Wednesday, 25 October 2017
On Saturday night, 21 October, my family, two staff members, my daughter, my son-in-law, my two grandchildren and I participated in the Veterans Off The Streets Australia Community Sleep Out. We had had heavy rain for the past week in Townsville and it continued on Saturday night, but the sleep-out went ahead, because it was agreed that veterans living on the streets have to deal with bad weather. They have no choice as to where to go, so why shouldn't we be in the same position? My sincere congratulations go to Floss Foster and her team for organising this event, especially given the very wet weather.
Townsville is the largest garrison city in Australia. Together with current serving members, ex-service personnel, veterans and their families, our defence community totals an estimated 20 per cent of the population. The defence community makes a significant social and economic contribution to Townsville, for which we are very grateful. Veterans' homelessness is a growing issue. It is completely unacceptable that we have veterans living on our streets. These are the men and women who have given selflessly of themselves, as do their families, to ensure we enjoy the freedoms we do every day. Current estimates suggest that up to 10 per cent of Australians experiencing homelessness are of the veteran community, and we have 105,000 homeless people in Australia. But those numbers do not take into account those veterans and families who are at risk of homelessness.
The available research provides some insight into the complex needs of homeless veterans, with many experiencing mental health issues and substance abuse problems, as well as disability. Entire families are being affected. I am sure that, if the greater public knew we had young soldiers with war-caused mental ill health sleeping in cars with their wives and children, they would be justifiably outraged, but that is exactly what is happening.
Unfortunately, we have been here before, and there are lessons that can be drawn from the experience of Vietnam veterans. Whilst there were 55,000 Vietnam veterans, there are more than 67,000 contemporary veterans, so the scale of the problem we are facing is much larger. It will only get worse if we don't have the necessary supports we need on the ground in the community. One veteran on the street is one too many. I will continue to work with the local veterans, ESOs and ADF to ensure we provide the necessary supports.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 10:38 to 10:50
As I was saying, I will continue to work with local veterans, ESOs and the ADF to ensure that we provide the necessary support for these young men and women. As a result of the generosity in our community, I was able to present Floss Foster with a cheque for $1,005, which grew to $1,055, on Sunday, 22 October. Our veterans matter, and they deserve the very best. That includes a roof over their heads.