National commissioner to investigate Defence suicides

The federal government will invest $40 million to set up an independent commissioner with “royal commissioner-like powers” to investigate and make recommendations to the government about defence force and veteran suicides.

The National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention will sit within the Atttorney General’s Department.

Scott Morrison

“They’ll have the ability to call witnesses, compel evidence and have remedies available to those who won’t cooperate,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a media conference in Canberra.

The office of the commissioner will be able to probe individual suicides, compel witnesses to give evidence, order investigations and work with state and territory coronial offices.

It will also be able to demand answers from the defence department.

Mr Morrison said the government decided to go down the path of creating a special commissioner rather than calling a royal commission because of the sensitive nature of the cases involved.

The office of the commissioner will immediately carry out a review of historical veteran suicide cases focusing on current and post-service experience and deliver an interim report within 12 months.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, along with coronial and legal experts, will provide technical expertise to support the commissioner’s work.

A Veteran Family Advocate will also be appointed within the Department of Veterans Affairs to directly engage with the families of veterans and improve the design of veteran mental health programs and supports.

An interim Commissioner will be installed while the government seeks a permanent one.

There were 419 deaths by suicide among veterans and serving ADF personnel between 2001 and 2017, according to the AIHW.

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