Dec 1, 2020








SUBJECTS: Labor opposing the Government’s bill for a veteran suicide National Commissioner; calls for a Royal Commission into veteran suicide.


SHAYNE NEUMANN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR VETERANS’ AFFAIRS AND DEFENCE PERSONNEL: Good afternoon. My name is Shayne Neumann and I am the Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel. I am here with Anthony Albanese, the Labor Leader, Richard Marles, the Deputy Leader and the Shadow Minister for Defence, and Luke Gosling also, a veteran and a proud Northern Territory Member for Solomon. I am also joined by Julie-Ann Finney whose son tragically took his life and who has been so brave in advocating for a Royal Commission into Defence and Veterans’ suicide. We are here to announce today that Labor will be opposing the bills listed in the Senate to create a National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran suicide prevention. This is inadequate. It lacks scope, lacks resources, lacks independence. It is not good enough. What the Government is wanting to establish is a glorified coroner. As Julie-Ann has said before, we need a judicial response, not a coronial response here. We don’t need an individual case by case examination, we need systemic examination with a Royal Commission headed by a former Supreme Court judge or a District or a Federal Court judge which will look at this, not someone who’s a friend of the Defence Minister, who’s a former Brigadier General, who’s not independent of the military. We need an independent approach. And that’s why Labor 12 months ago, listening to the veterans’ community, to people like Julie-Ann, Karen Bird and others came to a position to call for a Royal Commission, and called on the Morrison Government to do so. But they’ve stubbornly refused to do so and come up with this half-baked approach. It’s inadequate. It’s not good enough. And Labor will be opposing these bills listed for the Senate today. Anthony?


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, Shayne. This is an issue which Labor didn’t come to lightly when we made the decision to call for a Royal Commission into veteran suicide. We did so after talking to the families of those who had lost loved ones, people like Julie-Ann Finney, who’s with us today, who I will ask to speak in a few moments. We did so after consulting with people in the Defence Force, both serving personnel and former personnel. We did so when we considered the quite horrific facts that we’ve lost more veterans to suicide than we’ve lost on the front-line. We did so because there was community support for such strong action. And I pay tribute to some of the media organisations. The Daily Telegraph in my home town ran a considerable campaign in support of veterans. The Prime Minister’s announcement was another example of an announcement that didn’t actually stack up. An announcement that isn’t capable of being delivered what is needed for the families of those who have lost loved ones. But importantly as well, a Royal Commission that could put in place recommendations so that others don’t have to go through the grieving process that too many families of our personnel have done so. We should be proud of the men and women who serve in our uniform. We should also make sure that we look after them and their interests, both while they’re serving, but importantly, afterwards as well. And that’s why we won’t support this legislation because it is inadequate. That’s why we’ll continue to argue the case that the Government should have a Royal Commission. If they don’t do it, an incoming Labor Government will. And I’ll ask Julie-Ann to make some comments.


JULIE-ANN FINNEY, VETERAN SUICIDE PREVENTION CAMPAIGNER: First of all, I need to say, if you serve, or have served, thank you for your service. You’ve given me the right to be here today. And today, this announcement gives you some real support for what should happen for veteran wellbeing. The legislation that the Morrison Government has put through does nothing for veterans. Not one veteran will be helped. We don’t need amendments or adjustments to this legislation. It just needs to be defeated. So, let it go through Prime Minister and let it be defeated. Today, I’m incredibly grateful. I’m incredibly grateful that Labor have really heard the families. In the past, it’s been said that we’ve been heard, but nobody has listened to us. We need wellbeing for our veterans. They sign a blank cheque for us. And the only way to get wellbeing is with a full Royal Commission. And today, I am feeling emotional, and I apologise. I apologise for that. But my son, and many other children, many other families, they deserve nothing less. If we care about them, we’ll have a Royal Commission. We will investigate what the problems are, and we will look at finding solutions. We need to look after our veterans as they’ve looked after themselves. They signed a blank cheque. I’m so grateful. I’m incredibly grateful that we’ve been heard. So, hopefully this will put an end to it once and for all. We don’t want this National Commissioner. It won’t work. It won’t do anything for veteran wellbeing. It won’t do anything to stem mothers like me standing up here in the future. We need a Royal Commission. So, thank you.


