Royal Commission to examine mock interrogation and recruit training at Wagga Wagga hearing

The training of recruits in how to survive if they’re captured or detained in combat will be examined by the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, during a four-day hearing in Wagga Wagga.

The inquiry’s eighth public hearing, held at the Mercure Wagga Wagga, will focus on training and recruitment schools.

During his opening address today, Commission Chair Nick Kaldas said Wagga was home to the Army’s First Recruit Training Battalion at Kapooka and the Royal Australian Air Force No. 1 Recruit Training Unit, and it was vital to examine training and other issues in such a key Defence location.

“We know that some of the risk factors that contribute to death by suicide in the military community may have their origins during recruitment and training,” he said.

Senior Counsel Assisting, Kevin Connor, SC, said the inquiry would hear evidence about a Conduct After Capture Course, which subjects trainees to mock interrogation for extended periods.

“The Commission is interested in the physical and psychological risks of this training and Defence’s management of the course to mitigate any adverse impact on trainees,” Mr Connor said.

The Commission will hear evidence from senior personnel at key Defence recruitment schools. Commissioners and staff have also visited several bases, including RAAF Base Wagga, Kapooka, HMAS Cerberus, the Australian Defence Force Academy and Royal Military College Duntroon, as part of the inquiry.

Figures recently released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), show that at least 1,600 Defence personnel, who have served since 1985, took their own lives between 1997 and 2020.

Senior Counsel Assisting, Kevin Connor, SC, said factors contributing to suicide were “complex, intertwined and constantly evolving” and there were “no simple answers to the problem”.

“Nevertheless, there is something very simple and important that can and should be done. Ensure that people – no matter where they stand in Defence – are treating each other with respect,” Mr Connor told the inquiry.

The Royal Commission held its first public hearing one year ago, in Brisbane.

Commissioner Kaldas said he and Commissioners Peggy Brown and James Douglas had learned a great deal in that time.

“But we continue to be shocked and dismayed by the experiences of many serving and ex-serving members of the ADF,” he said.

The Commission has now received more than 2,800 submissions and anyone with lived experience of Defence service is encouraged to make a submission.

The Wagga hearing will run for four days, finishing on December 1.

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