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

TRANSCRIPT

Date: 22/03/2021

Sky News, Kieran Gilbert interview with Minister Darren Chester discussing a proposed Royal Commission into Veterans Suicide

Station: Sky News

***E&OE***

Description: Kieran Gilbert interview with Minister Darren Chester discussing a proposed royal commission into veterans suicide.

KIERAN GILBERT: With me now is Darren Chester, the Veterans Affairs Minister. Obviously great emotion around this. We saw that in the chamber in Andrea's report there was very clear, and the government looks like it is going to exceed to this. Is that right? Is a royal commission going to happen?

DARREN CHESTER: Well, the motion being debated before the House now is still ongoing, but I spoke a couple of hours ago and made it clear the government was not opposing that motion. The motion went through the Senate last week calling on the government to establish a royal commission and it's fair to say we're trying to listen carefully to members on both sides and on the crossbench, obviously, to make sure we get an approach which can unite the Parliament, unite ex-service communities, and unite the families who have been affected by suicide in their own family. So, as you know Kieran, this is such a complex and sensitive issue, we know that we still lose too many of our veterans to suicide. Whatever happens today, whatever happens in the next week or so, this is not going to be a win for any politician or win for any political party. There are no wins in this until we get that number to zero

KIERAN GILBERT: Just to pick up. So let's explain for our viewers exactly what the situation here, we've seen a number of groups like the group in Parliament today lobbying for a royal commission. But there are others in the ex-servicemen, ex-service people, groups like the RSL that don't want it to happen.

DARREN CHESTER: There are certainly diverse views on the issue. And as Veterans' Affairs Minister for the past three years, it's been one of those troubling areas of public policy I've ever attempted to deal with because we all want the same result. We all want to stop suicide in our community and for anyone troubled by this conversation. Please reach out to Open Arms on 1800 011 046. But you'll have organisations which agree with position put by the government about 15 months ago that we want an enduring commissioner, a national commissioner, an independent statutory authority with all the powers of a royal commissioner, being able to look back and then also take forward any recommendation the government and extend into perpetuity as a legacy policy issue, whether there are others who believe quite bluntly, you need to have a royal commission first. And it's one of these really difficult areas Kieran where absolutely reasonable, passionate people can develop a different point of view on it, and neither be wrong. We're trying to get to a point, and this is where the conversation will be ongoing this week, I'm sure in the Parliament where we can land on a point where we unite the Parliament, unite the ex-service community and give the families the comfort that we are all moving in the same direction.

KIERAN GILBERT: You can see from your own fellow coalition MPs, including Phil Thompson there in that report that they clearly want a royal commission.

DARREN CHESTER: Well, it's brutal to watch because, you see your colleagues who are suffering pain and both Gavin Pearce and Phil Thompson have spoken about their own battles with mental wellbeing, the fact they've lost mates who served alongside them, and both of them support a national commissioner, an ongoing national commissioner. But as they both said in their speeches, they support a royal commission as well. So this is where, I think if we can bring this Parliament to its absolute best this week, we could get an enduring solution, unite the Parliament and go forward where we're not partisan in anyway on this issue because almost overwhelmingly in my portfolio Veterans' Affairs, there is a lot of bipartisanship. I mean, Labor agreed with us when we brought in the veteran's payment for free mental health care. They agreed with us when we broadened psychiatric assistance dogs for veterans, they agreed on extending the Open Arms peers. So there has been bipartisanship and a lot of issues, but it still remains an area which is a difficult public policy to try and resolve.

KIERAN GILBERT: And so if we look at this situation, as you said, we hope that the Parliament can be at its best in this sense, while it's facing dramas on many other fronts. But at least get this sorted. And do you think the most likely scenario is now the standing commissioner and a royal commission alongside it?

DARREN CHESTER: Well, there's no reason why you couldn't have, for example, this is where we get to. You couldn't have a royal commission doing the retrospective work, looking at things that occurred previously. So looking back in history and they have the enduring statutory independent authority being the national commissioner. Now that's there's no reason why you couldn't achieve that.

KIERAN GILBERT: Wish you all the best with it Darren Chester.

Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling provides support for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families. Free and confidential help is available 24/7. Phone 1800 011 046 (international: +61 8 8241 4546) or visit www.OpenArms.gov.au