Former New South Wales Police Force deputy commissioner Nick Kaldas has been appointed to lead the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.
He will be supported by fellow commissioners James Douglas QC, an esteemed former Judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland, and Dr Peggy Brown, a consultant psychiatrist and national leader in mental health policy.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the formal establishment of the royal commission on Thursday, noting that it would be informed by the individual experiences of defence members, veterans and their families, and support networks.
“The death of any Australian Defence Force member or veteran is a tragedy that is deeply felt by all Australians. As a government we are committed to addressing the ongoing impact of service, including preventing future deaths by suicide and providing opportunities for healing,” he said.
The royal commission will examine systemic issues and common themes related to defence and veteran suicide, including the possible contribution of pre-service, service, transition, separation and post-service issues. The inquiry will be able to investigate any previous death by suicide, including suspected suicide.
The inquiry will be conducted in a trauma-informed way, the government said. Those who wish to share their story in private will be able to do so, and a legal financial assistance scheme will be available to people called as witnesses. People engaging with the royal commission will also have access to an independent legal advisory service, counselling and support services.
Feedback collected through a public consultation process — including from more than 3000 submissions — and views from states and territories have informed the terms of reference.
Kaldas has international experience in law enforcement and peacekeeping, including as director of internal oversight Services for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and as chief of investigations for the United Nations Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in Syria.
Newly appointed veterans’ affairs minister Andrew Gee said he hoped the royal commission would be a ‘catalyst for positive change in the treatment and care of veterans and their families’.
“Our country asks so much of the men and women of the ADF and we owe it to them and our veterans to make sure that this royal commission and its findings lead to lasting results,” he said.
The royal commission will provide an interim report in August 2022, and a final report in June 2023. The commission’s recommendations will be implemented by the Office of the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention.
The government noted that the legislation to establish the national commissioner, currently before the Parliament, would be amended to ensure the entity complements the royal commission’s work. Under the proposed amendments, the national commissioner’s functions and powers will commence following the conclusion of the royal commission — or at an earlier point in time if recommended by the royal commission.
The government introduced legislation to establish the national commissioner last year, and appointed Dr Bernadette Boss as the interim national commissioner.
Those who need support can contact:
Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
Open Arms (free and confidential for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families) – 1800 011 046
ADF Mental Health All-hours Support Line (for current serving ADF personnel and their families) – 1800 628 036
Safe Zone Support (for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families who wish to remain anonymous ) – 1800 142 072