The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide has begun a public hearing in Townsville, where the city’s most senior serving ADF member, Brigadier Kahlil Fegan will give evidence about training, alcohol use, domestic violence and mental health assessments at the nation’s largest Army base.
The Commission heard Brigadier Fegan from Lavarack Barracks will also be asked how the base engages with families and support organisations during and after deployment.
Townsville is the nation’s largest garrison city and home to around 20,000 Defence personnel and veterans.
Erin Longbottom QC, assisting the Commission, said the concentration of serving and ex-serving members in Townsville provided an important opportunity to examine the systemic issues and risk factors that contribute to suicide in the Defence and veteran community.
“Amongst the matters that will be a particular focus of inquiry over the next two weeks are the possible contributions of deployment, transition, separation and post-service issues to suicide and suicidality,” Ms Longbottom said.
Other witnesses to appear in Townsville include the former Veterans’ Affairs ministers Andrew Gee and Darren Chester, and the Chief of the Australian Defence Force General Angus Campbell.
The Commission has heard that in contrast to previous hearings, lived experience evidence will not play a major role in Townsville.
“It is important to emphasise that we recognise the significant contribution of lived experience witnesses to the work of the Royal Commission,” Ms Longbottom said.
“We continue to engage with lived experience witnesses and expect to hear further evidence from those witnesses at upcoming hearing blocks.”
Commission Chair Nick Kaldas said there had been more deaths by suicide of serving and ex-serving Defence members since the last hearing in Canberra.
“We offer our deepest condolences to everyone grieving the loss of a family member, colleague or friend,” Commissioner Kaldas said.
“This ongoing tragedy underscores the vital work of this Commission.”
The Commission has received more than 1600 submissions. Each contribution is carefully reviewed and will help inform the Commission’s reports and recommendations.
The Commission’s Interim Report is due in August.
Anyone affected by Defence and veteran suicide, or by the challenges of Defence life, is encouraged to make a submission.
The hearing is open to the public and anyone who wishes to attend is required to register.
The proceedings can also be viewed live on the Royal Commission website.