AN AUSTRALIAN army officer of Chinese descent has been courtmartialled after objecting to a racist slur made by a senior Defence Department official.

The incident follows a series of racism scandals in the military. Last week, sexist and racist online comments by Defence personnel, describing Muslims as ‘‘ ragheads’ ’ who should be shot, were condemned by Chief of Army Lieutenant-General David Morrison.

Last year, Defence Minister Stephen Smith was forced to apologise after it was revealed Australian soldiers in Afghanistan on Facebook referred to Afghans as ‘‘ dune coons’ ’ and ‘‘ sand niggaz’’ .

Major Ting Li, a military lawyer , states in legal documents that he was insulted by Andrew Snashall, a director of Defence’s legal division, after arriving for work at a Defence office in Canberra , along with his wife and their newborn baby. Mr Snashall allegedly told Major Li: ‘‘ I see you have been polluting the world with your genes.’’ Major Li’s wife is an army doctor of Caucasian descent.

A Defence investigation concluded that the remark by Mr Snashall ‘‘ as matter of fact was made’’ . Mr Snashall denied the comment had a racial overtone and claimed it was made in ‘‘ a prevailing atmosphere of banter’’ .

Some time after the remark, Major Li protested. In documents obtained by The Sunday Age, Commander David Thorley, a Navy Reserve legal officer representing Major Li, wrote: ‘‘[ Major Li’s ] reaction was to remonstrate with Snashall to the effect that he could not say things like that, to which Snashall took offence, ordering him out of his office, and attempting to push Ting out.’’

Major Li’s commanding officer, Colonel James Waddell — head of the directorate of military justice — immediately suspended Major Li from duty after Mr Snashall lodged a complaint.

Although Mr Snashall alleged an assault, that charge was dropped . Major Li was later charged under the Defence Force Discipline Act with ‘‘ creating a disturbance in the presence of Mr Snashall’ ’ and convicted, fined $2000 and reprimanded. He was also prohibited from entering any Defence establishment.

Major Li alleges he was the victim of ‘‘ systematic and discriminatory treatment’’ . He is appealing the court martial.

A Defence Department spokesman told The Sunday Age that the claim ‘‘ does not accurately reflect the circumstances determined by the court martial’’ . The department refused to provide further comment.

Major Li has engaged Alexander Street, SC, to represent him. He described the treatment of Major Li as ‘‘ extraordinary’ ’ and ‘‘ quite how this conduct could be either lawful or justified, cries out for explanation’’ .

Mr Street said the issue exposed ongoing ‘‘ serious systemic and administrative failings’’ , with supervising officers having clear conflicts of interest.

‘‘ That alleged disturbance [by Major Li] occurred in circumstances of the legitimate and proper protest by Major Li as to the unlawful racial slur,’’ a letter from Mr Street states.

The disturbance occurred several months after the original slur, when Major Li protested to Mr Snashall and he replied, ‘‘ I meant everything I said to you,’’ Mr Street alleges.

Several military officials who have examined the complaints have suggested his suspension was unwarranted.

An inquiry by the Inspector-General Australian Defence Force found ‘‘ there were systematic failings within Defence Legal in that you (Major Li) were suspended without procedural fairness’’ .

Mr Snashall said he had no comment. Major Li could not be contacted.

Copyright © 2012 Fairfax Media