Frequently Asked Questions
What is a royal commission?
A royal commission is a public inquiry. In Australia, royal commissions are the highest form of inquiry on matters of public importance.
Why is a royal commission different from other inquiries?
A royal commission has broad powers to gather information to assist with its inquiry. The royal commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide has the power to summons witnesses to appear before it and the power to request individuals or organisations produce documents as evidence.
How does the Royal Commission decide what it investigates?
The terms of reference sets out the key areas of investigation for the Royal Commission.
Will the Royal Commission investigate individual cases?
As the highest form of public inquiry, the Royal Commission will focus its inquiry on systemic issues that may be contributing to Defence and veteran suicide.
The Commission will be able to make recommendations about any policy, legislative, administrative or structural reforms.
The Royal Commission will be informed by individual stories and experiences but it cannot resolve individual disputes. It cannot fix or award compensation or make orders requiring a party to a dispute to take or not take any action.
Is assistance available if I want to engage with the Royal Commission?
There is a legal advice service for people wishing to engage with the Royal Commission.
What if I have any feedback or complaints?
The Royal Commission is committed to having a clear and transparent feedback and complaint process. Find out more on our feedback and complaints page.
What is a submission?
A submission is a statement to the Royal Commission which assists the Commission in its collection of information that is relevant to the inquiry as set out in the terms of reference.
You can make a submission until 11:59 pm AEDT on 13 October 2023.
When do submissions close?
Submissions will close at 11:59 pm AEDT on Friday 13 October 2023. The online submission form will automatically close at that time and it will no longer be possible to make or complete a submission.
Hardcopy submissions with a postmark from 13 October 2023 or earlier will be accepted even if they are delivered after the closure date. An email confirmation of receipt will be sent to the author once the submission has been received and accepted.
What do I need to do to prepare a submission?
To avoid any technical or other issues we recommend making your submission well before the closing date if possible. You can also prepare your submission ahead of time and then copy it into the form or add it as an attachment.
If you require assistance, The Defence and Veteran Legal Service (DAVLS), an independent legal service, has been established for people who want to engage with the Royal Commission. It provides independent information and legal advice to serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel and their families, carers and supporters.
The DAVLS service is trauma informed, culturally safe and accessible. DAVLS can help you understand your legal rights and options while engaging with the Royal Commission. It can also provide referrals to counselling and other social support.
Can I publish my own submission on my website or elsewhere?
Yes, you are free to publish and share your own submission once you have sent it to the Royal Commission.
Will my submission be published on the Royal Commission website?
The Royal Commission intends to publish a number of ‘registered for publication’ submissions over the life of the Commission. A submission will only be made public where the person making the submission has indicated that they agree to its publication. However, the Royal Commission reserves the right not to publish certain submissions or to redact information within a submission. This includes circumstances where the information in a submission is not relevant to the Royal Commission’s terms of reference, where matters are subject to a non-publication order, or where there are privacy concerns about the information.
The Royal Commission will continue to publish submissions on its website after submissions close.
You can read the submissions that have been published so far through the Royal Commission’s website.
Am I able to update my submission after the closing date?
The Royal Commission can make note of factual changes to your submission – for example, if something was recorded incorrectly in your original submission. You cannot make substantial changes to your submission after the submission closing date. Information submitted as at 11:59 pm AEDT on Friday 13 October 2023 will be considered final.
If you would like to withdraw your submission or change your publication preferences, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 1800 329 095 or +61 2 5122 3105, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm AEST Monday to Friday, excluding public holidays.
What is the difference between making a submission and a private session?
A submission and a private session each serve separate functions in the Royal Commission.
Submissions are formal statements to the Royal Commission. Anyone can make a submission. All submissions are recorded and reviewed by the Royal Commission team. There is no guarantee that if you make a submission you will be asked to appear and give evidence at a public hearing.
Private sessions are not submissions. Each is a confidential meeting with a Commissioner or Commissioners for the participant to tell their story. This meeting is private and therefore will not be used as evidence or published. If you are a Defence member, veteran, or family member with lived experience of mental health, you can apply for a private session.
Accessing and sharing information
How can I access Defence or DVA records about myself, a family member or loved one?
If you require copies of official records to support your submission or your appearance as a witness, these can be requested from the Department of Defence or the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. You can also request records about a family member or loved one to support your submission or your appearance as a witness. The Defence and Veterans Legal Service (DAVLS) can also provide advice and support in accessing these records, including for family members and loved ones.
Depending on the types of records you are requesting, the Department of Defence and/or the Department of Veterans’ Affairs will provide documents in accordance with relevant processes, legislative provisions and the Freedom of Information Act. Please allow 30 days for all requests.
