In a move welcomed by the ACT’s veteran community, the Federal Government has given in to mounting pressure from the defence community and today announced that it will establish a Royal Commission into Defence and Veterans Suicide.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the royal commission will be set up after listening to community calls for a national inquiry focusing on the systemic issues faced by Australian Defence Force members and veterans that too often results in their loss of life to suicide. There have been more than 700 veteran suicides in Australia since 2001.
“We have always recognised that the rate of suicide of Australian Defence Force members and veterans is unacceptably high,” the Prime Minister said.
“In recognising the sacrifices made by our serving and former members and their families on behalf of the nation, we owe it to members, veterans and their families to continue to take action.”
The royal commission will complement the government’s existing initiative to establish a permanent Office of the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention to proactively deal with future issues, including taking on other recommendations of a royal commission.
Attorney-General Michaela Cash has said the royal commission would not defer, delay or limit any proposed or announced policy, legislation or regulation that they are currently implementing.
The government intends that the royal commission and the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention will be established together and operate in a complementary way to achieve long-term change.
The royal commission will look at past deaths by suicide, including suspected suicides and lived experience of suicide risks from a systemic point of view, while the National Commissioner will have a forward-looking role, including overseeing the implementation of the royal commission’s recommendations.
Australian Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans Association president Ian Lindgren welcomed the announcement saying he is pleased the Federal Government has taken the decision to hold a royal commission.
He says it is particularly pleasing and important that the government is maintaining the Office of the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention.
“By keeping this office, once the royal commission is completed, there will be a central office to hold the Commonwealth agencies to account for services provided to veterans,” Mr Lindgren said.
Mr Lindgren says there is currently no central body that holds a list of issues that are current to the whole defence community.
“I am not just talking uniformed personnel here, this includes veterans, their partners and their families. There is not one organisation that is aware of the issues, who is responsible and who is addressing the issues.”
The National Commissioner Bill currently before the Parliament will be amended to ensure their the commissioner complements the work of the royal commission and examines deaths by suicide in the defence and veteran community that occur after the royal commission has handed down its final report.
The government envisages that three Commissioners will be needed to lead the inquiry. Consultation is underway to appoint these candidates.
Liberal MLA and Shadow Minister for Veteran Affairs Jeremy Hanson said the royal commission would go some way to resolving a difficult and complex issue.
“Veteran voices are being listened to and that is a good thing,” Mr Hanson said.
“As someone who served in the ADF for 22 years, and had my own struggles after returning from Iraq, I have some understanding of the difficulties of defence members, veterans and their families. This issue warrants a royal commission and I welcome it.
“Having a royal commission and a permanent National Commissioner means we will have a clear picture of the issues at this point in time and a rolling examination of future issues. It is the best of both worlds,” Mr Hanson said.
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester will lead a public consultation process on the draft terms of reference and the Prime Minister will write to First Ministers inviting their contributions to the draft terms of reference with the view of a joint Commonwealth-State royal commission.
“This will provide an opportunity for us all to reset, further increase our understanding of this issue, and unite the Parliament, the ex-service community, and the families who have been affected by suicide,” Mr Chester said.