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Defence slow to act on suicides: Royal Commission Chair

The Chair of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide says senior leaders in Defence must adopt a more urgent approach to addressing suicide within their ranks.

Commissioner Nick Kaldas made the remarks on the final day of the Royal Commission’s ninth public hearing block in Perth, which focused on leadership, accountability and organisational culture.

Commissioner Kaldas noted the evidence seemed to suggest no systematic analysis of suicide deaths or behaviours had been developed by Defence to ensure the mental health and wellbeing of its people.

We are yet to find sufficient evidence of urgency in responding to these complex issues holistically – even with this Royal Commission on foot,” Commissioner Kaldas said.

The seven-day public hearing heard evidence of a study that analysed 57 reports into the suicide deaths of serving ADF members between June 2016 and June 2022 – and that the Inspector-General of the ADF had taken, on average, 600 days to release individual inquiry reports into each of those deaths.

“The evidence presented during this hearing again raises serious questions as to whether leadership within Defence has been taking adequate and timely action in relation to responding to the very real and pressing issues of suicide and suicidality within its ranks,” Commissioner Kaldas said.

He revealed a closed session of the Royal Commission provided “valuable insight” into issues relating to the Special Air Services Regiment (SASR) based at Perth’s Campbell Barracks.

Commissioner Kaldas was also critical of Defence for allocating more resources to a taskforce set up to assist the Royal Commission with its inquiries, than to running its newly-created Mental Health and Wellbeing Branch. He said it was “not clear what, if anything, has been achieved practically to combat suicide or promote wellbeing” during the branch’s first seven months in operation.

The Royal Commission was established in July 2001 to examine the high rates of suicide and suicidality within the Defence and veteran community, as well as entrenched cultural and systemic issues contributing to this national tragedy.

The inquiry will next sit in Adelaide, from 17 July, and in Melbourne, from 28 August.