National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention
On 5 February 2020, the Prime Minister announced that the Australian Government will establish a new National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention to inquire into the deaths by suicide of serving and former ADF members.
The government stated that the death by suicide of any Australian Defence Force (ADF) member or veteran is tragic for the family, and felt by the entire community. Preventing these suicides is a key priority for government.
On 27 August 2020, the Attorney-General introduced 2 bills to the Parliament:
- the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention Bill 2020
- the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2020.
Public consultation process
We held a 4 week public consultation process on the Bills from 27 August 2020 to 24 September 2020.
We received over 70 submissions from a range of individuals and organisations. The government will consider the feedback provided in these submissions when refining the Bills as they pass through the Parliament.
We have published many of the submissions received, where they are relevant to the Bills and where the author has provided their consent to publish.
The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee in the Department of the Senate is currently conducting an inquiry into the Bills. It is due to provide a report on the Bills by 30 November 2020.
The Australian Government is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr Bernadette Boss CSC as the interim National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention.
Dr Boss served as a Magistrate and Coroner of the Australian Capital Territory Magistrates Court since 2012. She holds a PhD from the University of Sydney and has practiced as a barrister in Australia and the United Kingdom, primarily in the areas of family law, criminal law, administrative law and human rights law. Dr Boss also served in various command and staff roles in the ADF, primarily as a reservist, and was awarded a Conspicuous Service Cross.
More information can be found on the
The role of the National Commissioner
The Bills provide that the National Commissioner will work to identify and understand the factors and systemic issues that may contribute to suicide risk among serving and former ADF members, and make recommendations to government about actions and strategies relevant to past and any future ADF member or veteran deaths by suicide.
The National Commissioner will have appropriate statutory independence from government. They will be able to gather information and evidence, including by consulting experts and families and summoning witnesses, and obtaining relevant information and reports from government departments such as Defence and Veterans' Affairs.
The Bills provide that the National Commissioner will have relevant powers, like a Royal Commission. This will enable them to:
- undertake broad ranging inquiries relevant to their role and hear from any relevant party (including veterans and their families)
- conduct public and private hearings
- compel the production of evidence and summons witnesses.
The National Commissioner will provide a public report on their findings and recommendations to the Parliament each year. Government will be fully accountable, by being required to report annually to the Parliament on the implementation of the National Commissioner's recommendations.
Independent review of past defence and veteran suicides
The Government has announced terms of reference for the Independent Review of Past Defence and Veteran Suicides. The terms of reference are available on the
Preparatory work for the review is already underway.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) and the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC) will provide technical expertise for the review. We are holding regular project meetings with them to support their work.
Arrangements for the Department of Defence and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to provide relevant information to inform the review are also well advanced.
We are arranging the necessary ethics committee approvals to ensure the review meets the national principles and standards set by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Affected families will be invited to take part in the work of the National Commissioner.
Families who wish to participate will receive support to do so. This will enable families to make an important contribution, so that we can learn from the past and support suicide prevention.
The Bills provide that the National Commissioner will take a trauma-informed and restorative approach to their work, and recognises that families and others affected by these deaths by suicide have a unique contribution to make to the National Commissioner’s functions.
More information can be found on the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention website.
Where to get support
If you, or someone you know, need support, contact:
- Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14
- Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
- Open Arms (current and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel and their families can seek this free and confidential support) – 1800 011 046
- ADF Mental Health All-hours Support Line (for current serving Australian Defence Force personnel and their families) on 1800 628 036.