Monday, 22 March 2021
Resolutions of the Senate
Consideration of Senate Message
I begin by acknowledging all of the veterans in this place and also the families of veterans, including those who have died by suicide. I acknowledge the serving veterans in this place and in the house just down the corridor as well. I also congratulate those who have contributed to this debate today already. I'll pick on the member for Herbert for your deeply impassioned speech earlier. I know that this issue touches you personally in a very deep way and that you're a fierce advocate for veterans' health and wellbeing. However, you did get something wrong that I need to pull you up on. You said during your speech that, because you were a digger and not an officer, you don't belong in this place, and I just wanted to say you are wrong. You're very welcome in this place from all sides and very well respected.
The member for Braddon also made some comments which I think we must all continue to reflect on as well. He said diggers are not all broken and we should have no perception that they lack great value. I have seen this in business where there are some people who are a little bit worried that, if they hire a veteran, the veteran might go postal, they might cook off in the workplace, they might lose their temper or experience some sort of mental health episode. I have got a great deal of experience in business. For the last 14 years I have worked in mining and oil and gas in consulting and then as a full-time employee in a crisis management role. I've seen so many veterans, alongside people who have served in our police forces and in our fire and emergency services, bring massive value. They bring solutions. They have skill sets and attitudes around discipline, leadership and integrity, and these are things that every workplace values. So I echo comments from the member from Braddon, who said that hiring a veteran is frankly good for your bottom line. Also, employing veterans is one of the ways that we can help people who have been through a unique work environment and a very challenging one to continue to contribute to society.
A move towards wellbeing is incredibly welcome, not just in providing treatment services but also in looking at ways we can help veterans leverage their skills and attitudes in our community, both in work and in other voluntary capacities. Sadly, like everyone in this House, probably, and everyone across Australia, my family has also been directly touched by suicide, so I empathise with the sadness and the sorrow that accompanies every single suicide, including those of veterans. That's why I remain, as do many others here, a passionate advocate of doing everything we can to support improved services in mental health right across the community, including for veterans and doing everything we can to prevent every suicide.
I also want to speak on behalf of our Prime Minister. Many people are probably not aware, but, during the third week after the 2019 election, when I was almost brand new in this place, the PM invited me, other veterans, the Chief of Defence Force, the Minister for Health, the head of Open Arms and a range of other stakeholders to meet with him in private inside the cabinet room, which I'm sure you don't normally get to see until much later than three weeks into a parliamentary career. The question was quite simple. The PM got us around the table and said, 'What more can we do for our veterans?' So I would feel uncomfortable if anyone had a viewpoint that was other than that the PM is dedicated to supporting our veterans. That is why there has been a great deal of effort going into ways we can do that. Certainly we are not opposed to the initiation of a royal commission. I will echo what the member for Braddon said. I believe it's incredibly important that, as well as the establishment of a royal commission, we also have what has been proposed in the form of a rolling royal commission. Many of the issues that we face will not yet have been uncovered, and we need to be both future-looking and looking at where we currently are and where we have come from, so I advocate for the importance of those two measures being conducted in parallel. We do need action right now. Indeed, the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention is already up and running, and we need to make sure that we continue to lend our support to the national commissioner.
We heard earlier from the member from Paterson, who made some commentary about a poor gentleman who faced some struggles when he presented to DVA, articulated his struggles and sought help. My wife was also an ex-serving Australian Army officer, and she went through a process that took five years. I can attest directly to the emotional strain that that places on an individual. Initially, her conditions were rejected by DVA. One of the reasons for one of the claims being rejected was that it was under the wrong act. As we all know, there are three acts that govern defence veterans, and they seem to be growing, as Senator Lambie has pointed out. But we do need to take up the recommendation that we simplify those acts of parliament, as well as continuing with practical reform. During that five-year journey through the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the Veterans' Review Board, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal my wife also said: 'Vinny, I'm not going to the AAT. I cannot go through this anymore.' I said: 'Leave it with me. Sign me off as your representative,' and I continued the fight along with her.
It is pleasing to see that there has been such an investment in improving DVA, because that is one of the steps that needs to occur. Of massive importance is that anyone who has pulled on a uniform and served a single day in full-time service is now entitled to lifetime care for mental health issues, as and when they may present. You don't need to do paperwork; you don't need to do anything. You can access that care straight up. I think that was an incredibly important step because I know that people had to fight to even be recognised as being able to access services. I think that is one of the most important things that has been done recently. I could talk about the dollar figures, but what I think is more important is that I have sat with the secretary to DVA, and she has undertaken—I believe, very genuinely—to continue the journey of continuous improvement, to make things faster and simpler and to be more effective in carrying out processes which support our veterans. That work needs to continue. The work of the national commissioner, as it deals in a private but also a very powerful way with veterans and their families, also needs to continue.
In closing, I welcome all of the contributions that we have had today. I am pleased to have made my own contribution and to assert that I and this government will continue to do everything that we can and that we must to support veterans and their families.