ALBANESE: Thank you for your courage.


JOURNALIST: What is the alternative? We obviously hear that with the national Commissioner, there will be no other inquiry into veteran suicide. Isn’t it better to have a commissioner than nothing at all?


ALBANESE: This wouldn’t look into it. Have a look at the legislation. The legislation would effectively provide for someone to be almost like, as Shayne Neumann said, almost like an additional coroner that would look at an event, a tragedy, when it occurs. It wouldn’t examine in any systemic way what families have asked for. And I take a view on this issue that I haven’t served and worn the Australian uniform. Therefore, when it comes to these issues, what I do is I listen to those people who have, and the families of them. And it couldn’t be clearer. And I’m sorry, if it’s Julie-Ann or Scott Morrison, I’m on her side. I make no apologies for that. And we’ve listened to them. It is a difficult decision that we’ve had to make. We didn’t make it lightly. I haven’t called for a dozen Royal Commissions. We made it as a serious point. What this Government did, which was to have Royal Commissions into former Labor leaders, that’s what they did. This is a Royal Commission into the needs of the families of veterans for those people who have lost loved ones. This isn’t a political decision. This should not be a partisan decision. This should be embraced. And a Royal Commission should happen with the Government’s support. And we say to the Government, listen to the communities. Ms Finney received a phone call from the Prime Minister about this announcement. Frankly, when you look at the details, she and others say it just doesn’t stack up.


JOURNALIST: One of the issues here is in the current system, you can’t report whether people have taken their lives, whereas with a system like this, it would allow public exposure. And given that Labor has also conceded that a Royal Commission might eventually recommend a permanent body like this, wouldn’t it be better to have this body in place, operating, exposing the issues, even if it is only case-by-case, that is a systematic approach, and then having a Royal Commission if needed?


ALBANESE: This isn’t a systemic approach. This is a structure that’s designed to stop one. Thank you.


JOURNALIST: On publicly exposing the issue, there is nothing right now that allows reporters to cover coronial inquests of people taking their own lives. This would do that. Surely that is something?


NEUMANN: Look, there’s nothing in this approach at the moment. What they’re going to do is a desktop review for 12 months and give back a report. That’s what they’re going to do. And the way they’ve established this is to do this in private, not do this in public, appoint someone without consultation. And they’re not systemically looking at this, they’re not. And what we need to do is systemically look at the issues. This will achieve nothing. In fact, the families are saying that this will do more harm than good.


FINNEY: I’m sorry, this will do nothing. It won’t give you any reporting. If you want reporting, go to the parents. We need a Royal Commission. That is the only thing that is going to look at this in-depth. If you want to look at future suicides with the National Commissioner, we need to stop them, not look at them. We don’t want to look at future suicides. They should not be happening. This is nothing. It does nothing for anyone.


JOURNALIST: What would you like to see happen between now and if there was
any eventuality of a Royal Commission set up?


FINNEY: I would like to see people out there who are still trying to help veterans. They’re still trying to come up with solutions. They’re still doing research. Let that happen. Let that go ahead. I’m not saying stop everything and do nothing. But do not placate us. This Government offered me and other mothers a Mother’s Medal. Do you think that I don’t know what that would look like? Maybe a little rope or a bottle of pills that I can wear saying that my child committed suicide? They come up with things to placate us. And that’s all they do. They placate us. I’m not going to be placated. My son is dead. They want to give me the opportunity to tell me story. My son is dead. I have to live with it. That is my story. That is not enough. A trauma-informed approach, we need an investigation.


ALBANESE: Thank you. That’s a powerful way of ending. Thank you.