On 1 September 2016, Senator Lambie, also on behalf of Senators
Xenophon, Hinch and Culleton, moved that the Senate note that:
- the number of veterans who have
served overseas in war and warlike circumstances since 1999 is some 50 000
personnel over 75 000 deployments which is now approaching the number of
Australian veterans who served in Vietnam – 60 000 between 1962 and 1972;
some reports from ex-service
organisations and former Australian Defence Force (ADF) members suggest that
the number of veterans in our community who have committed suicide may be more
than 280 veterans since 1999;
the Turnbull Government must now
take steps to acknowledge this crisis among so many ADF veterans, and undertake
the necessary research so as to measure the scale of the suicide rate;
some ex-service organisations and
former ADF members believe that the complexity of Australia's military
compensation schemes, together with administrative failures and slow
decision-making by the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA), is a contributing
factor to imposing financial hardship, stress on families, delays in medical
treatment, and even homelessness and suicide; Australian Military Compensation
Arrangements must be fair and provide former members of the Defence Force and
their families who suffer a service injury or disease with a strong system of
compensation and other benefits;
media reports and discussions with
individual veterans, along with feedback from ex-service organisations have
revealed a number of serious issues with the administration, governance and
processes of DVA was over five years ago and is now outdated and the Turnbull
Government must commit to undertaking a thorough review of DVA, addressing the
issues above; and
the RSL Tasmania State Executive
supports the following motion by State President Robert Dick: 'As a society, we
have an obligation to ensure that we care for those called upon to serve and
defend our country. When there is a failure in the system that looks after and
cares for these people, it is important to understand why that failure has
occurred and to rectify it to ensure that it doesn't happen again. A Senate
inquiry is the most appropriate vehicle to explore these failures and identify
the best means to remedy this situation and hold those responsible for the
failures to account'.
The Senate then referred the following matters to the Foreign Affairs,
Defence and Trade References Committee for inquiry and report by 30 March 2017:
reasons why Australian veterans are committing suicide at such high rates;
reviews of military compensation arrangements and their failings;
Repatriation Medical Authority's Statements of Principles, claims
administration time limits, claims for detriment caused by defective
administration, authorised medical treatment, level of compensation payments,
including defence abuse, as contained in all military compensation
investigate the progress of reforms within DVA;
administration of claims by DVA and the legislative or other constraints on
effective rehabilitation and compensation for veterans; and
other related matters.
On 27 March 2017, the Senate extended the reporting date of the inquiry
to 20 June 2017.
On 19 June 2017, the Senate agreed to further extend the reporting date to
15 August 2017.
Conduct of inquiry
The committee requested that submissions to the inquiry be received by 7 October
2016, however the committee determined that it would continue to consider and
accept submissions after this date. The committee also published the following
statement regarding the inquiry on its website:
In terms of setting expectations, the committee emphasises
that it is not in a position to address individual claims of rehabilitation or
compensation for veterans and ex-service personnel. The committee's focus is on
the broad issues raised in the terms of reference of the inquiry.
The committee recognises that this inquiry will deal with
matters which could be distressing for some persons. Persons interested in the
inquiry who are seeking support or information about suicide prevention are
able to contact a number of organisations including:
Lifeline on 13 11 14;
the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service on 1800 011 046;
MensLine on 1300 78 99 78.
The inquiry received 458 submissions, with many accepted as name
withheld or taken as confidential by the committee. Due to the complex and
sensitive nature of material received of the inquiry there were delays between
the receipt and the publication of some submissions. Public submissions are
listed at Appendix 1 and are available on the committee's website.
Tabled documents, responses to questions on notice and additional information
received are listed at Appendix 2.
