A guide to your private session
Thank you for applying for a private session with the Royal Commission. 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.
What is a private session?
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 session support officer assigned to you after you apply for a private session. This officer will be your consistent contact at the Royal Commission and will work with you to manage all aspects of your private session. They will be at the session with you and 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 Royal 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 session. The Royal 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 connect with a counsellor.
How to prepare for your session
The session with the Commissioner/s will be scheduled for up to one hour. 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.
Think about what you would like to tell the Commissioner/s in your private session
Here are 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 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?
- 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?
- Is there anything else you would like to share with the Commissioner?
- 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/s 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.
What if there are things I do not want to discuss?
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.
Costs associated with attending a private session
If you need to travel to attend a private session, you can speak to your session support officer for more information about financial assistance that may be available.
How will what I say in the private session be used?
Your information will help the Commissioners develop an understanding of the issues; identify problems; understand more about the systemic issues impacting serving and ex-serving Defence members; and gather information and ideas for change.
Nothing will be published that reveals your identity and nothing you say can be referred to in any subsequent hearings or in the Royal Commission's reports unless it is de-identified.
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.
How much time is required?
Please plan for the whole process to take up to two hours. It is recommended that you arrive at least 15 minutes before a face to face private session. The session is scheduled for up to one hour. It is then recommended that you spend some time (up to half an hour) if you need to debrief with a support officer, as talking about these important issues may upset you.
What happens at a private session?
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 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 notes with you to the private session and if you wish to provide any documents you will be able to send these to your session support officer before your session.
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.
What happens after the Private Session?
Immediately after your session with the Commissioner/s, the session 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.
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 Royal 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.