Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a Royal Commission to examine suicides among serving and former military personnel, bowing to public pressure as the toll mounts among veterans.
Speaking to reporters in Canberra on Monday, Morrison said he hoped the inquiry would prove a “healing process” for grieving families.
“I hope it will be a process by which veterans and families can find some comfort, but it obviously can’t replace the loss,” he said.
Australian troops have been involved in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and deployed for humanitarian missions in the Pacific.
According to government data, more than 500 Australian veterans have died from suicide since 2001 – a statistic that has fuelled public anger, including among the prime minister’s own Liberal Party.
By comparison, 41 Australian troops died during the 20-year conflict in Afghanistan.
The issue became prominent in Australia following a high-profile campaign by Julie-Ann Finney, whose son David, a former naval petty officer, committed suicide in 2019 after he had earlier been deployed to Iraq, East Timor and Bougainville.
He was medically discharged in 2017, after suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the ABC broadcaster.
‘A long time coming’
Finney welcomed Morrison’s announcement, telling ABC that the move was “a long time coming”.
“Finally, the voices of veterans will be heard. Finally, families can stand up and share their stories,” she said.
Morrison said he hopes the Royal Commission will begin hearings later this year.
“It’s not just about the great risk that our Defence Force personnel are put at when they engage in those deployments,” he said.
“We must also understand … the human cost, and that cost is most significant when we see it in the death by suicide of our veterans.”
The commission’s final recommendations are expected in 2023, he said. A permanent national commissioner will be tasked with ensuring the recommendations are enforced.
Today's announcement of a Royal Commission into veteran suicide is welcomed. This is something veterans and families, and Labor, have been calling for since 2019. We are pleased the Morrison Gov has finally agreed to do the right thing by veterans and their families #auspol pic.twitter.com/3635g0MDMe
— Brendan O'Connor (@BOConnorMP) April 19, 2021
The opposition Labor Party also welcomed the move.
“We are glad to see the government has made a decision, ” said Brendan O’Connor, a Labor legislator.
“But it does seem it has done so begrudgingly, belatedly and because of the pressure that has been brought to bear upon them by the veterans community [and] the veterans’ families,” he added.
The United States, United Kingdom and Canada are also exploring ways to reduce suicide rates among serving and former military personnel.