Fifth Annual Statement on Veterans and their Families

30 November 2021

CANBERRA - 30 November 2021

I want to thank the hardworking staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs and all of those members of our service organizations that give so much love and support to our veterans and their families.


Whether you're in a paid role, but particularly the volunteers, our nation owes you gratitude not only in many cases as our veterans for their service, but for their willingness to help others.


And I'm pleased to have this opportunity to rise and to speak about veterans and their families.


And one of the principal reasons that I'm in this place, as I'm sure other members who have served are, is to improve the lot of our veterans and their families, looking after our veterans and their families.


So I listened with great interest to the Minister's statement.


I don't think it has helped that he's the sixth Minister for Veterans Affairs over eight long years in this Government.


Personally, I would have preferred that the Member for Gippsland continued in that role and we were able to make some more gains.


That's not a slight to the current Minister, it's just there's something to be said for continuity.


Although he’s improved a number of things, and that's why I'm here and happy to help.


We need that consistency, I think, and there are many examples of where those opposite, the Government, can do better.


The Minister told us he's determined to address the high rates of suicide amongst the ADF and the veteran community, and of course, that is something that we all want to ensure happens.


And we know that there's suicide prevention trials underway – in May this year, the Government announced that the National Suicide Prevention Trial at 12 national sites would be funded for another year of operation and transition, with $1 million for each site over financial year 21-22.


But those opposite, of course, are good at announcing things, but not a dollar, Madam Deputy Speaker, not a dollar has been received.


It's been announced and not received. It must be paid as soon as possible.


Those opposite, the current Federal Government, fought against the establishment of a royal commission into defence and veteran suicide for a long time.


And it took the veterans community and Federal Labor working with those of like mind that knew how desperate the situation was, and it was well past time for the fullest and broadest and highest level of inquiry in order to stop this scourge.


So it is a shame that it took so long.


I know there has been a lot of trepidation among the among the veterans community about it, but one thing I'm hearing overwhelmingly from those who were sceptical, “I now understand because veterans and their families and their advocates have got a chance to tell their story”.


And that's very, very important.


And through the telling of those stories, the things about where our patriot Australian men and women have fallen through the gaps will become evident, and we'll be able to fix the system in a systemic way, which obviously is what we're after.


I am concerned that there was a lack of trust in the Government, given that they fought so hard against this royal commission.


But if they do not cover it up and if they have an opportunity in government, hopefully, obviously I hope that Federal Labor forms the next Federal Government and implements the recommendations.


But if it is those opposite, then they need to respect the recommendations and crack on.


Now, when it comes to supporting specific mental health for those mental health needs, for those participating in the royal commission, I can give you suggestions coming from veterans who are there and present.


They say it's bringing up difficult issues as we always knew it would.


And there are mental health supports there during the day, but a phone number for after hours probably doesn't cut it.


If there were mental health professionals that were available where the hearings are taking place that can be accessed for a face-to-face consultation, then that is the feedback from the veterans there, that that would be good.


Now, speaking of those that are attending the royal commission hearings in Brisbane at the moment, I want to give some feedback direct to the House, from evidence from some of those that are there.


And I'll read an excerpt from former Major Michael Stone, who I served with in Timor-Leste and who is doing great things for veterans with his not-for-profit now based out of Queensland, but before COVID taking veterans into Timor and now doing it on a lovely beach down in Queensland.


So thank you for your service, Mick, and for your great words to the royal commission and in a totally apolitical and non-partisan way, I want the House to learn from them.


And he said:


“Who will a veteran trust to encourage them, motivate them, understand them, love them and call them out? To empower them to take responsibility, accountability and to do the hard work it takes to get well and stay well?


“We have evidence and methodology that it’s veterans, especially veterans with lived experience and their partners with lived experience, who can do this difficult work.


‘Military operations have multiple dimensions of exposure to violence, human suffering and government policy.


“It should be no surprise that the moral burden of overseas missions and wars executed on behalf of the Australian people and ordered by the Australian Government, and left with the Australian veteran to process and their families to absorb the impacts.


“It is hard to acknowledge, to talk about.”


And he goes on to say:


“The veteran is the embodiment of the best of us as a nation.


“Those who joined the Defence Forces are vetted prior to joining for their mental acuity, psychological stability, health, motivation, and physical fitness.


“On joining, they are above average in every statistic.


“On departure, they are above average in the worst of statistics.


“Like all people, we veterans have our problems, but we can be empowered to be part of the solution.


“We can significantly contribute to prevention, early intervention and postvention.


“A paradigm shift for everyone involved from a focus on sickness to a focus on promoting wellness will significantly reduce suicide in defence and the veteran community.”


I just wanted to share that with honourable members and with the House, because that is just one example on one day of one hearing where you're hearing straight from veterans that they want to actively be part of these solutions.


And they have been doing the hard work to make sure that they also evaluated the effectiveness of what they're doing to help their fellow brothers and sisters.


I want to associate myself as a veteran with what Mick Stone said.


There are many examples I could give the House of veterans, fine Australians who have become injured either on operations or during training.


The finest of Australians are serving our country proudly.


The least we can do is to make sure that they've got every support, every support.


So the great hope of all honourable members, I'm sure, is that whilst this royal commission goes on, we support people as best we can.


And then when we get those recommendations, we do the best we can to implement them in the interest of our fellow Australians.