Statement by Chief of Navy regarding Fairfax Media Reporting on 28 June 2015

29 June 2015

The article in the Sunday edition of the Sun Herald on 28 June 2015 and other Fairfax Media publications entitled 'HMAS Stirling suicides: lack of action raised Navy concerns', is misleading and displays a lack of understanding of the support mechanisms which have been introduced by Defence since these reported deaths in 2011-12.

Historically Navy, as with the other services, has had to combat the stigma associated with individuals who report mental health issues within the service. The article failed to represent or understand the significant effort that Defence has undertaken to monitor and care for our service men and women with a range of supporting mechanisms.

The article misrepresents the locations and causes of suicides by linking three reported suicides associated with service in HMAS Stirling in 2011-12, to Navy’s six known and suspected suicides since 2013. These tragic deaths were spread across numerous geographic regions. The article also allowed the reader to assume that all of these deaths were related to substance abuse: this was not the case.

The Quick Assessment, referred to by the journalist, that was conducted by Navy made recommendations which included “…support be provided to…Boatswains in the coming months …such as implementation of a mentor program”. The journalist made an incorrect assertion that a mentor program was not implemented. Navy provided advice to the journalist on Saturday which stated:

“At the time of the incidents, Navy initiated a mandatory intervention that required all Boatswains Mates to attend a suicide awareness program as well as briefs from Navy Chaplains and the Alcohol and Drug Program Advisor.”

The intervention program also included a series of increased formal and informal Divisional meetings with command team staff, increased supervision from senior sailors and increased access to support services such as psychologists and other specialist staff. The outcome was a holistic, focused and multi-faceted group mentoring program for the Boatswains Mate category.

Navy places enormous challenges on its people in the defence of Australia and can assure all past and present members and their families that their health and wellbeing continues to be a priority. This is why we have extensive mandatory training on mental health issues, why this is made a priority task at ALL levels of leadership and why we encourage all Navy officers and sailors to look after their mates.