What information can I share with the Royal Commission?
You can share information with the Royal Commission by making a submission. In your submission you can share information related to any of the terms of reference that outline what the Royal Commission is looking into as part of its inquiry. If you make a submission about another person, such as a family member, friend or colleague, we encourage you to seek their permission before doing so. The Commission will not publish submissions sharing the story of another living person without that person’s consent.
Protections are available for people who share information with the Royal Commission. If you share information with the Royal Commission you cannot be disadvantaged or prejudiced due to giving that information. The Chief of the Defence Force has given the Royal Commission a commitment that those who share their story with the Royal Commission will not suffer any consequences. Additionally, The Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force (IGADF) has also sought to make clear what you can and can’t discuss with the Royal Commission regarding experiences relating to IGADF matters. You can read more about what can be shared in the Inspector-General’s message from July 2023.
The unauthorised disclosure of sensitive information shared with the Royal Commission is a criminal offence. Information shared with the Royal Commission is not subject to Freedom of Information requests or subpoenas for information. We encourage you to seek legal advice if you have any questions or concerns about sharing information with the Royal Commission. You might have your own lawyer – or you can get in touch with the Defence and Veterans Legal Service, a free, independent, national service for people who want to engage with the Royal Commission.
What happens to the information I provide to the Royal Commission?
The information you provide to the Royal Commission helps inform the Commissioner’s inquiries. Information that you share with the Commission will be used to help us make findings and recommendations to help reduce Defence and veteran suicide and suicidal behaviour. Although the Royal Commission is not regulated by Australian privacy laws, the protection of your privacy is important to us. For this reason, we ensure that the handling, security and disclosure of any personal information you provide to us is guided by privacy laws.
If you include your name and contact details in your submission, we are able to follow up and check whether you need any further support.
In limited circumstances, the Royal Commission may be required to share personal information held by the Commission. This can include in situations where there may be serious and/or imminent risk, or where the Commission is obliged under law (for example, where information relates to an Australian law being broken).
What is a private session?
A private session is a confidential meeting with a Commissioner where you tell them about your personal experience. You decide what information you do and don't share with them during your session. Private sessions can happen by telephone, video link or in person.
How do I find out more information about private sessions?
A guide to your private session is available for more detailed information
Can I still request a private session?
Requests for private sessions opened in October 2021 and closed on the 28 April 2023. Unfortunately, you can no longer request a private session; however, you are invited to make a submission.
Hearing from people with lived experience, particularly serving members of the Australian Defence Force, will help us make meaningful recommendations for change. We encourage you to make a submission prior to the closing date of 13 October 2023.
Does the closure date mean there will be no more private sessions held?
New requests for private sessions closed on 28 April 2023. Private sessions for those who submitted an eligible application prior to the closing date will continue to be held until early 2024.
How long will I have to wait for my private session?
The Royal Commission assesses each request for a private session to ensure it meets the eligibility criteria. Those whose requests are deemed ineligible are notified within five working days of making the request.
If you do meet the eligibility requirements, Royal Commission staff will continue to progress your request and will notify you as appropriate.
If you do not hear back from the Royal Commission straight away, do not be concerned, as there are a number of factors that will determine when a private session can be held and that may impact timing for a private session.
I have applied for a private session, but my session hasn’t been scheduled yet. Can you tell me when my session will be held?
The Royal Commission will generally contact you four to six weeks prior to your private session. As there are a large number of requests being worked through, some people may face a lengthy wait for their private session.
The timing of your private session might be impacted by factors such as the hearing timetable, private session locations, your preference for a face to face or video conference session, and other issues such as weather events or COVID-19. These events may also require us to reschedule sessions. There may be longer wait times for those wanting a face to face session.
Will I be able to have a face to face meeting with a Commissioner?
Private sessions are held face to face, via video call or by phone. People can nominate their preferred format however, it is not always possible for the Commissioners to meet everyone who was requested a face to face private session in person.
There are many reasons why a face to face meeting may not be possible. For example, if face to face private sessions have already been held in your location and the Royal Commission may not have time to return before the Final Report or if your location is overseas or otherwise hard to reach within the constraints of the hearing schedule.
If a face to face meeting is not possible, you will be offered a video or phone private session instead. If you choose to travel interstate for a face to face session your travel costs cannot be covered by the Royal Commission.
How can I find out when hearings are on?
The Royal Commission will publicise its public hearings on the website and elsewhere. You can subscribe to our mailing list for emails from the Royal Commission (including details about hearings). For information about hearings after they have been held (including videos and transcripts), check the Hearings page on the website.
If I make a submission, will I be called to be a witness at a Royal Commission hearing?
