Article Title:MP Goff ups pressure over suppressed Army "shortcomings"
Category:People
Author or Credit:Jacqui Stanford
Published on:17th May 2013 - 02:10 pm
Published by:GayNZ.com
NDHA link:http://ndhadeliver.natlib.govt.nz/ArcAggregator/arcView/frameView/IE18334588/http://www.gaynz.com/articles/publish/33/article_13349.php
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Story ID:13349
Text:Former Defence and Justice Minister Phil Goff has this week upped the ante and is vowing not to give up asking questions about the death of Corporal Dougie Hughes until he gets the answers the late soldier and his family deserve. Corporal Douglas "Dougie" Hughes According to the soldier's family, Hughes, 26, was rejected by another male soldier just before he took his own life while serving in Bamyan last April, feelings he shared in a sit-down that had been convened by his immediate superior officer, a sergeant. The Defence Force has held a Court of Inquiry, but this has been suppressed by Mormon Coroner Gordon Matenga who also made a submission against the marriage equality legislation. Hughes' family wants the report released and a full inquest carried out into Hughes' death. They don't believe it was his sexuality which led to his death, but the way the Army handled his sexuality. "I honestly believe that the military used that as a basis, thinking the family would be too proud, they'd want to take this out," former staff sergeant Mike Poa has told Native Affairs. "Nonsense. I'm still proud of my nephew. I don't give a toss. We still want the truth." A gay former soldier, Rudy Paul, has also queried why the Army and the coroner are hiding the result of the enquiry. “I can't understand why they are hiding it," Paul told GayNZ.com. "And why they are saying that it is to protect the family when his own mother wants it revealed.” The gist of the situation: Corporal Douglas Hughes took his own life in Afghanistan in early 2012 after being rejected by a soldier he expressed feelings for in a meeting convened by his superior officer. The NZ Defence Force held an Court of Inquiry into Hughes' death, but it's findings have been suppressed by a Coroner who has religious difficulties with homosexuality. The suppression means we can't legally tell you what the report contains, and why Phil Goff and others are so concerned about its findings. Hughes' family wants the report released. Their position is backed up by several gay ex-soldiers and others. The family has indicated Hughes believed he was the subject of unfavourable speculation and rumour within the NZDF about his sexuality, which worried him greatly. They say he was also known to be considering suicide. GayNZ.com fully backs the family in its search for honest answers, as do several gay former soldiers we've spoken to, and a therapist specialising in GLBT issues.  The family also has the firm support of Goff, who has this week stepped up the pressure he is applying to the case by writing to Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem and Chief Coroner Neil MacLean Phil Goff In conjunction with Labour's Justice spokesperson Andrew Little, Goff has already put the matter before the Solicitor General, and is calling for them all to challenge Coroner Matenga's decision to suppress the Court of Inquiry report. That letter to the Solicitor-General asking him to review the decision not to hold an Inquest was sent back in March "and we are awaiting a substantive response," says Goff. "I can understand that aspects of the Court of Inquiry might be suppressed in the interests of the privacy of Corporal Hughes and his family. However, his family have said to me that they want the report out in the open and the Defence Force to be held to account for the shortcomings it exposes," Goff states in his letter to Wakem this week. "Notwithstanding that, it seems to me that the suppression of the whole report, rather than particular aspects of it, is unwarranted, too wide and not in the public interest." Goff says the principles of the Bill of Rights Act and the Official Information Act require that information should be public unless there are specific reasons why it should be withheld. He's frustrated the "very real" concerns in the report can't be debated, because it's suppressed. "The Government says it cannot do this if the Report is under a suppression order. The Minister in the House has used this as a reason not to answer parliamentary questions arising from it," he says. Goff points to a High Court decision in March, where a judge overturned a Coroner's ruling relating to name suppression where similar principles were at issue. "Could you please examine the Coroner's decision and the decision by the Government not to release anything from the Court of Inquiry Report or even answer questions on it, and determine whether this is consistent with the statutory requirements on them?" Goff asks in this week's letter to Wakem. In his letter to the Chief Coroner, Goff is more blunt, questioning Coroner Matenga's authority to suppress the reports. "It is excessive