House debates

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Ministerial Statements

Veterans and their Families

4:40 pm

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I want to start in the way that the former veterans minister, the member for Gippsland, finished, and that is by thanking the hardworking staff at the Department of Veterans' Affairs and thanking all those members of our ex-service organisations who give so much love and support to our veterans and their families. Whether you're in a paid role or, particularly, a volunteer, our nation owes you a great deal of gratitude, not only, in the case of veterans, for your service but for your willingness to help others.

I'm pleased to have this opportunity to rise and to speak about veterans and their families. One of the principal reasons that I'm in this place—as I'm sure is the case with other members who have served—is to improve the lot of our veterans and their families, to look after our veterans and their families. I listened with great interest to the minister's statement. I don't think it has helped that he is the sixth Minister for Veterans' Affairs over eight long years of this government. Personally I would have preferred it if the member for Gippsland had continued in that role and we had been able to make some more gains. It's not a slight to the current minister; it's just that there is something to be said for continuity—although I think you can improve a number of things, and that's why I'm here and happy to help. We need that consistency, I think, and there are many examples of where those opposite, the government, can do better.

The minister told us he is determined to address the high rates of suicide amongst the ADF and the veteran community, and of course that is something that we all want to ensure happens. We know that there are suicide prevention trials underway. In May this year the government announced that the National Suicide Prevention Trial, at 12 national sites, would be funded for another year of operation and transition. There is $1 million for each site over financial year 2021-22. Those opposite, of course, are good at announcing things, but not a dollar has been received. The money has been announced and not received, so it would be good if that was done as soon as possible.

It is a truism to say that we can't rewrite history. It is a truism to say that those opposite, the current federal government, fought against the establishment of a royal commission into Defence and suicide for a long time. It took the veterans community and federal Labor, working with those of like mind who knew how desperate the situation was, and it was well past time for the fullest, broadest and highest level of inquiry in order to stop this scourge. It is a shame that it took so long. I know there has been a lot of trepidation among the veterans community about it. But one thing I'm hearing overwhelmingly now from those who were sceptical is, 'I now understand,' because veterans, their families and their advocates have got a chance to tell their story. That is very, very important. Through the telling of those stories, the themes about where our patriotic Australian men and women have fallen through the gaps will become evident and we'll be able to fix the system in a systemic way, which obviously is what we are after. I am concerned that there is a lack of trust in the government, but, given that they fought so hard against this royal commission, if they do not cover it up and if they have an opportunity in government—obviously I hope that Labor forms the next federal government and implements the recommendations, but if it is those opposite, then they need to respect the recommendations and crack on.

When it comes to supporting specific mental health needs for those participating in the royal commission, I can give you suggestions. These are coming from veterans who are there and present. They're saying it's bringing up difficult issues, as we always knew it would, and there are mental health supports there during the day, but a phone number for after-hours help probably doesn't cut it. If there are mental health professionals made available where the hearings are taking place that can be accessed for face-to-face consultation, then that would be good. That is the feedback from the veterans who are there.

Speaking of those who are attending the royal commission hearings in Brisbane at the moment, I want to give some feedback direct to the House from evidence given from some of those who are there. I will read an excerpt of evidence given by former serviceman Major Michael Stone, who I served with in Timor-Leste and who is now doing great things for veterans with his not-for-profit organisation. He's based out of Queensland. Before COVID, he was taking veterans into Timor; now he's doing it on a lovely beach up in Queensland. Thank you for your service, Mick, and for your great words to the royal commission. In a totally apolitical and bipartisan way I want to House to learn from them. He said:

Who will have a veteran trust to encourage them, motivate them, understand them, love them, and to call them out? To empower them to take responsibility, accountability and to do the hard work it takes to get healthy and stay healthy?


as in his organisation—

have evidence and methodology that veterans, especially veterans with lived experience, and their partners with lived experience, can do this.

Military operations have multiple dimensions of exposure to violence, human suffering and government policy. It should be no surprise that the moral burden of overseas missions and wars, executed on behalf of the Australian people, and ordered by the Australian Government, are left with the Australian veterans to process and their families to absorb the impacts. It's hard to acknowledge, to talk about …

Later, he goes on to say:

The veteran is the embodiment of the best of us as a nation. Those that join the Defence Forces are vetted prior to joining for their mental acuity, physiological stability, health, motivation and physical fitness. On joining, they are above average in every statistic. On departure, they are above average in the worst statistics.

Like all people, we veterans have our problems, but we can be empowered to be part of the solution. We can significantly contribute to prevention, early intervention and postvention. A paradigm shift for everyone involved from a focus of sickness to a focus on promoting wellness will significantly reduce suicide in the Defence and veteran community.

I just wanted to share that with the honourable members and with the House, because that is just one example on one day of one hearing where you're hearing, straight from veterans, that they want to actively be part of the solutions, and they have been doing the hard work to make sure they have also evaluated the effectiveness of what they're doing to help their fellow brothers and sisters. So I just want to associate myself, as a veteran, with what Mick said there.

There are many examples I could give of veterans, fine Australians, who have been injured either on operations or during training, and I will give the House some more examples soon in another speech. But, suffice to say, for the finest of Australians serving our country proudly, the least we can do is make sure that they've got every support—every support. The great hope of all honourable members, I'm sure, is that, whilst this royal commission goes on, we support people as best we can, and then, when we get those recommendations, we do the best that we can to implement them, in the interests of our fellow Australians.


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