House debates

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Questions without Notice

Veterans: Mental Health

3:11 pm

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Deputy Leader of the House) Share this | Hansard source

I thank the member for Canning for his question and I note his service to our nation. This government is absolutely committed to putting veterans and their families first. Australians have every right to be proud of the fact that more than $11 billion of taxpayers' money is provided every year to support veterans and their families in our community. Because of the strong budget position, we've been in a position to fund new measures in this term of government. As a matter of interest, there is $230 million provided per year specifically to support veterans mental health and wellbeing measures. Over the last three budgets, there has been $500 million in additional funding to support the Department of Veterans' Affairs in its transformation work.

As the Prime Minister indicated in an answer earlier this afternoon, the government is listening. We do understand the concerns that are being expressed by our veteran community and the families that support them when it comes to matters of suicide prevention. Just like the Prime Minister, I have met with family members directly impacted by mental illness. I know some members opposite have also met with members of the defence community who have been impacted by suicide and mental wellbeing concerns. As a minister, as a government and, I'm sure, as a parliament, we all agree the only acceptable number for us all when it comes to suicide of veterans and Australian Defence Force personnel is zero.

The Prime Minister has made it very clear that all options are on the table when it comes to additional measures that may be required by this government. I support the Prime Minister in his assessment. I also want to associate myself with his answer in question time earlier today. Good government requires consideration of all the options, and then we make decisions in the long-term interests of veterans and their families. I would suggest that the Prime Minister's action in considering all the options is the right approach in working in the long-term interests of all veterans and their families.

I want to reassure those veterans today who may be listening who may have some concerns about their own mental wellbeing—or the families who support them—that help is available through the Open Arms free counselling service on 1800011046. That help is available, and action is being taken right now by this government. Just this week we announced additional peer support in suicide prevention—veterans with their own lived experience working across our nation—following a successful trial in the member for Herbert's seat. We've announced, in this term, free mental health support for all veterans—anyone with a single day of service in the ADF. We have provided for a new veteran payment for vulnerable veterans and their families, and, for the first time, the Department of Veterans' Affairs is providing for the purchase of psychiatric assistance dogs to support veterans in their mental health. So I would say that support is available and I'd encourage veterans to reach out and seek that support.

Finally can I say a special thankyou to the team at DVA—to the secretary of my department, Liz Cosson, and her hardworking team; to the Open Arms counsellors, who are at the front line every day in this difficult fight; and to the thousands of volunteers and the veterans who are helping their mates who are struggling with mental health issues every day. I believe that by working together we can do better and we will do better.

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