Sacked lawyer garners support amid battle against former firm
03 December 2018 By: Emma Ryan — 1 minute read
The lawyer who has taken HWL Ebsworth Lawyers to court this week, over allegations that he was unfairly dismissed, has had support thrown behind him from the victims he spoke out for prior to his departure from the firm.
Dr Gary Rumble will face HWL Ebsworth today in the Federal Court, Sydney, alleging that the national firm unfairly dismissed him after he made public statements concerning the Australian Defence Force.
The comments surrounded a 2011–2012 review he led into allegations of sexual and other abuse in the ADF, which found that there were numerous cases of degrading sexual, physical and psychological abuse inflicted on boys as young as 13 in the Army, Navy and Air Force from the 1940s until the 1980s.
Dr Rumble claimed HWL Ebsworth did not want him to speak to the media about the review and says he was sacked from firm shortly after the publication of a Fairfax Media article, which stated that the ADF “is still failing the victims of abuse”.
His action against HWL Ebsworth is, among other grounds, under S 351 of the Fair Work Act, which prohibits dismissal because of the exercise of one’s political views.
A statement sent to Lawyers Weekly from victims highlighted support for Dr Rumble in the proceedings, saying he is to be congratulated for his public advocacy.
“The dead will judge us by our indifference. The dead will judge us by our silence. The fact that abuse in the Australian Defence Force has been going on since Federation is a crime against the proud history of the Australian Defence Force. The fact that it is ongoing is a crime against humanity," added Jennifer Jacomb, secretary and public officer.
"We will not be silent and will be proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Dr. Rumble at the Federal Court on Monday.”
The Review was established following receipt by the Minister of hundreds of communications about abuse within Defence following the so-called Skype incident at ADFA.
Dr Gary Rumble, partner, DLA Phillips Fox, was appointed to lead the Review and Ms Melanie McKean,partner, DLA Phillips Fox and Professor Dennis Pearce, AO, Special Counsel with DLA Phillips Fox were appointed as co-leaders.
8 December 2016
Defence is still failing the victims of abuse
Published: December 8, 2016 - 1:00PM
Degrading sexual, physical and psychological abuse was inflicted on boys as young as 13 in the Army, Navy and Air Force from the 1940s until at least the 1980s.
The abuse included bashing, scrubbing naked victims with wire brushes and rape with broomsticks. Many victims have suffered lifelong impacts including PTSD, alcoholism, drug addiction and social isolation.
It is a continuing disgrace that some of these victims are not receiving veterans' benefits to which they are entitled.
In June 2014, Chief of Navy Vice-Admiral Ray Griggs issued a Navy-wide message announcing the release of Defence Abuse Response Taskforce report on abuse at recruit training establishment HMAS Leeuwin: "The report is confronting and disturbing. In its pages are stories of abuse that no person should ever have to endure, particularly when they were young boys in the care of the RAN," he said. "Lives have been destroyed, dreams smashed and careers stolen."
The taskforce heard hundreds of complaints relating to training establishments. Many more missed the cut-off date, or didn't realise they were eligible.
The fact that the abuse happened was a disgrace to the defence forces and to governments and Parliaments which allowed it to happen.
These boys have not been the only victims of abuse in defence. Not by any means.
However, those boys are now old men. Their needs are urgent because they are suffering and dying without the support to which they are entitled and without the dignity of acknowledging they did not let down their nation or their families – they were the victims who were let down.
There are two main reasons why these men have not received veterans' benefits.
Some are unaware they may be eligible. However, many of those who have applied have been turned away by Department of Veteran Affairs because they cannot corroborate their allegations with defence records or a witness, as required by guidelines issued by the Repatriation Commission and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission.
Those commissions are headed by the department's secretary. Most of the other members are current and recent Defence Force officers.
The April 2012 report of the review, which I led, identified actions which Defence and the department could take to publish information about the history of abuse – including factors discouraging victims from reporting abuse – so that the department's claims assessors could consider allegations on an informed basis and potential claimants and their advisers would know what material was available to support their claims.
The history of inaction, delay and deflection on improving access to veteran benefits since 2012 is appalling.
This year, the government agreed to a recommendation from the 2014 Senate Committee report "Processes to Support Victims of Abuse in Defence" to remove the three-year minimum service for non-liability healthcare for mental health problems. This change is important.
But aspects of this report relevant to other benefits are still "under consideration".
And in June this year, a department witness told the child abuse royal commission that the guidelines required the rejection of an allegation of abuse – even if the claims assessor believed it to be true – unless it was corroborated by an independent witness or by a Defence record of the abuse from the time.
Justice Peter McClellan, chair of the royal commission, asked the witness to take back "advice" to the department that the guidelines were "not in accordance with law". The acts only require the assessor to be satisfied of the truth of an allegation – a requirement of corroboration cannot be added.
