Ben Roberts-Smith quits Seven Network management role

The Australian War Memorial's Ben Roberts-Smith display now acknowledges the unlawful killings.

The Australian War Memorial's Ben Roberts-Smith display now acknowledges the unlawful killings. Photo: AAP

Disgraced former soldier Ben Roberts-Smith has quit his management job at Kerry Stokes’ Seven Network amid the fallout from Thursday’s landmark Federal Court ruling.

It came along with a push for Mr Roberts-Smith’s uniform and medals to be removed from display at the National War Memorial in Canberra.

Mr Roberts-Smith had been Seven’s general manager of Queensland operations since 2015 but had been on leave throughout his long-running defamation case against three Nine newspapers.

On Friday, managing director and chief executive James Warburton emailed staff to say Mr Roberts-Smith had offered his resignation.

“As you’re all aware, the judgment in the defamation case was handed down yesterday,” he wrote.

“Ben has been on leave whilst the case was running, and today has offered his resignation, which we have accepted.

“We thank Ben for his commitment to Seven, and wish him all the best.”

Mr Roberts-Smith, 44, was not in court for Thursday’s judgment, and is yet to make any public comment on the judgment. The Nine Network has shown footage of him at a Bali resort this week.

Elsewhere, lawyers for Mr Roberts-Smith – who is Australia’s most decorated living soldier – are said to be mulling an appeal to his devastating court loss.

Arthur Moses SC, who acts for the former soldier, requested an extension to appeal on Thursday. It was granted by the court.

Mr Roberts-Smith’s defamation case – where legal costs for both sides have been estimated to as run as high as $25 million – was bankrolled by Mr Stokes, who is Seven West’s executive chairman.

Mr Stokes released a brief statement after the court ruling, saying it “does not accord with the man I know”.

“I know this will be particularly hard for Ben, who has always maintained his innocence,” he said.

After Justice Anthony Besanko found that 2018 reports published by The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times about war crimes the soldier committed were substantially true, attention turned on Friday to Mr Roberts-Smith’s legacy.

His uniform is prominently displayed in the National War Memorial in Canberra, along with a blurb outlining the Australian war effort in Afghanistan. Greens senator David Shoebridge said they should be taken down “as a matter of urgency”.

“We should be seeing action by the Australian War Memorial to remove the display that is now there for Ben Roberts-Smith – his uniform and his medals – which thousands of people will attend tomorrow to view and witness,” Senator Shoebridge said.

“The Australian War Memorial has an obligation to tell the whole truth about Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan.”

Senator Shoebridge said removing the display wouldn’t be “justice for the families who lost loved ones or for the communities that have been brutalised by war crimes, but it takes us a step closer”.

Ben Roberts-Smith mulls appeal

But former special forces soldier Heston Russell pointed out the court’s findings did not relate to the incidents that led to Mr Roberts-Smith’s Victoria Cross or Medal for Gallantry.

“There’s a bit of pile-on at the moment and we need to afford Ben and his team due process because this was a civil proceeding,” he told Nine on Friday.

Another former soldier, Neil James, said any case about whether Mr Roberts-Smith was criminally liable remained entirely separate and “hypothetical”.

Mr Roberts-Smith has not been officially charged with any crime and maintains his innocence.

“Just because you lose a defamation case, doesn’t mean that you’re going to be charged with war crimes,” Mr James, who is the executive director of independent watchdog the Australia Defence Association, said.

“They’re unconnected.”

Mr Roberts-Smith may still face criminal charges by the Australian Federal Police and Special Prosecutor. But any outcome would likely take years, Mr James said.

He called for action on the war crimes outlined in a groundbreaking report by the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force in 2020.

Major General Paul Brereton’s inquiry found credible information of 23 incidents in which 39 individuals were unlawfully killed by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

“The fact that no Australian has yet been convicted of [committing war crimes] doesn’t alter the fact that they happened,” Mr James said.

“Therefore, the ADF and the country have to do certain steps to stop them happening again.”

ben roberts smith

Ben Roberts-Smith in Bali this week. Photo: Nine News

Former SAS soldier Oliver Jordan Schulz, who was also deployed in Afghanistan, has been criminally charged over the alleged killing of an unarmed Afghan man in a wheat field in 2012.

Australian Special Air Service Association national chairman Martin Hamilton-Smith also noted that the Federal Court action was civil, rather than criminal. But he raised concerns that “justice delayed is justice denied”.

Asked whether Mr Roberts-Smith should hand back his Victoria Cross, Mr Hamilton-Smith told The Guardian: “I think the only way you will get the real truth of this is to get it into the criminal court where both sides of the story can be told and beyond reasonable doubt the facts established.”

Elsewhere, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said the culture among Australia’s elite soldiers had changed significantly.

Mr Dutton, who was defence minister for 14 months in the Morrison government, said a call about the 44-year-old’s medals wasn’t his to make.

But his visits to the SAS barracks in Perth had shown how the culture had changed since Mr Roberts-Smith’s days.

“There’s been a significant culture change over the last half a dozen years, at least,” he told Nine’s Today Show.

“There are very few people [at Campbell Barracks] who even served in Afghanistan or were involved in conflicts in the Middle East.”

Mr Dutton said most Australians held the SAS in the highest regard and, despite the court’s finding about Mr Roberts-Smith, the incredible work of other soldiers in the country’s name should not be forgotten.

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-with AAP

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