Yesterday the Prime Minister announced a Royal Commission into Defence and Veterans Suicide.
The Royal Commission will run in parallel with the National Commissioner, with the two bodies to be established together through amendments to the legislation currently before Parliament. They will have distinct but complementary focuses – the Royal Commission will examine past deaths by suicide, whereas the National Commissioner will have a forward-looking role including overseeing any recommendations made by the Royal Commission.
As Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, the Hon Darren Chester MP stated yesterday, the benefit of having both Commissions running in parallel is that (once legislation passes) the National Commissioner can make and monitor recommendations as and when required, whereas the Royal Commission will take several years to reach its conclusion.
I have previously and publicly expressed my view that the National Commission Bill provides a comprehensive, immediate and permanent framework through which to address the tragedy of Defence and veteran suicide. This remains my firm conviction. However, as the Prime Minister has stated, it is clear there is a lack of community support for the National Commissioner examining historical deaths by suicide. After listening carefully and consulting broadly, the Morrison Government is establishing this Royal Commission to focus specifically on systemic issues and common themes related to past deaths by suicide. Importantly, it will not make findings of civil or criminal wrongdoing, nor on the manner or cause of death of any individual case.
The Royal Commission’s terms of reference will be open to consultation for a month and then, once a Royal Commissioner is appointed, it is expected to take 18 months to two years to complete its task. The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs will lead the consultation process on the Terms of Reference. Details on how to participate can be found here.
I commend the Prime Minister on a practical solution which responds to feedback from many parts of the veteran community, whilst retaining the forward-looking, permanent role of a National Commissioner. My hope is that our veteran community will now unite behind these initiatives in a collaborative, productive spirit, so that the Morrison government’s actions to help veterans in this critical area are continued and enhanced as quickly as possible.