A commentary piece by Samantha Crompvoet in The Sydney Herald has shone a disheartening light on the mistreatment of those in Australia who have stood up against military human rights abuses.
Samantha Crompvoets, an expert in organisational culture, has been left to bear the brunt of unveiling gross misconduct within Australia’s elite Special Air Service regiment whilst they were serving in Afghanistan.
As Dr. Iain Overton of AOAV says, “Often people who raise the alarm and expose corruption in big organisations themselves become collateral damage when institutions close ranks against attack and the public mood swings against them. We have seen it with Julian Assange, we have seen it with David McBride and now it seems we are seeing it with Samantha Crompvoets.”
In 2016, Crompvoets’ report on alleged war crimes by cliques within the Australian Special Air Service regiment unveiled an unsettling chain of events – human rights abuses in Afghanistan laid bare.
These revelations sparked a significant backlash against the Australian Defence Force and played a critical role in uncovering the inhumane behaviour of Ben Roberts-Smith, VC.
It seems Crompvoets, however, has paid a high personal and professional price for exposing the truth.
In the commentary piece in the Herald, it is revealed how Crompvoets has suffered a heavy toll for exposing the truth. It speaks of years of internet and phone attacks, with threats of violence and death. Her professional life has also taken a hit; once a respected reviewer for the Defence Department, NSW Police and Australian emergency services, she can no longer secure government contracts. Her company is now in liquidation and she recently had her car repossessed.
Crompvoets’ experience is not unique. Whistleblowers in Australia and beyond have a history of being turned on by the very institutions and traditions they expose. Standing against the grain requires a unique resilience.
Crompvoets, however, did not position herself as a whistleblower. She was commissioned by Angus Campbell, now Chief of the Defence Force, in 2015 to investigate war crimes in Afghanistan. Yet despite her expose, the government had taken no action. It wasn’t until the Herald published excerpts from her confidential inquiry that the matter came under public scrutiny.
Her report outlined an “unsanctioned and illegal application of violence on operations,” compounded by a “disregard for human life and dignity”. Not only did this trigger the Brereton war crimes inquiry, but it also led to a series of news stories that ended with Roberts-Smith unsuccessfully suing the Herald, The Age, and The Canberra Times for defamation.
Crompvoets has spoken about a number of instances that led to her ostracization. She alleges that then-Defence Minister, Peter Dutton, did not want her to receive further contracts as he did not wish the military to be distracted by past issues.
The Australian Government Solicitor’s Office also wrote her a letter after it failed to prevent the publication of a 2021 essay she wrote about entrenched misconduct in organisations. She was told her conduct had harmed the Commonwealth, and her ongoing work with the government was subsequently “terminated for convenience.” This action had profound implications for her, her family, her business, and her staff. The clear message was that she was now seen as a liability and a risk.
As she noted in the Herald, Crompvoets was tasked with a national duty that had the potential to drive much-needed reform in the Australian Defence Force. However, instead of reforms, all that seems to have materialised is bureaucratic inaction and an unjust punishment for speaking the truth.
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