That was basic law. However, it took until October 31 for the guidelines to be updated at all.
The updated guidelines now allow claims assessors to accept that "in the absence of contradictory evidence, a statutory declaration alone will be sufficient to establish the fact of abuse".
This change only applies for "claims related to incidents of physical or sexual abuse of children under the age of 18 at the time of the abuse, where the abuse occurred on or before 11 April 2011". The guidelines still unlawfully require assessors to reject other allegations even if they believe them to be true if they are not corroborated.
However, the change to the guidelines to allow uncorroborated allegations to be accepted for victims who were under 18 years of age at the time of an abuse before April 2011 should help the old men who were abused when they were boys. But it can only help if they know that this change has occurred.
The department understands the need for a communication strategy, but it needs to be approved by the two commissions, which have shown no urgency in responding to Justice McClellan's June "advice".
These issues must not be allowed to drift.
Damaged Defence personnel have been suffering for too long. Many have died. There are still others out there.
Minister Dan Tehan and his colleagues must intervene to ensure they do not spend another Christmas in poverty and shame.
Dr Gary Rumble was leader of the review of allegations of sexual and other abuse in Defence 2011-2012. These views are his alone.
Copyright © 2016Fairfax Media
September 1 2017
Crusading lawyer sacked after pleading for sex abuse justice
The lawyer who led the first major review into widespread sexual and physical abuse in the Australian military says he was sacked after publicly pleading for justice for victims.
Gary Rumble says he lost his job after his bosses at government-linked legal giant HWL Ebsworth spent several years trying to stop him advocating on behalf of abuse victims, fearing their outspoken employee might hurt their lucrative relationships with government departments.
Gary Rumble, Lawyer sacked over his advocacy for sex abuse victims. Photo by?Mel Davis Photo: Mel Davis
He says the final straw was an article he wrote for Fairfax in December 2016, highlighting the plight of veterans who had suffered appalling and degrading physical and sexual abuse and branding their continued mistreatment at the hands of the Commonwealth a "disgrace".
Dr Rumble's unfair dismissal action, filed in the Federal Court in Canberra by his lawyers Maurice Blackburn, invokes the ACT law against discrimination on the grounds of political opinion.
Dr Gary Rumble appearing before a Senate committee examining the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce 2014. Photo: Andrew Meares Photo: Andrew Meares
But Ebsworth denies their former employee's claim, saying Dr Rumble was sacked because there was not enough work for him.
The firm also says the dismissal took place when he was at home in NSW, where it is not illegal to discriminate against a worker on the basis of political beliefs.
The firm intends to fight the case and has filed a detailed defence with the court.
But Dr Rumble's lawyers Maurice Blackburn are adamant their client is on firm legal ground.
"The law is very clear that employees in the Australian Capital Territory are protected from being sacked for expressing their political opinion," senior associate Alana Heffernan said.
Dr Rumble says he had no particular interest in the issue of abuse in the Australian Defence Force before 2011 when he took on the job, under the Gillard government, of leading the review of the government's response to decades of abuse in the nation's armed forces.
But the horrors he and his colleagues uncovered turned him into a passionate advocate for men and women who Dr Rumble says have endured decades of mental torment caused by the abuse they suffered.
He told Fairfax that he was determined not to turn his back on men who had suffered degrading sexual, physical and psychological abuse when they were boys as young as 13 in the Army, Navy and Air Force from the 1940s until at least the 1980s.
In the years since the major review was published, he has written to ministers, spoken repeatedly in the media and testified to Parliamentary committees in his quest for better treatment of victims, despite his legal bosses' repeated attempts to shut him up.
Documents filed to the Federal Court allege that Ebsworths believed Dr Rumble's strident advocacy risked offending ministers as well as senior figures at their clients, the departments of Defence and of Veterans' Affairs, potentially jeopardising tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded legal fees.
Mr Rumble said he spent months of "uncertainty and isolation" in late 2016 and early 2017, waiting to see if his bosses at Ebsworth would carry out their threat to sack him, before he received a curt email on February 20, telling him he was fired but providing no reason.
Dr Rumble said the manner of the sacking, which came three days after he was recognised as Canberra's "Public Law Lawyer of the Year", was a humiliating experience.
"The manner in which it was done, on Sunday evening with a short email, terminating me immediately and requiring me to surrender all property of the firm immediately as if I was some sort of wrongdoer, was fairly humiliating, disrespectful treatment," Dr Rumble told Fairfax.
But he remains unrepentant about about his advocacy for victims.
"I'm having enough trouble sleeping having done it, but I'd be having a lot more trouble sleeping if I hadn't done it," he said.
HWL Ebsworth declined to comment.
Copyright © 2017Fairfax Media