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The Hon Darren Chester MP
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel


28 January 2021
Time: 2:47 PM -  2:50 PM

Sky News, Kieran Gilbert interview on National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention

Channel: Sky News
Program: News Day


Description: Kieran Gilbert interview with Minister for Veterans' Affairs Darren Chester discussing the call for a National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention.

KIERAN GILBERT: At the end of last year The Morrison Government's attempt to introduce the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention was knocked back in the Senate. Labor said they didn't think it would be bigger and better than a Royal Commission as the government claimed. I was joined a short time ago by the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Darren Chester. He's confirmed the government plans to reintroduce that legislation over coming months.

DARREN CHESTER: We think it's a good policy. We think it's better than a Royal Commission which some people are calling for. And the reason we say that is because the National Commissioner is a standing Commissioner, so has all the powers, the equivalence of a Royal Commission, but doesn't just take a one point in time look at the issue, goes into perpetuity. So we recognise there's an issue with mental health around some of our veteran community. We recognise that over a period of years now we've seen suicides in the veteran community which concerns us all greatly - concerns everyone in the community greatly. And we believe the National Commissioner approach is the right approach. It has good support – It has support of the major ex-service organisations like the RSL, Mates4Mates, Soldier On. It did have the Labor party support early on but they changed their mind, unfortunately.

KIERAN GILBERT: One of the concerns that's been put to me by those who oppose it within the Parliament – Jacqui Lambie among them – is that the Interim Commissioner is a brigadier. Would you look at changing who the Commissioner is? Because they don't want the military basically overseeing this Commission.

DARREN CHESTER: We are open to improvements to the legislation – open to improvements to the model we're putting forward. So let's have that conversation when Parliament resumes. I don't know the Interim Commissioner. I've never met the lady concerned. I know she's hit the ground running. I know she started to work last year in November and started the review process, has started having round tables with our veteran community. But there are concerns in that area, I think we can explore those with the Independents and even with the Labor Party. Look, I think we've got to get the legislation across the line because it's in the interest of our veteran community, it's in the interest of our serving men and women to have that National Commissioner in place as an ongoing investigative capacity to look at these very serious issues.

KIERAN GILBERT: So you're saying, it's basically got the same capacity and powers as a Royal Commission but it's permanent?

DARREN CHESTER:  Well, the benefit is its permanent and reports back to Parliament every year. So that transparency – it's independent of my department. It's not my department that's putting this legislation forward. It's coming through the Attorney-General's department. So it's certainly independent of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

KIERAN GILBERT:  And when will you look to reintroduce it?

DARREN CHESTER: Well, we need to have these conversations in the Senate with the Crossbench – hopefully with the Labor Party as well. I don't really understand why Labor changed its mind because when we first announced the proposal last year, Labor was on board. All the major ex-service organisations have come out in support of the legislation and many organisations involved in mental health capacities across our community think it's good legislation. So I'm hoping we can work our way through this and get a good result. In the rush toward the end of last year, perhaps people had a bit of rush of blood and perhaps made poor judgments. I'm hoping we can work our way through it.

End of Transcript.

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