The military sociologist whose interviews with Australian special forces soldiers helped trigger the long-running inquiry into alleged war crimes has vowed she won’t be “bullied or intimidated”.
Dr Samantha Crompvoets – who has faced criticism from the defence minister, Peter Dutton, over a planned new book – also said on Friday she believed the response to the Brereton inquiry had “become political” and the trend was “unhelpful”.
“I am unapologetic about raising issues that I see as significantly jeopardising the reputation and capability of our defence force,” she told a conference hosted by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
Without naming anyone, she added: “For those who wish to silence me or my work, I won’t be bullied or intimidated. Cultural change needs to happen.”
Crompvoets is currently seeking approval through government processes for her forthcoming book, titled Blood Lust, Trust & Blame, which is due for release next month.
While Crompvoets has maintained that it is not a tell-all book, and is based on material in the public domain, Dutton has said he has “real concerns about the whole situation”.
The defence minister told 2GB radio last week he had “sought some legal advice” and he did not think Crompvoets’ company would be awarded any more defence contracts.
Crompvoets said on Friday she had “recently written a book that may or may not be published next month” and it had “received quite a bit of attention”.
She said she had had the privilege to work closely with Defence on issues relating to culture for more than a decade, adding: “What was intended to be a fairly straightforward project in 2015 became something much bigger when individuals began disclosing to me alleged crimes perpetrated by Australian troops in Afghanistan.”
She said cultural reform was “easily ridiculed” if it was “framed as a social justice agenda” – but she contended that a failure to learn the lessons of the past would present significant risks to the ADF’s war-fighting capability.
“Culture reform in Defence has never really been about political correctness or a woke agenda – whatever that is,” she said. “It has been about ensuring that Defence people – its soldiers, sailors, aviators, public servants – are set up to succeed and to thrive and to be an effective fighting force.”
The Brereton inquiry found “credible” evidence to implicate 25 current or former ADF personnel in the alleged unlawful killing of 39 individuals and the cruel treatment of two others. The newly established office of the special investigator will consider the evidence ahead of potential prosecutions.
Crompvoets said she understood why people wanted “to move on from stories of alleged war crimes, to fix morale, to better understand and respond to veteran health”.
“And as someone with a partner currently in hospital, undergoing treatment for combat-related PTSD, I get it,” she said. “Allegations of war crimes are really uncomfortable.”
Crompvoets said failing to appropriately understand and talk about allegations of war crimes would be “a grave injustice to the courageous men and women who came forward and told their stories, with all that they had to lose professionally and personally”.
“Failing to understand why these may have occurred and ensuring that the same environmental and other factors don’t conspire again to allow this to happen, is a risk,” she said.
“It’s risk to our national security, to our international reputation, and to our collective national psyche.”
When he addressed the same Aspi conference the previous day, Dutton said he meant what he said about the government “having the back” of Australian defence force personnel.
Dutton said hundreds of veterans had taken their lives after returning from conflict zones in the Middle East. “There has been a morale issue we need to address,” Dutton said. “I don’t want us to forget the lessons of Brereton, but equally we’re not going to be mired in it.”