Royal Commission into Veteran Suicides – Speech – House of Representatives

Hansard 15.28 22/03/2021  House of Representatives

Mr LLEW O’BRIEN (Wide Bay—Deputy Speaker) (15:28): 

It’s with some joy, but also some reluctance that I make this speech about the motion to support a royal commission into veteran suicides.

First and foremost, I absolutely commend the speakers, particularly the members who have served in the Defence Force and who spoke before me.

I commend their passion and their commitment to this cause. But this is a job which, at the moment, is half done.

We need to get this job completed and we need to have the Prime Minister and the executive establish this royal commission. We need to know the terms of reference. But I am encouraged about where we are so far.

There is a problem. It’s an obvious problem. It’s a problem that’s borne out by the statistics. It is the deep-rooted and long-term problem of suicides in the veteran community.

The statistics speak for themselves. Veterans are twice as likely to take their own life once they leave the Defence Force after serving.

These are things we need to act on quickly because there are people suffering now. People are watching us. People feel that the government and the system have let them down. They don’t have the trust that they deserve.

I believe that to restore that trust we need to apply the highest standard in a review of veteran suicide, and the highest standard that we have is a royal commission.

Only somebody who has served in war or has served in the Defence Force can understand the pressures and the associated feelings that go with that. I certainly can’t. I haven’t done either of those things, but, as a former police officer and first responder, I do have an understanding of service, I do have an understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder and I do have an understanding of suicide.

The lead-up to suicide is a living nightmare. When it occurs it is a nightmare to respond to. For the family members who are left it is an ongoing nightmare.

These are the reasons why I support this motion.

We as an Australian people entered into a covenant with our veterans. As part of that covenant, we pledged to give them the highest level of support and care post their giving their highest level of service to our nation.

This is something that I take seriously. We need to look in a holistic way at how we can ensure that the welfare of our veterans is maintained.

In this place, I have spoken before about some of the areas where I think we can already make some positive changes. I’ve spoken about the DFRDB fund.

I’ve spoken about occupational therapists. Occupational therapists working for Veterans’ Affairs are being paid, on average, half or a third of what occupational therapists are being paid in the NDIS. This is causing people to leave that sector.

I’ve spoken about this in the chamber and I’ve spoken to the relevant people in government, but I’m starting to feel like my pleas are falling on deaf ears.

We come in here with all the will to improve the circumstances of our veterans but there are glaringly obvious things we can do immediately, like ensure those providing services to our veterans are being paid properly, and we’re not doing it.

I make that call again. This is something that needs to be fixed.

On Wednesday I informed the Prime Minister’s office that I had formed a view and changed my position to support this motion and to support a royal commission into veteran suicide. The subsequent discussions were not easy.

It shouldn’t be so hard to do something that is so glaringly obvious and the right thing to do. It shouldn’t be that hard.

I’m glad that the decision to establish a royal commission has been made by the Prime Minister.

Australia has a long and proud history of commanding officers and soldiers looking after their men and their mates, not only in battle but afterwards.

In this category, I put a fellow called Harry Smith, a bloke who commanded his men at the Battle of Long Tan. He did a sterling job there.

But some of the greatest contributions that he made were post his military service, when he continued to fight for their needs until he had a win.

I put Heston Russell in that category, a man who looked after his men in battle but is making some of the greatest contributions to this nation post wearing a uniform.

To Mrs Finney: when I met you the other day in Senator Lambie’s office, and you showed me the photo of your beautiful son, I told you that I would do my best. I give you a pledge that I will continue to do my best until this matter is completed.

(ENDS)