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Amendments strengthen role of Defence and Veteran Suicide Commissioner

Media Release

The Morrison Government has listened to families and veterans' groups and agreed to further strengthen the design of the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention.

Amendments to be introduced into the Senate this week will:

  • further reinforce the independence of the National Commissioner;
  • confirm the National Commissioner's role extends to considering attempted suicides and other lived experiences;
  • incorporate a requirement for a review of the National Commissioner function after three years;
  • acknowledge the valuable contribution that families and others affected by deaths by suicide will make to the National Commissioner's work, where they wish to contribute;
  • confirm the National Commissioner's ability to make recommendations about support services for families and others affected by a suicide death.

"The National Commissioner is a critical reform that addresses the unacceptably high rates of suicide among Australian Defence Force members and veteran communities in Australia," Attorney-General Christian Porter said.

"That work is simply too important to delay, which is why the Government has listened to families and veteran groups and agreed to amend its legislation to ensure it can pass through the Senate this week.

"Key among the 23 amendments are additional safeguards that further guarantee the independence of the Commissioner, giving the office the same standing as other independent statutory bodies such as the auditor general's office.

"Clarifying the Commissioner's powers to review attempted and suspected suicides will also ensure that the lived experiences of veterans and their families are appropriately considered.

"While the Government has shown its willingness to be flexible on these issue, the ball is now firmly in Labor's court to get behind these reforms so that work can begin as quickly as possible to prevent suicides among our defence and veteran communities."

The amendments implement all of the recommendations made by the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee in its report released on 30 November 2020. It also goes further by responding to feedback in the 94 submissions provided during a four week consultation period held over 27 August – 24 September 2020, as well as input from states and territories.

Additionally, updates have been made to the Terms of Reference for the Independent Review of Past Defence and Veteran Suicides, which confirm that the National Commissioner can consider any past member or veteran death by suicide, or suspected suicide, as part of the Review.

The Attorney-General said the office of the National Commissioner would be established immediately after Royal Assent to the Bill.

"The Government has already announced the appointment of Dr Bernadette Boss CSC as the interim National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention," the Attorney-General said.

"With the passage of this Bill through the Senate, Dr Boss' appointment is formalised. Importantly, she will have powers equivalent to a Royal Commission to investigate past and future suicides and make recommendations to Government about steps that could be taken to improve the wellbeing of defence members and veterans.

"A critical difference with the National Commissioner compared to Royal Commissions is that, unlike Royal Commissions which examine issues at a fixed point in time, the National Commissioner is being established as a permanent office that can continually monitor the implementation of its own recommendations.

"This will ensure that much-needed long-term solutions to the issues surrounding the well-being of ADF members and veterans are being delivered.  It will also allow the National Commissioner to investigate and examine new issues which arise in the future.

"Families and others directly affected by the death by suicide of an ADF member or veteran will be front and centre of the work of the National Commissioner. They will now have an opportunity to be heard in a safe and supported environment where their personal experiences can help others at risk."

If you, or someone you know, need support, you can contact:

  • Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14
  • Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
  • Open Arms (current and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel and their families are able to seek this free and confidential support) – 1800 011 046
  • ADF Mental Health All-hours Support Line (for current serving Australian Defence Force personnel and their families) on 1800 628 036.