‘I have put in a lot of time, money, effort, you know, health, into cadets. And then for something like this to happen and then they don’t back me – and I’ve been involved with the organisation for the last 15 years – was very disheartening. And it’s really changed my morals, my ethics. These were the people that gave me the morals and ethics that I am today as an adult, and then they basically shat on them.’
When she first started at Defence Force Cadets as a teenager in the 1990s, Kalinda loved it. She felt that cadets was a ‘safe place’ where the instructors always did the right thing and looked out for the kids.
After a few years, Kalinda started to notice that some of the adult instructors were having boyfriend/girlfriend relationships with cadets. Nobody seemed to care. So when instructor John Turner approached her at a party one night, she didn’t realise it was wrong.
Kalinda was 17 at the time. She and some other cadets had been invited to Turner’s house. He bought them alcohol. Early in the evening there was another instructor present, but she left. A while later Turner kissed and touched Kalinda and then had sex with her.
‘This is what is conflicting for me: at the time I didn’t see anything wrong with it … There are so many staff and cadets together. So it wasn’t something that was out of the norm. It wasn’t something that was cause for alarm. People thought it was bad, but I’d seen so many people not get kicked out so I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it.’
Kalinda continued working for cadets into her early adulthood. One day she was approached by Laura McKay, a teenage cadet who had been sexually abused by a male cadet leader. Kalinda became the support person for Laura. Through her work with Laura, Kalinda came to realise that what Turner had done to her wasn’t okay, that it was in fact a misuse of power and a form of sexual abuse.
‘The only reason, really, I came [to the Royal Commission] was because my kid that I support, Laura, she’s so brave, and I’ve gone to the police with her and I’ve done that whole thing with her and I sort of said to myself, “If you can sit by and watch her do it, you should say something”.’
When it came to the issue of Turner’s abuse, a brief discussion with the Royal Commission was enough for Kalinda. But Laura’s case was another story. Kalinda said that her choice to stick up for the girl forced her into a prolonged battle with a hostile bureaucracy that ultimately destroyed her faith in an organisation she used to admire.
It started when Kalinda reported Laura’s complaint to her Commanding Officer. The officer sent the matter ‘up the chain’ to the Officer in Command (OC). Ignoring protocols and mandatory reporting obligations, the OC put off contacting police for three weeks, during which time he ran his own internal investigation instead. This investigation, Kalinda said, did ‘significant harm’ to Laura and her family.
Sometime later, Laura’s mother asked Kalinda to help her make a report to the Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) body that oversaw the cadets. Kalinda contacted WHS and asked for advice on how she might make such a report.
Within days, Kalinda received a phone call from ‘the top person in our chain of command’. They had a long conversation. He listened and was supportive. ‘But since then you’d think that I would be thanked for supporting a child. Since then I’ve copped nothing but shit.’
Since that phone call, Kalinda has been held back from a promotion and pushed out of her regular workplace. She was offered a place elsewhere but at locations that were so far from her home it became impossible for Kalinda to perform some of her usual duties.
Fighting through panic attacks, Kalinda lodged a complaint against the OC, alleging that she’d been unfairly targeted. The complaint was quashed. ‘They said that there wasn’t any evidence. But they hadn’t contacted me to get any evidence. They hadn’t even contacted me to clarify anything. They just kept the complaint for six weeks or something then sent it back and said no.’
Kalinda then spoke to a special investigator from outside the cadets. The investigator told her that it was illegal for anyone to discriminate against her and promised to look into the matter. The investigator asked for details of the discrimination allegation, and Kalinda provided them.
But after Kalinda lodged a formal complaint with WHS, Defence Force Cadets suddenly opened its own investigation and the special investigator reneged on her promise. She now told Kalinda that ‘her only role’ was to investigate whether cadets had proper complaints procedures in place.
‘It’s like someone’s walked in, said, “You’ve got to stop this right now and finalise these complaints”. So I got a letter saying she wasn’t investigating anymore, the matter is closed.’
That proved to be the tipping point for Kalinda. At the time of her session with the Royal Commission, she was making plans to leave cadets for good.
Looking back, she said that one of the most frustrating aspects of the whole mess was that it so easily could have been avoided. The proper procedures were there, they just weren’t followed.
‘The policy manual that we’re meant to follow, no one gives a shit about. No one follows it. Everyone does what they want when they want, and if you speak up about it you’re in a lot of trouble. I’ve seen many a good officer or instructor in the last 10 years leave the organisation because all the bad people have attacked them too much. And that’s what has happened to me.’