Statement from new Defence/veteran anti-suicide commissioner

Today I commenced as interim National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention.

At the outset, I want to acknowledge the many serving and ex-serving defence members who have tragically lost their lives to suicide, and the families and other loved ones they have left behind.

I know from recent data that there have been 465 serving and ex-serving members who have been certified to have lost their lives to suicide since 2001, and sadly I expect that during my inquiries I will become aware of other deaths.

I also want to acknowledge those former and still serving ADF members who struggle with their mental health and wellbeing each day.

I am focused on making a positive difference in their lives through my inquiries, findings and recommendations.

My task is clear. As my first priority I am immediately commencing the Independent Review of Past Defence and Veteran Suicides in accordance with the Terms of Reference that have been provided to me by the Government.

My remit for this Independent Review is broad. I am able to consider the circumstances of any past death by suicide, or suspected death by suicide, of a serving or ex-serving member, regardless of when the death occurred or when the person served.

I recognise the important work of Coroners and the Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force in the investigation of individual deaths by suicide.

My systemic focus will both rely on, and complement their work.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care will be providing me with data analysis for the Independent Review and have already begun analysing available data to help inform my inquiries.

The Australian Commission for Safety and Quality in Health Care has already produced a literature review to support this work, which will be published on my website.

Understanding the systemic failures and shortcomings that have contributed to the unacceptably high rate of suicide requires me to focus on past deaths.

However, I will be doing this with a view to the future, seeking to identify actions that can be taken to avoid repeated tragedies.

I need to understand why people have died. I need to understand both what is wrong and what is working well to understand the changes that need to be made to prevent future deaths.

I recognise the unique perspective of those families and loved ones who have been closely affected by these deaths.

Their voice will be crucial in assisting me to understand the issues.

I will shortly provide information to families and others closely affected about how they can register their interest to contribute to this work.

I have already begun the process of gathering information.

I have today written to the Chief of Defence Force, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Inspector‑General of the Australian Defence Force asking them to provide information to me on the actions they have taken in response to the numerous recommendations that have been made in relation to the mental health and suicide of serving and ex-serving Defence members, and information they hold relating to any known deaths by suicide.

Once the legislation is in place, Commission powers will enable witnesses to be summoned, hearings to be held, and further documents to be produced in the same way as a Royal Commission.

I have proudly served my country, just as the men and women who have lost their lives to suicide have served.

Although I have many years of service, predominately as an Army Reserve officer, my full-time work has been as a barrister and from 2012 as a Magistrate and Coroner.

I have spent far more time in a courtroom than in a uniform. It is this blend of skills and experience that underpin my commitment to the prevention of suicide.

I look forward to learning from family and friends, and working with non-government and government organisations. I welcome the opportunity to make a very real difference to serving members and in particular to veterans who are so disproportionately represented among the fallen.

 

  • If you, or someone you know needs support, you can contact:
    • Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14
    • Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
    • Open Arms on 1800 011 046
    • ADF Mental Health All-hours Support Line on 1800 628 036.

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Brian Hartigan

Managing Editor Contact Publishing Pty Ltd PO Box 3091 Minnamurra NSW 2533 AUSTRALIA

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