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Navy diver endured 'belittling' punishments, inquiry told

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A former navy clearance diver who perforated an ear drum during one of many “punishment drills” says trainees were consistently belittled, a royal commission has heard.

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The witness – who appeared anonymously at the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide on Wednesday – said during their time in the navy it was common for diver trainees to self-medicate and cover up injuries.

“I had a young family at the time so my whole life was invested into it. It wasn’t an option for me to be removed (from training) so I just had to continue on,” he told the commission.

The witness said pseudoephedrine medications such as Sudafed were called “dive lollies” to be taken if people were sick but needed to complete training.

During a punishment drill the witness was made to dive to six metres to the ocean floor repeatedly by an instructor, causing a perforated ear drum.

The witness told the commission when they saw a medic about the issue they were told not to mention the punishment.

“The instructor told me to say it had happened while I was diving, that it didn’t happen during any punishment,” he said.

“They wanted to keep it hush-hush and waited outside the doctor’s office for me to ask what I had said.”

The witness told the commission about the “bastardisation” and “belittling” punishments instructors would put recruits through.

This included racking up thousands of push ups a day for small mistakes like dropping a piece of paper and being untidy.

The witness said at one point the recruits were given a punishment of 5000 push ups before they could go home on a Friday.

The only way recruits could get out of the punishment was to buy their superiors beer.

“I couldn’t afford it. I felt bad for my family because we were struggling on my trainee wage and I felt like a failure having to do that,” they said.

The royal commission will for the next fortnight probe what defence is doing to address issues with its culture and the support being provided to veterans.

The commission has previously been told accounts of bullying, poor treatment of women, a lack of support for veterans and new recruits being forced to undertake hazing initiation rituals.

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