Thursday, 25 October 2018
This month I was privileged to attend the annual No. 22 Squadron dinner that's held in honour of Flight Lieutenant William (Bill) Newton VC at the Richmond RAAF base. This is a night that brings together many of the current serving members and retired members of No. 22 Squadron to remember the bravery of Bill Newton, who went missing in action in March 1943, having completed 52 operational sorties in New Guinea in World War II. Bill's story as an airman—his passion for flying and his skill—is worth hearing. The presence of his family members at the dinner, including young grand-nephew Will, who shares his name and birthday, makes it a very special event. It was a wonderful night, and I congratulate all those involved in making it happen and thank New South Wales Governor, David Hurley, for his thoughtful and powerful speech. What I walk away with from these evenings is the reinforcement that the people who choose to serve this country in the military have particular qualities that set them apart. Every conversation I have with members of the Defence Force and veterans reinforces for me that the choices they make to serve are ones that make them different from civilians and that they need a special set of supports from this parliament.
While we rightly focus on the needs of veterans—their medical and mental welfare needs as well as the more practical part of transitioning to the civilian world—we also need to focus on their families more. I find myself often in conversation with partners of serving and former defence members, who share with me some of the extra challenges of having a partner who will move every couple of years into a new role in a new town in a new state. This is why I believe it's right that we develop a military covenant to make sure our serving men and women and their families know how much we value their service and remain committed to looking after them. Labor has made a commitment to do this, and I was pleased to hear the Minister for Defence say that he's also exploring the idea. I do hope that we can work collaboratively on this so that it's an issue that binds rather than divides us.
We are of course in awe of the determination, strength and skill that's currently on display in the Invictus Games. I've read many of the interviews with athletes, and the recognition of the transformational effect from their involvement in these games, after being injured or nearly killed in an incident, is clear. So many of the athletes have talked about having a purpose, having a reason to get moving, having a challenge—all the things we know can help make life worth the effort it must be in coming to terms with a changed physical ability.
In the Blue Mountains, we are particularly proud of Springwood resident Craig McGrath, who won Australia's first gold medal of the games, in the sailing, and also a silver medal in a driving event not officially part of the games, but he was pretty pleased to be presented with his medal by Meghan, who he said was very nice. Like so many competitors, Craig has enjoyed the experience of the Invictus Games and his close encounter with the royals. Craig was serving in Afghanistan in 2012 when he and members of his unit walked into a booby trapped mud wall compound. Five metres from where the bomb exploded, he sustained shrapnel wounds to his ankle, hip, knee and shoulder, a broken leg and burst eardrums. I met Craig in his home a few weeks before the games. We talked about his work in Afghanistan; his recovery; the impact on his family, including on his young sons, of both his service and his accident; and the decisions and choices that he's had to make. I'm absolutely thrilled for his success. We don't have a lot of champion sailors in the Blue Mountains, but the large group of Blue Mountains family and friends cheering him on were very proud of him, and we all know how proud we are of his achievements.
Our willingness to invest to support people like Craig and others who have come to me to talk about transitioning shows me that we have work to do and we must continue doing it. That's why Labor has announced a veterans employment program. If we're elected, this program will ensure that veterans' skills are not lost in translation. It will encourage businesses to get the benefits of employing these highly valuable people. There are four key elements to our program.
The first is about businesses, providing training grants of up to $5,000 to address any specific short-term skills gaps that a potential employee may have which might be the barrier to their employment. I have talked to veterans who have missed out on interviews, and often this is about businesses simply saying, 'Look, you've got nearly everything, but there's one bit missing.' These grants will help address some of those issues.
The second part of it is to better inform employers about the skill set that former ADF members have. I think the five days I spent at Amberley on the base last year showed me the extraordinary breadth of skills, be they organisational, management or specific trade skills, that members of the ADF accrue in their very many roles over the course of their time with the ADF. We will be providing $30 million to an industry advisory committee to fund and develop a national campaign to make sure that this extraordinary skill set is better understood.
The third thing is to establish an employment and transition service for anyone transitioning out of Defence. This will provide greater individualised and tailored support to veterans over a longer period of time. It will work with individual veterans to identify career goals, audit the skills they have acquired over the course of their career and make sure that they obtain civilian recognition for those skills. The service will also work with veterans to identify other potential barriers to employment—things like health, housing and community support that they may need to make sure that they can find fulfilling employment. I think we all know that a first job doesn't always work out, so we think that this service should be available to veterans so they can return to it over a five-year period after they have left the ADF, just in case they need some extra advice or guidance as they go on that journey into the civilian world. We also want to see the qualifying period for extra education and training assistance brought down from the current requirement of 12 years to five years, and the top level of assistance down from 18 years to 15 years. Given our understanding that, on average, members serve for 7½ years, the change would mean the majority of those who leave the ADF would be able to access the assistance.
