SPEECH – ROYAL COMMISSION INTO VETERANS SUICIDE, CANBERRA, MONDAY, 22 FEBRUARY 2021

ROYAL COMMISSION INTO VETERANS SUICIDE
  
PARLIAMENT HOUSE
CANBERRA

MONDAY, 22 FEBRUARY 2021
 
*** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***

I’m very proud to second this motion, Deputy Speaker.

I won’t stop championing a royal commission for Defence and veteran suicide. Let me make clear: we need to do more NOW.

We’re not waiting for a royal commission. We need one, but it doesn’t mean that we stop doing our urgent work now.

We must commit the resources to this.

Let me ask: At what cost are our veterans and service people dying?

What cost to overhaul what is clearly a broken system?

Are those opposite really going to sit there and say that $100 million is too much to spend to prevent those who were willing to sacrifice their lives for all of us in this country, from taking their own lives because we’ve failed to hear and support them?

For shame.

Those opposite don’t want to stand up on this.

Some are totally silent.

Some wanted a royal commission, but have fallen back into line.

And some have said no one wants it because it’ll cost too much.

The Veterans Affairs Minister estimates it will cost $100 million. Well, so what?

Are they going to tell us that we can’t afford to spend that much to save countless lives?

How can we put a price tag on getting the best recommendations from the most open, transparent and independent process we can possibly have?

More than 500 veterans and service people – that we know of – have suicided since 2001.

And that’s likely a gross underestimation of the real number.

How many lives have been shattered?

How many people have attempted suicide?

How many have been permanently impaired?

How many families have suffered, and continue to suffer?

Australia hasn’t had a royal commission into this issue since after World War 1 – and that was a look at the treatment of ONE soldier.

How many tens of thousands of Australian veterans have taken their lives in the century since?

This epidemic is a stain on our nation.

A royal commission into this, like the one announced by Julia Gillard into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, has the highest of moral motives.

Unlike the politically motivated royal commission called by Tony Abbott into the labour movement, which saw Dyson Heydon try to destroy the movement at a cost to taxpayers of $80 million.

And it turned up next to nothing!

A royal commission into these suicides has the higher imperative — to save the lives of those who would die for this country.

I predict that a permanent national commissioner will be a recommendation of the royal commission, but it’ll be just one recommendation.

It won’t pretend to be a complete solution, as those opposite say the current national commissioner is.

Some say we can’t just wait for a royal commission, and we need immediate action now.

And we do.

But what we’re doing is trying to fix the whole broken system with a complete systematic review of the continuum of support.

Veterans and their families are asking for this.

Yesterday we had our Veterans Australia NT AGM. There is so much volunteer work going on. They are lifesavers, keeping those on the edge in the game.

One member, Vietnam War veteran Waldo Bayley is a renowned bush poet, much loved in the Top End.

He sent me a poem – in it he says:

Some troops have lost fellow members who’ve died from suicide.

Their lives have been shattered, and they have no place to hide!

The families of our troops often suffer in their silence.

Sadly there’s a confrontation, sometimes ending up in violence.

People complain about the cost of a royal commission.

Parliamentary Members, this is your decision!

Let’s keep this big wheel turning, for there is no place to hide.

Let’s work to help deter our Veterans with thoughts of suicide.

My dad is also a Vietnam War vet.

One of his veteran mates said recently, “a royal commission will be s too late for some, but it could be a lifesaver for others.”

In particular, I continue to call on those opposite with military experience.

You have the power to do this.

Let’s get it done!