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Fixing cultural, systemic issues vital to Australia’s defence capability, Commission hears

The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide has heard addressing entrenched issues impacting the mental health and wellbeing of ADF members is fundamental to Australia’s future defence capability.

The inquiry’s ninth public hearing began in Perth today (Tuesday 16 May), with leadership and accountability among senior Defence personnel to come under the spotlight.

The Royal Commission has uncovered evidence that a culture of abuse, bullying, administrative and sexual violence continues to exist with the ADF.

It’s also cast doubt on Defence’s capacity to protect the mental health, wellbeing and safety of its people.

In his opening address, Commissioner Nick Kaldas said the Royal Commission would contribute directly to improving the welfare of serving and ex-serving members and, in turn, the strength and sustainability of the ADF.

“Australia’s defence capability, first and foremost, comes from the brave men and women who pull on the uniform of our navy, army or air force and go to work each day,” Commissioner Kaldas said.

“It’s not hard to see that fixing the entrenched cultural and systemic issues that are impacting the mental health and wellbeing of members would also go a long way to solving the ADF’s recruitment and retention crisis at a time Australia is trying to significantly bolster its uniformed stocks.”

Counsel Assisting the inquiry, Kevin Connor SC, said it was crucial for Defence to identify “hidden” cultural issues that may be contributing to suicide or suicidality within the military.

“It is important that light is shone on any places in the Australian Defence Force where problematic cultures exist and that every effort is made to address the factors that are leading to the problem,” he said.

The Royal Commission was established in July 2021 amid concerns at the alarming rate of suicide and suicidality among Australia’s military community.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data reveals at least 1,600 serving and ex-serving members took their own lives between 1997 and 2020 – more than 20 times the number killed in active duty over roughly the same period.