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Townsville hearing concludes: Royal Commission sees spike in submissions

The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide has seen a boost in submissions during its nine-day public hearing in Townsville.

Royal Commission Chair Nick Kaldas said the Commission had received 152 submissions between June 13 – when the Royal Commission arrived in town – and June 29.

"Fifty-eight of these submissions are from Queensland – with 25 from the Townsville region," Commissioner Kaldas said during his closing address.

"We thank you for acting on our request for submissions. Every submission is read, reviewed and catalogued. The themes raised are being carefully explored and will inform our recommendations."

During the hearing, the Commission heard evidence about military life at Australia's largest army base, Townsville's Lavarack Barracks, including evidence from its Commander, Brigadier Kahlil Fegan.

It also examined different aspects of deployment, including mental health screening, critical incidents and support. The experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ADF members were also explored.

High profile witnesses, including two former ministers the Hon. Andrew Gee MP and the Hon. Darren Chester gave evidence about the backlog of claims within the Department of Veterans' Affairs, funding issues and areas for reform.

The Chief of Army General Angus Campbell gave evidence on a range of issues including Defence culture, suicide data collection and initiatives within the ADF to minimise the risk of suicide and suicidality.

Commissioner Kaldas said there were still some issues to work through with the Commonwealth regarding protections for serving and former serving members of the ADF to provide information to the Commission.

However he stressed legal and procedural protections were already in place for those who assisted the Royal Commission.

"I want to make it clear that it is a criminal offence under the Royal Commissions Act to inflict any disadvantage on any person for giving evidence to the Royal Commission – or appearing before it, or producing a document to it," Commissioner Kaldas said.

Counsel assisting the inquiry Peter Gray QC thanked members of the public, academics, the veteran community and families who assisted the Commission to prepare for the hearing.

"We gratefully acknowledge the service of all veterans who have served in Townsville and their families," Mr Gray said.

The Royal Commission also announced it will sit in Wagga Wagga from 28 November – 2 December 2022.

In 2023, public hearings will also take place during the first half of the year in:

  • Perth and;
  • Adelaide

Further hearings will be conducted throughout the second half of the year in:

  • Melbourne
  • Sydney and;
  • Brisbane

The Royal Commission will next sit in Hobart from August 1.