National Commissioner role formalised for veteran suicide prevention

The Attorney General Christian Porter today announced legislation to pave the way for a National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention.

This post will be “a powerful new independent and enduring body focused on understanding and addressing the risk factors of defence force and veteran suicide”.

The legislation formally creates the position and sets out the role, which includes having the power to inquire fully into deaths by suicide among Australian Defence Force (ADF) members and veterans.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester said suicide prevention was one of the Government’s highest priorities, including when it came to the men and women who serve or have served in the nation’s defence force.

“Each year, too many of our fellow Australians take their own lives, and the defence and veteran community are not immune. The death of a current or former ADF member is tragic and it is felt deeply by their family, friends, colleagues and ex-service community,” Mr Chester said.

“It is absolutely critical that we try to understand all the factors connected to suicide and strive to build a better system of support to ensure our ADF personnel and veterans have the help they need, when and where they need it.

“There is no single solution to this complex issue and suicide prevention deserves an enduring focus. Today’s announcement is about having a permanent, dedicated Commissioner who is focused on making inquiries and hearing from families, to prevent future suicides.”

The legislation will provide the National Commissioner with powers broadly equivalent to a Royal Commission to undertake broad ranging inquiries relevant to their role and hear from any relevant party including ADF members, veterans and their families; conduct public and private hearings; and compel the production of evidence and summons witnesses.

Today also marks the start of a four-week public consultation period on the legislation, giving the general public the opportunity to review, and provide comment on, the draft Bill. “I encourage our Defence personnel, veterans, their families, and anyone with an interest in how the National Commissioner will conduct its inquiries, to review the legislation and make a submission to the Attorney-General’s Department,” Mr Chester said.

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The Attorney-General said the input of families would be critical to the role.

"The National Commissioner will be truly independent and deliver genuine transparency as it helps to uncover the root causes and contributing factors in ADF member and veteran deaths by suicide," he said.

"It will also provide the opportunity for families and those people who have been personally affected by an ADF member or veteran death by suicide to share their story in a safe and supported way."

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 42 current and former ADF personnel committed suicide in 2017, bringing the total up to 419 since 2001. Ex-servicemen were 18% more likely to take their life than males in the general population, but had the highest overall rate of 27 per 100,000.

Download: National suicide monitoring of serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel: 2019 update.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced in February that an independent body would be set up to investigate military veteran suicides following the online petition of Julie-Ann Finney, whose son David died by suicide last year. The former naval petty office was medically discharged in 2017 with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Julie-Ann gathered approximately 300,000 signatures calling for a Royal Commission into veteran suicides. "This was not me, this was all of Australia backing this," she said. "We need to make absolutely sure that this works for veteran wellbeing,” she said.

TAKE ACTION FOR MEN'S HEALTH

Read: PM's veteran suicide plan provides pointers for male suicide prevention (AMHF)

For more information about the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention, including how to make a submission on the legislation, visit www.ag.gov.au

Read: Families will be key to new commissioner examining veteran suicide (Sydney Morning Herald) 

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