This Sunday marks a day of remembrance for Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Island nations. In the lead up to Anzac Day, Lauren Freemantle explores the often silent costs of service.
This year, many will reflect on the continued traumas service people face after returning home, as the Australian Government announces a Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.
On Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison recommended that the Governor-General establish the Royal Commission following a period of public consultation. This means state and territory governments will hear feedback from the community as to what should be included on the Terms of Reference.
In a recent media release the Prime Minister stated:
“We have always recognised that the rate of suicide of Australian Defence Force members and veterans is unacceptably high. In recognising the sacrifices made by our serving and former members and their families on behalf of the nation, we owe it to members, veterans and their families to continue to take action.”
The move has been welcomed by the Returned & Services League (RSL), with National President Major Greg Melick calling for immediate action with no further delay.
In a media release from RSL NSW, Melick said, “less than one in four of the recommendations of the many previous inquiries into veterans’ mental health issues have been implemented, so the time for action is long-passed.
“While the suicide rate in the armed services is well below the national average, among veterans it is four times the national average. That is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue.”
The RSL is pleading the Government to implement any interim recommendations as soon as they are made rather than waiting for the report to be finalised; a process which, as we have seen from the Royal Commission into Aged Care, can take years.
The Prime Minister’s announcement comes at a time when the reputation of the Australian Defence Force has been thrown into question by the alleged actions of a select few.
Over the past three years, decorated Afghanistan veteran and Victoria Cross Recipient Ben Roberts-Smith has been hounded by allegations that he committed war crimes during his time in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan Province in 2012.
The former soldier strongly denies the charges, which are being investigated by the AFP, and is pursuing defamation claims against the newspapers which published the allegations.
Now, a damning joint report by The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes claims Ben Roberts-Smith is deliberately misleading investigators.
The controversy follows the release of the Brereton Report in November 2020, representing the culmination of four years of inquiry and concluding that 19 Australian soldiers should be investigated by police over the killing of 39 prisoners and civilians.
In the wake of the report, Australian Defence Force General Angus Campbell recommended that meritorious unit citations be revoked for around 3000 former special forces troops.
But this week, in time for Anzac Day, Defence Minister Peter Dutton has overturned that decision, telling 2GB radio we must uphold the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’
The Minister, known for his controversial decisions, has been well-received by the public in declaring we should “concentrate on the 99% of good. Those people deserve our recognition…”
This time last year, NSW was in the midst of its COVID-imposed lockdown and residents took to the streets at dawn, clutching candles or wearing poppies, in a quiet display of recognition.
While NSW has been free of community transmissions for some time, for most of us, Anzac Day in Newcastle is set to be another low-key affair due to ongoing crowd restrictions.
The traditional Nobby’s Dawn Service has been closed to the public and will be observed by invited guests only, but you can watch the broadcast on NBN Television from 5am. For information about local Anzac services, see the Sonia Hornery MP Facebook page.
If Anzac Day 2020 has taught us anything though, it’s that the occasion can be commemorated just as significantly at home.
If this article has brought up any issues for you or you wish to seek assistance, support is available via:
Lifeline – 13 11 14
Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling – 1800 011 046
ADF Mental Health All-hours Support Line – 1800 628 036