Thursday, 18 June 2020
Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Supporting the Wellbeing of Veterans and Their Families) Bill 2020; Second Reading
I rise in support of the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Supporting the Wellbeing of Veterans and Their Families) Bill 2020. I've never served in uniform. I haven't had the privilege of doing so. But I do represent a cohort of veterans in my community, in my electorate. The Sunshine Coast has reportedly around 15,000 veterans living in it. It's one of the largest veteran populations in the country, and quite naturally—why would you want to live anywhere other than the Sunshine Coast? It is God's paradise.
I join with the member for Burt in his view that we as a government, we as a parliament, need to do everything we can to ensure that we look after our veterans. There are not too many jobs where you are called upon to go to work and perhaps be injured in training or perhaps be killed or be asked to kill someone else. Military service is unique, and this government takes its responsibility to veterans very, very seriously. Just last year, the federal government paid some $11.5 billion for services for our veterans in looking after them. That's a substantial sum of money. But it's an investment that we make with pride because we believe in our veterans.
This bill goes a considerable way to looking after veterans. It establishes the Veteran Family Advocate in schedule 1. In schedule 2 it establishes an employment program to help veterans transition to employment once they discharge. It provides a quarterly energy supplement for those veterans who missed out in schedule 3—and I'll come to that later.
No conversation around veterans and their care would be complete without addressing the issues that some face in relation to mental health. I say 'some', because it is incumbent upon us in this place, in our own electorates, and in the broader community, to put things into perspective. Whilst I acknowledge and applaud the discussion around mental health for veterans and in the broader community, we need to be very, very careful that we do not establish a misnomer or a misconception that, if you have served in the ADF, when you discharge you're broken. Nothing could be further from the truth.
On the one hand, we talk about the importance of acknowledging mental health issues. But then, on the other hand, we talk about the importance of giving every opportunity for ADF veterans to seek meaningful employment. Is it any wonder that not enough businesses are employing veterans? We talk so much about mental health and veterans that I fear that we're setting up a misconception in the broader public that, if you are a veteran, you're broken. I am concerned that employers may be fearful about the person they may be employing and the problems that might come with that. Veterans bring so many skills, values and attributes to their task, whatever that task might be. They bring the values of commitment, of trust, of honour, of getting the job done and of not being clock-watchers. They're task-orientated.
For any employer out there, and for my colleagues in here, I implore you to, next time you have a job vacancy, specifically search out and try and employ a veteran. You will not be disappointed. That goes for my colleagues in this place. This may sound surprising to some who may be listening but there are many similarities between service in the military and service in politics. In my short time of four years in this place, I've employed around four or five veterans, and I have found them to be exceptional employees. They bring a great amount of vision, wisdom and dedication to the role that they fulfil in my office. So I want to say to members of parliament: don't encourage members of the business community to employ a veteran if you aren't doing it yourself. Lead by example and employ a veteran. The vast majority of veterans are not broken men and women. The vast majority of veterans will make outstanding employees. I want to send that challenge out to all employers, including members of the parliament today.
That said, I want to acknowledge for his service the member for Herbert, who's just entered the chamber. I want to acknowledge the member for Canning and the members for Stirling, Braddon and Solomon. This is a not a partisan thing. It includes members opposite, including the retired member for Eden-Monaro, who was an outstanding member of this House and an outstanding member of the ADF. This is not a party politics thing. Members of the ADF join the ALP or the Liberal Party or National Party, and I want to acknowledge their service to this place and their country.
We have to acknowledge that, unfortunately, we do damage some of our men and women. We damage them—not all of them, but some of them—because of the physical demands we make of them. But it's not just the physical demands we make of them; it's also the mental scars that some of them incur as a result of their service. A constituent of mine by the name of Peter Kennedy, at a function I held recently, said this about veterans: 'We had a few scratches. Some of us are a little bit bent out of shape. But if you work with us and help us back into shape, you're going to get a great product for a long time.'
The sad reality is that when members of the ADF, particularly men, are currently serving, they have a 48 per cent lower chance of dying by suicide than the general population. I'll say that again: a recent study found that ADF personnel—and this study, unfortunately or fortunately depending on which way you look at it, was restricted to men because at that time there weren't any women who had taken their own lives—had a 48 per cent lower chance of taking their life whilst they were serving in the ADF. But once they're discharged, that 48 per cent lower chance jumps to an 18 per cent higher chance. Why is that? Why is it that we see that jump? I'm not a psychologist, but in my view many men, particularly young men, who have served in the ADF, may have longed for nothing other than to be an infantry soldier, or to serve in the RAAF or the Royal Australian Navy. That may have been their life's ambition before, for one reason or another, whether it be of their own volition, or because they may have been injured, or perhaps it may even be a disciplinary matter, men who discharge in their mid-20s or lower are significantly at risk of self-harm. Why is that? Whilst they are in the ADF, they have a sense of mission and a sense of purpose. They belong to a tribe that will back them to the hilt. Their mates will die for them. But, when they leave and are discharged from the ADF, all of a sudden they are on their own and they lose that sense of mission, they lose that sense of purpose and they lose that tribe—or at least they may feel like they lose that tribe—and many young men in particular have a great deal of difficulty dealing with that.
The vast majority of them will recover and will go on to lead very full and meaningful lives. But some will struggle. That's where this bill, with its introduction of the Veteran Family Advocate, will assist, because this is a statutory function. The Veteran Family Advocate will consult with families. Families play the most significant role in the recuperation and recovery of our young veterans. They are those closest to the veteran and they are the ones who can do the most beneficial work with them. The Veteran Family Advocate will work with ex-service organisations. The Veteran Family Advocate will participate in key bodies such as the Council for Women and Families United by Defence Service and the Female Veterans and Veterans' Families Forum.
But, in my view, perhaps the most important thing that will come out of this bill in their transition to civilian employment is the Support for Employment program for ADF personnel. Just think about it: one minute they might be flying, driving or sailing multimillion- or multibillion-dollar equipment. This government, this country, entrusts to them such a great responsibility: to serve their nation but to do that with significant assets. And yet, when they leave, some can't get a job. How demoralising would that be for those men and women, particularly those who are young? This measure in schedule 2 will complement the Prime Minister's Veterans' Employment Program. It'll provide eligible former ADF personnel with both pre- and postemployment assistance. This is so important.
We talk in this place about the best form of welfare being a job. I want to encourage all employers, including those in this building, to walk the talk and give a job to a veteran.