Soldier had planned to kill himself at school, inquiry told

Canberra Times

March 12, 2008 Wednesday

Security thinking waits for big shift

ANTHONY BURKE

When the Howard government sent SAS commandos to board the MV Tampa
in the last week of August 2001, something profound and disturbing
happened to Australia’s national security policy. Rather than being
focused on threats from other states, nuclear proliferation or
terrorism, Australia was now seeking security from vulnerable people
fleeing abusive regimes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, while putting
its own security and wellbeing at risk.

As they were placed in long- term detention in the Pacific, and other
asylum-seekers were incarcerated at Woomera, Port Hedland and
Villawood, naval and air force units were tasked to patrol our
northern approaches, and preventing “illegal immigration” became a
core mission of our defence forces.

Even with fresh memories of involvement in Vietnam and the embrace of
Suharto while his troops raped East Timor, rarely had Australia so
blatantly purchased its national security at the expense of other
human beings. Seven years into the war on terror, the moral and
strategic costs of this approach have come home to us.

Iraq is struggling to create a unified and stable nation amid
appalling terrorism and violence.

The future of Afghanistan looks shaky as the Taliban regroups and
NATO partners are reluctant to send more troops. East Timor remains
one of the world’s poorest countries. Most disturbing is the
International Institute of Strategic Studies’ last annual survey. It
says that al-Qaeda is resurgent, and Osama bin Laden continues to
claim that “as you violate our security, so we violate yours”.

Indeed, one of the 2004 bombers of Australia’s Jakarta embassy told
police he joined the plot because Australia was supporting America in
“slaughtering Muslims in Iraq”.

Having recently commissioned a new defence white paper and a broad
reassessment of Australia’s national security strategy, the Rudd
Government has the opportunity to chart a far more effective and
decent path, but I fear it will fail to grasp its chance.

It has signalled it will broaden Australia’s security policy to
consider threats from the economy and climate change, and reach out
to Muslim communities for better intelligence and to prevent
radicalisation. It has flagged new efforts to strengthen the nuclear
non-proliferation regime, and softened the previous government’s
harsh approach to detaining asylum-seekers. But it is still building
a big detention centre at Christmas Island, and is showing no sign of
making the big shift in thinking that’s needed.

The key to obtaining security in today’s world is to focus on human
security. The security of nations follows automatically. This view
has been widely taken up in the United Nations, by security
specialists around the world, and by aid and other humanitarian
organisations, but has been ignored by Labor and Coalition governments.

Defence white papers over the past decade have been arid documents
focusing on Australia’s “national” interests and security, while
barely acknowledging international law and the sheer complexity of
contemporary conflicts and processes which create threats to human beings.

Such abstract concepts have shaped policy even as we have actually
supported human security with missions to East Timor, the Solomons,
and Indonesia after the tsunami and the Jogjakarta earthquake. Yet we
continue to treat symptoms rather than create a world where people’s
basic security can be guaranteed on an enduring basis. Iraq is a
classic example where poor “national security” policy and alliance
politics caused grave threats to human and national security. An
illegitimate use of force in 2003 was compounded by bad postwar
policy and disregard for civilian lives and basic needs.

Food prices and unemployment rocketed, hospitals struggled on a few
hours of power each day, and militants flooded in to punish US troops
far from home. Iraq has seen some of the most lethal terrorist
atrocities after September 11, 2001. More than 65,000 people have
been killed while three million others are refugees.

Australia’s Department of Defence is being told by close advisers
that such messy “postmodern” wars are the conflicts of the future.
They are not being told that solving them is impossible to do with
military force alone, and a new security approach can prevent them
ever occurring. If the Rudd Government is willing to broaden its
thinking and its sources of advice, it can create a security policy
that contributes to a much safer world for Australians and their
global neighbours.

Anthony Burke is an associate professor of international relations at
the Australian Defence Force Academy, UNSW, and the author of Fear of
Security: Australia’s Invasion Anxiety.

AAP Newsfeed

March 12, 2008 Wednesday 1:45 PM AEST

NT: Soldier had planned to kill himself at school, inquiry told

DARWIN March 12

An Australian soldier who shot himself in the head while on duty
in East Timor had plans to kill himself with a cadet gun while at
high school, a military inquiry has been told.

Queenslander Private Ashley Baker was found lying dead in a pool
of blood inside a locked toilet cubicle at a defence base in Dili on
November 5 last year, three days after his 19th birthday.

An Australian Defence Force (ADF) commission of inquiry in Darwin
today was told that Pte Baker had spoken to a school counsellor while
a student in June 2004.

“Ashley related being so unhappy at home last year that he had
made a clear suicide plan and had access to means,” said the
counsellor’s report, which was read to the inquiry.

“But no attempt occurred as means (cadet’s gun) eventually became
unavailable.”

Pte Baker’s high school records were subpoenaed overnight
following evidence from Queensland police.

Senior Sergeant Virginia Nelson yesterday told the inquiry that
confidential sources had reported Pte Baker struggled as a soldier
and was subsequently bullied.

The sources also said his company was aware Pte Baker was
depressed and could commit suicide.

Defence psychologist Carolyn Ireland, who assessed Pte Baker when
he applied to enlist as a 16-year-old, said she recommended he wait
12 months because he appeared immature and naive to the demands of
military life.

She said there was no indication of anxiety, depression or mental
distress and the soldier denied ever having suicidal tendencies.

He did not tell her about his plans to commit suicide at school.

Pte Baker was allowed to enlist six months later, without
undergoing further psychological assessment.

Sgt Nelson yesterday said the Australian Defence Force waited too
long to tell the soldier’s parents about the details of his death.

“(His mother) had not been provided with any information about
her son’s death other than he had been found alone with a gunshot
wound,” Sgt Nelson said of her meeting with the family on December 2,
almost a month after the shooting.

“I do think it (the details) should have been provided sooner.”

Sgt Baker had been reprimanded two hours before his death for
leaving his rifle unsecured overnight at the Australian helicopter
base in Dili.

The ten-day hearing continues today.

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