The Budget provides for the Office of the Special Investigator, located in the Attorney General’s portfolio, to receive $3.9 million to advise the Office ‘on matters of international law, obtain legal assistance from foreign jurisdictions and to protect sensitive national security information in potential criminal proceedings’ and $2.8 million to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to provide legal advice, including training for investigators and brief preparation. Both sums will be transferred from the Department of Defence.
In 2016 the Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force appointed Justice Paul Brereton to investigate reports of serious misconduct on the part of Australian forces serving in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016. The completed Report was handed over to the Chief of the Defence Force in October 2020.
Disturbing allegations of misconduct that could amount to war crimes were aired in a Four Corners program in March 2020, and allegations of a similarly serious nature led to a defamation action by a decorated veteran against three newspapers.
It appears that prosecutions for war crimes are now in contemplation. The heavily redacted report of the Special Investigator provides little indication of the type of action that might be implicated. However, if allegations made in the current defamation case and the Four Corners program named above can be substantiated, then justice and systemic reform are both overdue.