The committee held five public hearings for the inquiry and sought to
speak to ranges of persons, experts and public officials. The dates and
location of the public hearings were:
17 November 2016, Adelaide, South Australia;
18 November 2016, Canberra, ACT;
2 February 2017, Brisbane, Queensland;
6 February 2017, Canberra, ACT; and
5 May 2017, Perth, Western Australia.
The witnesses who appeared at these hearings are listed at Appendix 3
and the programs and Hansard transcripts are published on the
Previous parliamentary inquiries
Recent parliamentary inquiries have considered topics touching on
aspects of the terms of reference and have informed the committee's
consideration of this inquiry. These include:
Senate Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Safety,
Rehabilitation and Compensation Legislation Amendment (Defence Force) Bill 2016
[provisions] (tabled February 2017);
Senate Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade References Committee, Mental
health of Australian Defence Force members and veterans (tabled March
Senate Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Veterans'
Affairs Legislation Amendment (2015 Budget Measures) Bill 2015— Schedule 2
(tabled September 2015);
Senate Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade References Committee, Processes
to support victims of abuse in Defence (tabled October 2014);
Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Care
of ADF Personnel Wounded and Injured on Operations (tabled June 2013); and
Senate Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade References Committee, Report
of the DLA Piper Review and the government's response (tabled June 2013).
In particular, the Australian Government provided a response to the
committee's inquiry on the Mental health of Australian Defence Force members
and veterans in September 2016.
National Mental Health Commission report
A number of significant policy developments relevant to the terms of
reference have occurred during the inquiry. In particular, on 11 August 2016,
the Australian Government announced a review of suicide and self-harm
prevention services available to veterans and ADF members. The review was undertaken
by the National Mental Health Commission (NMHC), in conjunction with clinical
experts and a reference group comprising current and former members of the ADF,
the Chair of the Prime Ministerial Advisory Council on Veterans' Mental Health
and the Deputy President of the Repatriation Commission.
The NMHC released its final report and recommendations on
28 March 2017.
The report made 23 recommendations including that the Minister 'within six
months of receiving this report, and annually thereafter...table a report in the
Parliament of Australia, addressing the actions taken in support of
implementing the recommendations, and the progress achieved'.
The Australian Government response to the NMHC report recommendations
was released on 30 June 2017. The response included that the Minister
would 'deliver an annual Ministerial statement on key issues for current and
former serving ADF members and their families' with the first scheduled for
Structure of the report
Chapter 2 of the report provides a background to the inquiry, including
an overview of some key entitlements under the three main legislative schemes. Reflecting
the terms of reference and the evidence received, the next chapters of the
report address three major topics. These are:
Chapter 3 – suicide by veterans;
Chapter 4 – the legislative framework; and
Chapter 5 – administration issues.
The period when ADF members transition to civilian life was emphasised
during the inquiry as a critical time for the provision of assistance. Issues
in relation to transition are addressed in Chapter 6.
Chapter 7 contains discussion of a number of other related matters which
were raised. These include:
access to alternative and complimentary therapies;
advocacy issues; and
Definitions and language
The committee has tried to be careful not to inadvertently exclude any
person or group in conducting this inquiry. However, while circumstances of
currently serving ADF members are clearly relevant to parts of the inquiry, the
inquiry's terms of reference are directed to the situation of ADF members
following the conclusion of their service.
In particular, the committee acknowledges that the term 'veteran' can
mean different things to different people.
The Veterans' Entitlement Act 1988 (VEA) defines a veteran as a person
who is 'taken to have rendered eligible war service'; and the term is not
specifically defined by the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act
2004 (MRCA), rather it notes the kinds of service to which the MRCA applies,
listing warlike service, non-warlike service, peacetime service and defence
For convenience, the committee has decided to use the term 'veteran' inclusively
in this report to describe all former members of the ADF.
Suicide is a topic that should be discussed carefully and sensitively.
Inappropriate discussion and reporting of suicide can be distressing for people
bereaved by suicide and can have a negative influence on those at risk. However,
the committee has a responsibility to clearly and accurately examine on this
significant issue for veterans and their families. While efforts have been made
to use appropriate language in this report, evidence from submissions and witnesses
have not been edited if potentially inappropriate language has be used.
The committee recognises that for some persons this inquiry has involved
discussing difficult topics and revealing extremely personal information. The
committee wishes to thank all those who contributed to the inquiry through
preparing submissions, providing additional information, speaking to the committee
and giving evidence at the public hearings.
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