Today the government has formally established a Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide following approval by the Governor-General.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Royal Commission recognised the unique nature of military service, and the ongoing effects on the physical and mental health of members and veterans as a result of their service.
“We recognise the contribution and sacrifice of the men and women who have served our country,” the Prime Minister said.
“The death of any Australian Defence Force member or veteran is a tragedy that is deeply felt by all Australians.
“As a government we are committed to addressing the ongoing impact of service, including preventing future deaths by suicide and providing opportunities for healing.”
The inquiry will be led by Nick Kaldas, former Deputy Commissioner of the New South Wales Police Force.
Mr Kaldas also has extensive international experience in law enforcement and peacekeeping, including as Director of Internal Oversight Services for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and as Chief of Investigations for the United Nations Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in Syria.
Mr Kaldas will be supported by James Douglas QC, an esteemed former judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland and respected member of the legal community, and Dr Peggy Brown, a consultant psychiatrist and national leader in mental health policy with extensive experience in health and mental health service planning, governance and administration.
The Royal Commission will inquire into systemic issues and common themes related to defence and veteran death by suicide, including the possible contribution of pre-service, service, transition, separation and post-service issues, and other matters believed by the Royal Commission to be relevant to its inquiry.
Mr Morrison said the Royal Commission would be able to inquire into any previous death by suicide, including suspected suicide.
“It will be conducted independently of government, including the Departments of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs.
“In making recommendations on systemic issues, the Royal Commission will be informed by the individual experiences of defence members, veterans and their families and support networks.
“The Royal Commission will conduct its inquiries in a trauma-informed way and private sessions will be available to those who wish to share their story in private.
“A legal financial assistance scheme will be available to people called as witnesses to the Royal Commission.
“An independent legal advisory service, counselling and support services will also be made available to people engaging with the Royal Commission.”
He said the Terms of Reference had been informed by feedback received during an extensive public consultation process and views from states and territories.
Attorney General Michaelia Cash said more than 3000 submissions were received during the consultation on the themes for the Royal Commission’s Terms of Reference.
“I thank all those who provided feedback on the themes for the Terms of Reference,” she said.
“Each piece of feedback received during this process was integral in informing the final Terms of Reference.”
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel Andrew Gee welcomed today’s announcement and said he hoped the Royal Commission became a seminal moment in Australia’s care of veterans and their families.
“The Royal Commission is a crucially important piece of national work that I hope can be a catalyst for positive change in the treatment and care of veterans and their families, both now and for future generations,” Minister Gee said.
“Our country asks so much of the men and women of the ADF and we owe it to them and our veterans to make sure that this Royal Commission and its findings lead to lasting results.”
The National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention Bill, currently before the Parliament, will be amended to ensure that the National Commissioner will complement, and not duplicate, the Royal Commission’s work.
The National Commissioner will be the permanent body responsible for implementing the Royal Commission’s recommendations.
Pm Minister Morrison said these measures would together reduce deaths by suicide of defence members and veterans.
“The proposed amendments will provide for the commencement of the National Commissioner’s functions and powers following the conclusion of the Royal Commission, or at an earlier point in time if recommended by the Royal Commission.”
The Royal Commission is due to provide an interim report on 11 August 2022 and a final report on 15 June 2023.
Further information on the Royal Commission, including the Terms of Reference and information on how to make a submission will be available at Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide
If you, or someone you know, need support, you can contact:
- Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14
- Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
- Open Arms (current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families are able to seek this free and confidential support) – 1800 011 046
- ADF Mental Health All-hours Support Line (for current serving ADF personnel and their families) – 1800 628 036.
- Safe Zone Support (for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families) – 1800 142 072. When you call Safe Zone Support, you do not need to identify yourself if you do not want to.