Despite the vocal objections of ‘the mothers’, Minister for Veterans Affairs Darren Chester announced yesterday that the agreement by state and territory leaders to support the establishment of a permanent and independent National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention was a significant step forward in tackling a serious and complex national issue.
“All governments are committed to ensuring we are doing all we can to prevent suicide among our serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel following the recent Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting,” Mr Chester said.
“The mental health and wellbeing of our current and former ADF members is an issue of national and enduring importance, and only by working together can we make meaningful change.”
Julie-Ann Finney, mother of former Royal Australian Navy Petty Officer Dave Stafford Finney who committed suicide last year and petition convenor (with almost 300,000 signatures) for a Royal Commission – has rejected the PM’s proposal for a permanent suicide commissioner without a Royal Commission first.
“The new commissioner will only be able to do their job properly if they are informed by the findings of a Royal Commission,” Mrs Finney said.
“Currently, the proposed office of the commissioner will only be informed by a review, undertaken by the government, with terms of reference set by the very bodies that need to be investigated.
“It is vital we properly look back on the 500 or more suicides since 2001, and learn from those tragedies.”
The proposed national commissioner will have the enduring powers and resources, formalised by terms of reference, to investigate suicides and related issues as they arise in the future, and also to review past cases, supported by the ability to conduct public hearings, receive submissions, and include families in the process should they wish.
Mr Chester said the commissioner’s powers would be ongoing powers, not restricted to a one-off inquiry as would be the case with a Royal Commission.
“Leaders at the COAG meeting have asked the Council of Attorneys-General to finalise arrangements, in consultation with chief coroners, to ensure we are doing all we can to understand and prevent suicide in the serving and ex-serving population,” Mr Chester said.
“I thank the members of COAG for giving this issue the attention it deserves and committing to delivering for our ADF members, veterans and their families.”
He said that for any current or former ADF member who may be struggling with their mental health, help was available.
“Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling provides support and counselling to current ADF members, veterans and their families and can be contacted 24/7 on 1800 011 046.”