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Stronger protections for serving ADF members, public servants who provide information to Royal Commission

Serving and ex-serving ADF members and public servants who share information with the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide will receive stronger protections under a new agreement signed with key government agencies.

Increasing legal protections for serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members to engage with the inquiry was one of 13 urgent recommendations included in the Commission’s Interim Report handed down last August.

Eleven of those recommendations have so far been adopted by the federal government.

The Commission has co-signed a new information sharing agreement with the Chief of the Defence Force and Secretaries of the Departments of Defence and Veterans Affairs to ensure both past and present ADF members and departmental employees can voluntarily share their stories without the fear of being punished.

That’s on top of a commitment from Defence Chief, General Angus Campbell, in his evidence to the Commission in June last year that there will be no consequence for any former or current member who provides relevant information to the Commission.

Commission Chair Nick Kaldas said open, honest information sharing at all levels is critical moving forward as the inquiry sharpens its focus on key systemic issues relating to suicide and suicidality in the veteran community.

"We’ve heard some current and ex-serving members and their families are unsure about sharing their very personal stories with the Royal Commission," Commissioner Kaldas said.

"The agreement makes it okay for you to talk to us about these experiences and – as long as it’s relevant to our terms of reference – you can’t be penalised for doing so.

"We are aware that people need to feel safe to engage with the Royal Commission, and we continue to work with the Government to look at how we can protect people who may want to disclose information that might be considered operationally sensitive," Commissioner Kaldas noted.

"Importantly though, in the vast majority of cases, it is not necessary for people to disclose operationally sensitive information when sharing their stories or their concerns about suicide and suicidality."

The Commission will hold its next public hearing in Perth in May before sitting in Adelaide and Melbourne later in the year.

The Commission has to date received more than 3,000 submissions from serving and ex-serving ADF members, family and friends with lived experience, advocacy groups and experts.

The inquiry has heard from more than 250 witnesses and held 278 hour-long private sessions.