9 February 2021
Australia has lost more Defence Force personnel to suicide than we have lost on the front line.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has reported that the rate of suicide among male veterans is 21 per cent higher than it is for the general male population. For ex-serving women, the rate of suicide is twice as high as it is for the general female population.
Over the past two decades, there have been more than 460 suicides. In 2018 alone, there were 33 deaths by suicide amongst serving and ex-serving Defence Force personnel. For every veteran who has died, there are families left behind who are grieving.
It is a national tragedy and it’s a national tragedy that this government is failing to act upon.
For years now, veterans and their advocates have been raising with the Australian government concerns about the level of suicides. People have shared their stories about the sons and daughters that they have lost, and they have asked for a royal commission.
Instead of delivering a royal commission, the coalition government has offered a flawed and inadequate National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention, without independence, without the appropriate governance arrangements and completely failing to include the most-recognised and significant risk factors for death by suicide.
The Prime Minister said that the national commissioner would be bigger and better than a royal commission, but it turned out to be nothing more than an empty promise. The government offered less than half the resources that would be allocated to a royal commission—less funding, fewer staff and less power.
Now veterans and their families will be forced to wait even longer for answers, as the coalition government has withdrawn its national commissioner legislation.
The Liberal and National government has shown itself time and time again completely unable to deliver real results, real change and real reform for our nation and its people, especially those who serve our nation. This is just another example of this government’s failure to act.
I’ve had so many people call my office and share their stories of losing loved ones, sadly, to suicide, especially those in the veteran community, who have served our nation with great distinction. They have come to this place here in Canberra. They have stood on the lawns of Parliament House, directly above this chamber. They have shed tears under the roof of this building. They have asked us, as representatives of the community, to prevent any further loss of life.
When I talk to veterans and their families, as I did recently, on Australia Day, I hear about the contributions to our community made by so many amazing people. So often these contributions continue well after a veteran’s active service ends.
A wonderful example of these contributions was Operation Veteran Assist, which I’ve spoken about previously here in the Australian Senate. Operation Veteran Assist mobilised dozens of veterans and volunteers at very short notice to go out to Gippsland and help with the bushfire recovery efforts after last year’s bushfires.
I find it enormously difficult to reconcile the fact that the coalition government are handing out contracts to former government staffers to produce slick PR videos spruiking recovery efforts in Gippsland and the broader region and the fact that there are bushfire victims still waiting to receive funding so they can recover and build their livelihoods. They are living in caravans, living in sheds, and the government have spent less than half of the recovery funding that was promised. At the very same time, they are denying veterans a royal commission.
If you or someone you know needs support, help is available. Contact Open Arms, a 24 hour telephone service for veterans and their families on 1800 011 046 or openarms.gov.au and Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au.