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A guide to your private session

Publication date

Thank you for applying for a private session with the Royal Commission. Hearing from family members of defence members and veterans who have died by suicide will greatly assist the work of the Commissioners. So will the stories of Defence members, veterans and their families, who have lived experience of suicide behaviour or risk factors (including attempted or contemplated suicide, feelings of suicide or poor mental health outcomes).

We acknowledge that coming forward is a big step and we want you to feel as safe and supported as possible. If you have any questions about preparing for your private session please contact the Session Support Officer assigned to you. 

A private session is a confidential meeting with a Commissioner or more than one Commissioner where you tell them about your personal experience. You decide what you say and what you do not want to share. Private sessions can happen by telephone, video link or in person. 

There will be a Sessions Support Officer assigned to you after you apply for a private session. This Officer will be your consistent contact at the Commission and will work with you to manage all aspects of your private session. They will be at the session with the Commissioner/s.

You can also bring a support person with you to your private session. Your support person could be a friend or family member, or (if you wish) a professional person such as a counsellor or lawyer. Their role will be to support you while you talk to the Commissioner/s. 

The Commission recognises that sharing your experience may be emotionally tiring. It is normal to feel a range of emotions in the lead up to, and after your meeting. The Commission has a team of counsellors who can provide support to you either before, during or after your private session. Just let your Session Support Officer know you would like to see a counsellor. 

The session with the Commissioner/s will be scheduled for between one or two hours. It is really important to plan for what you would like to talk about in the session and how you can get across your ideas for how things could be improved to prevent further deaths by suicide

Here as some things to consider when preparing what you would like to say. They are suggestions only and you may want to speak about other but related matters.

  • Are you telling us about a death by suicide and if so what was your relationship with the deceased?
  • When did it happen and what were the events or issues you think contributed to the death?
  • What do you think could have been handled differently?
  • What recommendations would you like to make for change?
  • Is there anything else you would like to share with the Commissioner?
  • Are you telling us about your own lived experience of suicide behaviour?
  • When did it happen and what were the events or issues which you think contributed to your situation
  • Was it difficult to talk about and what could have made it easier to seek help?
  • Was anyone aware of how you were feeling and how did they respond
  • What do you think could have been handled differently?
  • What recommendations would you like to make for change including what worked for you or ideas about how things could be done better?

The Commissioner or a staff member may ask you about these things to prompt you to tell your story, but you are under no obligation to answer if you don’t want to.

Have a think about if there are some things you do not want to talk about or be asked about and anything we can do to make you more comfortable. Let the Session Support Officer know when you speak to them in the weeks before your booked session so the Commissioner/s will be informed and aware. 

If you need to travel to attend a private session the Royal Commission may in some circumstances be able to arrange and pay for the cost of travel and accommodation for you and your support person. The Commission is currently responding to such requests on a case by case basis and is in the process of working out how to address such requests fairly and consistently as the inquiry goes on. 

Your information will help the Commissioner/s develop an understanding of the issues; identify problems; understand more about the systemic issues impacting defence members and veterans; and gather information and ideas for change

Nothing will be published which reveals your identity and nothing you say can be referred to in any subsequent hearings or in the Commission’s reports.

A short narrative may be composed about what you have described but it will be written in a way that cannot identify you. The Commissioners may use narratives to illustrate issues in their reports. 

It is recommended that you arrive at least 15 minutes before a face to face private session. The session is scheduled to take between one and two hours. It is then recommended that you spend up to one further hour if you need to debrief as talking about these important issues may upset you. 

Your Session Support Officer will greet you when you arrive at your private session if you are meeting face to face or will ensure that your connection is ready for your video link or phone

If you have brought a support person with you they can wait in a room close by or come into the session with you. It is your choice

The private session will be attended by the Commissioner/s, the Session Support Officer, you and if you choose, your support person

You will be introduced to the Commissioner/s who will explain the process for the session. You will then be invited to share your experiences

The Session will be recorded. You will not be asked to take an oath. 

You can bring a written statement or other documents to the session which you are welcome to hand over.

The Commissioner/s may ask you some questions to help them understand the circumstances of your experience and any suggestions for change that you may have. 

Immediately after your session with the Commissioner/s, the Sessions Support Officer will spend time with you to help you debrief before you leave the building or end the call. It is important that you are feeling ok as you may have talked about things in the session that have upset you.

You may need to spend up to an hour after the session before you feel ready to leave the building or end the call.

The Session Support Officer will contact you in the days following your private session to check in with you and the Commissioner will write to you acknowledging your contribution to the Commission. 

Other than in very limited circumstances the information you provide for a private session that identifies you remains confidential, even after the Royal Commission has ended. It cannot be subpoenaed or disclosed under freedom of information legislation. Information you provide in a private session cannot be used in evidence against you in civil or criminal proceedings. It will be kept in the National Archives and only made publicly accessible after 99 years.

We can disclose information you provide for a private session that identifies you in limited circumstances including if your information relates to an Australian law being broken.

If you are concerned about the confidentiality of the information provided for your private session please seek legal advice.