A senior Tasmanian Liberal minister has taken a shot at the former Morrison government for failing to swiftly release an independent report into the state’s veterans support services.
State Veterans’ Affairs Minister Guy Barnett gave evidence at the opening day of Hobart hearings of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.
Mr Barnett said he and federal counterpart Darren Chester jointly commissioned a University of Tasmania report to determine how $5 million of federal funding for veterans services in Tasmania could be best spent.
Counsel assisting the inquiry, Erin Longbottom QC, asked Mr Barnett why the report finalised in February 2021, wasn’t released until December 2021.
“It was not a problem for the state government to have that report released. The federal government would prefer to not release the report,” Mr Barnett said, indicating he was unhappy with their decision.
“I think they were wanting to try and determine what parts of that report or the recommendations of the report they wanted to respond to.
“My view would be, release the report. You don’t have to respond to it immediately. There is some really important information that I think the veteran community would welcome.
“You can consider the feedback from … the veteran community and experts in the mental health and wellbeing space and then make your decision.
“But no, they wanted to … think about it internally and then release it in due course.”
The report highlighted the need for localised support services to cater for Tasmania’s dispersed veteran community.
The former coalition government had announced $5 million in the 2021/22 federal budget to expand the Veteran Wellbeing Centre network into Tasmania.
Mr Barnett indicated a lead organisation for the project has yet to be found.
“There is further work that needs to be done there and my department is aware of that,” he said.
The commission, which will deliver an interim report to the governor general on August 11, was told there were more than 17,500 veterans living in Tasmania.
Mr Barnett said he knew of veterans who travelled to Victoria for acute healthcare and conceded the state’s veterans mental health support services were not adequate.
“There is a very strong argument we can do a lot better in Tasmania,” he said.
Ms Longbottom said 5.3 per cent of Tasmania’s veteran community was affected by homelessness, compared to 1.9 per cent of the overall population.
Mr Barnett said a 2019 RSL survey of more than 400 veterans in the state found about one-in-two had experienced a mental health condition in the 12 months prior.
He said one-in-five reported suicidal ideation, eight per cent had developed a suicide plan and two per cent had tried to take their own life.
The inquiry, scheduled to sit in Hobart until August 10, is expected to on Friday hear from Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie who for years pushed for a probe into veteran suicide
Lifeline 13 11 14
Open Arms 1800 011 046