Monday, 22 March 2021
Resolutions of the Senate
Consideration of Senate Message
The member for Braddon spoke earlier today. I thought he was spot on, as was my learned colleague in front of me here, the member from Tasmania. One of the other speakers said, 'Help is there—great help.' Honestly, how can you say that? There have been 26 suicides in 11 weeks. That must be great help! I would hate to think what could happen if we didn't have that help. But that is not the nature of the problem. In fact, I went to great lengths to listen to a program—I can't remember now whether it was 60 Minutes or Four Corners. I think both of them did something on a suicide or on suicides. In both those cases, it was my own personal experience that people are sailing along alright when they get out and then they hit an anxiety period. Then they go and see the DVA and fall off the cliff. Whether or not that's related to them going to see the DVA, the time frame is most certainly straight after they go to see the DVA. That's not so in all cases, but it is in the cases that I have had experience with.
The member for Braddon said that you got your identity and it was your family. We had over a thousand people attend the meetings. I pleaded with Jacqui Lambie to come north and she came with Heston Russell in tow—two very great Australians—and they drew well over a thousand people to the fortress city of Townsville. I deeply regretted that people from the government weren't there. The member for Braddon said: 'I had a family, I had an identity, and I had an income.' That was what I took down and memorised and tattooed in my brain from listening to over a thousand people express their opinions to Jacqui, to Heston, and, to a lesser degree, to me. You lose all three. When you say 'family', as my great and wonderful colleague put it so well here, the Army is your family. You sleep with your rifle and you sleep with your mates out in the middle of nowhere. Though I didn't actually see combat, we were on 24 hour call-up to go and fight in Indonesia. The battalion was rated F1, ready for combat. I don't know about other people, but I was scared silly about going into combat. I went and saw my Uncle Allan, who fought at Aitape, and my Uncle Billy, who fought at Milne Bay, and I had long yarns with both of them. I was very, very scared, and I think that would be true of so many other people. When you leave the Army, you lose your income, you lose your identity and you lose the family that you've spent most of your time with. It's not actually your wife and your kids; it's your mates from your section or your platoon or your company. You lose all three.
When the Broncos rugby league team was forming, Bernie Power said, 'They take these young boys in and then they just throw them away when they're no good anymore to the team.' He said, 'We have a program that puts them back into society as good, active people, with some money in their pocket and some businesses that they own or have big shares in.' The thing he most wanted to impress upon me was not that they were going to have a great rugby league team out of Brisbane, out of Queensland, but that they were going to look after the boys when they finished their rugby league career. All my life, I've been a player or an official in the rugby league, and I love the game. Bruno Cullen, when he took over the Broncos, as recently as three months ago was saying how well that program is still working—of transitioning them into businesses of their own and into semi-jobs of their own that they control. There's a pathway out. I remember when my son lost his contract with the Cowboys, five of them all lost their contracts with the NRL clubs at the same time. One went onto the hooch and one sat in front of the television, staring through it for most of the next year. Their whole lives collapsed. My son got through it alright, but others didn't, and it's infinitely worse for these people coming out of the Army.
One of the speakers said that the DVA gives them great help. I'm sorry but that's not my experience. In fact, my experience is just the opposite. If they go to DVA, then we've really got serious trouble. What really jarred me—I was campaigning down at the pub at Bushland Beach. I represent probably more retired veterans than anyone else in this place because I've got the northern beaches area of Townsville, where a lot of people retire to, and I represent the Atherton tablelands, one of the most beautiful parts of Australia, where a hell of a lot of them retire to. I was at the Bushland Beach pub and I ran into eight people there that night that had attempted suicide or whose closest friend or husband or wife had attempted suicide. I was quite staggered by it. They were so passionate about it. Then, a week later, I was up in the Atherton tablelands and there were two blokes there. John Hardie, who's got an OBE and is president of the conscripts' association of Queensland—I forget the name of the organisation. John was there, and I winked at him, and he nodded his head, meaning: 'Yes, I'm keeping an eye on both of them. They're in serious trouble, both of them.' One was a captain in the Army, a very young bloke, and the other was a corporal that had come out. In two weeks at two hotels I ran into these people. That will give you some idea.
I'm not trying to have a go at the government. I think every speaker here today has tried to be nonpolitical, but you are the government. There have been 26 suicides in 11 weeks. I am not filled with any sense that there is a serious problem out there. I don't know about other people, but I'm going to bed at night and I'm feeling comfortable about this. I wore the uniform for eight years on and off. I was in the militia, and we were on a war footing. We were at war with Indonesia at the time and then, later on, with Vietnam. We were rated F1. It was an entirely different militia then to what you see today I can assure you. Over a thousand people attend those meetings and only three voted against an inquiry. The three of them—well, two of them were on the payroll from the government, and I suspect the other one probably was as well.
Tim White must be singled out. Tim carries around—I hope he doesn't mind me saying this without his permission—a photograph in his shirt of his old patrol. I think there were 10 in the patrol. I might be wrong with the exact figures, but: two are still alive and well, two are in jail, two are hopeless alcoholics and the rest of them did away with themselves.
Tim takes his old buddy-buddy mates from the army out bush to look after First Australians. If I'm not sleeping well at night, it's because of the other problem I have, about First Australians. They are the other of the two groups of people who hold world-record suicide rates. I don't think, in either case, the government is coming to grips with this at all. If the Broncos rugby league team can do it, surely the government of Australia can do it. The Broncos go out there and bleed for Brisbane. These people go out there and bleed for Australia—and they seriously bleed.
I don't know whether the minister is a good or bad minister, but we've asking him to come up and visit the fortress city—if you want to know where the eye of the storm is—for nearly six weeks now. I remember former Minister for Mines and Energy, Ron Camm. We had a meeting at Greenvale, a big mining town, and there was a strike on. They were mostly striking in protest against the state government. Of course, who was the No. 2 in the state government: Ron Camm. I said, 'Mate, we're going to blow town.' He said, 'No, we don't blow town.' If there's a problem, that's where you go. (Time expired)