The Royal Commission into Defence and Veterans Suicide, established today by the Morrison Government, will give veterans and their families on the Sunshine Coast the chance to tell their stories. Recognising that the death of any Australian Defence Force member or veteran is one death too many, the Government will take the step of recommending to the Governor-General the establishment of a Royal Commission into Defence and Veterans Suicide, following a period of consultation on draft Terms of Reference, with the relevant community and state and territory governments.
Federal Member for Fisher Andrew Wallace said that the Morrison Government is focussed on the well-being of veterans and their families.
“It is a tragedy that we have lost more veterans to suicide in the past 20 years than we have to combat in two decades of conflict in Afghanistan. This Royal Commission will be opportunity for veterans and their families on the Sunshine Coast and all over Australia to tell their stories, and help us to turn around this devastating statistic.” Mr Wallace 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 other recommendations of a Royal Commission.
“It was the Government’s preference to establish one National Commissioner which would hold all the powers of a standing Royal Commission and look at cases of veterans suicide not only in the past but indefinitely into the future. However, we recognise that for some veterans and their families, only a Royal Commission would provide the closure that they need. By establishing both a Royal Commission and a National Commissioner we can ensure that veterans suicide is addressed comprehensively, past, present and future.” he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Royal Commission will be set up after listening to community calls for a national inquiry focusing on the systemic issues faced by Australian Defence Force members and veterans that too often results in their loss of life to suicide.
“Suicide prevention is a key priority for the Federal Government,” the Prime Minister said.
“We have always recognised that the rate of suicide of Australian Defence Force members and veterans is unacceptably high,” the Prime Minister said.
“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.”
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester said the Royal Commission was another step in our efforts to build confidence, trust and hope for current and future veterans and their families that they will 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.”
The Attorney-General, Michaelia Cash said the Attorney-General's Department will provide administrative support to the Royal Commission.
"Reducing lives lost to suicide is a priority for the Morrison Government. Our aim for this Royal Commission is that it will shed light on the critical steps we need to take so that we can reduce these heartbreaking cases of suicide."
Crucially, the Royal Commission will not defer, delay or limit, in any way, any proposed or announced policy, legislation or regulation that the Government is currently 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. Given the complex issues for consideration, and the importance of hearing from Australian Defence Force members, veterans and their families, the Government envisages that three Commissioners will be needed to lead the inquiry. Consultation is underway to appoint these candidates.
Mr Wallace said that the Labor party have played partisan politics with this important issue.
“When the Government announced a National Commissioner for Defence and Suicide prevention, Labor supported it. However, rank party politics soon took over their thinking and they reversed their position, opposing the establishment on this important new institution. As we recognise the important step forward we are taking today, Labor should hang their heads in shame for politicising an issue which should be above politics.” he said.
Minister Chester will 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. The Federal Government is committed to ensuring all the systems of support for our veterans and their families are working together, and importantly that when someone who may be struggling reaches out for help, which we are there to support them.