Families of Australian Soldiers Who Committed Suicide Because of Bullying to Receive Compensation

by Gopalan on Oct 23 2008 11:21 AM

Families of four Australian soldiers who committed suicide because of bullying in the army are to receive compensation from the government.

The ex gratia compensation payouts were confidential and did not set any legal precedent, Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said today, but he conceded the case demanded the Australian Defence Force address its culture and military justice system.

The issue has been a long and sad saga, Fitzgibbon said.

"The families are entitled to feel that the death of their sons was partly caused by shortcomings in the defence force system," Fitzgibbon told ABC Radio today.

"They are, of course, entitled to feel also that the after events weren’t handled all that well in some cases."

Fitzgibbon said the families lodged their claims with the government in 2005 and the previous government’s failure to address the issue earlier only added to their pain and frustration.

The four soldiers are:

* Private David Hayward who hanged himself in Perth in March 2004 while absent without leave. His parents believe he was bullied.

* Gunner John Satatas was found hanged at Holsworthy in April 2003. He had complained of mistreatment, including bullying and racial abuse.

* Private Jeremy Williams who hanged himself on February 2, 2003. In the week before his death, he told his parents he was made to feel worthless, useless, scum and shameful because he was injured and had been transferred to a rehabilitation platoon.

* Lance Corporal Nicholas Shiels who took his own life on December 29, 1996, four years after a live firing exercise in which he accidentally shot and killed a fellow recruit.

Fitzgibbon said, "Importantly, we like to think that they at least partly compensate the families for the pain and emotional suffering they have gone through in recent years," he said.

"Of course, no amount of money can ever be enough to replace the loss of a son but I hope it does assist and I hope now that the families can have closure and move on with their lives."

Fitzgibbon said there had been substantial reforms to the military justice system.

"But we must always continue to work on that point," he said.

"We have also got coming a review of the military compensation scheme more generally to ensure that, in the future, cases like this can be properly and definitely addressed."

Charles Williams, the father of Jeremy Williams, said they were looking for improvements to the system to stamp out bullying and bastardisation.

"Hopefully, this may be a panacea for the reforms that we are looking to see happen where the bullies ultimately dealt with are punished, not rewarded and promoted," he told ABC radio.