Thursday, 18 June 2020
Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Supporting the Wellbeing of Veterans and Their Families) Bill 2020; Second Reading
It is a great privilege to speak today on this bill, the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Supporting the Wellbeing of Veterans and Their Families) Bill 2020. It is an issue that is very important to me and very important to my community. Ryan is home to the Gallipoli Barracks. Spanning around 200 hectares, the barracks is a major operational base and is home to three brigades. We also house the Enoggera Close Training Area adjacent to the barracks, some 450 hectares. This facility has a number of small arms ranges and is an important resource for individual training.
Ryan currently has almost 8,000 serving personnel. Two days ago in the House, I was able to speak on the incredible work our local serving defence personnel have been doing throughout this crisis, like the 20th Regiment of the Royal Australian Artillery quickly adapting their 3D-printing technology to print face shields for medical staff in Brisbane, just to name one example. Many of those who have served in these facilities, once they are no longer serving in our Defence Force, choose to stay on and continue to live, work and raise their families in the local community of Ryan. We have close to 2,500 veterans in Ryan and they continue to make incredibly valuable contributions to the electorate. It is a priority for me to make sure that they are supported and I am very proud to be part of a government that is absolutely committed to putting veterans and their families first.
This bill is about the next step in making sure our veterans have access to the right support at the right time—when they need it. I often speak about this government being a consultative one, and why that is so important to the success of our policymaking. I can think of no better example of that than the measures we are introducing today with this bill. My good friend the member for Herbert, who's in the chamber today, is a veteran himself and anyone here will tell you what a passionate advocate he is for veterans' mental health. Together with the Prime Minister and with many other members of the veteran community, he has been providing valuable input from his own experiences in order to find the best ways to help prevent veteran suicides, to support veterans' mental health and to save lives.
The first measure in this bill makes good on the commitment this government made in February this year to appoint a veteran family advocate. This new role will engage directly with families of veterans to improve the design of all veteran programs and services, including mental health supports and services. We recognise that this will be a continuously evolving area and that it is vital to get the ongoing input of veterans, their families and the defence community more broadly to shape this policy to get the best outcomes and make sure that our veterans' and their families' benefits are administered in the most effective and easy-to-access way. Once established, the Veteran Family Advocate will work directly with the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention. Under the purview of this newly established role, it will work to ensure that every aspect of our veteran support system is focused on veterans' mental health and suicide prevention.
We, as a government, are listening to the real-life accounts, hardships and experiences of our veterans and their loved ones in order to respond to their needs in the best way possible. We have given our solemn commitment to take on their feedback and help them to be the architects of improvements to the system. We know that no government acting alone will be able to solve the complex and often unique problems those who have served our nation can face. We know that, once serving personnel leave active service, it can be difficult for them to gain civilian employment. We also recognise that this represents a vital part of the transition out of the forces, and that there needs to be additional support available when their transition, for whatever reason, does not go according to plan or they experience additional hardship or roadblocks.
Our government says loudly, as Mark Donaldson, VC, has said, that employing a veteran is good for your business, and the second measure in this piece of legislation is support for the employment program. Working with the Prime Minister's Veterans' Employment Program, we'll be able to provide members of our ADF with the support they need to get a job, keep a job and grow in that job. Not only will this measure focus on equipping former ADF members with the necessary skills to seek a job, like interviewing and negotiating employment terms; it will also provide an avenue for post-employment assistance, like coaching with how to advance in a job and career advice. Again, we know that this is not a set-and-forget area. This must be and will be an ongoing and evolving focus, but it's an incredibly important focus to have.
I note my conversations at Gaythorne RSL and other local RSLs within the Ryan electorate about these young diggers who served our nation both in Afghanistan and Iraq and are now looking to exit the service and about the important work that those local RSLs are playing through their support programs as well in making sure those young diggers can transfer the skills they have learnt in the defence forces to an active career. In particular, I want to pay testament to John and other members of the Gaythorne RSL who are involved in Soldier On and the work they are doing particularly helping our younger diggers transfer out of the forces and into the workplace.
The final measure in this bill simply helps to improve the ease in which payments and benefits are administered by extending access to the quarterly energy supplement to people currently covered by other acts. This will ensure that all gold card holders are treated equitably, again showing that we will continue to seek further reform in this sector as we need to and as service personnel provide us with their feedback about how we can improve things.
I want to finish by saying to all the veterans in the Ryan community: please do not hesitate to reach out. We are here to support you, as are all the local RSLs in the Ryan community. We are here to help you access the many and varied avenues of support available. Please contact me or my office at any time. We know that the transition can be a daunting one. You have given so much of your family's time and your time to the service of our nation, and the least we can do is ensure that the transition to the workforce out of the defence forces is a successful one. To all those veterans living in the Ryan community, I simply say: thank you very much for your service.