Army chief defends leadership in military

·3-min read

Australia's chief of army has defended the workplace culture within defence ahead of a royal commission into veteran suicides.

Rick Burr said the country's military leaders were determined to better understand the causes of suicide and help officers prepare for life beyond their service in uniform.

"To retain that purpose, that connection, to find meaning beyond our service," he told Sky News on Thursday.

"This royal commission will be very helpful to all of us, to all Australians, to better understand those causes and effects.

"I ask everyone to fully cooperate so we can better understand this complex issue."

The federal government gave in to a long-running campaign and launched the royal commission this week, despite opposing the idea for more than a year.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton conceded holding the inquiry was the right thing to do.

"Hopefully we can find a better way of providing support to our veterans," Mr Dutton told 2GB radio.

"We're spending more money each and every year on providing support to veterans.

"We just need to understand how we can do more and do it more effectively so that we don't have any more suicides, and that has to be the aim."

Lieutenant General Burr fended off questions about the culture in defence and potential failures of leadership.

"Leaders at every level are doing all they can every day to look after their people - it's a responsibility that we all take extremely seriously," he said.

"We all want to make the best environment for our people to thrive, to strengthen their own individual and organisational resilience, so we can cope with the rigours of military service."

The army chief acknowledged the Afghanistan war had taken an immense toll on Australian soldiers.

The last remaining Australian troops will withdraw from Afghanistan later this year, bringing the country's longest war to an end.

Lt Gen Burr described the conflict as a long and complex mission in a demanding and difficult environment.

There were 41 Australians killed during the war, while many more were physically and mentally injured.

More than 500 Australian Defence Force personnel have died by suicide in the past 20 years.

"This Anzac Day is a special opportunity where we can recognise the service of all those that have served in Afghanistan in particular," Lt Gen Burr said.

"They should all be very proud of what they did individually to try and make a difference on the ground."

He encouraged special forces troops who served in Afghanistan to wear their meritorious unit citations on Anzac Day.

Chief of Defence Angus Campbell initially decided to cancel the group awards in response to the Brereton inquiry, which uncovered evidence of war crimes committed by Australian troops in Afghanistan.

But Mr Dutton overturned his decision this week in an attempt to boost morale in the military.

"Our people should very much proudly wear their citations, their honours and awards that they achieved in their service, wherever that service was conducted, and Anzac Day is the time to do that," Lt Gen Burr said.

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