Sexual harassment charges released

TONY WALL
Last updated 05:00 30/06/2013
Jack Steer
MARTIN DE RUYTER/ Fairfax NZ
NAVY CHIEF: Rear Admiral Jack Steer.

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Fresh details of historical sexual harassment allegations against the new chief of navy have been released by the Defence Force, including "disgraceful and indecent" comments he allegedly made to a female sailor.

It was revealed this month that Rear Admiral Jack Steer, appointed chief in December, commanded the HMNZS Wellington on a mission to the Arabian Gulf in 1995 that became notorious because of sexual harassment allegations by junior rating Larissa Turner and others.

Turner has questioned Steer's suitability for the top job, saying the navy cannot enforce sexual harassment policy with someone such as him in charge.

Steer accepts he made mistakes, but says he is a different person today. Steer's role in the case was not reported at the time and Fairfax Media has spent the past two months seeking further details under the Official Information Act.

The Defence Force sought a 45-day extension, then finally released the charge report and summary of proceedings from Steer's court martial in 1997.

The papers show Steer, who joined the navy in 1973, was charged with behaving in a disgraceful and indecent manner, and an alternative charge of doing an act likely to prejudice service discipline was also laid. He was found not guilty, but no reasons for the verdict were provided.

The prosecution alleged crew members were drinking in a bar in Fremantle, Australia, on the way back to New Zealand. When Turner walked in, Steer allegedly said: "You've got nice tits."

Later, he is alleged to have said to her: "I didn't notice it was you who walked in, I only noticed your tits."

Separately, the Star-Times has learnt that, before the ship left New Zealand, Steer called a muster of the 25 female crew - the first women to serve on a New Zealand navy warship.

He told the women there had been an anonymous complaint of sexual harassment against him, and that if he said or did anything like that on the mission, it would be a mistake and should not be taken the "wrong way".

After the ship returned to New Zealand in early 1996, Turner, then 19, complained that Steer, among others, had sexually harassed her.

Steer said in a statement on Friday "given that you are talking about something that happened 18 years ago, the systems and protocols put in place were at the time considered appropriate".

"With the benefit of hindsight, I accept that more should have been done to ensure that the women and men on my ship were living and working in a safe environment and felt comfortable to report any incidents of harassment."

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Turner received a compensation payment from the navy in 2000.

She is angry that Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman told the Star-Times the fact Steer was found not guilty at court martial meant there was nothing stopping him becoming chief.

"The Human Rights Commission thoroughly investigated my claims also, including those I made specifically in relation to Jack Steer, and found that my evidence was credible, that it was clear sexual harassment was systemic on board the ship, and that there was a total failure of leadership," she said.

Meanwhile, the NZDF insists it is working hard to stamp out sexual harassment, despite an American researcher finding personnel are reluctant to complain because they believe the organisation is ineffective in dealing with it.

Cornelia Weiss visited New Zealand on an Ian Axford Fellowship and wrote a paper on human rights and the rule of law in the NZDF.

She found New Zealand's respect for human rights in military operations was a strength, but was critical of the NZDF's record in dealing with sexual harassment.

"Military members, anecdotally and from personal observation, are reluctant to speak out against sexual harassment in the NZDF, given the perception the NZDF is ineffective in addressing it," Weiss wrote.

"This... brings discredit to the NZDF and what it attempts to accomplish in the wider world."

The NZDF said it had a comprehensive policy on the prevention and management of discrimination, harassment and bullying but recognised more needed to be done.

The NZDF's strategy was that by showing it would act when incidents were reported, others would be encouraged to come forward.

- Sunday Star Times

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