Australia

Turnbull condemns Australian Defence vehicle's Nazi flag

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says an incident in which a Nazi flag flew from an Australian military vehicle was "absolutely wrong".

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has blasted the behaviour of Australian troops who flew a Nazi flag above an army vehicle in Afghanistan in 2007 as "completely and utterly unacceptable". 

The leaked photograph, obtained by the ABC and published on Thursday, shows a large swastika flag flying above a light military vehicle. 

The Defence force said a commander "took immediate action to have the offensive flag taken down". The troops involved were "immediately cautioned at the time and subsequently received further counselling", the Defence spokesperson told the ABC.

Mr Turnbull told reporters in Hobart the incident was "utterly unacceptable". 

"It was wrong. It was absolutely wrong. And their commanders took action at the time," he said. 

Vice Chief of the Defence Force Vice Admiral Ray Griggs described the images as "abhorrent" and said the flag was destroyed when the patrol in question returned to base.

"The situation was dealt with very quickly by the on scene commander and the flag has been removed. When the patrol returned to its base the flag was destroyed," Vice Admiral Griggs said.

In a statement the Department of Defence said: "Defence Force and the ADF reject as abhorrent everything this flag represents. Neither the flag nor its use are in line with defence values."

The department said steps were taken to reinforce education and training of all personnel who witnessed the flag.

"It is totally inappropriate for any ADF vehicle or company to have a flag of this nature. The personnel involved were immediately cautioned at the time and subsequently received further counselling."

Vice Admiral Griggs said the Australian public's faith in the defence force should not be undermined by recent reports of cultural problems.

He said 80,000 members of the defence force had deployed over the past 18 years and the vast majority had the complete trust of the senior leadership.

"I don't think it's common, I think what's important is that these issues, when they occur, be dealt with swiftly and promptly."

The leak of the decade-old photograph comes just after a leak of a damning report on the behaviour of Australia's elite special forces soldiers in the Afghanistan conflict. 

The internal report, which triggered a wider and ongoing Defence investigation, alleges some soldiers used illegal violence and showed a "disregard for human life and dignity". 

Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, himself a former SASR special forces soldier who now chairs parliament's Intelligence committee, said he trusted the credibility of the journalists who obtained the report. 

"I don’t want to go into specific allegations but they should be taken seriously," Mr Hastie told ABC Radio last week. 

The report revived the public conversation about alleged cultural problems inside the Australian Defence Force. 

Earlier in the year, incoming Chief of Defence Angus Campbell ordered a ban on soldiers displaying unofficial militaristic images on their uniforms, including Spartan symbols and skulls. 

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