Prime Minister Scott Morrison today announced a Royal Commission into Defence and Veterans Suicide will be established.
“We will take the step of recommending to the Governor-General the establishment of a Royal Commission, following a period of consultation on draft Terms of Reference, with the relevant community and state and territory governments,” Mr Morrison said.
“The Royal Commission will complement the government’s existing initiative to establish a permanent National Commission to proactively deal with future issues, including taking on recommendations of a Royal Commission.”
In CONTACT’s opinion, the Royal Commission became inevitable after a motion calling “on the Morrison Government to establish a Royal Commission into the rate of suicide among current and former serving Australian Defence Force personnel” passed unopposed through both houses of parliament on 22 March.
It also follows more than two years of passionate and dedicate campaigning by Julie-Ann Finney, mother of Petty Officer Dave Finney who lost his battle with ‘the black dog’ in February 2019.
Prime Minister Morrison, whose government very publicly resisted the campaign for two years, said “we have always recognised that the rate of suicide of Australian Defence Force members and veterans is unacceptably high.
“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 Prime Minister said.
Julie-Ann Finney welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement saying “today is a long time coming for Veterans and their families. Finally, the voices of Veterans will be heard. Finally, families can stand up and share their stories”.
“Today is about veterans – the veterans fighting every day to make it through to the next – the veterans who we have lost too soon, who live on in too many broken hearts.
“Today, I am so thankful to all the veterans who have stood brave and tall in the face of so much opposition over the years, and kept fighting for this Royal Commission. This victory belongs to them.
“Today, I stand alongside too many other mums, dads, partners and kids who have lost their beloved family members to this crisis. Today is also for them.
“Today, I urge the Prime Minister to ensure that the voices of veterans are front and centre in this Royal Commission – we cannot have the organisations at the centre of a broken system leading this investigation.”
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester has been tasked to 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.
Minister Chester said the Royal Commission was another step in efforts to build confidence, trust and hope for current and future veterans and their families that they would be supported.
“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,” Minister Chester said.
“As a nation we take great pride in the men and women who have served our nation in uniform and, as a government, we have committed to help them with any mental or physical issues that are a result of that service.”
Prime Minister Morrison said the Royal Commission would not defer, delay or limit, in any way, any proposed or announced policy, legislation or regulation currently being 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.
“The National Commissioner Bill currently before the parliament will be amended to ensure their work 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 their final report.”
He said that, given the complex issues for consideration, and the importance of hearing from Australian Defence Force members, veterans and their families, the government envisaged three Commissioners will be needed to lead the inquiry, with consultation underway to appoint suitable candidates.
The Attorney-General’s Department will provide administrative support to the Royal Commission.