House debates

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Ministerial Statements

Veterans and their Families

5:01 pm

Photo of Pat ConaghanPat Conaghan (Cowper, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

First and foremost I would like to acknowledge and thank all our past and present ADF members. Thank you for your service. We wouldn't have the freedoms that we have today but for you. I'd also like to extend my thanks to their families, because you make great sacrifice in allowing your family members to serve in the ADF and continuing to support them once they have left the ADF. I'd also like to acknowledge and thank the former defence personnel and veterans' affairs minister, the member for Gippsland. I know the member for Gippsland very well and have seen him and the work that he has done over the few years that I have been here. One thing I can say is that he has empathy for ADF members, and he did as much as he possibly could in his role. I saw that when he came to my electorate on two occasions and met with the local veterans organisations. We have many veterans organisations in my electorate. We have one of the highest cohorts of veterans in Cowper, and the member for Gippsland's empathy shone through. If an issue was raised he and his staff—thank you also to his staff—would address that problem immediately. I would like to thank the former minister for how he undertook his role and the work that he did.

One thing that he said quite often was that not all ADF veterans are broken, but when they are and when they are struggling we as a grateful nation have an obligation to those who served us to support the wellbeing of these men and women over their lifetime. We also have an obligation to continue to encourage them and to ensure that they not only speak up but are heard, that we actually listen. We need to do this consistently, and I think that has been the problem in the past. We have to provide a level of support and advocacy that extends not just to them but also, importantly, to their families. In that regard, I am pleased to say that the federal government has invested $11.7 billion in funding for the 336,000 ex-service personnel and their family members. One of the most important parts of this is something that I'm working on with the veteran community in my electorate as more than $40 million of that funding is to establish veteran wellbeing centres across Australia. There are currently six of them, $5 million per centre. Previously, the services were spread out everywhere, but now those new centres are better targeted to the needs of the veterans and their families in local communities. These services include health and wellbeing, employment, training, housing et cetera, entrepreneurial pathways and volunteering opportunities under the one roof. That is the secret: under the one roof, so the veterans know to go. They might not know what to do, but they know where to go. That's the start, the most important thing.

The former minister, the member for Gippsland, referred to veteran support dogs. I met with a veteran the other day and, seriously, he was like a kid waiting for Christmas because it was only a matter of days until his puppy was turning up. He was so excited, and it was self-fulfilling: he knew that this puppy was going to make him happy and help him get through the day. It might be a very small initiative, but it's something that can make such a huge difference to the life of one person. I made him promise that he would bring the puppy in when he got it.

As I said, in my electorate, I've been working closely with veterans organisations to have our own hub and spoke. We're after $5 million–that's not for one; that's for four hub and spokes. It will make the world of difference to the many veterans in my electorate. In that regard, I would like to thank Richard Kelloway, Stephen Sawtell and Pat Magann, veteran advocates, but also, others involved: Justin Poppleton, Louise Freebairn, Peter Bruce, Shawn Bergquist and Bill Wagner for the work that they are doing to help our veterans—it's such important work. They get paid a pittance and do the work of a thousand men—they really do.

I will just address the royal commission very quickly. I could not think of a better appointment than Nick Kaldas as commissioner to the royal commission. I know Nick Kaldas well. He had 35 years in the New South Wales Police Force and retired as assistant commissioner. He is a man of real life hands-on experience. It might not be at war, but it is experience that veterans would understand and appreciate: this is a common man, a decent man and a man who can empathise with them because of that experience. I mean no disrespect to those who graduate university, go straight into a chamber, become senior counsel, do well and are appointed as commissioners—he hasn't come through that way; he's come through with hands-on, hard, real-life experience. He was in the homicide squad, a lead detective for Samantha Knight and many other high-profile cases like Sef Gonzales and John Newman. He has experience of talking to families, empathising with families, which is exactly what he is doing now through this royal commission. He was a negotiator for 10 years.

We've already seen, through social media and through reports from people who have listened to him in the short time the commission has been going, that veterans can see this is a man who will make a difference. I have no doubt that he will make a real difference to the lives of those who will give very difficult evidence and tell very hard stories. I cannot imagine for a moment—my heart goes out to those mums and dads—having two teenage children now, that my children would go off to war and come back only to lose their lives because of what they saw. It is unimaginable. I know that the commissioner will listen to you. You will be heard, and changes will be made.

In conclusion, I acknowledge the work that needs to be done for our ex-service men and women. There is a vast chasm between what is happening now and what needs to be done.

We are taking a bipartisan approach. We all want this. We all want this to be resolved and to have a better process for our ADF personnel when they do return home. It is always very difficult, whether you spend five, 10, 15 or 20 years in any service, whether it is the ADF, police, ambos, firies—in a way, you become institutionalised and it does become very difficult. But those who become institutionalised need to have that support when they leave those services. So, to echo the sentiments of our Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel: they have given us their best and, in return, it is only right that we give them our best.

Debate adjourned.


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