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Commonwealth Letters Patent – plain English

  • Letters Patent
Publication date
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The preamble to the Letters Patent explains why a Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide has been established.

For example, the preamble (or introduction) recognises:

  • the significant contribution and sacrifice made by defence members and veterans
  • the ongoing impacts on physical and mental health as a result of service
  • the death of any Australian Defence Force (ADF) member or veteran is tragic
  • Australia should acknowledge the higher than average number of defence and veteran deaths by suicide and learn lessons that could prevent future deaths by suicide
  • family units (in their broad and diverse make-up), carers, friends and others play an important role in supporting defence members and veterans
  • the benefit of support and health care systems, including mental health systems, to defence members, veterans and their families
  • Australia as a nation, must examine and expose all common themes and issues related to suicide, and implement actions to address these
  • individual experiences of defence members, veterans, their families, and others are vital and will be used by the Royal Commission to make recommendations that will help prevent future deaths by suicide.

The Royal Commission will be independent and supported by all state and territory governments. The Royal Commission's work will also be used to guide the future work of the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention.

Paragraphs (a) to (j) in the Letters Patent form the terms of reference for the Royal Commission. In summary, the terms of reference require the Royal Commission to look at:

  1. Common issues and themes in relation to suicide and suicide behaviour by serving and ex-serving Defence members.*
  2. Risk factors that contribute to suicide by serving and ex-serving Defence members, including pre- and post-service such as:
    1. the recruitment of serving and ex-serving Defence members
    2. whether the branch, service, posting history, or rank of the serving or ex-serving Defence member is relevant
    3. how serving and ex-serving Defence members left the Australian Defence Force for civilian life or moved between service categories
    4. healthcare, wellbeing and support services for serving and ex-serving Defence members, including quality, wait times and outcomes of care
    5. how government departments share information about serving and ex-serving Defence members
    6. how information about the mental and physical health of serving and ex-serving Defence members is reported and kept during and after service.
  3. Culture within the Australian Defence Force, the Department of Defence and the Department of Veterans' Affairs and how this culture impacts serving and ex-serving Defence members' physical and mental wellbeing.
  4. The role of non-government organisations, including ex-service organisations, in providing services and support for serving and ex-serving Defence members, their families and others.
  5. Ways to protect and help serving and ex-serving Defence members who have experienced suicide behaviour or other high-risk behaviour.
  6. The adequacy of support services available to help families and others who have:
    1. been affected by a serving or ex-serving Defence member's death by suicide
    2. supported a serving or ex-serving Defence member with suicide behaviour or risk factors.
  7. Issues serving and ex-serving Defence members have when they access support services or put in claims through the Department of Defence, the Department of Veterans' Affairs or other Commonwealth, State or Territory government departments.
  8. Rules and policies about how support services, claims and benefits are managed by the Department of Defence, the Department of Veterans' Affairs and other Commonwealth, State or Territory government departments.
  9. Major risk factors that play a part in suicide by serving and ex-serving Defence members, including:
    1. social and family life
    2. housing and employment
    3. the financial situation of the person.
  10. Anything else that the Commissioners consider may be relevant.

* 'Serving or ex-serving Defence member' means anyone who is currently or has previously been a member of the Australian Defence Force.

The Royal Commission will be able to make recommendations about any policy, legislative, administrative or structural reforms.

In undertaking the inquiry, the Royal Commission will be able to consider:

  • the findings and recommendations of previous relevant reports and inquiries, including action taken in response to findings and recommendations
  • the work of, and information provided by the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention (including the interim National Commissioner)
  • support available to defence members and veterans overseas, particularly in Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America
  • ways in which government, non-government organisations and the community could address risk factors and better support vulnerable defence members and veterans
  • desirable support services for families and others affected by defence and veteran suicide
  • opportunities to promote understanding of suicide and suicidal behaviours and risk factors within the ADF, veteran and Australian community.

The Royal Commission will not be required to look into, or continue to examine, matters they are satisfied have already been dealt with by another inquiry or investigation or a criminal or civil proceeding.

The Royal Commission may make findings as to the cause or manner of death in relation to a particular defence or veteran death by suicide to inform its inquiry, but is not required to. The Royal Commission will not have a coronial function, make formal coronial findings or conduct a coronial inquest. This is the role of a Coroner.

In conducting its inquiries, the Royal Commission will be required to:

  • establish accessible and appropriate trauma-informed arrangements for defence members, veterans, families and others affected by a death by suicide to engage with the Royal Commission
  • focus its inquiry on systemic issues, but be informed by individual stories and experiences
  • establish ways to provide evidence, if considered appropriate by the Royal Commission, to a law enforcement or other body who can investigate and prosecute offences (in accordance with section 6P of the Royal Commissions Act 1902)
  • ensure any evidence related to the inappropriate treatment of individuals does not impact on current or future criminal or civil proceedings, other inquiries or coronial inquests
  • establish ways for evidence and information to be shared with the Royal Commission to avoid duplication and unnecessary trauma, and improves efficiency
  • recognise and appropriately protect intelligence information or operationally sensitive information the Royal Commission may receive
  • establish arrangements with the heads of relevant Australian intelligence entities for the handling of intelligence information.

The Royal Commission will submit an interim report by 11 August 2022, and its final report by 15 June 2023. The final report will include any findings or recommendations made by the Royal Commission.