National Commissioner for suicide prevention

The Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on 5 February that a powerful, new independent body will be created to investigate any suspected veteran and Australian Defence Force (ADF) suicides and system-level risk factors to support suicide prevention.

The National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention will be established as an enduring authority with the power, scope and resources to investigate suicides and related issues on an ongoing basis, rather than a one-off and time-limited review.

The Prime Minister said the Commissioner would also have the power to compel evidence and summons witnesses.

‘I have thought long and hard about the best response to this issue,’ he said. ‘I have spoken to veterans right across Australia and I have met with their families and also local, state and national organisations. I believe what we have developed addresses the needs of those veterans, their families and our serving men and women.’

The National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention will be empowered to perform two roles:

  • They will be an independent and permanent public accountability body, with the same broad powers of a royal commission to compel the production of evidence and summons witnesses, and make findings and recommendations to Government.
  • They will provide an ongoing inquiry function of individual cases of suicide, working cooperatively with state and territory coronial offices.

An interim National Commissioner will also commence and oversee a comprehensive review and analysis of the more than 400 suicide deaths in the Defence and Veteran communities since 2001. This review will have a set timeframe and Terms of Reference. An interim report will be delivered within 12 months, and a final report at 18 months. Families will be engaged in this process if they wish, with an opportunity to participate and tell their stories openly and safely.

A Veteran Family Advocate will also be appointed to directly engage with the families of veterans, to improve the design of all veteran programs and services, including mental health supports and services.

The new Veteran Family Advocate will focus on mental health and suicide prevention, and contribute to our understanding of risk factors relating to the wellbeing of veterans and their families, particularly during transition from the ADF. The Advocate will represent the views of veterans and their families by engaging with them and reflecting their perspective to help shape policy and the administration of veteran benefits and support.

The Veteran Family Advocate will sit on the Repatriation Commission and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission within the Veterans’ Affairs portfolio and will work closely with the National Commissioner and the Prime Minister’s National Suicide Prevention Adviser.

A selection process to appoint the Veteran Family Advocate will begin shortly.

The Government will invest an initial $40 million to support the announcements of 5 February 2020.

This Vetaffairs article was published on 21 April 2020. For current information on the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention, visit the Office of the National Commissioner website.

Open Arms — Veterans and Families Counselling provides support and counselling to current ADF members, veterans and their families and can be contacted 24/7 on 1800 011 046.

Two middle-aged men in suits stand at lecterns. Behind them are a woman and a man and two Australian flags. They are at Australian Parliament House.

The announcement of the creation of the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention on 5 February. From left: Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds CSC, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel Darren Chester, Phillip Thompson OAM MP, Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Penny Bradfield, Auspic — DPS.