Labor will oppose the Morrison Government’s National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention legislation in the Senate, following a decision taken by the Caucus today.
When the Government introduced the legislation for a National Commissioner, Labor were sceptical it was not “bigger and better than a Royal Commission” as the Government claimed.
We supported referring it to a Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee inquiry so it could be thoroughly examined, and so veterans and families could have their say.
The inquiry reported back yesterday. It confirmed Labor’s, and many people’s concerns, that the National Commissioner won’t have the independence, scope or resources to ask the really hard questions only a Royal Commission can.
The overwhelming feedback from submitters and witnesses to the inquiry was that the scope of the role was too narrow and that interim National Commissioner Dr Bernadette Boss was not sufficiently independent given her long association with the Australian Defence Force.
A number of stakeholders have said we need a proper inquiry through a Royal Commission to get to the bottom of systemic problems and to propose practical solutions, which could include a body like the National Commissioner.
Unlike the Government, Labor has consulted widely with veterans and families, veteran advocates, and mental health experts.
When the Prime Minister announced the National Commissioner earlier this year, he ignored the pleas of parents like Julie-Ann Finney and Karen Bird, whose veteran sons tragically took their own lives.
These families were clear – they wanted nothing less than a Royal Commission into veteran suicide to get to the bottom of these needless deaths.
This was always going to be the real test for Scott Morrison and his legislation, and he has failed badly.
The Government needs to establish a Royal Commission into veteran suicide, so we can tackle this issue once and for all.
Our veterans and their families deserve nothing less.