House debates

Monday, 22 March 2021

Resolutions of the Senate

Consideration of Senate Message

4:33 pm

Photo of Warren EntschWarren Entsch (Leichhardt, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I certainly rise this afternoon to support this motion seeking to establish a royal commission into veteran suicide. I absolutely support this motion. The sacrifice that these men and women make for our country is truly remarkable and in fact in many cases is the ultimate sacrifice. I proudly served in the Defence Force as well, with the Australian Air Force, between 1969 and 1978. It seems like a lifetime ago now. Many of my colleagues have served as well, a lot of them—I think all of them—much more recently than my service. And I have to say, my service was at a time when men like me certainly didn't talk about their feelings. You were told simply to 'suck it up'. Thankfully, times have somewhat changed.

I have to say, it was a time in my life that I am extremely proud of, and I have memories, particularly of mateship and camaraderie, that I've never, ever been able to replicate in civilian life—ever. There's something about the service there that doesn't exist anywhere else, in anything else you do. But what happens when that mateship isn't there anymore—that 24/7 support you get—and you find yourself back in a life that, often, you don't really recognise? It's an all-too-familiar story for many veterans when they return from active service. I say this very deliberately, because my time in the military was well before that of many of my colleagues—and it's so great to have so many here; I think eight of us have served in the defence forces. I'm the only Air Force guy and the rest of them are all Army, and we compete quite well in that area. Nevertheless I think it's a record number—for many years—of people here who have served, and it's great to have them here.

Many veterans struggle to adjust to normal life. In my view there's a reason for this. Prior to my service we had Korea and Malaysia, and then during my time we had Vietnam. Most people called to serve did one rotation. They might have done six months. Some of them did two months. It was rarely more than that. The difference today is that we have people going over to some really inhospitable places and serving not one, not two, not three, not four but multiple rotations—six, seven, eight. The impact that has not only on themselves but on their lives and their families is quite profound. They come back home, and many of them—so many of them, I know, up in my region—are often unable to get their heads around trivial issues that society is consumed with, like social media, traffic congestion, petrol prices, who won the footy et cetera. They struggle to come back into that system—and how could they not? Many of them have witnessed firsthand the brutal horror of war. They feel out of sync with society. I have spoken to many friends who have said to me the hardest thing about war is coming home and struggling when they get here. Many of them have lost mates. Many of them have been wounded. Many of them have witnessed things that those back home could never even fathom. Sadly, many come home as broken people. Many come home as very different people.

There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that the current system has failed our returning Defence Force people. The conflicts at the time I served were very different to the conflicts of those that served in the Second World War, which were different to the conflicts of those that served in the First World War. Each one is very different. You can't model a service or a support—PTSD has only been recognised in more recent times—based on what's happened in the past; you've got to do it based on the present, and you've got to offer that support for them. The system has failed our returning defence personnel very badly, especially those who really need that extra help. It has also failed the families, who are at the front line when our personnel come home, in having to deal with people that they no longer really know. It becomes a real challenge.

You're going to ask the questions; it's not rocket science. Why is it that ADF personnel have a suicide rate less than half the wider community rate while serving but nearly twice the general population rate once they leave the service? You don't have to be a rocket scientist to work these things out. There are certainly issues there. Over the past few decades, more ADF personnel have died after returning home than in actual conflict. These are alarming statistics, and we need to act on them. We expect our ADF personnel to travel to lands far away to protect us, our freedoms and our interests, but who protects them and their interests when they come home? That's a good question to ask.

As I said at the beginning, I absolutely support this motion. I also fully support giving the necessary powers and resources to the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention to ensure a future ongoing body once the royal commission has been completed. But I think we do need a royal commission. It can be relatively short. It can be sharp. It's going to give us a lot of answers to questions that we need. We need to know those answers. We need to get this done, and we need to get it done sooner rather than later. We need to identify and work towards delivering real and effective solutions for veterans past, present and future as well as for their families. Don't forget families and loved ones in this. They are absolutely critical. It's incumbent on every single person in this House to support this motion and support those who would give their lives to protect our freedom and interests. It's about time we started protecting and helping them as well. I'll absolutely support it when it comes back.


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