Flat White

Sacrificial Lambies

12 March 2020

1:00 PM

12 March 2020

1:00 PM

The Federal Government’s National Commission for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention (NCDVSP) is exhibiting all the signs of an impending train smash.

What a train ride it would be if all the competing interests were allowed to influence its composition, direction but even worse, its final destination.

Perhaps that is unfair since whatever form of inquiry is held, its terms, composition and duration will be set by the Prime Minister, on advice.

In the unlikely event they succeed, those who are demanding a royal commission, particularly the perpetually angry but eternally vacuous Senator Jacqui Lambie, could find themselves, if successful, hoist on their own petards.

Lambie fails to grasp the fundamental principle of military strategy – maintenance of the aim.

That single aim, in this case, should be to attempt to prevent future military suicides, though in reality, however admirable, it is an impossible goal.

There should be no need to revisit any coroners’ process which has already delivered findings on individual suicides.

For those who understand such things, a royal commission is like a range practice, with terms of reference that set left and right of arc and a clear purpose with a defined duration.

It should not be distracted by the multiple issues of those who see it as an opportunity to settle scores or bang drums, nor should they choose its composition accordingly.

Lambie signalled a clear determination of her intent to control this NCDVSP and influence its findings during a Senate estimates hearing on March 5, when she essentially accused Department of Veterans Affairs secretary Liz Cosson of attempting to coerce individuals to be on the NCDVSP panel.

Asked whether she had asked people if they wished to be on the NCDVSP, former major-general Cosson initially mishandled her response, denying she had.

On departmental advice she advised she had mentioned potential candidates – though not by name – with members of the Ex-Service Organisations Round Table, ESORT.

ESORT is a consultative body representing multiple ex-service associations with whom Cosson regularly consults, formally and informally.

Her amended advice was she had mentioned in a teleconference if they wished to recommend suitable individuals to sit on the commission, a situation realistically within her and ESORT’s functions.

Lambie’s extraordinary response was to declare she had “made it very clear to Senator Cormann” (government Senate leader) that “I don’t want to see any brass (former senior ADF officers) on that table”.

It suggests Lambie believes any barracks barrister is better able to sort through the complex details likely to be put before the NCDVSP than someone with detailed knowledge of DVA and an experienced understanding how such inquiries are conducted.

Her outburst beggars belief.

The NCDVSP format with a possible five-year term looking into the past, present and future is a far better option than a set-term royal commission speculating on past events.

Senator Lambie’s constantly expressed hatred of all those who held higher rank serves no positive purpose in her senatorial role.

The NCDVSP train will soon be leaving the station.

All aboard!

It promises to be an interesting ride.

Ross Eastgate OAM has spent over 40 years counselling and supporting ADF veterans. He writes a weekly column on defence issues and blogs at Targets Down. This piece is reproduced with permission of The Townsville Bulletin.

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