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Stakeholder Reference Group

The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide is committed to ongoing engagement with members of veteran and Defence communities. Hearing from serving and ex-serving Defence members, their families, support people, and community organisations, is essential to the Royal Commission's inquiry.

A Stakeholder Reference Group has been established to support regular communication with key stakeholders. We use the Stakeholder Reference Group to share updates on Royal Commission progress and activities, collect feedback and discuss issues that are important to member organisations, including support needs.

The Stakeholder Reference Group is chaired by Commissioner Nick Kaldas APM and meets bi-monthly. Membership is voluntary and includes representatives from ex-service organisations and other groups with an interest in the mental health and wellbeing of the veteran and Defence communities, and the work of the Royal Commission.

The Stakeholder Reference Group is not a technical forum or decision-making body. Its focus is to facilitate ongoing engagement between key bodies representing veteran and Defence communities and the Royal Commission.

Stakeholder Reference Group members

CEO, War Widows NSW

Renee joined AWWNSW in 2020 to lead its development into an organisation that supports all women and veteran families. Renee has made a significant impact since joining and has been pivotal in setting its future direction.

Renee is the spouse of an Afghanistan veteran who was severely wounded during operations in 2010 and has been a passionate advocate for veterans and their families ever since.

She has led several significant projects and legal matters which have focused on delivering positive and strategic change within government organisations, for companies such as NSW Crown Solicitor’s Office and the Department of Veterans‘ Affairs.

Renee has served on the Boards of the Australian International Military Games (Sydney Invictus Games), the Advisory Council for the National Centre of Veteran’s Health at Concord Hospital and the Veteran Community Business Chamber. Renee also sits on the ACT Government’s Ministerial Advisory Council for Veterans and Families the Federal Government’s Council for Women and Families United by Defence Service.

Renee holds a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) and a Bachelor of International Business from Griffith University. She also holds a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from ANU and a Graduate Certificate in Business (Public Sector Management) from QUT.

BSc (Hons), MSc, PostGradDipMgmt GAICD

General Manager, Mates4Mates

Having joined Mates4Mates in early 2022, Emma has brought with her over 28 years’ experience working in health, community services, and research sectors in the UK, USA and Australia.

Passionate about improving the economic, health and social wellbeing of our communities, Emma has a wealth of experience in governance, health service systems, policy and advocacy, and executive leadership.

Leading the national service delivery model at Mates4Mates and overseeing teams at each Family Recovery Centre, Emma is dedicated to ensuring best practice clinical care and support is provided to improve quality of life among the Defence community.

In her spare time, Emma enjoys running, playing piano and being with friends and family.

Policy and Government Relations Manager, Suicide Prevention Australia

Chris has previously worked on policy and advocacy in a range of areas including homelessness, youth, mental health and suicide prevention. He has qualifications in Law and Psychology and has held a number of policy research and analysis roles in the community sector and in government at both national and state levels.

National Delegate for South Australia, Defence Families of Australia

Having joined Defence Families of Australia (DFA) in June 2023, Kerry has brought with her many years’ experience working in adult education, volunteer management and the criminal justice sector, in both the UK and Australia.

Kerry moved from the UK to Australia in 2015 as part of an Overseas Lateral Transfer family. Her husband, Tim, is a recently retired Army Officer having served 26 years with the British Army and 8 years with the Australian Army. They have two adult daughters.

Kerry is an active member of the DFA team – the official advisory body to the Minister for Defence Personnel and the Chief of

Defence Force, representing the families of current serving ADF members and whose purpose is to support a thriving Defence community through policy advocacy.

In her spare time, Kerry enjoys volunteering for two local animal welfare charities, walking her dogs, yoga and spending time with friends and family in the beautiful Barossa Valley where she now resides.

Ambassador, RSL Australia

Pete has nearly three decades of experience in the Australian Army and served in 3RAR, 4RAR, The Parachute Training School, SASR and 2CDO Regiment, he is also a qualified counsellor and fitness instructor providing assistance to veterans with post-traumatic stress.

Pete is a passionate advocate for veterans and their families, bringing his lived experience from his time during service and on deployment to Cambodia, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Pete was raised by his Grandmother from birth and his Grandfather, Harry Rudland was a World War Two veteran who served in the Infantry. Harry took his own life largely because of the physical and mental injuries he received during his deployment. Pete subsequently was a Legacy Ward for most of his early years before joining the Defence Force.

After his first deployment he became a Legatee with WA Legacy and held a position on the Junior Legacy Committee organising activities for Legacy Wards.

Pete medically separated from Defence after being wounded in Afghanistan after receiving life threatening injuries in a Blackhawk helicopter crash.

Pete competed in three Invictus games and one as the Australian Co-Captain. He continues to work within the Invictus program and is very involved in veteran programs for wounded, injured and ill.

