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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Canberra veterans can help to shape Royal Commission inquiry into suicide

The Federal Government is about to hold a major investigation into the causes of Australian Defence Force (ADF) and veteran suicide, and the public can help to design the inquiry.

Last month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a Royal Commission would be held to investigate high rates of Defence and veteran suicide.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Darren Chester, will consult the public on the draft Terms of Reference, and Mr Morrison will ask state premiers and territory chief ministers to contribute.

Public consultation closes on 21 May.

ACT Assistant Minister for Seniors, Veterans, Families and Communities, Emma Davidson, encouraged Canberra veterans, families and organisations to put forward their views.

“Key to setting up this Royal Commission is to ensure the Terms of Reference capture the issues that are important to the veteran community,” she said.

“Getting this right depends wholly on the voices and views of veterans at this critical point of the process.”

The Royal Commission will be set up at the same time as the Permanent National Commission for Defence and Veteran Suicide and Prevention. The Royal Commission will look at deaths by suicide from a systemic point of view, Mr Morrison said, while the National Commission will implement the Royal Commission’s recommendations to prevent future suicides.

“Suicide prevention is a key priority for the Federal Government,” Mr Morrison said.

“We have always recognised that the rate of suicide of ADF members and veterans is unacceptably high. 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.”

Ms Davidson said she hoped the Royal Commission would provide an honest review into systems and processes to ensure veterans were respected and their needs fully supported, including more funding for mental health, wellbeing and suicide.

Ex-servicemen were 21% more likely to commit suicide than other men (28 per 100,000), and ex-servicewomen 127% more likely than other women (16 per 100,000), according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

“This shows how urgently we need to listen to the community, review what we are doing, and change it to better support our veterans,” Ms Davidson said.

“Each tragic loss exposes complex systemic and institutional failings, which the Royal Commission should highlight and change for good.”

Earlier this year, the Senate and House of Representatives unanimously called on the Federal Government to set up the inquiry, while more than 409,000 people signed a petition set up by a veteran suicide’s mother.

In the ACT Legislative Assembly’s March session, Ms Davidson proposed that the ACT Government also call on the Federal Government to set up the Royal Commission. Her motion was supported by the ACT Greens and ACT Labor, although the Canberra Liberals argued that this was not in the Assembly’s purview, and that it should instead support the National Commission and ask Mr Chester to consider a separate Royal Commission.

Ms Davidson said the ACT Government helped veterans and their families fully reintegrate into society. Grants of almost $70,000 supported veterans and their families’ wellbeing and social inclusion; a second round of $10,000 closed last week. The Veterans ACT online portal provides information about employment, education, training, health and specialist services.

The ACT Government also has a policy to help veterans transition out of Defence into the public service or industry. The Ministerial Advisory Council for Veterans and their Families advises the ACT Government on policies and initiatives.

If this story raised concerns, help is available. Contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Open Arms Veterans & Families Counselling on 1800 011 046. In an emergency, call 000.

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