Scott Morrison says a new inquiry into veteran suicide will be “bigger and better” than a royal commission.
The national commissioner will investigate the deaths of more than 400 Defence personnel since 2001, and report back within 18 months.
The permanent role requires new legislation, but an interim chief will work out of the prime minister’s department immediately.
Morrison said the inquiry would be able to keep evidence private, unlike a royal commission.
“I think we’ve come up with a much better way that brings everybody together,” he said.
The decision comes after federal opposition leader Anthony Albanese backed calls for a commission.
Albanese endorsed the public campaign after meeting with Julie-Ann Finney, whose son David died by suicide earlier this year.
While making clear he would have preferred a royal commission, Albanese welcomed the alternative as a necessary step.
“We don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good here,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“Labor will approach this issue in a positive way and join with the government in participating in this process.”
The suicide rate for ex-servicemen is 18 percent higher than the broader population and ex-servicewomen are twice as likely to take their own lives as other Australian women.
The government will spend $40 million to set up the office of the commissioner.
Apart from investigating past and new deaths, the commissioner will also make recommendations to improve mental health and wellbeing.
The watchdog will deliver an annual report to parliament to assess the reduction of suicide risk factors.
Liberal backbencher Phillip Thompson, himself a veteran, said he looked forward to the inquiry delivering tangible solutions.
“Every day I wake up and I remember my mates that have been killed on operations and my friends that have died by suicide,” he said.
“I’m sick of it, veterans are sick of it and the family members are absolutely sick and tired of burying our loved ones and now this is the action.”
The government will also establish a veteran family advocate alongside the new commissioner role to communicate with veterans and their families and help develop related policy.
If you are struggling and have suicidal thoughts, please contact any one of the following organisations:
- Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14 – This service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also chat online with the Lifeline support service every day from 7:00 PM until 4:00 AM (AEDST).
- Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636 – This service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also chat online with the beyondblue support service every day from 3:00 PM until 12:00 AM (AEDST).
- Samaritans – 135 247 – Based in WA
- SuicideLine – 1300 651 251 – Based in Victoria
Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467 – The Suicide Call Back Service provides immediate support to anyone feeling suicidal. In addition, they can provide ongoing support through up to six 50-minute telephone counselling sessions that will provide you with longer term support. The Suicide Call Back Service also offers online counselling.