He currently has roles as an Ambassador for RSL Australia, Pain Champion for Pain Australia, a member of the Australian War Memorial Gallery Redevelopment Advisory Committee, an Ambassador for the Kokoda Project at Liverpool Plains and a board member for RedSix, an app created to be utilised to assist in defence and veteran mental health.

Pete has a holistic understanding of serving members and the veteran space through a lifetime lived in the defence community through Legacy, service life and the RSL.

President, Young Veterans Australia

Retired Warrant Officer Peter Kennedy is an ex C130 Loadmaster with over 32 years’ service in the Royal Australian Air Force. He has multiple tours to Iraq, Afghanistan and East Timor; and extensive deployments in support of Humanitarian and disaster-relief missions throughout the world.

Mr Kennedy is currently the President of Young Veterans Sunshine Coast; well-being Officer for Beerwah RSL and Stakeholder Group Member for the Veterans Royal Commission. Mr Kennedy is also the owner of The Local Beerwah and soon to be owner of the Veterans Coffee Hub Beerwah. He is married with 2 sons and twin daughters.

President, DEFGLIS

Rachael joined the Royal Australian Navy in October 1999, as a Junior Rate, qualifying as a Boatswains Mate. Following the completion of a 10-year career as a JNCO Rachael decided to apply for her commission in 2008. In 2009 Rachael joined HMAS Creswell as a Midshipman to specialise as Maritime Warfare Officer. Rachael has recently completed the Principal Warfare Officer course specialising in Mine Warfare and Clearance Diving. She completed a series of postings at sea and ashore having served on Patrol Boats, Frigates, Supply, Amphibious and more recently the Mine Hunter Coastal.

In 2013, she married her lifelong sweetheart, Gillian in a ceremony in Wollongong that was witnessed by many family and friends. Rachael and Gillian shared a 13-year-old child at the time and decided to add to the value of three. They now have a 22-year-old son (Corban), a 7-year-old daughter. (Kaitlyn) and 5-year-old daughter, (Sophie). Rachael took some time away from the pressures of the sea-going environment to focus on family. As a family they moved to Sydney so that Rachael could pursue her career advancement course. They currently live in Mascot where they have established a happy pattern of life.

In 2008 Rachael marched in Mardi-Gras with DEFGLIS as the first contingent with Defence Approval, this milestone event saw her become passionate about the DEFGLIS platform and committed to helping in any way possible to build a more robust support network for the Defence LGBTIQ community. In 2019 Rachael marched for the first time in uniform after marching for consecutive years with her family, this was a moment that she will never forget. Rachael is an outwardly spoken advocate for all members of the community, she has an invested interest in the treatment of the TGD members as well as the barriers still being faced by same-sex families and families of non-traditional composition.

In 2017 Rachael became a member of the Navy Reference Group-Gender Sex, Sexuality and Diversity as a founding board member, and has since been a part of the Group working under the Director Navy Diversity and Inclusion as a side bar. This is where she met other active members within DEFGLIS and made the decision in consultation with her wife to nominate for a Board position. Over the course of the 4 years Rachael has been Events Director and Families advocate, coordinating the first DEFGLIS Family Fun Day in 2021.

Rachael believes that although much has changed there is still a long way to go before all members of our community feel the absolute effects of equality and fairness. There are areas that have seen a real positive shift and as a community we should be thankful, she believes that although change will occur it will always occur in Defence time and this is where she believes that DEFGLIS holds the greatest value, as an organisation it can share those feelings of time stall and press together through friendship, support, mentorship and peer group community events and networking. Rachael believes that DEFGLIS plays a vital role in the support and success of its members.

Over the course of her 22 years of service, Rachael has made many friends and has had the opportunity to know those in quite influential positions these days, she plans on pivoting off these friendships to help project the importance of awareness, education and peer support for the LGBTIQ community. Whilst DEFGLIS is not the policy maker and nor should it be, it can influence and empower those that are. Rachael is passionate about reconnecting with the community and bringing it together through on-line events, forums, social gatherings and of course the successful projects already established like the Rainbow Wreath Project, the Ski Trip, the introduction of a DEFGLIS Party, of course Mardi-Gras attendance and the long-awaited Military Pride Ball which has just made its comeback after COVID.

Rachael is extremely proud to be supported as the DEFGLIS President and is supported by her wife Gill. What you will always get from Rachael is honesty, integrity, courage to speak up and out when required. She will listen and act if it is the best interest of the organisation and the member group.

Veteran Family Advocate Commissioner – Repatriation Commission

Gwen Cherne was appointed as the inaugural Veteran Family Advocate Commissioner on the Repatriation Commission on 6 August 2020. On 2 March 2021 she was appointed a member of the MRCC.

