Transcript - ABC Radio Darwin - Royal Commission into Veteran Suicide

26 November 2021

DARWIN - 26 November 2021

ADAM STEER, HOST: The royal commission starts today in Brisbane. There'll be a ceremonial hearing today with participants to start giving evidence on Monday. The commission will investigate the systematic issues that led to veteran deaths in the last 20 years. 1,273 people who served in the ADF since 1985 have taken their life. Luke Gosling is the federal Member for Solomon and a former member of the ADF. Luke Gosling, you have long campaigned for a royal commission. What does this day mean for the families of ADF members who have taken their own lives?
LUKE GOSLING, MEMBER FOR SOLOMON: Yeah. Good morning, Adam and Jo. It means a great deal, it's a culmination of years and years of work for a lot of these families where they've been grieving their son or daughter. And today, with this ceremonial process and then the first hearings for the first time to a royal commission, they will be able to give evidence. And what the aim is is to make sure that what happened to their families doesn't happen to other Australian families.
STEER: I imagine this is going to be a charged royal commission full of emotion, with many families talking about the devastation in the wake of people taking their own lives as former defence members.
GOSLING: Yeah, it will be. And it's really important that the royal commission has got resources there, counsellors and mental health professionals so that they're able to support those that are giving testimony. But of course, it won't be the first time that a lot of these family members and veterans themselves have given this sort of evidence. The difference now is, though, that with this royal commission, it's obviously a signal being the highest level of inquiry we can have in our nation that this is being taken extremely seriously. And there's an acknowledgement, finally, from the Federal Government that we have to be doing everything we possibly can to improve the continuum of support that veterans and ADF members get so that they’re well, happy, their families are good, and that's outcomes that we need, is those recommendations. And then they need to be committed to by whoever the Federal Government is so that we fix the system.
STEER: What do you want to see eventuate from this royal commission right in the end, Luke Gosling?
GOSLING: I want to see a systemic array of recommendations that mean that when someone starts the process to get support because of the either physical or mental injuries that they've suffered, that they stay well during that process and they get the support that they need, that their claim’s dealt with in a quick way, that they're listened to and that they're given every support that they need. So that means better coordination. Well, it means a review of the way that the Department of Veterans Affairs handles their claims and how quickly they handle their claims, but also the roles of industry, the roles of ex-service organizations so that those individuals and their families are supported to the best of our ability, so that people are well and they can get on with life.
STEER: “Blame” is probably the wrong word, but how much of the responsibility lies at the feet of the Department of Veterans Affairs? Many of the stories that we cover dealing with defence members and post their serving time, it's OK whilst they're in defence, the systems are in place, but it's once they go into the Department of Veterans Affairs that things seem to fall apart. Is that your understanding and your experience?
GOSLING: That’s exactly -- I must say that I've had a positive experience with DVA with the treatment of injuries that I had from my service. But for many, many veterans -- and I was speaking to the wife of the veteran this morning, and it's been five hundred and twenty days that he's had a claim in from injuries in Afghanistan. And DVA still haven't allocated him a case officer or reviewed his claim. So that's just clearly unacceptable. And what we've found out through a Senate inquiry just this week is there's about 33 per cent of contractors working for DVA. So what's happening is DVA, more than any other department, is privatizing the work and the work is not being done anywhere near as quickly as it needs to be.
JOLENE LAVERTY, HOST: Is that veteran in the Northern Territory, Luke?
GOSLING: Yeah. Yeah, they are. 
LAVERTY: That's shocking. Why-- I mean, given everything that you have just said in the space of just a few minutes, and all the figures that we have about the impact that returning from service has on ADF members and veterans, why is a royal commission even necessary? Why not just look at the facts as they are and do something about it now without having to go through the rigmarole of a royal commission?
GOSLING: I think it's about accountability. It’s a public process, and it's also more difficult for a Federal Government, no matter what side of politics they are, to ignore the recommendations. But because the public is along on the journey, the media will do their job and tell the stories of veterans and their families and the impact that entering into that process, that claims process in particular has on them. So I take the example of the conversation I had this morning with a Darwin family. You know, the veteran in the case, her husband, went into the process of trying to get support for his injuries from Afghanistan relatively well. But through the process, he became more unwell, with it not being taken as seriously as he needed it to, and with the slowness of the response of that process as well. So what's been happening with veterans -- and Jessie Byrd was really, in his case, and Karen Byrd, his mother, will obviously be giving testimony to the royal commission -- but Jessie Byrd's case really got people focused on it because it was a classic example of how a young Australian soldier like Jessie Byrd, who had served overseas, fell through the cracks of support whilst he was going through that process, and because he didn't get the support that he needed when he needed it, unfortunately, he took his own life. So, you know, that's been a bit of a catalyst for this acknowledgement that we need to do a systemic review so everyone has their say. And then very smart people, the commissioners and those working for them, see the common threads and where things have gone wrong, and we get recommendations to fix those, and the government of the day has to work with the ex-service community and the veterans community to set those things right.
LAVERTY: It seems like a good time to point out that the Lifeline number, should you need it, is 13 11 14. Luke Gosling is the Member of Solomon, this is ABC Radio Darwin with Adam Steer and Jo Laverty. And Mr Gosling, we did say that any high profile Territorian politician, someone who's got a high standing in the community when they come onto the program between now and next week will be hit up for a donation for the NT Gives appeal for Salvo’s. So welcome to the program, Luke Gosling. 

GOSLING: What a great initiative, Jo. 
LAVERTY: I wonder if you would be in a position to donate to the NT Gives for the Salvation Army, and I know that you're very familiar with the excellent work that the Salvation Army do in the community.
GOSLING: Very much. I'm a big supporter of Salvo’s, they do amazing work. And one of the reasons that I'll be supporting this is because the Salvo’s have managed, out in Palmerston there, to get some funding, the NT Government and the Federal Government for some new domestic violence shelters. And that's wonderful news. We know the difficulties that the Territory has with domestic violence and to have more capacity to safeguard those families in their time of need is is very important. So well done to them. And it's a great initiative of theirs. But what I'd like to know, Jo, is whether I can purchase a song.
LAVERTY: Yes, you can. So the request-a-thon is next Thursday, but for the right amount of money, I'll have to say, I mean, we've only got four songs on Breakfast and they don't go cheap, so I just need to put that out there.
GOSLING: Can I ask you, Jo, what you'd be looking for for a song?
LAVERTY: Yes. Anything that you're willing to pay for that gets across the editorial line. So there's a few songs that we probably have to go, “I'm not sure that we can play that song”, but I'm sure that that's not on your playlist.
GOSLING: I'll just shout out The Holy Grail from Hunters and Collectors, it's a song from when I was in the army, because that was when it was out, and it was really important to me and a bunch of us who were deployed out of Malaysia at the time. And one of the soldiers actually was quite badly injured, and just this week in fact, I’m still trying to get him the support that he requires through DVA. It's a constant battle and he'll be giving evidence to the royal commission. I should say, Jo, that people can go to the royal commission website and it gives you all the information. But you can actually register, if you're a veteran that doesn't want to speak publicly, or a family member, and you can actually register for a private session on that website. And that's I put all the details on my Facebook page, but yeah, there's an ability to do that for those that want to. But Jo, if you can play me The Holy Grail, I'm very happy to donate 500 bucks to the Salvation Army.
LAVERTY: Sold to you! You just bought yourself a song for the request-a-thon, Luke Gosling. Thank you. And a great song too. No expletives. Thank you. That is Luke Gosling, who is Member for Solomon and of course, a former ADF member and the second parliamentarian that we've had donate $500. So thank you so much for that.