Navy to review handling of sailor tragedy

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Ice in the ADF proves need for action: PM

Revelations about the drug use in the navy show the extent of the ice epidemic, Tony Abbott says.

The Australian Navy says it will review its management of five sailors whose families weren't told of their drug problems before they took their own lives.

Following revelations the five young men were part of a binge drinking and drug taking culture at the HMAS Stirling base in Perth, prime minister Tony Abbott said family members can trust Defence.

"I think everyone who has a family member in the military can be confident that their people are being as well looked after as possible," Mr Abbott said on Wednesday.

But bereaved family of the five sailors told the ABC on Tuesday they had been kept in the dark about their drug use and even earlier suicide attempts.

"The Navy will review the previous action taken in managing these sailors," the Department of Defence said in a statement on Wednesday.

It said the Navy would also investigate allegations by Karley Livingston, whose husband Bradley died in a hotel room on a Navy stopover in Cambodia in November 2011, his system full of drugs and alcohol.

She told the ABC's 7.30 program about 30 people at HMAS Stirling were using ice and when she tried to warn his superiors, she was sent to a chaplain who said drugs weren't allowed in the Navy.

Brett Dwyer was discharged in 2011 after saying he had used drugs and killed himself months later, but his family only learnt of his problems after his death.

After Stuart Addison hanged himself in 2012, his family found out he had twice tried to end his life and had been prescribed psychiatric medication.

The department said the deaths prompted a mandatory suicide awareness program and briefs from Navy chaplains and an alcohol and drug program advisor.

"One in four sailors at HMAS Stirling are tested regularly and in the past four years positive results have accounted for less than two per cent," it said.

"Despite these low figures, Navy remains vigilant."

It also defended its silence on the men's issues, saying the defence force was bound by the same patient confidentiality as all doctors.

Mr Addison's father Mark said he had asked the Navy "a very simple thing".

"That was if there was any sign of self harm, that they would contact next of kin and we would work together to fix the problem," he told ABC radio.

"All of a sudden it has blown out to an alcohol, ice issue and even our prime minister is talking about that.

"But the drugs and alcohol just made it easier for them to kill themselves.

"They actually died from depression."

He has started a petition calling for a clause in the defence force contract of service that would waive the Privacy Act when self-harm is evident, and for next of kin to be notified immediately.

  • Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.