Gwen spent three years in and out of Afghanistan doing stabilisation and reconstruction work, she is an Australian War Widow from suicide, the mother of a currently serving member of the ADF and a daughter of a Vietnam veteran who suffered PTSD and moral injury. She has lived experience of military family life, mental health issues and recovery, family and domestic violence and intimate partner violence. She is dedicated to promoting hope and healing through co-designed and co-implemented solutions.

Since the death of her husband to suicide in 2017 she has dedicated herself to advocacy for Australian war widows, defence and veterans’ families, suicide prevention and mental health awareness. Gwen was appointed to the Council of the Australian War Memorial in 2019, was an inaugural Member of the Council for Women and Families United by Defence Service, served on the board of the Australian War Widow’ NSW chapter, was an Ambassador for the Commando Welfare Trust and Gotcha4Life and was a 2018 Invictus Games Ambassador for ClubsNSW. She was named an Ambassador for InvictusAustralia in October 2021.

Born in the United States, her career has taken her all around the world, including the US, Australia, Afghanistan, Africa, Central and South America, and the Caribbean, with a focus on stability, relief, and development for youth, women, and families living in crisis and extreme poverty.

In her early career she co-founded a school for low-income children in Brooklyn, NY. She worked in Afghanistan off and on for three years as an international development worker in the Central and South Regions and as Regional Director in Jalalabad and Kabul. After returning to the US Gwen worked as a Senior Trainer and Manager for Curriculum and Training for military, Foreign Service Officers and other civilians preparing for deployment. More recently, she spent seven years working at the Australian Civil-Military Centre as a Program Manager and Assistant Director for Research.

Gwen has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Women’s Studies from Boston College, and holds a Masters degree in Public Administration with a concentration in International Policy from the New York University Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service. Gwen became an Australian citizen in 2015 and has three children. She is a published writer, international motivational speaker, and a mentor to young professionals.

National President, Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia

Max Ball was born in Kalgoorlie in June 1939, educated in Perth and graduated as a Second Lieutenant from the Officer Cadet School, Portsea, Victoria in June 1958.

Following regimental appointments in Australia from 1959 to 1964, Max was seconded to the British Army in the United Kingdom and Germany, returning to Australia in mid-1966.  In 1967-68 he served in South Vietnam and in 1970 took up the first of several staff appointments in AHQ/Army Office.  From 1977-1979 Max was on exchange duty with the US Army at Fort Lee, Virginia.  This was followed in 1980 as CO 51 Supply Battalion and further staff appointments in Canberra and Melbourne until 1985.  He is a graduate of the Australian Army Staff College, the Joint Services Staff College and studied economics at the Australian National University.

Max, then a Colonel, retired from the Army in 1985, returned to Perth and held positions and interests in the export focused sections of the fishing, horticulture and food processing industries in Australia and New Zealand, with a focus on markets in Asia and the USA.   He held appointments in industry bodies including a Director of the Australian Seafood Industry Council, Chair of the WA Fishing Industry Council and Chair of the WA Aquaculture Council. He was a Director of the inaugural Board of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA). 

An initial visit to China in 1986 was followed by the development of exports to Taiwan and in business engagements in New Zealand, Hong Kong and China, where he lived in the coastal city of Shantou (Swatow) for a year in 1996-97.

Retired from business, he took an interest in veterans’ issues and in 2014 was appointed as the inaugural Chair of the Western Australian Veterans Advisory Council, a position he held for four years.

He is currently the National President of the Vietnam Veterans’ Association (VVAA), the Vice President of the WA Branch of the VVAA and the Vice President of the WA Branch of the Defence Force Welfare Association.  He takes an especial interest in policy development, management structures and processes, and corporate governance. 

His personal interests include history, literature, music, golf and swimming.  Max married Helen (Young) in 1961 but has been a widower since 2021.  Max has four children and seven grandchildren.

Vice-President, Legacy Australia

Wayne joined the Royal Australian Navy as a Junior Recruit on 7 October 1967 from Bundaberg Queensland. After completing 12 months training at HMAS Leeuwin he was posted to HMAS Albatross where he completed trade training as a Naval Aircraft Mechanic Airframes and Engines (NAMAE) He was then posted to Helicopter training and then HS 725 Sqdn.

After completion of Wessex training he was posted to HS 817 Sqdn and went to sea on HMAS Melbourne for trips to South East Asia and Japan. In 1974 he completed Seaking conversion and served on Seaking Squadrons for the rest of his naval career. He served 17 years with the Navy and in 1984 transferred to the Australian Army when the government of the day decided to get rid of the carrier force and reduce the Fleet Air Arm.

After a special Induction Course held at the Infantry Centre he then was posted to RAAOC and 32 Supply Battalion from there he was posted to 2 Field Supply Battalion and finally to HQ Logistic Command. He retired after 10 years with the ARA. In October 1993. This completed 27 years’ service.

