By Julie Owens

27 April 2021

Anzac Day in 2020 was very different for all of us.

The ceremonies and marches were cancelled, but people in Parramatta still found ways to pay our respects under COVID restrictions.

I joined people around Australia reflecting on the sacrifices made by our veterans and those who continue to serve by holding my own dawn service on my balcony as part of Light up the Dawn.

While we lit candles in socially distanced safety, defence personnel worked tirelessly to support the pandemic response.

Their efforts contact tracing, in quarantine and at state border checkpoints helped stop the spread and make community commemorations possible this year.

On Sunday I was honoured to be part of services held by the City of Parramatta RSL Sub-branch, Granville RSL Sub-branch and the Consortium of Tamil Associations NSW in Wentworthville.

This is important – but our support for veterans shouldn’t start and finish with symbolic recognition on Anzac Day.

Since the start of the Afghan war, we have lost many more veterans to suicide than soldiers killed in combat.

Veterans have been telling us for years now that we need a Royal Commission into this unending tragedy. The Morrison Government resisted their calls – proposing a National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention, despite veterans’ concerns that it would not have the independence, scope or resources of a Royal Commission – before finally calling a Royal Commission last week.

Labor is disappointed this has taken so long, but we are ready to work with the Government to make sure this Royal Commission has the strong and broad powers and Terms of Reference that it needs.

Unfortunately, early reports indicate that it will not cover the role of departments like Defence and Veterans' Affairs, previous reviews and inquiries like the 2019 Productivity Commission report, veteran homelessness, or the impact of anti-malarial drug trials on veterans' mental health.

The Morrison Government needs to do better – and the first step is to consult widely on how the Royal Commission should be run. This means listening to the voices of the veterans’ community and the families of veterans who have tragically died by suicide and can no longer speak for themselves.

One of the best ways to honour the service of our fallen diggers is to look after our living service men and women and their families through a strong veteran support system. Listening to the voices of veterans and their families through this Royal Commission is a crucial step towards building one.

If you need to talk to someone, Lifeline provides 24/7 crisis support on 13 11 14 or at lifeline.org.au