Support grows for Royal Commission into veterans’ suicide: we know where the money could come from

Update 12 February 2020: Petition is up to 285 000 names, but so far all that has been proposed is a ‘national commissioner’ not a Royal Commission. More. Later.

Julie-Ann Finney has been campaigning to have the Australian government set up a Royal Commission to inquire into suicide by veterans. She met the Prime Minister, who assured her that ‘a Royal Commission is not off the table’ and the matter is being given active consideration. She also met the Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese, who committed Labor to support a Royal Commission.

There are veterans right now who need our help [Ms Finney says] but we don’t have a system in place to give them the support they need. This crisis is affecting the every-day lives of veterans and their families. We need a Royal Commission now.

More than 500 current and former military personnel have taken their own lives since 2001. Would a Royal Commission get to the bottom of this human tragedy? Cost is always an issue with Royal Commissions, particularly one on this subject which would need, if it did its job properly, to talk to hundreds of veterans and their families, as well as government departments and not-for-profit organisations like Lifeline, Mates4Mates, and Soldier On.

Minister for Veterans, Darren Chester thinks a Royal Commission might cost around $100 million. He thinks that money would be better spent on ‘medical assistance, mental health specialists providing on-the-ground support for our veterans’. Following that argument through, the money currently committed to the extravagant and unnecessary expansion of the Australian War Memorial ($500 million over nine years) could be diverted to pay for a Royal Commission and for direct services to veterans (to add to the money already budgeted in that field). The money is there. Government has chosen to spend it on bricks and mortar; it could choose to spend it on direct services for veterans with the planning and prioritisation of that spending having the benefit of a searching inquiry through a properly-funded Royal Commission.

The Change.org petition for a Royal Commission has gathered almost 268 000 signatures. Ms Finney’s son David took his own life after military service.

A balanced view on the issues came from Deborah Morris and Ben Wadham in The Conversation in August. See also the campaign being conducted by the Daily Telegraph and 2GB, for example, this interview by Ben Fordham with Minister Chester.

David Stephens

4 December 2019 updated

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