This woman should have been thanked. Instead, she was treated shamefully

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Sometimes people who raise the alarm and expose corruption in big organisations see themselves as collateral damage when institutions close ranks against attack and the public mood swings against them for little apparent reason.

And so it would appear with Samantha Crompvoets, an expert on organisational culture, whose 2016 report on war crimes allegedly committed by cliques of elite Special Air Service Regiment soldiers serving in Afghanistan started a chain of events that has visited a world of pain on the Australian Defence Force and eventually helped disclose the truth surrounding the obscene behaviour of Ben Roberts-Smith, VC.

Dr Samantha Crompvoets has paid a high price for doing her job.Credit: Danielle Smith

Writing in The Age today, Crompvoets has revealed the price she believes she paid for raising the alarm. She had suffered years of internet and phone attacks threatening to bash, kill or torture her, and her livelihood has been destroyed to the extent she can no longer obtain government contracts. Before her war crime report, she was a go-to reviewer for the Defence Department, NSW Police and emergency services and the AFL. Now her company is in liquidation and her situation so desperate that she had her car repossessed by debt collectors a few weeks ago.

Whistleblowers in Australia have a history of being eaten by institutions and hide-bound traditions they have exposed as wanting. They are swept up by the vortex of media coverage, momentary fame and public acclaim or damnation. It takes a special personality trait to go against the grain.

But Crompvoets was no whistleblower. She was commissioned by the now Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Campbell, in 2015 to inquire into war crimes in Afghanistan.

Three years later, the ADF and the government had done nothing. In early June 2018, The Age published extracts from her confidential defence inquiry into allegations of war crimes committed by cliques of elite SAS regiment soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

Her report described “unsanctioned and illegal application of violence on operations” compounded by a “disregard for human life and dignity” and triggered not only the Brereton war crimes inquiry that subsequently found credible information of war crimes committed, but a series of news stories that resulted in Roberts-Smith unsuccessfully suing The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times for defamation.

Crompvoets has listed a number of instances that marked her path to ostracism. She claimed Peter Dutton, then defence minister, made it clear to his department she should not be awarded further contracts as he did not wish the military to be distracted by things that happened in the past. She said her credibility had been repeatedly questioned by the former soldier and independent Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie, questioning which was reiterated in the Murdoch press.

Further, she received a letter from the Australian Government Solicitor’s Office after it failed to halt the publication of a 2021 essay she wrote about how misconduct became entrenched in organisations. In the letter, she was told her conduct had harmed the Commonwealth. “The result was that my ongoing work with the government was ‘terminated for convenience’,” she wrote. “The implications for me, my family, my business and my staff were profound. The message had been sent to the department loud and clear that I was now a liability and a risk. No work would follow. Work in the pipeline was stopped indefinitely. I’d told the truth, so they cut me out.”

These are shameful allegations. Crompvoets was charged with carrying out a critical national duty that had potential to force much-needed reform on the ADF. Instead, the reforms seem snared in red tape but not her punishment for reporting the truth.

Patrick Elligett sends an exclusive newsletter to subscribers each week. Sign up to receive his Note from the Editor.

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