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Putting the Blowtorch to the Belly: The Final Hearings of the DVSRC Represent the Opportunity for Meaningful Change

Op-Ed by Jasmine Stanton, National Director of the Defence and Veterans Legal Service


It’s regarded as a great Aussie expression and was allegedly coined by NSW premier Neville Wran.“Applying the blowtorch to the belly” is a phrase that highlights the application of pressure and, at times, rigorous public scrutiny.


In Sydney this month, the metaphorical blowtorch is on display at the final public hearings of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.


That national inquiry has been holding public hearings around Australia since late 2021. The Sydney hearings are significant because they involve very senior figures including Cabinet ministers, military chiefs, and top departmental officials. The hearings provide a final opportunity for those figures to be publicly questioned by the Royal Commission about the conduct of their agencies.


Personal stories help to change public policy


The Royal Commission hearings across Australia have shown us that personal stories can lead to systemic changes regarding the treatment of veterans and ADF personnel. The hearings have heard emotional testimony - from veterans, their families and veterans' organisations - about the experiences of people who have served and the traumatic challenges they have sometimes faced.


In addition to the public hearings, the Royal Commission has received almost 6,000 submissions. At the Defence and Veterans Legal Service – a free and independent service – we helped about a quarter of those individuals to prepare their submissions. As a former Defence Force member, I know that speaking up can be very hard – and I congratulate the thousands of people who made a submission.


A fork in the road for our nation


As a nation, we are now approaching a fork in the road regarding our treatment of those who have served and those who continue to. The Royal Commission is due to hand its final report to the Governor-General in September of this year. That report, and the evidence gathered by the inquiry, present an opportunity for once-in-a-lifetime reforms.


This sweeping Royal Commission - and the blowtorch public hearings that can sometimes accompany it - will likely never be repeated in our lifetimes. They provide a rare chance to right past wrongs and forge a stronger future for those who serve our nation and protect its people.


 

Jasmine Stanton is an ADF veteran who is the Director of the Defence and Veterans Legal Service that provides free, independent and confidential legal assistance to current and former Defence Force members. It is independent of all agencies, including Defence, DVA and the ADF (Phone 1800 33 1800).





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