Skip to main content

Terms of Reference for the Independent Review

  • General
Publication date

Read the terms of reference documents here

The death by suicide of any Australian Defence Force (ADF) member or veteran is tragic for the family and the wider Australian community. Taking action to help prevent these suicides is a priority for the Australian Government. The latest annual report produced by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare states there have been 465 certified deaths by suicide by ADF members and veterans who have served since 2001.1 Ex-serving men and women are particularly at risk, with the rate of suicide being much higher than in the broader Australian population.2

The Australian Government is establishing a new independent National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention (the National Commissioner) to inquire into deaths by suicide of ADF members and veterans.

As a first priority, the National Commissioner will undertake an Independent Review of Past ADF and Veteran Suicides (the Review). It is important to look back, to learn from the past, and improve our understanding of the factors that have contributed to these deaths by suicide. These insights will help inform recommendations to Government to help prevent further deaths.

So that the Review can commence as quickly as possible, it will initially be overseen by the interim National Commissioner.

As part of the Review the National Commissioner can consider any past death by suicide, or suspected suicide, of an ADF member or veteran. 3 This includes enabling families to share their story, provide insights, and speak to the impact of the loss of their loved ones.

Objectives of the Review

The objectives of the Review are to: 4

  • Identify and understand the risk and protective factors relevant to past deaths by suicide among ADF members and veterans;
  • Provide affected families the opportunity to share their stories, provide insights, and speak to the impact of the loss of their loved ones;
  • Make recommendations to Government to inform more tailored and effective strategies for suicide prevention among ADF members and veterans; and
  • Provide a foundation for the future work of the National Commissioner.

Conduct of the Review

In undertaking the Review, the wellbeing of families will be of paramount importance. Families will be invited to participate, on a voluntary basis, to share their views and experiences to inform the Review. Engagement with families will be in accordance with a trauma-informed and restorative approach, and be culturally appropriate. Families will be assisted to access counselling services to support them to participate in the Review. Where appropriate, families providing evidence to, or appearing at, any hearing the National Commissioner may decide to hold to inform the Review, will receive access to legal assistance to support their participation in the process.

The Review will:

  • Analyse available data and information to identify trends, systemic issues, and common risk and protective factors, including consideration of social and cultural factors;
  • Consider the possible contribution of pre-service, service, transition, and post-service issues;
  • Examine available research and data relating to suicidal ideation and incidence of suicide attempts and self-harm among ADF members and veterans; and
  • Take account of the findings and recommendations of previous relevant reports and inquiries.

The National Commissioner will consult widely with relevant stakeholders and experts, including but not limited to the Prime Minister's National Suicide Prevention Adviser, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health, the Department of Defence, the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force, and the Department of Veterans' Affairs (including Open Arms and the Veteran Family Advocate).

The National Commissioner will be supported  in  their data and  information analysis by expert technical assistance from the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC) and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). This analysis will rely on available data and information in relation to deaths by suicide of ADF members and veterans. Necessary ethics approvals will be obtained in accordance with national principles and standards set by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Powers of the National Commissioner

Subject to the passage of legislation, in conducting the Review the National Commissioner will be able to exercise Royal Commission-like powers to:

  1. Make broad-ranging inquiries relevant to these terms of reference and hear from any relevant party (including ADF members, veterans, and their families)
  2. Receive submissions
  3. Compel the production of evidence
  4. Summon witnesses
  5. Convene public and private hearings; and
  6. Make findings and recommendations.

The National Commissioner will be independent from Government, and will make any recommendations they consider appropriate, including recommendations about policy, legislative, administrative or structural reforms to support suicide prevention efforts and improve the wellbeing of ADF members and veterans. In conducting the Review, if the National Commissioner identifies any matter that requires referral to an authority for further investigation (for example a criminal matter), such referral will be facilitated.

Timeframes and deliverables

The National Commissioner will provide  the  following,  which  will  be  tabled  by  the Australian Government in Parliament:

  • An Interim Report to Government within 12 months of commencing the Review (by 16 November 2021); and
  • A Final Report, with recommendations to Government, within 18 months (by 16 May 2022).

The Australian Government will table a formal response in Parliament to the National Commissioner's Final Report. The National Commissioner will monitor the implementation of recommendations made, as part of the National Commissioner's ongoing role.

1 Number of deaths by suicide amongst ADF members and veterans, who had at least 1 day of service, between 1 January 2001 and 31 December 2018, as outlined in the most recent AIHW report National suicide monitoring of serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel: 2020 update. Causes of death for a small number of records may change due to revisions to cause of death data by the ABS. See the ABS Causes of death, Australia for more details.
2 The age-adjusted rate of suicide over the period 2001-2018 was 21% higher for ex-serving men than men in the broader Australian population, and 127% (2.27 times) higher among ex-serving women compared to women in the broader Australian population.
3 Consistent with the National Commissioner legislation before the Parliament, cases where the coronial process has not been finalised may be included subject to avoiding any prejudice to the coronial process or any separate civil or criminal proceedings.
4 Consistent with the National Commissioner legislation before the Parliament, the Review will not make findings of civil or criminal wrongdoing, or make findings on the cause of death.

On 16 November 2020, the Australian Government appointed Dr Bernadette Boss CSC as the interim National Commissioner and provided her with Terms of Reference to undertake an Independent Review of Past Defence and Veteran Suicides (the Review). The Review has examined defence and veteran deaths by suicide, with its main focus being to contribute to a greater understanding of the issues, trends and risk factors that are relevant to these deaths.

On 8 December 2020, the Terms of Reference for the Review were revised to clarify and reflect the intention of the Review to include any past Australian Defence Force member or veteran death by suicide or suspected suicide.

On 8 July 2021, the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide was established by Letters Patent. The Royal Commission will draw on the work already undertaken by the interim National Commissioner with the findings of the Review providing a foundation for the work of the Royal Commission.

The Terms of Reference for the Review have been adjusted accordingly to ensure the Royal Commission can draw on the work of the interim National Commissioner in a timely way.

Timeframes and deliverables

The Australian Government requests that the interim National Commissioner finalise the Review, including community engagement, and provide a report to Government by 15 September 2021. The report will not be required to exhaustively address all aspects of the Terms of Reference (as revised on 8 December 2020). The report will be tabled by the Australian Government in Parliament, and will be referred to the Royal Commission to inform its inquiries.

To ensure the interim National Commissioner’s work complements, and does not duplicate, the inquiries of the Royal Commission, the findings and any recommendations made in the report should be based on the information already collected as at the date these supplementary Terms of Reference have been issued.

The interim National Commissioner will provide assistance and support people who have engaged with her to transition to engage with the Royal Commission, should they wish to do so.