Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie has referred senior Australian Defence Force leaders to the International Criminal Court over alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan.
In an emotional speech, Senator Lambie – a former ADF member – said leadership had not been held to account for their actions.
“The government is no doubt hoping this will all just go away,” she told the Senate on Tuesday.
“They’re hoping Australians will forget that when alleged war crimes in Afghanistan were investigated, our senior commanders got a free pass while our diggers were thrown under the bus.
“Well, we don’t forget. I won’t forget. Lest we forget.
“There is a culture of cover-up at the highest levels of the Australian Defence Force. It is the ultimate boys’ club.”
An Office of the Special Investigator has been set up to address potential criminal matters raised in the Inspector-General of the ADF’s Afghanistan inquiry report, which looked at alleged war crimes committed between 2005 and 2016.
Defence Minister Richard Marles said the government was considering the recommendations outlined in the report.
“The allegations which are at the heart of all of this are serious and they are grave. This needs to be done thoroughly and properly and it will take the time that it takes,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“A key recommendation of the report was around command accountability.”
Mr Marles said whether The Hague would consider the referral was a matter for the court.
Senator Lambie said the referral to The Hague asked the criminal court to examine the country’s high commanders “through the lens of command responsibility”.
She said the referral was a method of last resort.
“Quite frankly, I feel embarrassed Australia is in this situation, so I am helping the government today,” Senator Lambie said.
“I am giving you a second chance to get this right and fix this mess.
“High command needs to be held responsible.”
She sought to table the referral to The Hague in parliament but the government, opposition and Greens said they wanted to view the documents before making a decision.
A defence spokesman said findings from the Afghanistan inquiry were being responded to.
“The inquiry found commanders bear moral responsibility and accountability for what happened under their command,” he said.
“The office of the special investigator is working with the Australian Federal Police to investigate the commission of criminal offences under Australian law arising from or related to any breaches of the Law of Armed Conflict by members of the Australian Defence Force in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2016.”
Lawyer and veteran Glenn Kolomeitz, who was among those who signed the referral, said the document did not go into specific allegations but invited ICC prosecutors to examine the issue.
“If Australia does nothing about it, the ICC can potentially assume jurisdiction over the higher command and excise the higher command investigation from the ongoing investigation of junior soldiers,” he said.
Senator Lambie indicated she would meet Mr Marles, whom she said has missed the point in his response.
“The process the deputy prime minister is referring to is an administrative process about medals, not a process that investigates the criminal liability of senior command,” she said.
“Yet again Defence is marking its own homework and the deputy prime minister is accepting their grades.”
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