The defence department has been charged over the death of Private Jason Challis. Picture: Alison Wynd
The defence department has been charged over the death of Private Jason Challis. Picture: Alison Wynd

Defence charged over soldier’s death

THE defence department has been charged over the "clusterf*ck" training exercise which led to the death of Geelong soldier Private Jason Challis at Mt Bundey training area outside Darwin in 2017.

Commonwealth workplace safety regulator Comcare announced on Thursday the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions with three workplace safety offences, almost two years to the day since his death

The charges were filed in Darwin Local Court and each carry a maximum penalty of $1.5 million.

Pte Challis was shot in the knee and head during a live fire exercise, "Exercise Tigers Run" at the training area south of Darwin on May 10, 2017, and an inquest into his death last year found Pte Challis's superiors failed to ensure proper procedure was followed during the exercise.

Geelong soldier Jason Challis was killed in a training exercise at Mount Bundey, south of Darwin.
Geelong soldier Jason Challis was killed in a training exercise at Mount Bundey, south of Darwin.

Pte Challis strayed from his platoon mates behind a mock-plywood hut, an area which should have been marked "off-limits".

He was crouched behind a target when his fellow soldiers opened fire, and the platoon had not been walked through the range, gone through a "dry run", or performed the exercise with blanks, as required by defence protocol.

Coroner Greg Cavanagh found: "It was a failure by the whole chain of command. It was a 'systemic failure' in the true sense of that phrase."

"In my view, the evidence establishes that the exercise that led to the death of this young man was a shambles," Mr Cavanagh said.

During the inquest last year, counsel assisting the coroner, Kelvin Currie, said the exercise was best described by a phrase which "starts with cluster".

Pte Challis's stepfather, Mirko Brandich told Nine News last night he wanted to see individuals held to account, not just a government department.

"The way I see it now, they're going to get a slap on the wrist," he said.

He said even if defence was fined, it would amount to little more than moving money from one government department to another.



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