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Institutional Abuse and Organisational Reform in the ADF

Overview of Our Research

This project will help our understanding of the institutional abuse of young people and adults in the Australian Defence Force (ADF). We have two main sources of information: 1) interviews with survivors (former members) and former ADF leaders and; 2) an historical analysis of institutional cultures and governance across four decades supported by archival, documentary and media material. We want to understand survivor accounts in light of institutional and wider societal forces at the time.

There is significant national and international attention on abuse within institutions. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse has exposed the extent of child abuse in some Australian institutions. In 2011 (after a national sex scandal), the ADF commissioned legal firm DLA Piper to review allegations of sexual and other abuse in Defence. In 2016, Elizabeth Broderick, the former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, tabled a review for the Australian Federal Police (AFP), finding cultures of bullying, harassment and sexism. The South Australian Police (SAPOL) were reviewed by the South Australian Equal Opportunity Commissioner with similar findings only months later. The historical character of these cases demonstrates the persistence of this feature of institutional life. This serious focus on institutional abuse highlights the national significance of our research.


Our key aims are to:

1. develop a rich understanding of military abuse from the perspective of survivors;

2. situate survivor experience in the context of historical evidence to understand the way the ADF attempted to govern manage and seriously reform; and

3. theorise how and why institutional violence occurs.


We are seeking interview participants who are no longer serving in the ADF. The interviews are confidential. No participant will be identified. All care will be taken to communicate with participants regarding their material.

Contact Ben Wadham 0447947880

Research Overview

Research Overview

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Published Work

Wadham, B.A. (2016). The minister, the Commandant and the cadets: Scandal and the mediation of Australian civil–military relations. Journal of Sociology, 52(3) pp. 551-568.


The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has recently undergone the most comprehensive review of its organizational culture since federation. Western militaries across the USA, Canada and the UK are similarly engaged. Military misconduct, including rape, assault and the long traditions of hazing and bastardization, have been increasingly exposed, engaging civil society, agitating government and undermining military integrity. The Skype Affair is described as a particularly important military misconduct scandal that brought these relations, and ruling relations more specifically, into focus. The article describes the contest over democratic control of the armed forces initiated when the jurisdictions and authority of the Defence Minister, the Chief of Defence and the Commandant of the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) converged over the management of this military scandal. This article looks at how relations between Australian civil society, the military and the state are affected by the varying engagements of these sectors with the question of violence in the military and, subsequently, military modernization. The news-mediated discourse is one that highlights the structural split of civil– military relations, between two white masculinized institutions in a context of distinct cultural divergence over the rule of nation.

Ben Wadham & James Connor (2015) “The Dark Side of Defence: Organisational Deviance and the Australian Defence Force, TASA Conference


The Australian Defence Force has recently undergone it most comprehensive cultural appraisal and reform since Federation. The cultural reviews were instigated by the Skype incident, a sex scandal that rocked the ADF and drew negative scrutiny from the Minister for Defence and civil society more generally. This paper outlines a developing methodology for understanding military misconduct as a catalyst for organisational reform. Since 1970 over 30 reviews and reports have been produced around scandals or negative incidents involving groups of military men. This paper outlines a sociology of scandal drawing on the dark side of organisation literature to establish a basis for military criminology and the study of military misconduct.

Ben Wadham (2016) The Dark Side of Defence: Masculinities and Violence in the Military. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.


Masculinity, violence, and war have received significant attention over the past few decades. Significant research across numerous discplines has focused on exploring and illuminating the cause's, contexts, and 'circumstances around men, masculinity, and military violence within theatres of war (Zurbriggen 2010; Mackenzie 2010; Pankhurst 2009; Wood 2008j Hunt and Rygiel2006; Bowker 1998). However, that capacity for violence and. the contexts within which it is learned, fostered, and institutionalised have received less attention. Violence within the military is structured within the military institution and within the structures, practices, and discursive formations of military, state, and civil society. This chapter describes 'the dark side of defence', specifically the practices of hazing and bastardisation, bullying, and sexual assault.

Wadham, Ben *2015) Cultural Camouflage: Trouble in the Ranks, TASA Conference


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