion and isolation.

To the members of our Army who subscribe to this view and behaviour: you are lowering our standards.

We are best when we show the courage to do what’s right, the initiative to welcome new ideas and perspectives, the respect to treat each other with dignity, and the teamwork to harness the contribution of each one of us.

Encouraging diversity does not dilute our combat effectiveness, nor does it make us a less capable land force. The opposite is true. We are a stronger and better skilled team when we embrace difference and harness the talent and potential of all our people.

Shining a light on our organisational flaws is the most effective disinfectant for poor behaviour. I encourage members of our Army to read this article and consider what you have witnessed, experienced, or perhaps displayed in your workplace. If you have seen or perpetuated the behaviour described in this article, this is the standard you have walked past.

I commend this discomforting article to you.

Angus J Campbell
Lieutenant General
Chief of the Army
30 April 2017

Abstract

The Australian Army, and wider Australian Defence Force (ADF), started their cultural reform journey in 2011 with the Broderick Review. Since this time, the Army and ADF have worked with the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) to transform our armed forces into a more diverse, inclusive and capable working environment. This article describes how the unique partnership between the Army and the AHRC was forged, and outlines the emerging themes across the combat brigades. These themes include acceptance of cultural reform initiatives, attitudes to, and experiences of diversity, the blurred line between banter and unacceptable behaviour and the inherent challenge of accessing flexible work arrangements.

Taking the cultural temperature in combat brigades

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