SPEECH – The Government must immediately call a royal commission into veteran and defence suicide
CANBERRA – 22 March 2021
Veteran Heston Russell said it very well this morning at the rally for a royal commission into veteran and Defence Force suicide.
He said a royal commission is about accountability, recognition, and respect.
It’s time to be accountable to the countless people who’ve felt they had no other option than to take their own lives.
It’s time to recognise that we have a big problem here, and that we need big action to address it.
And it’s time to show respect to those who have served this country, and felt let down.
And to their loved ones who have to carry the burden of their loss.
Not addressing this epidemic of deaths is a black mark against us all.
It’s clear there is now overwhelming support for a Royal Commission into veteran suicides.
It’s what veterans and families want, it’s what thousands upon thousands of Australians want, and it’s now even what a number of the Government’s own members and senators want.
The Prime Minister says he won’t oppose this motion.
But that’s not good enough.
What we need is true leadership on this, from the top.
Australians and grieving families and our servicepeople and veterans needs to hear the Prime Minister say loud and clear that he hears them, that he feels for them, and he’s going to do something decisive about it.
This is urgent: there have been at least 18 known suicides of veterans and servicepeople in the past three months alone.
This is a terrible and unbearable figure.
These are so many lives lost that could have been saved.
We already know that the veteran suicide rate nearly twice that of the general population and the problem getting worse.
Australia deserves a proper, open and transparent investigation into this.
We need to shine a light on this issue and hear solid evidence.
And we need a Royal Commissioner who can make enforceable recommendations we can act upon.
We’ve been hearing for years that many veterans and families simply don’t trust Defence, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, or the Government and its proposed National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention.
The National Commissioner don’t have enough independence to tackle this issue.
It lacks the scope and resources to do this properly.
It’s just a glorified coroner.
A royal commission is the best way to give a voice to the families of those who’ve passed away, to give them closure and healing and a real sense that something might be done to spare other families the same pain.
The only way the Government can regain that lost trust now is to hold a royal commission, a fully independent investigation.
We know that up to six Government MPs have said they would be willing to cross the floor and support this motion.
This is major – it’s not every day the Government loses a vote on the floor of the House.
And it just underlines how out of touch this Government is with veterans and families, and with the broader Australian community on this.
We’ve also heard reports that MPs who are considering crossing the floor are being bullied and coerced into not supporting the motion.
This is appalling, Speaker, and it’s totally unacceptable.
I find it incredibly frustrating and enraging that people are dying at a horrifically high rate, and this Government is still more focused on playing politics than saving lives.