10 November 2020
I am dismayed by the alarming number of suicides that occur amongst those who have served in the Australian Defence Force. I acknowledge the service of the men and women who serve and have served in the ADF. I have no doubt that the transition from uniform life to civilian life is extremely difficult for many and I encourage them to seek support of the networks available in Warringah including the Veteran Centre for the Northern Beaches, Soldier on at North Head and of course the RSL clubs. For those that are experiencing difficulty, the services of Lifeline, Beyond Blue and others are available 24/7.
I feel for the families that are left behind, I cannot even begin to imagine the pain that you must be feeling. Veteran suicide deserves focus and attention. The establishment of a National Commissioner for Veteran Suicide Prevention is a positive step. I have reached out to the Veteran Centre for the Northern Beaches, Soldier on (North Head) and the RSL sub branches in Warringah to inform my position.
I have received a number of emails from constituents in my electorate calling for a Royal Commission into veteran suicide. While I appreciate the push and the desire for public exposure of the issue that a Royal Commission would create, the legislation presented for the establishment of a National Commissioner for Veteran Suicide Prevention is sound and will provide many of the same functions of a Royal Commission, it will be lasting and have a focus on immediate action.
The National Commissioner will have similar powers to a Royal Commission including:
- Coercive powers to summon and compel appearance and production of documents or information
- 14 day response time to summons is stronger than found in the Royal Commission Act
Key differences from royal commission:
- No power to issue arrest warrant but the offence of contempt still applies
- No ability for telephone intercept as was deemed unnecessary in the context of veteran suicide
- Ability for other parties to provide information voluntarily to the Commissioner, this function does not exist in a royal commission. This will enable the Commissioner to develop long-term relationships and a more collaborative approach with families and also with the State and Territory coroners.
The Commissioner is required to produce an annual report which:
- Must be tabled within 15 sitting days of production
- Government must respond to
- The Commissioner can follow up and compel Minister/Departments to appear before it to respond to why recommendations have not been actioned
- The default will be for public hearings
- Private options are available if it is the preference of the family or there are intelligence and security aspects
- The Commissioner is appointed by the Governor General appointed for 5 year terms
- Can be reappointed for consecutive terms
Accordingly, I support the establishment of the National Commissioner and a Royal Commission, if one was to eventuate.