Australia’s Military Suicide Crisis Halted by Bureaucracy: Royal Commission Chair Warns

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The probing look into the escalating suicide crisis engulfing the military sector of Australia is said to have been hindered and blocked by governmental and defence bureaucracy, according to the individual spearheading the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.

In an impassioned address at the National Press Club, Nick Kaldas, the commission chair, urged the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and the Commonwealth to fully cooperate with the expansive inquiry. He challenged whether the crisis, which claimed 1600 service personnel lives from 1997 to 2020—an alarming rate of 20 times the casualty count in active duty—was being taken seriously by those in positions of authority.

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The government’s resolution to establish a royal commission and the legislature’s desire to examine key issues have been met with difficulties in obtaining essential information from Commonwealth entities in a punctual fashion, Kaldas affirmed. “Ultimately, the success of our mission necessitates that government bodies and agencies including the ADF, defence groups, and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA), actively engage and set into motion appropriate actions.”

It was clarified by Kaldas that “political interference” had been nonexistent in the commission’s work since its 2021 launch. However, he noted that the defence community had fallen short in recognizing the problem and moving promptly to address the situation.

The royal commission’s findings thus far indicate significant stagnation in implementing measures to reinforce the mental health and wellbeing of servicemen and women. Kaldas observed that the defence’s investigation and reporting on suicides have advanced at a disappointingly slow pace, suggesting a lack of stringent action in response to these intricate issues.

The commission chair questioned whether the defence community is truly committed to meaningful change that will benefit its members, or if it is merely playing a bureaucratic charade. Kaldas pointed out that previous commissions faced similar obstacles, hinting that a guarded legal culture in Canberra could be inhibiting the free exchange of information.

Cultural issues deeply rooted in the military obstruct its capability to address this crisis effectively, he added. Requesting help early on and pursuing effective treatments can engender positive results and forestall future issues. Regrettably, the act of seeking support within the ADF is frequently deemed a sign of frailty in a context heavily dominated by men where strength is extolled.

Kaldas shared these concerns publicly, ahead of the full report, set for release in June 2024. His motive was to garner greater public and media awareness of the problems unveiled by the commission.

The speech also unveiled one of the commission’s impending recommendations: the foundation of an independent body tasked with holding the government accountable. Kaldas stressed that such a body should be enduring, influential, and independent, while possessing sufficient power to face the issues it encounters.

The commission has carried out numerous hearings around the nation, critically analyzing the complex issue of mental health. It has accumulated some 230,000 documents, 4165 submissions, and testimonies from over 280 witnesses.