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Navy inserts itself between the sheets and into the mind

By Brendan O'Reilly - posted Friday, 21 December 2012

Examples of silly bureaucratic rules come to light periodically. The recent well publicised court martial of Captain Stefan King, who has been found guilty of falsely claiming rent, travel and utilities allowances intended for married servicemen posted away from home, illustrates both inequities resulting from strange travel allowance regulations as well as bureaucratic intrusion into the bedroom.

Captain King reportedly received allowances of about $38,000 over an 18 month period while posted away from Canberra as commanding officer of HMAS Albatross at Nowra. He was fined $12,937.40, stripped of seniority, and ordered to pay reparations of $14, 933.87 (reflecting amounts "falsely claimed") leaving his career (hitherto unblemished) in tatters. Aspects of the case that "raised eyebrows" included the Navy's unusual criteria for determining marital status, and it's accessing of hundreds of the Defendant's intimate e mail correspondence for use in his prosecution.

The private emails, accessed from his Navy e mail address and read in court, were used by the Prosecution to help prove that the Captain was "emotionally and sexually separated", and thus (on Navy rules) apparently ineligible for the allowances. [It was alleged that the e mails proved he was in love with another woman and no longer sharing physical intimacy with his wife.] The media subsequently had a field day quoting salacious extracts from Court proceedings under headlines such as "The Captain, His Wife and Three Lovers", and "An Officer, If Not Quite a Gentleman". The lovers included a woman he reportedly had an affair with, while posted to Britain between 2003 and 2006, and a named married Sydney woman. It was ironic that at the trial his now former spouse turned out to be one of his most steadfast supporters.


The concern is that the (apparently legal) public dissemination of these very intimate e mails represents an enormous invasion of privacy, not just for the Defendant but also for the women in his life, who committed no crime. The high profile Leveson Inquiry into British media was concerned with (illegal) accessing of generally far less intimate material. The clear moral disapproval expressed in some of the newspaper headlines was also at odds with the convention that reporting of cases before the courts should be confined only to factual matters. The media seemed to be admonishing the Captain's "extra-marital" affairs, while simultaneously reporting (in contradiction) that the Navy's prosecution of him was based on an official Navy view that he was in fact no longer married.

The case highlights both the ADF's notion of what it means to be married, as well as the rules applying in the public sector generally concerning allowances for those posted away from home.

In ordinary life, a person who undergoes a marriage ceremony is considered married until either death or divorce, and prior to posting Captain King shared a house with his wife. It seems strange for a Navy, where lengthy separation during postings is common (and is often a major contributor to sexual dalliances) and where the sexual antics of sailors away from home are legendary, to assert that "emotional and sexual separation" is considered sufficient to end a marriage. Emotional separation seems to be difficult to test. [Many men may never fully separate emotionally from ex-wives (or mothers for that matter).] Sexual separation, on the other hand, is not uncommon for older couples, who nevertheless are still married in everyone's eyes. "Sexual and emotional separation" also may not be mutual, and it seems peculiarly possible under the Navy's test of marriage for one party in a couple to remain married, while an errant "partner" is deemed unmarried.

More generally, the normal rationale for employers paying living-away-from-home allowances is to compensate for the costs incurred in maintaining two separate households. In this context, whether or not a claimant was continuing to service his wife (or any other lover for that matter) seems entirely irrelevant and solely a private matter.

[For the record, the author has no connection with anyone involved in this case.]

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About the Author

Brendan O’Reilly is a retired commonwealth public servant with a background in economics and accounting. He is currently pursuing private business interests.

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