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MORE MUST BE DONE TO INVESTIGATE SUICIDE RATES OF OUR VETERANS

March 17, 2021

The number and frequency of veterans' suicides is a national shame and a tragedy. The Morrison Government needs to act now.

Recently, The Daily Telegraph has highlighted the tragic stories of several former service men and women who have taken their own lives. Families, veterans, advocates and experts all want a fully independent Royal Commission with broad terms of reference so we can address the rising incidence of veterans' suicides in a systemic way.

One of these advocates is Julie-Ann Finney, whose Navy veteran son David Finney committed suicide in February 2019.

I met with Julie-Ann recently, a photo of David placed beside her, as she stated her case as to why nothing less than a Royal Commission is acceptable.

Labor supports the call from her and others for a Royal Commission into veterans' suicides. Instead, Scott Morrison announced a National Commissioner into veterans' suicides. The National Commissioner is nothing more than a glorified coroner doing desktop reviews. It doesn't have the independence, scope or resources to investigate these important issues the way a Royal Commission can.

This is simply another one of Scott Morrison's marketing exercises, designed to placate the grieving families of veterans and avoid a proper investigation.

We need an independent investigation into not just the rate of suicide but also attempted suicides, suicidal thoughts and veterans' mental health. We also need to do more to support our defence personnel transition into civilian life through assistance with mental health, employment, housing and homelessness.

Far too many of our veterans are struggling to cope with life after service and are slipping through the cracks. We need real, tangible support for veterans and their families. The six veterans' wellbeing hubs the government announced before the last election were meant to address some of these issues.

Instead it was another broken election promise, with most not up and running until 2022 - a full two years late. The Department of Veterans Affairs has also been under-resourced and neglected, with 42 per cent of the department now outsourced, labour hired or privatised.

We know veterans are now waiting for two to three months just to have compensation claims looked at and they can wait up to six months or longer to receive payments as the department deals with a backlog of applications.

The government's ongoing failure on delivery means people's lifestyles and livelihoods are suffering. These are the people who served our country to keep our nation safe.

It's simply not good enough.

This opinion piece was first published in the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, 17 March 2021.

WE'LL PUT PEOPLE FIRST