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PM bows to pressure for royal commission into veteran suicides

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a royal commission into veteran suicides after a long-running campaign by former soldiers and pressure from all sides of parliament.

Apr 19, 2021, updated Apr 19, 2021
At least 500 Australian military veterans have died by suicide since the start of the Afghanistan war in 2001, but a recent spike in deaths has shocked the veteran community. Photo: ABC

At least 500 Australian military veterans have died by suicide since the start of the Afghanistan war in 2001, but a recent spike in deaths has shocked the veteran community. Photo: ABC

The prime minister will release draft terms of reference for consultation on Monday, with a tentative starting time of July.

“We want this to be comprehensive,” he told reporters in Sydney.

“Every single day the service of our veterans is something that is pressed on my mind.”

Morrison remains committed to establishing a permanent commission of inquiry into veteran suicides.

But the independent office will operate alongside a standalone inquiry, which will take between 18 months and two years to deliver a final report.

The prime minister said governments made difficult decisions to deploy soldiers into war zones, but also needed to consider what happened to soldiers when they returned home.

“There is a far greater cost that is borne beyond those deployments, and that is the mental toll taken on the veterans after they return,” he said.

“That cost is most significant when we see it in the death by suicide of our veterans.”

The prime minister has previously rejected calls for a royal commission to be established, preferring his permanent model.

But he was dragged into action after members of his own backbench threatened to cross the floor in support of a royal commission.

Julie-Ann Finney, who led the royal commission campaign after losing her veteran son to suicide, welcomed the announcement.

“Today is a long time coming for veterans and their families,” she said.

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“Finally, the voices of veterans will be heard. Finally, families can stand up and share their stories.”

Ms Finney’s petition for a royal commission has been signed by more than 409,000 people.

The inquiry will examine all aspects of ADF service and the experience of those who leave the force.

It will look at the availability and quality of health and support services as well as issues facing ADF members and veterans including family breakdowns, housing and employment.

Private sessions will be available for witnesses.

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