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Parliamentarians voted for a royal commission into the rate of suicide of Australian Defence Force personnel

EMOTIONAL: Member for Braddon Gavin Pearce (left) receives a hug from Member for Herbert Phillip Thompson following debate on a royal commission into Veteran Suicides. Picture: Getty Images.
EMOTIONAL: Member for Braddon Gavin Pearce (left) receives a hug from Member for Herbert Phillip Thompson following debate on a royal commission into Veteran Suicides. Picture: Getty Images.

Political opinions were pushed aside in federal parliament on Monday night, when a resolution passed unanimously through the House of Representatives calling for the establishment of a royal commission into the rate of suicide among current and former Australian Defence Force personnel.

Emotional speeches were shared by many members personally affected, including veteran and Braddon MHR Gavin Pearce, before all voted in favour.

Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie put the motion forward in the Senate where it also passed unanimously.

Senator Lambie said it was time for the Prime Minister to listen to the parliament.

"The Senate's listened, the House of Representatives has listened, and now it's up to the Prime Minister to show he's listened too. He's got to honour the unanimous position of the Parliament and call a royal commission, straight away," she said.

"Literally everybody in the building wants this to happen. Even the Prime Minister himself has said he's not opposed to it.

"What is he going to do about it?"

BIG CALL: Jacqui Lambie is calling on the federal government to act after a motion unanimously passed through both houses of parliament. Picture: Brodie Weeding

BIG CALL: Jacqui Lambie is calling on the federal government to act after a motion unanimously passed through both houses of parliament. Picture: Brodie Weeding

Senator Lambie said she had spoken with many veterans who were in support of a royal commission being established.

"We lost more than 70 veterans last year. People are dying faster than ever before, and we don't know why," she said.

"I don't want another day where another soul loses the hope that there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

"I've spoken to people who've told me they're suicidal themselves but they'd try and hang around long enough to be able to tell their stories to a royal commission.

"That's what announcing this would mean. You'd save lives, straight away."

Political support

Liberal Member for Bass Bridget Archer is in support of the establishment of the royal commission.

"I spent yesterday supporting colleagues and Australian Defence Force veterans, including Member for Braddon Gavin Pearce and Member for Herbert Phil Thompson , as they spoke passionately about their personal experiences and trauma they and their mates endured from their time serving in our forces," Ms Archer said.

"It is their lived experience which they have openly shared and those of veterans and their families in our community - many who have reached out to me and are desperate to see change - which has helped to inform my view that a royal commission into veterans' suicide is needed."

Gavin Pearce's speech

In his speech, Mr Pearce spoke about his 20 years in the defence force, and the mate ship he felt after leaving.

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He also spoke about the effect that his service had on him - including his own diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"It's had an effect on me, not only physically but mentally," he said.

"I said before in this place [the House of Representatives] that I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and I'm treated daily for that.

"I said when I mention it in this place that I don't mention it for pity. I mention it to let all veterans know that, yes, you may suffer the same thing that I suffer but there's a light at the end of the tunnel, and you can get help.

Help is there today, tomorrow and it'll always be there. We need to make sure as a collective that that help is always there and it's always strong.

Gavin Pearce

Mr Pearce said that a royal commission was going to be "tough" on everybody involved, but it was important.

"As this royal commission goes about its very critical job that it has to do, I want to make sure that those diggers out there, those veterans out there, and those families that I talked about earlier are protected not just today, tomorrow, next year or at the completion of the royal commission," he said.

"I want to make sure that there is help there every day for them.

"I think it behoves us all to ensure in a bipartisan way that that help is provided"

Support from all sides

Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson threw his full support behind the establishment of a royal commission.

"Unlike Scott Morrison, the Greens have listened to the veteran community and support overwhelming calls for a royal commission into veteran suicides," he said.

"The Greens were the first party to initiate a federal parliamentary inquiry into veterans suicide and homelessness in 2015, but sadly many of the Senate recommendations have not been acted on and more lives have now been lost.

"Governments send Australians to war and conflict zones, and have a duty of care for them when often they suffer as a consequence of their service.

Families are grieving and deserve every right to be heard. Only a royal commission will give the appropriate powers and protections for families to do this in a way that could lead to authoritative changes in government

Peter Whish-Wilson

Labor senator Helen Polley also spoke in support of the establishment of a royal commission, saying she had seen overwhelming support from the public.

"My father served, and I know all too well the scars of war," she said.

"You only had to see the number of people rallying outside Parliament yesterday in the rain to understand there is now overwhelming support for a royal commission.

"Scott Morrison needs to respect the will of the parliament, to do the right thing and give the grieving families of veterans the proper investigations they deserve.

"The Prime Minister needs to act now. Our families deserve nothing less."

Response from the defence community

The passing of the resolution was strongly welcomed by Mates 4 Mates, a charity supporting the transition of former defence force personnel.

Mates 4 Mates chief executive Troy Watson said he was comforted by the bipartisan support received for the establishment of a royal commission.

"Bipartisan support is usually forthcoming on veterans' issues which is good," Mr Watson said.

This is an issue that has caused significant angst in pockets of the veteran community for some time, so it's good to see what could be a way through this

Troy Watson

Mr Watson said what they wanted to see now was action.

"There's been talk around a national commissioner for a while now, which we've been happy to work with in the interim," he said.

"We know this [the establishment of a royal commission] will take time to set up from here, and we want to see continued focus on these issues and things to continue moving rather than stall in this process.

"While those votes have been good to see, what we want to see now is follow through from that, not just in a political sense but the tangible actions against the existing recommendations on previous inquiries."

RSL Tasmania chief executive Robert Dick said the organisation was supportive of the work the government was currently doing, and would support a royal commission if one was called.

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This story Support grows for defence force royal commission first appeared on The Advocate.