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Royal Commission to examine Defence leadership and accountability at Perth public hearing

Leadership and accountability among senior Defence personnel will be examined at a public hearing of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, which begins today (Tuesday 16 May) in Perth.

The inquiry’s ninth public hearing will hear evidence from senior Australian Defence Force witnesses, as well as experts in health and workplace behaviour.

Commission Chair Nick Kaldas said the Perth hearing comes at a critical juncture in Australia’s defence policy, with the recent release of the government’s response to the Defence Strategic Review.

“It’s absolutely vital that as Australia builds its defence capability to effectively respond to the changing regional and global strategic environment that Defence prioritises the mental health and wellbeing of its people,” Commissioner Kaldas said. 

“As pressure ramps up to recruit and retain thousands more uniformed personnel over the decades ahead, we as a nation need to do much more to protect those who protect us.”

He said recent visits by the Commission to Perth bases, including Campbell Barracks in Swanbourne – home of the Army’s Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) – and HMAS Stirling at Rockingham, had shed light on key issues of importance to the inquiry.

“It’s incredibly powerful to meet with serving Defence personnel in their working environment, to gain a real understanding of the challenges and pressures of their roles and hear about their day-to-day life in the military. It will help a great deal in forming our final recommendations,” Commissioner Kaldas said.

Since their arrival in Perth last week, Commissioners have held 33 private sessions with people with lived experience of suicide and suicidality. It follows 30 private sessions held in Perth in February.

They’ve also attended a Western Australia Government roundtable for ex-service organisations and met with other health and service providers to learn about programs that are helping to improve the lives and livelihoods of serving and ex-serving personnel.

The Royal Commission continues to encourage serving and ex-serving ADF members, their families and friends, and other interested individuals and groups to make a submission prior to the 13 October closing date. It’s received close to 3,500 submissions so far – about 10 per cent of those from Western Australia.

Local submissions have revealed concerns by some that HMAS Stirling – home to 2,000 personnel, including Australia’s Submarine Force – is experiencing staff shortages and a recurring cycle of burnout, placing further strain on mental health.

The Royal Commission has also heard of an increase in Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) troops seeking mental health support, and even leaving the military, due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or moral injury.

The Perth hearing will conclude on Thursday 26 May. Further hearings are scheduled for Adelaide in July and Melbourne in August.