Only a small number of people who have made a submission will appear as a witness at a public hearing. You do not need to appear as a witness for your submission to impact the work of the Royal Commission - every story is valuable and informs the Commissioners’ inquiries. Evidence collected at public hearings represents a very small portion of the Commissioners’ inquiry. The majority of the Royal Commission’s work is focused on submissions, research, speaking to stakeholders and community members, and insights provided by experts.
Can I elect to appear as a witness at a Royal Commission hearing?
Throughout the Royal Commission, the Commissioners will hear from a range of witnesses including those with lived experience. Most of the witnesses who appear before the Royal Commission are Defence or government representatives, experts or professionals in relevant fields.
The Commission places great importance on hearing from people with lived experience, however most of this learning occurs outside of public hearings.
All information provided to the Royal Commission will be recorded, reviewed and used to inform the Royal Commission’s work
Why does the Royal Commission call witnesses?
At hearings, the Royal Commission hears from people whose experiences speak to a systemic issue the Commission wishes to explore in a public hearing. Royal commissions, including the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, have broad powers to call witnesses under oath and compel evidence. The Royal Commission uses these powers at hearings to collect information we would not otherwise have access to. The Royal Commission calls lived experience witnesses at public hearings when their experiences highlight systemic issue the Royal Commission is inquiring into.
What happens to my evidence if I am called as a lived experience witness?
Some witnesses with lived experiences will give oral evidence at hearings of the Royal Commission. This is an opportunity for the Commissioners to hear the subjective impressions of those witness drawn from their experiences relating to defence and veteran suicide or suicidality. Lived experience witnesses are generally not cross-examined, and are encouraged to give their oral evidence at hearings in a way that avoids specific allegations against identifiable individuals.
The Commissioners will not make specific findings based on lived experience evidence. However, the evidence of lived experience witnesses is extremely valuable. That evidence throws light on systemic issues that are of concern and need to be inquired into at a general level. The Commissioners will use the lived experience accounts that they hear to inform themselves generally about the need for reforms that they may recommend.
Is financial assistance available if I am called as a witness?
Legal financial assistance is available to individuals and entities to assist with meeting the costs of legal representation and disbursements associated with engaging with the Royal Commission, including as a witness.
Leave to Appear
When do I need to seek Leave to Appear?
Leave to Appear applications are typically made by people or organisations who are the subject of evidence before the Royal Commission. This may include individuals, as well as service providers and government agencies, in circumstances where they are not appearing as a witness.
Leave to Appear does not entitle a person or organisation to participate as a witness or give evidence before the Royal Commission. Leave to Appear is different to other forms of engagement with the Royal Commission and will only be granted in limited circumstances where the person or organisation has a direct and substantial interest in the subject matter of the hearing (see Practice Guideline 2).
You do not need to seek Leave to Appear to share your experience with the Royal Commission.
You do not need Leave to Appear to be able to:
- provide a submission
- attend in person in the hearing room where the public hearing is conducted, or follow along with the live feed, as a member of the public
- appear before the Royal Commission to give evidence at a hearing as a witness
- attend a private session.
For more information about Leave to Appear, please download our Leave to Appear Guidance Note.
What to expect if I seek Leave to Appear?
Prior to each hearing, the Royal Commission will invite people and organisations who may have a direct and substantial interest in a particular hearing to make an application for Leave to Appear.
If you consider that you have a direct and substantial interest in the subject matter of a particular public hearing and wish to seek Leave to Appear, you should submit an application for Leave to Appear in accordance with Practice Guideline 2 at least 7 days prior to the hearing.
To make an application, you should complete the Application Form on the Royal Commission's website;
- write a short submission setting out why you have a direct and substantial interest in the subject matter to be considered by the relevant hearing; and
- send the form and the statement to the Solicitors Assisting the Royal Commission by email at DVSRC.OSA@royalcommission.gov.au.
Everyone who makes an application for Leave to Appear will be notified of the outcome of their application. Leave to Appear will only be granted in limited circumstances where you or your organisation has a direct and substantial interest in the subject matter of the hearing (see Practice Guideline 2).
When might someone be granted Leave to Appear?
The Royal Commission may grant a person or organisation Leave to Appear at a public hearing in certain circumstances, including when:
- a person has been summoned to give evidence as a witness and that person, or the organisation on whose behalf that person is giving evidence, wishes to be legally represented during the hearing;
- the person or organisation is the subject of the hearing;
- the person or organisation are likely to have adverse allegations made against them (e.g. an allegation of inappropriate conduct) during the course of the hearing; or
- the person or organisation has produced documents or other material to the Royal Commission, which the Royal Commission is likely to consider or examine in detail during the hearing.