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Question - ADF Veterans - Mental health issues

Thursday 23 June 2022, Question without notice


[2.37 p.m.]

For living and deceased Australian Defence Force (ADF) members who served at least one day in the ADF between 2001 and 2018, the age-adjusted rate of suicide was 22 per cent higher for ex-serving male veterans and 127 per cent higher for ex-serving female veterans when compared to the general population.

To this end and regarding the Rethink 2020, a state plan for mental health in Tasmania 2020-2025:

(1) Why have veterans been excluded entirely as a priority group from this plan, given their far higher likelihood of impaired mental health and suicide risk?

(2) During the development of the Rethink 2020 plan, were veterans identified as a priority group during the consultation phase? If so, why were they excluded from the final plan?

(3) Would the Government consider either revising the Rethink 2020 plan to include veterans as a priority group or developing a plan specifically to address veteran mental health and wellbeing?


I thank the member for Launceston for her question.

In response, the mental health and wellbeing of all Tasmanians, especially our Australian Defence Force personnel, veterans and their families, is important to this Government and we thank the member for raising her concerns.

The death of any Australian by suicide is a devastating tragedy that is deeply felt across families and friends, workplaces and communities. It can lead to an overwhelming sense of grief and loss.

The Government is working to ensure that all Tasmanians in suicidal crisis have access to timely and accessible support. The priority areas under Rethink 2020, Tasmania's state plan for mental health, were agreed through an extensive consultation process. Changes to these areas, such as including new priority population groups under Reform Direction 7, will not happen until we draft the next version of the overarching Rethink plan, which is anticipated will be in 2025, the year that the current plan expires.

In terms of annual updates, Rethink 2020 is supported by annual implementation plans. We are currently working with key partners, the Mental Health Council of Tasmania and Primary Health Tasmania, to update and develop new actions for the next Rethink 2020 implementation plan, which is expected to be completed later this year.

The implementation plan will also incorporate additional actions from the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement and Tasmania's bilateral schedule to this agreement.

The Australian Government is primarily responsible for funding, policy and management of services for veterans. This approach is outlined in clause 37 of the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement that all states and territories and the Australian Government agreed to and signed in March this year.

Under the national agreement, the Commonwealth agrees to be primarily responsible for, among other matters, funding and provision of mental health and suicide prevention services to veterans, defence force personnel, and people in immigration detention. Clause 37 also notes that at times acute care might be required to be undertaken in state‑based services, and this is certainly the case in Tasmania.

At a national level, the Australian Defence Force has a Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2018‑2023, as well as a Suicide Prevention Program in place. The Department of Veterans' Affairs has developed a Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy and National Action Plan 2020‑2023.

I also note the National Suicide Prevention Adviser's final advice to the former prime minister recommends that all jurisdictions identify national actions for priority population groups to be included in a national suicide prevention strategy. While the Australian Government assumes this responsibility, there are various programs and services across most Australian jurisdictions that have been established to provide additional support for transition and reintegration for veterans and that complements those funded by the Australian Government.

In relation to suicide prevention, I also advise the member that developing a new Tasmanian Suicide Prevention Strategy is an action under Rethink 2020. Consultation on the new strategy commenced on Friday 17 June 2022, with the release of the community online survey. This survey seeks feedback from the Tasmanian community on the direction for suicide prevention in the state.

The feedback from organisations associated with and supporting veterans and their families is important. The following organisations have been emailed the survey: Defence Families of Australia, Tasmanian Government Veterans Reference Group, Legacy Tasmania, Mates4Mates, Open Arms ‑ Veterans & Families Counselling, RSL Tasmania, Partners of Veterans Association of Australia (Tasmanian branch) and Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia (Tasmanian branch).

The Department of Health, in partnership with the Office of the Chief Psychiatrist will also be hosting community consultations around the state in July. More details about the progress of the development of this strategy, including opportunities to be involved, will be posted on the Department of Health website.

We also acknowledge the current Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide. Hearings have been held in Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra and Townsville, with a hearing currently scheduled for 1 August 2022 in Hobart.

The interim report from the commission was expected to be finalised by 11 August this year. Once released, the department will ensure that the interim findings are considered in the development of Tasmania's new Suicide Prevention Strategy. The department will also consider the National Suicide Prevention Adviser's final advice as a source of advice in the development of the new Tasmanian Suicide Prevention Strategy.

Discussions about suicide can be distressing and for anyone who is listening in person, or on‑line, if you need to please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Mr President, I seek leave to table a document which is the Bilateral Agreement for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.

Leave granted.

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