Interim National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention waved out the door

By Melissa Coade

July 13, 2021

parliament house lit up golden
DFAT hosted the inaugural Space Policy Dialogue between Australia and the Republic of Korea. (lhboucault/Adobe)

Dr Bernadette Boss was told she would be dropped from her commissioner role on the same day the PM announced the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.

Last Thursday when Scott Morrison announced that Nick Kaldas, a former NSW police deputy commissioner, had been appointed to lead the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, two other commissioner names were mentioned. 

Former Queensland Supreme Court Judge James Douglas QC and psychiatrist Dr Peggy Brown would also support the efforts of the royal commission, the PM said.

One name that wasn’t mentioned in the news about the formal establishment of the commission was former ACT magistrate Bernadette Boss, who the ABC reports was advised that very day her tenure as interim National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention would soon end.

The reasons as to why Boss was being asked to leave are unclear but it is understood that she will be handing over an almost complete independent review of past ADF veteran suicides to the federal government. 

Boss was appointed last September but her role, which sits in the Attorney-General’s Department, was announced by the PM in February 2020. At the time Morrison had been resisting calls for a royal commission into veteran suicides, however by April he announced one would be established and that the national commissioner would continue her work separately.

Crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie and Labor do not support the creation of a permanent national commissioner, maintaining that a royal commission is preferable, and legislation to establish the role has not passed parliament.

The terms of reference for the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide were released last week and outline that there will be a thorough review of the departments of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs, and of the the Australian Defence Force’s recruiting practices, their housing and finance arrangements, and the military’s organisational culture.

In a statement made to the ABC, a spokesperson for the AG Michaelia Cash indicated that a new national commissioner might not be appointed for another two years (the Royal Commission’s final report is due in 2023). The spokesperson did indicate that the national commissioner’s work would ‘form an important foundation for the work of the royal commission’.

“The interim National Commissioner has been asked to provide a report to government on the work completed on the Independent Review to date,” the spokeswoman told the ABC.

“Subject to the passage of legislation, the government will consider the appointment of a National Commissioner once the royal commission either concludes its inquiry, or at an earlier point of time if the royal commission recommends that the National Commissioner be established.”

The spokesperson did not specify why Dr Boss had been asked to leave.

Senator Lambie, who has opposed Boss’ appointment from the start, suggested that the appointment was inappropriate given the close friendship Boss had with then minister of defence Linda Reynolds.

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