A royal concession
A day of backflipping on veterans, vaccines and borders
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has finally caved on calls for a royal commission into suicides among military veterans, announcing one this afternoon after years of ignoring mounting pressure to do so. His concession comes one month after a non-binding motion calling for one passed parliament with cross-party support (the government chose not to oppose it after several Liberal MPs indicated they were willing to cross the floor in support). Morrison, who today insisted his preferred plan for an ongoing national commissioner for veteran suicides would go ahead as well, rejected the suggestion that he had been dragged to his current position. “We’re combining these initiatives together,” he said. “We’re working together to achieve what I believe families and veterans want achieved.” Advocates, families and independent senator Jacqui Lambie (a veteran herself) have been extremely clear, for some time now, on what they “want achieved”, and it is not a national commissioner. Most believe that a royal commission, with the full range of powers available to it, is the only way to achieve a systematic and thorough investigation. Like a petulant child, Morrison clung to his government’s roundly unpopular suggestion while pretending it was part of what the people wanted, even as he finally gave grieving loved ones what they had asked for.
Veterans’ Affairs Minister Darren Chester, who two years ago said he didn’t “see the point” of a royal commission when that money could be spent on treatment, told the press conference that there had been some “robust” advice on the issue from certain MPs, no doubt referring to Lambie, who called for a royal commission into the treatment of veterans in her maiden speech, back in 2014. Chester will now be leading four weeks of consultation with states and territories as well as the veteran community, with the royal commission expected to begin in July and last between 18 months and two years.
The government announcement came just hours after new Defence Minister Peter Dutton confirmed that special forces soldiers would not be stripped of their meritorious unit citations, following sustained backlash over Defence Force chief Angus Campbell’s initial agreement with the Brereton report recommendation – an agreement Campbell himself had already walked back. Dutton said those proven to have done the wrong thing would still be stripped of their citation, but that the majority should not be punished “for the sins of one per cent”. Shadow defence minister Brendan O’Connor said he agreed with the call, but questioned why it had taken so long, saying Dutton should release the “new evidence” he said had led to his decision. “We have not been presented with any new evidence,” he said. “Therefore, we can only conclude that the defence minister has decided to make a decision at odds with Angus Campbell.”
Morrison kept the focus of today’s press conference firmly on the veterans’ suicides royal commission for as long as possible, but was eventually forced to respond to questions about the vaccine rollout, ahead of this afternoon’s national cabinet meeting. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian this morning suggested that the phased rollout of AstraZeneca should be abandoned in favour of offering it to anyone over 50 willing to have it, telling reporters she was “looking forward” to having the conversation, but Morrison acquiesced ahead of time, agreeing that there was a strong argument for the “bring-forward”, while flagging a new plan to vaccinate 6 million Australians in the last 12 weeks of the year. So much for not setting new targets.
The PM also seemed to back down on last week’s worryingly ambitious suggestion of soon allowing vaccinated Australians to travel overseas, return and quarantine at home (something Berejiklian said would rely on a widely vaccinated population), admitting that any such easing of travel restrictions would be months away, and would be up to the states to decide (they’re not into it). It comes after Morrison last week conceded that mass vaccination centres would be needed after all, as states went ahead planning them anyway. But the real test will be how the prime minister handles the united call from premiers and chief ministers for greater federal financial support as they move to establish the hubs.
As with many of the strongest and most sensible actions Australia has taken over the past 12 months, the government has been dragged into position, backflipping on both veteran suicides and border commitments. Morrison yesterday went back to insisting there is “no hurry” to open the borders, but his delay in getting the royal commission issue right may have had untold consequences, with what is believed to have been dozens of suicides in the past year alone – one every two weeks on average, though estimates are imprecise. The government seems to think it can take its time on things, whether rolling out vaccines or responding to community pleas. The true cost is now – finally – set to be explored.
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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has finally caved on calls for a royal commission into suicides among military veterans, announcing one this afternoon after years of ignoring mounting pressure to do so. His concession comes one month after a non-binding motion calling for one passed parliament with cross-party support (the government chose not to oppose it after several Liberal MPs indicated they were willing to cross the floor in support). Morrison, who today insisted his preferred plan for an ongoing national commissioner for veteran suicides would go ahead as well, rejected the suggestion that he had been dragged to his current position. “We’re combining these initiatives together,” he said. “We’re working together to achieve what I believe families and veterans want achieved.” Advocates,...
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