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Dominic Giannini

Defence chief unaware of commander's torture allegation

Angus Campbell faces questions over the appointment of a Fijian military officer accused of torture. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Australia's Defence Force chief was unaware a Fijian officer who became a deputy commander of 3000 troops was alleged to have committed torture.

Colonel Penioni Naliva was appointed the deputy commander of the 7th Brigade in Brisbane as part of an effort to embed Pacific officers in the ADF.

Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell admitted normal processes failed and he should have been made aware.

There was a review into how the allegations weren't detected, he said, but the colonel hasn't been stood down and was instead "working from home ... supporting his family in a fairly stressful circumstance".

"If you find any fault, that is with me," General Campbell told a parliamentary inquiry on Wednesday.

"The process that we undertake was not as comprehensive as perhaps we all might have preferred.

"I have directed a review to strengthen the process."

A review of all embedded appointments is also being undertaken.

Australian Greens Senator David Shoebridge.
Greens Senator David Shoebridge questions defence officials during a parliamentary hearing. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Greens senator David Shoebridge lambasted General Campbell after he admitted he wasn't aware of allegations made against the colonel in a book by a former Fijian politician and a 2011 UN report from a special rapporteur.

Senator Shoebridge read an excerpt from the book in which a former Fijian politician alleged he was being beaten by a man he identified as Colonel Naliva before he tried to insert the end of a rifle into his anus.

General Campbell noted these were allegations and no official complaint had been made.

"Do you not acknowledge that this happened during a coup when political opponents were being beaten and tortured and that they're very unlikely to have trust in Fijian authorities to obtain justice?" the senator asked.

The colonel was recommended to Australian forces by the Fijian military and has been in the position since late January.

He is being paid by the Fijian government but receives a daily allowance from Australia to assist with the cost of living difference between Brisbane and Suva.

Defence officials confirmed he was still receiving the payment while at home but couldn't confirm the amount.

The ADF had been assured by the Fijian government the colonel had a clear police and national security clearance.

First Assistant Secretary of the Department of Defence Susan Bodell.
Susan Bodell admits there was "a gap of information" in appointing a Fijian officer to the ADF. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

"When a person is residing in their own country, we have to look to the authorities of that country to make a statement as to whether or not they have had a police or criminal record," assistant secretary Susan Bodell told the hearing.

"Yes, it was a gap of information that unfortunately was not put to the (chief of the defence force) in the appointment process.

"This is an error on our part which we are looking to remedy."

The coalition said the allegations needed to be investigated but maintained Fiji was an important partner to Australia.

"There's a process that is underway, I understand that the process will be more robust in future but this is for the government to explain how this appointment was made," opposition defence spokesman Andrew Hastie said.

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