News Politics Australian Politics Labor backs Dutton on veteran suicide inquiry but says initiative is short on specifics

Labor backs Dutton on veteran suicide inquiry but says initiative is short on specifics

australian soldier
More veterans have taken their own lives than have died in Australia's recent wars. Photo: Getty
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Labor has welcomed the support of new defence minister Peter Dutton for a standing royal commission to address veteran suicides but says the proposal needs to be fleshed out with specific details.

The Morrison government has spent years arguing against launching an inquiry into the deeply troubling issue but has yielded to pressure from veteran advocates and outspoken members of its own back bench.

Mr Dutton says as things stand, there is no need to lobby Prime Minister Scott Morrison to back the commission, which parliament unanimously endorsed last month.

However he wants it set up alongside a permanent office for the prevention of veteran suicides.

“The Prime Minister has been clear about this,” Mr Dutton told Sky News’ Sunday Agenda program.

“We want to have a standing royal commission so that families into the future where tragically somebody has committed suicide, that they can have their say and have a better understanding of the circumstances in that death.

“We have been very open to a royal commission, we are not opposed to a royal commission but we want it in concert with a continuing arrangement where families can continue to receive justice.”

‘Rhetorical crab walk’

Regardless, the opposition has accused Mr Dutton of taking “a rhetorical crab walk towards a royal commission but sadly one that doesn’t deliver for veterans and their families”.

In a joint statement issued on Saturday, Labor MPs Shayne Neumann and Brendan O’Connor said the government needed to listen more closely to veterans, advocates and the will of the parliament and establish a royal commission immediately.

Parliament’s passing of a bipartisan motion on the issue had been very important, it said.

But it would amount to nothing if the government failed to actually announce a royal commission, publicly release draft terms of reference and commit to responding to its recommendations.

“A royal commission is what veterans and families want, it’s what the experts want, and it’s what thousands of Australians want,” the statement said.

“Now we know it’s what the parliament wants too.”

Veterans’ Affairs Minister Darren Chester told parliament on March 23 the proposed permanent agency could work in tandem with a royal commission but he still referred to “if” a royal commission was called rather than “when”.

Australian Defence Force personnel have a suicide rate nearly twice that of the wider community.

More veterans have died by suicide than in war over the past 20 years.

-with AAP

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