Blood Lust, Trust & Blame

In the National Interest Series

 

Samantha Crompvoets

Clayton, Vic: Monash University Publishing, 2021

Paperback    96pp   RRP $19.95

 

Reviewer: Neville Taylor, October 2021

           

Whilst this impressive and important monograph concentrates on the wrongdoings in Afghanistan by Australian Defence Force (ADF) members between 2009 and 2013, it considers the labelling of inappropriate behaviour, the often-failed attempts to correct them, and a more balanced approach that has a far better chance of altering future outcomes.

The author has, for two decades, been a consultant and researcher for the ADF and security industries. Headlines from early 2021 involving problematic cultures occurred in the following areas:  banking, defence, the Church, professional football, government, and the performing arts. When asked to do a ‘culture review’, Crompvoets asks for the issue to be described with the exclusion of the word ‘culture’.

Early interviews with ADF members indicated disquiet and a ‘lack of trust’. The Afghanistan Inquiry Report referred to a ‘cultural disconnect’. The command structure of the ADF has been outlined, but it was the difference between actual and nominal command authority that was significant in the events that occurred and the consequences of accountability. Examination of the relationship between power and accountability, social networks and organisational climate will unravel how and where misconduct occurs and spreads. How organisations respond to a crisis can be far-reaching and long-lasting – the alleged 2019 rape in the Defence Minister’s office and cricket’s ‘Sandpaper Gate’ are two examples. If undesirable behaviours become institutionalised, they are embedded in organisational memory, routines, and structures; the more elite, secretive, and cloistered a group, the greater the risk of deviation.

Time, money, and effort on culture change programs will only produce temporary change, whereas altering the structures determining people’s behaviour will provide permanent change. Crompvoets quotes Audre Lorde: ‘The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house’ to reinforce the need for difference and structures necessary for change. Since 1950 there have been moves to achieving a ‘total force’ in the ADF. The ‘bound to render’ construct in the Defence Act of 1903 needed to be altered to enable a members to serve in different, more flexible, and valued ways. The ’tools of the master’ (being the mantra of unrestricted wartime capability) were bypassed by two Reservist Major Generals Justice Brereton (Afghanistan Inquiry Report) and Justice Garde using their tools of law and justice in legislation introduced in 2015..

For the Special Forces to address its misconduct, suspect distribution of power and faulty accountability, there must be major structural change and targeted actions to create sustainable change capable of enduring through many generations of leadership at all levels. Small sustainable changes are needed to dismantle the ‘organisational scaffolding’ that perpetuates dysfunctional power structures.

 

Unfortunately the author has been publicly and personally vilified since the release of Blood Lust, Trust and Blame, despite all the material it contains already being in the public domain.

 

 

The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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