Tuesday, 3 August 2021
Questions without Notice
Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide
My question is for the Attorney-General, Minister Cash. The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide is under way and people are ready to make submissions. They are awaiting further instructions. They want to be called to give evidence at the hearing, but before they can do that a lot of them need funding for legal advice. It has been three months since the Prime Minister announced the royal commission. When will people know what the plan of attack is here?
I thank Senator Lambie for her question. I also thank Senator Lambie for working constructively with me in the lead-up to the announcement of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide. Senator Lambie, you are correct: on 8 July 2021 the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide was established by letters patent following agreement from the Governor-General and a period of consultation—which you and I consulted on—in relation to the terms of reference. As a government we've provided $145.3 million for the royal commission over two years from 2021-22, including to support families and advocacy organisations to participate in the inquiry. We are also committed to establishing the independent National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention—and you and I have discussed this. The royal commission will be required to deliver its interim report by 11 August 2022 and a final report by 15 June 2023.
In terms of engagement with the royal commission, which is what you have referred to, it will be up to the royal commission to determine the most appropriate ways to engage with people about their experiences, balancing that with the need to complete the inquiry in a timely manner. I think you and I discussed that the letters patent recognise the need to establish accessible and appropriate trauma-informed arrangements for people engaging with the inquiry. The royal commission is now accepting submissions from all interested people and organisations. It is, as you know, independent from government and will determine how all hearings should be run.
The tender for the government's legal advice helpline opened only two weeks ago. The royal commission was called before Anzac Day. Why can't the department or the government walk and chew gum at the same time? You decided you were having a royal commission back in April. Why couldn't you have asked for tenders back then, even before you got anything signed off? Why are we so far behind?
You and I will have to disagree in relation to why we are so far behind. Again, I thank you for working constructively with me on the terms of reference of the royal commission. In terms of what support will be available for people who want to engage with the royal commission—and, as I said, it is for the royal commission to determine how those people will be engaged—the government recognises the importance, as you and I have discussed, of the fact that those engaging with the royal commission do need to be professionally supported. Counselling and support services will be available to assist people calling or engaging with the royal commission, including before, during and after a person participates in a hearing or a private session. A legal financial assistance scheme—again, you and I have discussed this—will also be available to people called as witnesses to the royal commission.
Can you guarantee that the thousands of us who have spent years fighting the department and who have thousands of pages of documentation will have funding to use our own lawyers if we get called up by the royal commissioner? Can you guarantee me that there will be no more psychological harm done to any of us or our children?
Again, I thank you, Senator Lambie. You raise a very good point in terms of the fact that—as I referred to in my previous answer—support does need to be made available to people who are engaging with the royal commission, particularly in recognising the types of experiences that these people have had. That's why, when we set up the royal commission, one thing we were very clear about was recognising the importance of ensuring that there are mechanisms in place for those engaging with the royal commission so that they are professionally supported. Again, as I've said to you, if there are any ways that you feel that these—
Senator Lambie, please resume your seat. I allowed you to restate part of the question. I wasn't sure what you were doing. I allowed you to restate part of your question. You have reminded the minister of the question. She has 16 seconds remaining to answer.
As I said, Senator Lambie, a legal financial assistance scheme will be available to people called as witnesses. An independent legal advisory service and counselling and support services will also be made available to people engaging with the royal commission. Private sessions will also be available for individuals who wish— (Time expired)