15 July 2023

Vets suicide hearings going too easy on public servants, says Jacqui Lambie

| Chris Johnson
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Jacquie Lambie and man walking up steps in Parliament House

Senator Jacqui Lambie and a military lawyer at Parliament House recently. Photo: Jacqui Lambie.

Independent senator Jacqui Lambie says public servants are not being grilled hard enough during the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide hearings.

Comparing those hearings to the ones held by the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme, Senator Lambie insists the lines of questioning are vastly different.

“I think we’re a little bit concerned because we have been watching Robodebt from the sidelines,” she told ABC Radio on Thursday (13 July).

“Don’t get me wrong. There’s been many of us that fought for the Royal Commission [into veteran suicide] and look, we do believe they’re doing a great job.

“But when you compare the examination of [former Department of Human Services secretary] Kathryn Campbell and the senior public service, then Liz Cosson the secretary during all of this stuff in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, It’s like chalk and cheese mate.

“Honestly … I’m just concerned. Are they going to swing back around at the end and bring up all these high-ranking people and actually go right through them properly?

“Because right now I think they’ve just let them sit on the stand and just nodded at them.”

READ ALSO It’s politicians not public servants who are to blame for Robodebt, says deputy prime minister

Senator Lambie said veterans had been telling her that they were not happy with the Royal Commission’s progress, saying public servants were not being properly held to account.

“That really bothers me and it’s starting to bother those veterans out there – that they’re not going in hard and fast enough,” she said.

“And they’re now starting to feel like this is a waste of time.

“I just think that they’re not being questioned hard enough. When you look at the way Robodebt’s been done … they have not given them an inch.

“I’m just a little bit worried. I don’t know whether they’re going to swing back round at the end and hold more hearings in Canberra and hold some accountability for both senior commanders and … whether it’s ministers… during this period of time, or whether it’s secretaries.

“But seriously, we want to see some movement in this area because we just think that they haven’t been pressing them hard enough.”

The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide was established in July 2021, with Senator Lambie a fierce advocate for an inquiry into the number of defence and veteran suicides and what she has described as cover-ups from senior officers and public servants.

The Royal Commission has to date held nine blocks of public hearings across the country and starts the next round in Adelaide next week.

It is a year away from completing, having already delivered an interim report in August last year.

READ ALSO Services Australia boss tells staff to be strong while rebuilding public trust

It has three Royal Commissioners, Nick Kaldas, James Douglas and Peggy Brown.

Their interim report included 13 recommendations, five of which relate to the claims process at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and its backlog of compensation claims.

“This is our last chance, this royal commission, to get it sorted,” Senator Lambie said on Thursday.

Commissioner Kaldas said via a statement on Wednesday that military base visits were an important part of the inquiry’s work.

“We’re able to hear directly from serving members about the issues that affect their day-to-day lives and also to see for ourselves what it’s like to be on base – how they live and work” he said.

“It’s absolutely invaluable to understanding not only the pressures but the supports available.”

The Robodebt Royal Commission has delivered its final report, being highly critical of a number of public servants – including Ms Campbell – and former Coalition ministers Scott Morrison, Stuart Robert, Alan Tudge and Christian Porter.

A sealed section of the report names about 20 people the Royal Commission recommends should be referred for civil and criminal prosecution.

Original Article published by Chris Johnson on Riotact.

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