Good Weekend's 40 Australians Who Mattered: Social justice

Samantha Crompvoets

She wrote the secret 2016 report which sparked the biggest war crimes probe in the country’s history. Her inquiry warned military chiefs of alleged summary executions of unarmed Afghans, including prisoners and civilians, by elite Australian special forces soldiers in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2015.

Commissioned by military chief Angus Campbell, the 44-year-old sociologist’s report was the catalyst for a four-year inquiry headed by Justice Paul Brereton, which, it was announced last week, will see 19 current or former soldiers face criminal investigation, possible prosecution and the stripping of their medals.


Talking for the first time this month, knowing there would be blowback from some quarters, Crompvoets made clear these were no “fog of war” incidents elite soldiers were detailing to her, but rather “deliberate, repeated patterns of behaviour”. Backed by Campbell, she saw her job as recording the truth of what she was told by special forces insiders, even though it would upset many.

“Samantha Crompvoets could have turned a blind eye to some or all of what she heard, or shoved it off to another report, but instead she dug in, kept speaking to people, and wrote the report that sparked the Brereton inquiry,” says The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald investigative reporter Nick McKenzie, who has been working to uncover the alleged war crimes for three years.

“So many government-related reports lead nowhere; hers led to an inquiry, which should lead to prosecutions, which should lead to cultural change in key parts of the Australian military.”

Chief Justice Susan Kiefel responded decisively and empathetically to historic allegations of sexual harassment.

Chief Justice Susan Kiefel responded decisively and empathetically to historic allegations of sexual harassment.Credit:Louie Douvis

Susan Kiefel

When the chief justice of the High Court, Susan Kiefel, was advised of allegations that former High Court judge Dyson Heydon had harassed female associates during his time at the court, she acted decisively. She commissioned an independent inquiry, led by seasoned consultant Vivienne Thom, to investigate the matter.


When the inquiry found the women’s claims to be substantiated, Kiefel’s response showed her to be a paragon of modern leadership. Where other leaders may have hidden behind legalese or PR spin, Kiefel issued an empathetic statement, apologising to the six women whose complaints were borne out.

She also met the women and said sorry to them in person. Kiefel surprised some with the strength of her words when she said she and her fellow judges were “ashamed” such a thing could happen in the High Court of Australia. Kiefel also reviewed the court’s workplace processes to make sure the same thing could not happen again.

“I believe it was not a coincidence that as the first female chief justice and with the first gender-balanced High Court, Justice Kiefel responded to serious historic allegations of sexual harassment in a new way: by listening, acting and apologising,” says federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins. She adds that by exposing the failings of the legal profession, Kiefel has “paved the way for a stronger, safer and more diverse future”.

Indigenous rights advocate Pat Turner "is formidable; she is brave in terms of what she says; and she is also someone that really does show a great deal of care".

Indigenous rights advocate Pat Turner "is formidable; she is brave in terms of what she says; and she is also someone that really does show a great deal of care".Credit:Louise Kennerley

Pat Turner

For decades Pat Turner has been a passionate voice for Aboriginal equality and self-determination, inside and outside governments, particularly in the field of Indigenous health. Her strong leadership was highlighted this year in her role as the lead convenor of the Coalition of Peaks, which brings together more than 50 Indigenous community peak organisations. In July, Turner stood beside Prime Minister Scott Morrison to launch a new national agreement on Closing the Gap, which is supposed to make Indigenous-run organisations central to programs to reduce disadvantage in communities.


“She’s one of the most experienced public servants in Australia,” says federal Labor frontbencher and Wiradjuri woman Linda Burney. “She’s had an incredibly distinguished career spanning both community and government. She shows a willingness to speak truth to power, she understands how governments work and is absolutely committed to driving a proper partnership with Aboriginal people in relation to Closing the Gap.”

Turner has forged working relationships with key figures in the Morrison government, but that didn’t stop her from strongly rebuking its process for a Voice for Indigenous Australians in September. Despite being one of 19 members appointed by Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt to a senior advisory group on the Voice’s “co-design”, Turner broke ranks in a National Press Club speech, labelling the process disjointed and warning it risked sowing division among Indigenous Australians. Says Burney: “She is formidable; she is brave in terms of what she says; and she is also someone that really does show a great deal of care.”

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