Veteran suicides: a national commissioner is not 'bigger and better' than a royal commission, Mr Morrison

Julie-Ann Finney with her son Dave. Picture: Supplied
Julie-Ann Finney with her son Dave. Picture: Supplied

Dave Finney served his country for 20 years. He left the Navy struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. He reached out to the Department of Veterans' Affairs, telling them he needed their help. They told him they could get to him in six months. He couldn't hold on that long.

Dave is my son. He's gone now.

Dave was let down by the system we were told was there to protect him. It's a system that is breaking our bravest.

I've been calling for a royal commission into veteran suicide. My petition has attracted more than 370,000 signatures at last count. That's rising every day. I've spoken to the Prime Minister, to the Leader of the Opposition, to the crossbench, to veterans, to the media, to families, to everyone I can. Now, I am speaking to you. Because I need your help.

Parliament is set to decide this week whether to accept the Prime Minister's alternative to a royal commission.

If politicians make the wrong call, the push for a fully funded, fully independent investigation into veteran suicides will have failed. Veterans and their families will have to accept yet another cover-up from government ministers and their mates, and nothing will change. If they make the right call, we could be at a turning point for our most vulnerable ex-servicemen and women.

The Prime Minister announced the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention in response to our loud campaign for a royal commission.

When he told me about it in February, he said that he wanted to give my son the royal commission he deserves. I was overjoyed, and told him I couldn't wait to see the detail. I thanked Scott Morrison for doing the right thing. That day, I told my son about it.

But week by week since the announcement, I had the chance to take a closer look at what was being promised. And I started to realise that I'd been taken for a fool.

What Scott Morrison told me was "bigger and better" than a royal commission was neither bigger nor better. I felt betrayed. The Prime Minister had let me visit Dave's grave and tell him something I believe the Prime Minister knew wasn't true. I can't understand why he'd do that. I can't understand what sort of man would be comfortable doing that.

Dave Finney. Picture: Supplied

Dave Finney. Picture: Supplied

Royal commissions are fully budgeted to do their work. This national commissioner has less than one-third of the budget of the trade unions royal commission.

Royal commissions are fully independent of government. They are able to look into anything. This national commission is being led by a mate of the Defence Minister, who picked her personally without advertising the role first, and who only resigned from the institution she is now investigating two days before taking the job.

The national commissioner can be replaced at any time, with the stroke of a pen. If the government doesn't like the work they're doing, or the questions they're asking, it can just fire them and get a new one. It can change the rules about what they're able to investigate, or it can strip their office of funding. If the government wanted to, it could abolish the national commissioner altogether. You can't do any of that to royal commissions. That's why they work.

People say royal commissions don't fix anything. That's not true. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse established a National Redress Scheme. It's available for around 60,000 victims. The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody brought the rate of Indigenous deaths in police custody to lower than the rate of non-Indigenous deaths. That's a huge achievement.

The campaign for a royal commission into veteran suicides has been successful in getting the Prime Minister to act. It has forced him to pay attention. It has forced him to admit that the government will have to accept some hard truths if we're ever going to figure out why veterans are taking their own lives.


But what the Prime Minister is offering won't do that. He snowed me, and he snowed hundreds of families like me. He told me we were getting what we'd asked for, and I believed him.

I know now that this isn't what we want, and it isn't what we need. It's a glorified coroner, operating with a quarter of the budget of a royal commission, with none of its independence and with the scope of its inquiry set by direction of the government of the day, able to be changed without legislation at any time.

The power for our community to campaign for great things hasn't changed. There is still an incredible need to do the right thing by the hundreds of veterans like my son that Australia has lost to suicide. When hundreds of thousands of people called on the Prime Minister to save veterans' lives, he listened.

He just didn't deliver on that call. He delivered only enough to win a headline and stop a campaign that was putting pressure on him.

I don't like being played for a fool. I don't like feeling lied to by a Prime Minister. I don't like passing those lies on to my son. And I don't like the idea that this is going to keep happening until we stand firm and demand nothing less than a royal commission.

The Senate's going to vote on this very soon. I'm asking everybody to reject the half-measure and insist on the real deal. Please - help.

  • Julie-Ann Finney is the proud mother of Dave Stafford Finney.
  • The petition to establish a royal commission into veteran suicides is available here.
This story The PM promised me something 'bigger and better' than a royal commission. I feel lied to first appeared on The Canberra Times.