Australia poised for inquiry into veteran suicide, PM says

Prime Minister Scott Morrison Source:

CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison looks set to announce a Royal Commission to examine veteran suicides, after a government backbench revolt over delays in establishing an inquiry.

Morrison last year said his government would appoint a permanent national commissioner to investigate suicides among current and former military personnel amid rising public anger over the issue.

After widespread criticism over delays in implementing the scheme, Australia’s Senate last week proposed a Royal Commission be established, the most powerful inquiry in Australia, with several ruling backbench lawmakers saying they would support it in a parliamentary vote expected this week.

With Morrison facing an embarrassing defeat, on Monday he looked set to agree to a Royal Commission.

“We can come to some sort of agreement over the course of this week,” Morrison told 2GB Radio.

A Royal Commission is Australia’s most powerful government-appointed inquiry and can compel witnesses to give evidence and recommend prosecutions, but it does not make laws.

The issue of veteran suicide has been prominent in Australia following a high-profile campaign by Julie-Ann Finney, whose son David, a former naval petty officer, committed suicide in 2019.

If a Royal Commission is established, Australia, which has more than 3,000 troops deployed around the world, would join the United States, Britain and Canada in exploring ways to prevent suicide rates among serving and former military personnel.

As of last year, 419 Australian defence personnel have died from suicide since 2001, which is 18% higher than in non-military Australians, according to a government report.