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Military Discipline Reform 2021

Discipline within the Australian Defence Force is primarily governed by the Defence Force Discipline Act 1982 (the DFDA). In broad terms, it is the DFDA that creates the system of offences, how those offences are dealt with, the punishments and penalties available, and the safeguards that ensure the rule of law is applied.

In 2017 the Chief of Defence Force instigated a review of the Summary Discipline System—the ‘unit level’ discipline system—to assess what changes are necessary to ensure the system is easy to use, timely and responsive, fair and just for all personnel, and trusted by the ADF and wider Australian community.

The review found that the current system is overly complex, difficult to use, unresponsive and characterised—because of its complexity—by excessive delay. You can view the report here.

On 12 August 2021, the Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans’ Affairs, the Hon. Andrew Gee MP, announced significant changes to the DFDA, through the Defence Legislation Amendment (Discipline Reform) Bill 2021.

There are a number of changes to the DFDA, but the main ones are:

  • Replace the Subordinate Summary Authority with a Senior Discipline Officer, who will have the same authority.
  • Mandate the requirement for any reasonable excuse to be considered before the issue of an infringement notice.
  • Enable Discipline Officers and Senior Discipline Officers to dismiss an infringement if they consider the member had a reasonable excuse for committing the infringement.
  • Require a Commanding Officer to review any punishment imposed by a Senior Discipline Officer. The Commanding Officer can confirm, modify (not increase), or remove a punishment, or dismiss the infringement in entirety.

The bill also introduces four new offences:

  • Failure to perform duty or carry out activity
  • Cyber bullying
  • Failure to comply with a removal order (in relation to a cyber bullying offence)
  • Failure to comply with requirement to notify change in circumstances

You can view the bill’s explanatory notes here.

If you have any comments or concerns about the amendments, please let us know.