Defence backflips on SAS bravery medals
Top Defence officials have walked back a decision to revoke a unit citation given to special forces personnel who served in Afghanistan amid backlash from the public and veteran community.
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has revealed "in light of the feedback" Australia's Chief of Defence Force Angus Campbell has confirmed he has not made a final decision on revoking the Meritorious Unit Citation granted to Special Operations Task Group members for their outstanding service.
"So the CDF did make some statements upfront," Ms Reynolds said.
"He's assured me he is considering those further in light of the feedback that he and the Prime Minister and I have received.
"And he will review that further. So we are listening. But, you know, there is no guidebook for this."
Ms Reynold's said on Monday afternoon it was General Campbell's decision to make, and recommend to the Governor General.
Well, it's actually an issue for General Campbell to make and to make a recommendation to the Governor-General, but he has not done that yet, and he has assured me that he is considering this issue further now," she said.
Earlier that day Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Governor General also "always" listened to the advice of the prime minister of the day.
On November 19 when the Brereton Report was released, General Campbell said he had "accepted the Inspector-General's recommendation" and would "write to the Governor-General, requesting he revoke the Meritorious Unit Citation awarded to Special Operations Task Group rotations serving in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013".
LET THEM R.I.P: Stripping bravery medals an insult to fallen
Veterans are pleading with the Australian Defence Force to reconsider stripping bravery awards from entire Special Forces units who served in Afghanistan, saying the "rushed" decision has "ripped open the scars" of families who lost loved ones in the conflict.
A petition calling on Australia's Chief of Defence Force Angus Campbell not to revoke the Meritorious Unit Citation awarded to the special operations task group in Afghanistan has already amassed 55,000 signatures in less than a week, as veterans call for the same "case-by-case" treatment offered to higher levels of the military.
Today, The Daily Telegraph launches a campaign, Save Their Medals, in support of the call for all veterans - living and dead - to retain their citation unless convicted of a war crime.
Earlier this month General Campbell said he would write to the Governor-General requesting he revoke the citation, given to about 3000 soldiers, after the release of a report detailing horrific alleged war crimes.
But the government has since distanced itself from the recommendation, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying "decisions haven't been made yet".
Former 2nd Commando Regiment commander Heston Russell said the decision to strip the unit citation was particularly harsh for the families of Special Forces personnel who died in Afghanistan.
"Where is our moral responsibility with the way in which these families are being exposed to tearing open these scars," he said.
"They are hurting so badly. Where is the moral responsibility of the government to do what is in the best interest of our people, especially those who have already suffered through the ultimate sacrifice of one of their family members."
Major Russell said General Campbell needs to "practice what he preached" when he committed to assessing commanders who received honours and awards on a "case-by-case basis".
Major Russell has co-launched a petition calling for the citation not to be stripped, which has gained 55,000 signatures and 35,000 comments in just six days.
Liberal Herbert MP and Afghanistan veteran Phil Thompson said the families of the nation's "bravest" who died in Afghanistan should not lose any award.
"They have done above and beyond, and they should not have to even think that something like this would even happen to their sons," Mr Thompson said. He said the decision to individually consider awards and honours given to "armchair officers" who ran the conflict from the relative safety of a base in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), while tarring all units in Afghanistan with the same brush, was "wrong".
"Men and women in supporting roles or in the unit were putting themselves at a high risk of injury or being killed, who have done their job well, are now being punished by the same people who were sitting in the airconditioning in the UAE," he said. "These armchair officers … have no idea what it's like to be outside the wire, having friends injured or killed, rounds going over head, then being told their units will have their citation taken off them."
Labor Solomon MP and East Timor veteran Luke Gosling said the "overwhelming" majority of the special forces units in Afghanistan "served with distinction".
"It's devastating to strip it from those who were mutilated by Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) or killed in action and had nothing to do with these crimes," he said. "Their sacrifices should not be politicised, or denigrated."
The MP, who also worked in security in Afghanistan, said his friend Ray Palmer, who lost his son Scott when a Blackhawk helicopter crashed in 2010, would be devastated to have the citation revoked.
"If we don't treat this really carefully … it's going to have a detrimental effect and even cost lives in terms of the morale
of veterans," he said.
Former 2RAR Platoon sergeant Justin Huggett, who was awarded a Medal for Gallantry during his time in Afghanistan, said the decision to strip the meritorious citation was creating an "incredible amount of tension and divide" in the defence community.
"You would be kidding yourself if you think this isn't going to have a terrible effect on the mental health of the veterans and defence community," he said. "Afghanistan has cost us enough, people died and were wounded serving over there, and that conflict is still costing us lives."
The Department of Defence did not confirm if or when the meritorious unit citation would be stripped when contacted by the Telegraph.
Originally published as Let them R.I.P: Stripping bravery medals an insult to fallen