Monday, 22 March 2021
Resolutions of the Senate
Consideration of Senate Message
I was sitting here and looking through my phone just before I was called. I was reading Save Our Services Australia, which is a local organisation run by Jeb Summers for veterans and first responders. Many of the issues that our veterans face are the same thing that our first responders face. I read something there and thought it was probably the most apt thing I've read, that it's not the person with PTSD who is refusing to let go of the past but it's the past that's refusing to let go of the person.
I think that's one of the things I've heard over this time in meeting with veterans' organisations and with veterans. They aren't just young blokes like those who are nice and fit, healthy and young. It's even when I sit back with a few of the old boys who I meet with—the Vietnam vets. These things don't go away. I think about when my grandfather was discharged after World War II after spending time at Tobruk and in the Middle East, and then in Papua New Guinea. He was discharged with what was called 'shell shock'. Shell shock is just another name for PTSD—we just didn't acknowledge it then. He was one of those World War II vets who we punished throughout their lives and just said to them: 'Toughen up, harden up and suck it up. Be a man and cop it on the chin.'
Really, it's a shame that has happened over a long period of time. What I think is so important now is that the door has been opened and we have the conversations. It doesn't matter which side of the parliament we sit on, we should all agree that we owe our veterans, at the bare minimum, the respect to listen to them, to understand them and to give them what is needed.
When I look through Facebook pages such as Save Our Services and the likes the thing that keeps coming up day after day is another veteran lost, another brother gone, another sister gone. Another family that's going to live with a scar that goes for the rest of their lives and that's knowing that they've lost their loved one, who was prepared to stand up in the name of our country and do the service that we asked them to do. We ask them to do that. This is the thing. It's people that sit in here that make the decision, when we send men and women off into harm's way. Sure, they're super trained. Having spent time in the Middle East and the likes you realise just how wonderful these men and women are. But if we're going to make the decision to send them into places—theatres of war—where they're going to put their lives on the line then the very least we can do when they get back is tell them, 'We've got your back' and do the right thing by them—not by us, not by anyone else, but by them.
The royal commission is something that they've called for. They want it because they're hurting. The Prime Minister said that the commissioner would be a bigger and better form than a royal commission. No-one believed that, because it's not right. We know that a royal commission is the most important thing that we can do for our vets. To the families that have lost loved ones nothing is going to return their sons and daughters, but at least we should be able to sit here hand on heart and say, 'Yes, we've done the right thing', because we owe it to them. In every single aspect we owe it to them. We train them. We send then off. We bring them home. We should do the right thing.
The most consistent thing I've heard in terms of issues when people come back from service or when they discharge from our armed forces are the problems of dealing with DVA. Let me tell you, having involvement through the stuff on Defence abuse I learnt very quickly just how bad DVA can be. And that's not to say everyone in DVA, but by jeez the way that they have done things to veterans—put them through extra mental pressure and torment just to save their own backsides—is almost second to none. When the member for Lingiari was minister I think I might have given even him a shock with the language I used when I was talking about DVA because of what they were doing to servicemen and servicewomen who had been abused. That is one part of the issue.
The main issue that remains steadfast is the need for a royal commission and the need for us in here to combine together to do the right thing by our veterans and deliver it. If we in this place are prepared to send men and women to war then we've got to be prepared to do the right thing. If we're prepared to listen to them, hear their stories and stand up and support them, then support them when they come home. Give them and their families the respect that they deserve and have earned. We make them put on a uniform. We make them go places. The least we can do is listen to their concerns. There should be no obfuscation about this at all. There's no, 'Yes, we won't oppose a motion'. Be buggered—we should be up here saying, 'We will be doing this'.
I think the right and honourable thing to do would be for the Prime Minister to come in now, stand here, look you fellows in the eye and say, 'Yes, it's happening. We're going to do it now. We're going to do it properly. We're not going to muck around with it. We're going to make sure that you have input into ensuring that the questions that are asked are the questions you need answered.' Anything short of that is appalling.
There are many veterans out there who will be listening to this, because I know from every conversation I've had, over the last few weeks particularly, that this is first and foremost on their minds. I think every speaker has gone through the facts of the people we've lost through suicide, but let's also think about the people that are back who are carrying the scars and the pain in their hearts. They might not be physical. You might not be able to see what people are going through. Quite often it's the strongest people we know who are the ones prepared to be out there helping others when they themselves are suffering. Through any form of disaster I've seen, through bushfires et cetera, it's the same thing: the people stand up, they are trying to help, but you know that, deep down, they are hurting. They're the ones that go home and can't concentrate on thinking. They can't sleep, can't eat properly and can't function properly because of the pain they're carrying. For God's sake, let's do the right thing and do it now. This should be passed today. We should have a commitment that it will be done. First and foremost, the Prime Minister should look you guys in the eye and tell you it's going to happen. That's what I'll be hoping for and that's what I hope every member in this place will stand up and do. I know it's not a partisan issue, not a party issue. I don't like to say nice things about government members, but I've got a few mates on that side and I know how much they support it. I know they want to get it done. It's now a question of getting it done sooner rather than later. With that, I wish this speedy passage. I hope it gets done and I hope that, next time, I can look you guys in the eye and say, 'Yep, we've got it. Well done, you men.'