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Royal Commission fears Defence leadership is waiting for inquiry to go away

The Chair of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide says he fears the Defence hierarchy is waiting for the inquiry to end so they can go back to business as usual.

The Royal Commission has today concluded its 11th public hearing in Melbourne, where it's heard further evidence about cultural and systemic issues within the Australian Defence Force and Departments of Defence and Veterans' Affairs.

In his closing statement, Commissioner Nick Kaldas warned the problems will never be fixed if leadership does not accept they exist.

"We still have not identified any strong evidence to suggest that Defence is prioritising the mental health and wellbeing of its people in a sustainable way," Commissioner Kaldas said.

"Nor does it seem to be responding adequately to the pressing issue of suicide and suicidality in its ranks with any sense of urgency."

"We Commissioners fear the Defence hierarchy is simply waiting for this inquiry to end so that it can go back to business as usual. We hope that's not the case," he told the hearing. 

The two-week hearing focused on the experience of ADF personnel transitioning to civilian life; cultural problems within Defence and how the hierarchy manages complaints relating to unacceptable behaviour; the lack of support from Defence and DVA for veterans and their families; and the military justice system in the ADF and how that is monitored.

The Royal Commission heard evidence from a former medical advisor within DVA who painted a bleak picture of the Department – highlighting poor leadership, a culture of blame and lack of interest in innovation. 

"[R]egardless of the good work the DVA has been doing recently to clear the backlog of claims – its outdated systems and processes, as well as its adversarial approach to those it is supposed to be supporting, seem to be designed to limit access to entitlements. This must change," Mr Kaldas said.

The Royal Commission will next sit in Sydney from Monday 20 November 2023. Its final report is due to be delivered by no later than 17 June next year.