General Douglas MacArthur once opined “old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”
One general who has not heeded this is former Australian Army chief David Morrison, currently Australian of the Year.
Morrison is the son of another general – Alby – who was much loved and whose CV highlights included being current Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove’s battalion commander and Commandant at the Royal Military College Duntroon.
For leading Cosgrove in Vietnam Alby Morrison was awarded the Distinguished Service Order while Cosgrove received a Military Cross, both notable distinctions in the world of Australian soldiering.
In a reversal of fates, David Morrison was Peter Cosgrove’s senior operational staff officer when the latter commanded the International Force for East Timor.
Originally an infantryman like Cosgrove and his father, David Morrison late in his career reinvented himself in the guise of a social justice warrior to fight battles of a different kind.
Not “guys” if you understand the difference.
While not exactly turning his swords into ploughshares, David Morrison instead turned his vocabulary to the language of gender diversity, equality and opportunity.
Morrison fought battles for Cate McGregor, then a lieutenant colonel and now an occasional Spectator contributor.
The pair share a birthday, had served together and McGregor was a Duntroon cadet during Alby Morrison’s time as commandant.
When McGregor made the painful — not to mention courageous decision to transition gender — there was no greater supporter than David Morrison, who refused to accept her resignation as his personal speechwriter.
McGregor’s greatest coup for Morrison was “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept” speech in the wake of the Jedi Council sex scandal that engulfed the military.
Several army members were disciplined and discharged and one pleaded guilty to various offences in NSW when it was revealed sexually explicit emails had been circulated on the secure defence network.
Townsville based lieutenant colonel Karel Dubsky who claimed he had received but not read the Jedi Council’s emails was controversially removed from command, according to Morrison for not acting or informing him of the supposed abhorrent behaviour.
Morrison was no stranger to Townsville where he had been based several times in his army career including commanding both the 2nd battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, and the 3rd Brigade.
Last week Morrison returned to Townsville to address James Cook University’s Business Excellence in the Tropics luncheon on “leadership, diversity and inclusion in the workforce”.
If he had been expecting a warm, tropical welcome to his old stomping ground he was sadly mistaken when a young Townsville Bulletin reporter Kieran Rooney asked him a simple but pertinent question.
The question penetrated Morrison’s thin armour, provoking a furious response but eliciting no coherent answer.
It also became abundantly clear McGregor and Morrison no longer exchange birthday cards when Cate McGregor told The Townsville Bulletin she believed Dubsky had been delivered an “egregious injustice”.
“I believe he is owed an apology by the former chief of the army, David Morrison, and the current chief of the army,” said McGregor, adding that two-star (general) officers agreed with her an appalling injustice had been done.
As the Bulletin’s reporter pointed out to Morrison, Townsville is a garrison town and the paper regularly receives correspondence from serving and retired personnel aggrieved by the injustice supposedly perpetrated on Dubsky.
Hours before Morrison posted his video to the troops, he spoke to the media.
“I’m responsible for this. I’m the chief of the Australian Army, the culture of the Army is in my hands during my tenure, and I am doing as much as I possibly can to improve it.
Yet by not offering to resign, he applied different standards to himself than to those he dismissed.
Many believe Morrison did not just walk past the standard he applied to others, but he sprinted.
In Townsville, and more widely, it is an issue not likely to fade away anytime soon.
Ross Eastgate is a military historian, writer and columnist with The Townsville Bulletin. He is a graduate of the Royal Military College Duntroon and was speechwriter to 2001 Australian of the Year, General Peter Cosgrove.
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