and not in the public interest for the reports and specifically the Court of Inquiry Report to be withheld in their entirety," Goff states. "Does the Coroner indeed have the power to suppress a Court of Inquiry Report which he is not responsible for? Why is Phil Goff so concerned? Unfortunately, we're as hamstrung and frustrated as Goff: due to the suppression order we can't report the issues raised in the report that Goff is so worried about. What we do know, is that Hughes' family has legitimate concerns that he was known to be considering suicide but didn't get the help he needed. "Depression and anxiety, isolation from friends and family while on deployment, and ready access to weapons are a lethal mixture. In order to prevent a repetition of the circumstances which led to Corporal Hughes killing himself it is important that lessons are learned from the tragedy," Goff has stated. "Notwithstanding the decision of Coroner Gordon Matenga not to hold an inquest, circumstances surrounding the death and the concerns of the family mean this decision should now be revisited. "The Chief Coroner and the Solicitor General have the power to order an inquiry and should do so," Goff has also said. "An inquest would allow someone independent of the Defence Force to investigate the death and make recommendations. This is not about a witch hunt. It is about finding answers which will assist the Defence Force to help prevent a death of this nature again." Goff is concerned that the military may have known, at some level, that Hughes was under stress from fellow-soldiers due to his sexuality. It is believed that Hughes, considered to be an outstanding soldier, was reluctant to do another tour of duty in Afghanistan. "Doug Hughes' family believe that he was mocked and bullied about his sexuality and that nothing was done to help him. The Defence Force must consider further whether its policies for dealing with the sexual orientation of its soldiers are adequate in light of this tragedy." Goff acknowledges that Hughes may not have been handling his attraction to another soldier well. "There are good reasons why fraternisation on deployment is inappropriate and is not tolerated regardless of soldiers' sexual orientation. But there also needs to be effective policies to deal with the circumstances which led Corporal Hughes to take his own life." "We need to know whether Corporal Hughes' death was avoidable and an inquest would throw light on this critical question." Goff says questions have to be asked about the platoon sergeant bringing Hughes and the soldier he had feelings for together to confront the issue of Hughes' same-sex attraction just before Hughes' death, particularly given Hughes' state of mind. Rudy Paul, a gay ex-soldier. His concern is backed up by ex-Lance Corporal Rudy Paul. "Based on the relationship this sergeant had with Dougie and the other guy he may have thought their relationship was strong enough to cope with this," said Paul in a recent in-depth interview for GayNZ.com. "But obviously he misread it... obviously, because Dougie is not with us any more." "While his sergeant may have acted in good faith, if he had had training in dealing with questions of sexuality or had access to specialised advice and assistance in this area, the tragic outcome may have been avoided," says Goff. "This is why a separate Inquest is needed." Paul Letham, an Auckland counsellor and therapist who specialises in GLBT issues, has also weighed in in a piece he wrote for GayNZ.com. Paul Letham "What must it have been like for Corporal Hughes to be a gay soldier in the army, expressing affection for another soldier in a traditionally 'macho' environment, such a long way from home? When we consider how difficult it can be in everyday civilian settings, we can only imagine what he may have been going through." He said there should be an inquest, as "It could serve as a 'test case' of sorts for our military, both in encouraging on-going transparency, and in highlighting the dangers that still exist for those LGBT individuals who choose to serve their country. We owe them that much, don’t you think?" Goff thinks Matenga's decision to suppress the whole Report and his own report which recommended not holding an Inquest was fundamentally wrong. He indicates a recommendation in the report touches on the NZDF policies in regards to gay men and women in the service. "It is important that we know what follow-up is being given to this recommendation. I have asked written questions on this but as the Report is suppressed, the Clerk's Office in Parliament is reluctant to accept them. This is ridiculous," Goff says. "I will however keep pushing until we get a proper response on all of these issues." If you need support due to any issues raised in this story, you can call 0800 OUTLINE. Did you know Douglas Hughes, or are you gay and in the military or a past member of the NZ Defence Force? If you want to share your thoughts email news@gaynz.com.     Jacqui Stanford - 17th May 2013
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