Wayne then moved back to Bundaberg where he was enticed into the local RSL. He was the Secretary of the RSL from 1994 to 1999. He was also invited to become a Legatee of Bundaberg Legacy in 1994. After a short time, he was elected Honorary Secretary and held that position for several years. He also held the position of Club Treasurer and President of Bundaberg Legacy.

His interests include golf, shooting and sailing, He has served as a company director and chairman of the Blue Water Sports and as a director of the Bargara Golf Club. He has an Australian Company Directors Number and is currently the Vice Chairman of Legacy Australia Inc. Wayne is the Legacy Australia Inc. representative on the Stakeholder Reference Group to the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.

He moved to Melbourne at the end of 2022 to be closer to family.

Wayne is married to Pamela and they have 5 daughters, 2 in Melbourne 2 in Townsville and 1 in Broome.

Expert Panel Member, Women Veterans Australia

Louise is a Clinical Psychologist and Veteran and married to a serving ADF member. Her regular work with current and ex-serving members experiencing mental illness and their families is a key reason she continues to engage with the Department of Veterans Affairs, work with ESO charities and participate in the stakeholder reference group.

Louise has obtained Masters Degrees in Clinical Psychology and Business Psychology in order to be able to understand the complex dynamic between the needs of the individual and the needs of the organisation and create options so that the two can meet objectives while maintaining a safe psychosocial environment by:

  • Creating an environment that understands the military impact on mental health
  • Providing timely access to psychological support
  • Evidence-based treatment
  • Innovative and sustainable programs.

CEO, SoldierOn

The recently appointed CEO of Soldier On, Amy Cooper brings a wealth of experience as a highly skilled executive manager and board director. She has held positions spanning health, higher education, employment services, Commonwealth and State Government, Defence, community services, the Not-for-Profit and charity sectors. She has had the privilege to work with some of Australia’s largest and most trusted charities.

Known for her influential strategic leadership, Amy builds high performing teams through a values-based culture of collaboration and innovation focused on driving growth, to transform organisations.

Amy is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) and Harvard University’s Executive Program. She also holds a Masters in Strategic Affairs from the Australian National University (ANU), Bachelor of Communications, and qualifications in Change Management, Human Resources and Leadership. 

In addition to her work with Soldier On, Amy is currently a Board Director for Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) South Eastern; the Allied Health Professions Australia peak body; CareWest Foundation; and LiveBetter, one of Australia’s largest community service organisations.

Passionate about high-impact social outcomes, Amy values the opportunity to contribute and give back to the community.

At Soldier On, Amy is pleased to serve the Australian Defence community by strengthening their resilience, providing meaningful purpose and connections to community, enabling our veterans and their families to thrive.

Senior Policy Officer, Mental Health Australia

Bio to come.

Co-Director and IndigiVet member, National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Veteran's Association (ATSIVA)

C.B. (Neal) McGarrity is a proud Indigenous Biripi-Dunghutti man with a strong career spent serving community and country. He has continually served his country, first as a member of the Australian Army where he operated overseas in support of wider international task forces, before providing specialist services as a NSW Police Officer. Throughout his 30+ year career, Neal has been instrumental in championing several landmark reforms for corporate and government clients, including delivering cultural, situational and environmental awareness workshops to industry leaders, and implementing and monitoring Human Resource Management (HRMs). He is relied by most discerning of clients for sage counsel and strategic advice in respect policy, governance, compliance and also assists with transformational change projects and enforcement operations for all tiers of Government. He has also previously led Diplomatic Corps protection teams for embassies, and served as Chief Protection Officer (CPO).

Since co-founding Bullroarers, Neal has used his excellent communication skills to act as a central point of contact for clients, coordinator of projects, conducting geospatial reconnaissance activities and providing community and cultural insights. In his spare time, Neal continues to serve his country and is currently the Acting NSW Regional Indigenous Liaison for Army H.Q., People & Culture Branch.

Neal also is co-founder and public officer for the Angel Feather Foundation Inc. a charity which he created with his wife and leads an independent board and team of associated volunteers that provide support to those dealing with terminal and life-threatening illnesses. He is an Ambassador and Champion for 'Serving Country' and has been formally recognised for his 'on country' advocacy and representational duties as a Defence Indigenous Leader, Sovereign Industry Capability subject matter expert (SME) – this is testament to his work ethic and his 'deeds not words” ethos.

Neal has supported and contributed the SRG in his adjunct capacity being an IndigiVet - member / co-director of The National 'Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Veteran's' Association - (ATSIVA).

Community Engagement Statement

View the Community Engagement Statement for more information on how the Royal Commission is engaging with stakeholders and community members:

Community Engagement Statement | Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide