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Defence boss blasts ‘stalking horse’ critics of Australian of the Year David Morrison

Australian of the Year David Morrison is being ‘stalked’ by his critics, says defence force secretary Dennis Richardson. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Department secretary Dennis Richardson. Photo: Jim Rice
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Australia’s most senior Defence official has delivered a stinging rebuke to critics of Australian of the Year David Morrison, branding them a “stalking horse” for resistance to the gender reforms the former chief of army imposed.

Dennis Richardson, the Secretary of the Defence Department, suggested in Canberra on Wednesday night that retired Lieutenant-General Morrison had become a lightning rod for people with a deeper agenda against improving the military’s culture on dealing with sexual and other abuse.

“The [Australian Defence Force] leadership is genuinely committed. This is not a passing fad. A lot of the focus has been on David Morrison and a lot of the criticism he’s come in for has been really bad,” Mr Richardson told a gathering held by the Menzies Research Centre political think tank.

“For instance, attempts to denigrate him for doing his job as chief of army because some people didn’t like the cultural direction he wanted to go, I think, is second-rate to say the least.

“David Morrison sits squarely within the mainstream of cultural change in the ADF … I think some of the criticism of David has been the engagement of a wider cultural issue that sits behind it and [is being used] as a stalking horse.”

General Morrison, who was appointed Australian of the Year in January, became widely known for his public condemnation of sexist soldiers and efforts to improve female recruitment to the Army. He has since gone on to become a gender equality advocate and was recognised for this work in his January appointment.

But he has been the subject of attacks by right-wing commentators, some veterans groups and independent Senator Jacqui Lambie.

Mr Richardson said the “restorative justice sessions” in which victims of sexual abuse in the ADF could lay out their grievances to senior defence leaders had made a deep impression on him.

“You can’t engage in those sessions without coming away without a really deep feeling of what behaviour can do to the destruction of people.”

He said the ADF leaders had been “exemplars” in their approach to this.

“I see it personally on a daily basis,” he said.

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