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Read all the latest news from Brendan O'Connor MP


September 02, 2021

LIAM BARTLETT, HOST: Brendan, good morning to you.


BARTLETT: Brendan, thank you for turning up. How do you see this flag folding ceremony?

O'CONNOR: Well, I can fully appreciate and sympathise with Bart's comments about the concern that it reflects on the overwhelming number of members of 2 Squadron over the many years and many conflicts who have served this nation well, in our uniform, done nothing wrong and don't want to be thought of in such an ill way. And for that reason, it was certainly Labor who did call upon initially for the end of the revocation of the Meritorious Unit Citation, which I'm glad to say that the Government decided to revoke so that that citation was not removed from the overwhelming number of people where there are no allegations made against them.

Now, as I understand it, there are news reports that there may well be a suspension or postponement of this flag folding ceremony. But the Government, the Minister in particular, has to explain publicly whether this decision is to suspend or is whether there's a cancellation to the flag folding ceremony and the disbanding of the unit. And that's something that needs to be clarified. And I think it's incumbent on the Prime Minister or Minister of Defence, to explain that.

BARTLETT: Well, we've put calls in this morning again, but where does this leave a stain on the regiment, Brendan? I mean, what can be done politically, from your side of things in terms of agitation? I mean, we've gone from 19 to six. When this came out, this was just weird. We had a truck full of war criminals. That's how it was painted.

O'CONNOR: These are serious allegations, as you rightly said, and they need to be examined properly. But at the same time, innocent people shouldn't, of course, be in any way affected, in so far as allegations made or inferred incorrectly. As I understand in relation to the letters that have been sent what I'd like to do is get some briefing from the Government as to what that means. Is that complete exoneration or is that no longer requiring them to explain to the Defence Force, given that they no longer are with the Defence Force. And I need to get that briefing from the government and certainly I'm seeking to do that.

But the Government itself, from the beginning of the release publicly of the Brereton inquiry have not been present. In fact, you might recall, in November 10 months ago, when the Brereton Inquiry was publicly released, there were no Ministers or the Prime Minister was not involved in any of the response formally by the Government, it was left to the CDF. And I think at the time, frankly, I believe it should have been a public response by both the CDF, Chief of the Defence Force, and the Minister for Defence at the time. That didn't happen.

And then, in fact, I can recall remembering that the CDF was being interviewed on ABC Insiders, the following Sunday, and there was no minister. That to me, was very, very unusual. It really does speak to the fact that for some reason, the Government will not, as you say, put their front foot forward and explain what is happening here.

So there is a cloud over the flag folding ceremony, there's issues that go to whether in fact, these 13 who have received letters are completely exonerated. We need to know the answers so people can understand their position

BARTLETT: I think we also need to know the answers, more importantly, for the public image of the most elite fighting force that we have. And now we are arguably in a worse position, Brendan, because Afghanistan has fallen, the Taliban are going to be running around organising Zoom calls for us, are they for witnesses?

O'CONNOR: No, I don't think so.

BARTLETT: So it's a huge issue because even the last six that are that are there, you know, in terms of having their claims against them tested properly, in a proper judicial system are now highly questionable.

O'CONNOR: Absolutely. Obviously, when it comes to any allegations, there can be allegations made, but of course, in the end, there's a presumption of innocence. And of course, there's got to be a threshold and that is, in particular in any alleged criminal matter, that they should be afforded the same rights as any person in any circumstance in terms of the way our judicial system operates.

There is a lack of clarity though in relation to a number of issues, including the flag folding ceremony for tomorrow that now I'm told may well be suspended. I don't know whether that's the end of the matter. I don't know whether the Government has decided not to disband the Squadron. They're the sort of things that the members of that Squadron, former and current members of that Squadron, deserve to know. As too in fact, the Australian people.

So I agree, the Minister and the Prime Minister must come forward and articulate exactly the Government's position with respect to 2 Squadron

BARTLETT: Alright Brendan, we'll have to leave it there, but thank you very much for your comments this morning.