Speech: Royal commission into veteran and defence suicide

Speech: Royal commission into veteran and defence suicide Main Image

Mrs PHILLIPS (Gilmore) (15:50): I too would like to thank everybody who has contributed to this debate. This is a debate and an issue that crosses all political divides, and I want to thank all members who have spoken on this debate. The speeches that we have witnessed are some of the most remarkable speeches I have seen, and I really want to thank you for that. I want to thank the community advocates—Julie-Ann Finney, veterans, everyone in the community—who has pushed for this for so long. It's been a bumpy road, a traumatic road, a rocky road, but to get to where we are today is one of the most pleasing things that I have seen in this parliament. I'm standing here today because I know that it is absolutely critical that we do have that royal commission into veteran suicide. The delay and the uncertainty on this issue for so long are certainly impacting so many families, and local families in my electorate. The New South Wales South Coast has a big Defence presence and we are very, very proud of it. We celebrate Defence at every opportunity. Only two weeks ago, I helped to welcome in the new cadet officers at HMAS Creswell, a wonderful occasion and one I was proud to be a part of. We also commemorate and acknowledge the sacrifice of our Defence personnel on solemn occasions, never forgetting those who have given their lives for us, so this is an issue that is close to everyone's hearts.

Labor has supported a royal commission into veteran suicide since 2019. Veterans want a royal commission, their families want a royal commission and advocates want a royal commission. Just this morning, I attended the rally out the front of Parliament House with veterans and their supporters to call for action. This morning we heard from Julie-Ann Finney, and I talked with veterans. They are very, very brave. They might not call themselves that but they are. They are heroes. They are there setting the standards for our future veterans. Their message is clear: the time is now and veterans have waited far too long.

The rate of suicide among our veterans is nearly twice that of the general population. I was absolutely devastated to learn that, over the last three months alone, 18 Defence personnel and veterans have taken their own lives. That is twice the number of the three months before. This is a problem that is getting worse, not better. Our veterans dedicate their lives to serving our country. They put their lives at risk to protect ours but, when they return, we just aren't doing our bit to help and support them. We aren't doing what's needed to help make sure they can transition back to civilian life. We are letting our veterans down and it is a national tragedy. The least that we can do is give veterans and their grieving families a voice through a full and open royal commission. I have heard from so many local veterans. They find it too difficult to talk to the Department of Veterans' Affairs. They tell me how they have had to fight and struggle to get help, and many say they are lucky to have had advocates who can do this on their behalf. But what about those who don't? That just isn't good enough.

I regularly attend events in my electorate that celebrate and commemorate our veterans and I talk regularly with veterans' associations and advocates. Advocates on the New South Wales South Coast tell me they are completely overwhelmed with work.

There is such high demand and they just can't keep up. These advocates are veterans themselves, volunteering and doing what they can to help others but struggling to get support. They, too, want to see a royal commission.

Just last month, I attended an event to commemorate the 57th anniversary of the HMAS Voyager disaster. There I met a survivor who wanted to tell me his story and ask me to support a royal commission into veteran suicide. Everywhere I go, veterans, their families and their advocates tell me the same thing. People ringing my office or emailing me want a royal commission and they want it now. When the government has lost the trust of a community, there is only one way to get it back: transparency and a clear and unequivocal dedication to hearing the truth.

Only a royal commission can do that. Only a royal commission will have the necessary resources to shine a light on this critical issue. Only a royal commission would have the independence needed to see real change. Only a royal commission can give families the closure, healing and justice they deserve. It will give them a voice. It will give their lost loved ones a voice. It will make sure that everyone in Australia knows their story and knows their heartache. The case is so clear. There is overwhelming support for a royal commission. We need to end the uncertainty, end the deferrals and get on with a royal commission now. I commend the motion.