Royal Commission calls for strong leadership to ensure action on military suicide
The Chair of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide says senior politicians must stand up to the leadership of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) to ensure better support for those who serve our country.
The inquiry’s 11th public hearing, which began in Melbourne today (Monday 28 August), will again focus on leadership and accountability — including matters relating to the Office of the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force (IGADF), which is responsible for ensuring a fair and impartial military justice system.
A number of lived experience witnesses with deeply personal stories will also give evidence.
In his opening address, Commission Chair Nick Kaldas said the Royal Commission is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring about long overdue change to address the disturbing rates of suicide and suicidal behaviour in the military community, which are a national tragedy.
“My fellow Commissioners and I are absolutely determined to find solutions to the deeply-entrenched cultural, structural and systemic issues that are failing current and former service personnel, and their families”, Commissioner Kaldas said.
“[O]ur job is to inquire – it is not to govern. And strong, decisive leadership will be required from Government to stand up to the ADF’s top brass – as well as senior bureaucrats within Defence and DVA – to ensure the recommendations we make are acted on.”
While Commissioner Kaldas acknowledged the progress DVA has made in clearing a backlog of compensation claims, he noted the agency’s culture was negatively impacting veterans and their families.
“[M]any veterans continue to find its adversarial approach distressing. DVA needs to start viewing itself as an agency that supports veterans, rather than simply an insurance claims processing house,” he told the hearing.
Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission, Sophie Molyneux, said a key theme of the hearing would be the impact of transition on members when they leave or are removed from the Defence Force.
“People have described feeling part of a family, having a pull of loyalty, of respect and kinship to those around them in the service,” Ms Molyneux said.
“But with that strong community and feeling of identity and connection with others can come a more acute impact on those who are removed from it. That experience; the experience of the individual who is outside a cooperative, supportive community, is the theme that will resonate throughout this hearing block.”
The 10-day Melbourne hearing will conclude on 8 September 2023. The Royal Commission is due to deliver its final report by June next year.