The fourth part of our employment and transition plan is to work with the states and territories and peak industry bodies to identify opportunities for greater automatic recognition of skills that veterans have. We think these things will help the transition which is so important to take people from the career that they have so successfully had in the Defence Force to being successful in a civilian world.
When an individual serves, in many ways their families are serving too. As I have said, they have to pack up and move frequently. When Defence Force personnel move into civilian life, their families are also faced with a very big change. Again, this is an area where we need to work more closely with families so that their voices are heard in this process.
I think the other area that has come up for me time and time again is recognition of the things we need to do to support the mental health of serving Defence personnel as they leave the service. The Senate inquiry into veteran suicide showed us many things. The Mental Health Commission report into suicide and self-harm and the ANAO report provided really clear recommendations on how we can do better. I welcome the government's commitment to implementing many of the recommendations, but I note we're also waiting for the Productivity Commission's review. While it is important to wait for those final recommendations, I would urge the government not to stall on these things. There are things the government could do immediately such as lifting the Medicare rebate freeze, because right now that's impacting on the day-to-day medical needs of people.
Finally, I'd like to speak about Remembrance Day on 11 November. This year we mark the centenary of armistice and, like many others, I'll be marking this one in one of the RSL-organised ceremonies in my electorate of Macquarie. I'd like to encourage the community to take part and share a minute's silence to recognise the guns falling silent on the Western Front after more than four years of continuous warfare. We'll remember those in that war who sacrificed so much—in my case, both my grandfathers served on the Western Front, and they made it home but not without their scars. We'll remember those who served in World War I and subsequent conflicts and have paid that ultimate price. It's important that we do take the time to remember and reflect, and as we do we should thank our ex-service organisations for giving us the opportunity to do that at these commemorative services.
I thank all current serving men and women of the Defence Force and their families for what they do in serving our nation.
It's pleasing to be able to speak for a second year running on the annual ministerial statement on veterans and their families. Representing Brisbane in the federal parliament, with the Enoggera Barracks on the edge of that electorate means I have the absolute privilege of spending a lot of time with serving Defence personnel as well as the many veterans across our community in Brisbane. As I noted last year when the inaugural statement was made, these ministerial statements are opportunities for governments to measure their efforts, their progress and their progress in policy and administration. They're intended, I think, quite deliberately to be a frank, warts-and-all type of assessment of how we're doing here in Australia—the good and the bad—and they should act as a yardstick over time for how government's performance is measured and viewed.
I see this deliberate approach by governments in more and more areas of critical policy. When these critical and complex issues are finally canvassed in the community, when problems are finally brought out from under the carpet, enter the national conversation and get the recognition that important issues deserve, it naturally follows that governments provide more resources, more focus, more efforts and more funding. But it's about more than that. These ministerial statements and the work behind them are about making a really conscious effort to try new things to succeed and to fail fast if some attempts, experiments or initiatives are indeed going to fail, but, when things work, to quickly ramp up on those successes. Further, these ministerial statements can accept and respond to the fact that all people are unique. Their needs and their experiences will be different. There's often no magic bullet or any one-size-fits-all policy. In other words, these annual ministerial statements are a very deliberate commitment to a process that will guide us to keep doing better.
In this year's annual ministerial statement, delivered yesterday, the minister mentioned a number of priorities where the government is addressing some serious DVA service problems, overhauling the systems of the DVA and getting them into the digital age—new online capabilities and services—leading to faster claims processing and also moving to that single point of telephone contact, 1800 VETERAN. The minister also mentioned continuing good work in areas like employment initiatives and transition-to-work programs. The minister also mentioned a number of independent experts and reviewers looking in their work at different ways to make the next round of big improvement. This includes work by the Productivity Commission into rehabilitation and compensation systems, studies into advocacy and support systems, and more.
There were a number of new initiatives and trials that were outlined in this year's statement, and a few of them in particular caught my eye and I thought would be particularly relevant given some of the stories and experiences that I hear around my electorate of Brisbane when I talk to serving personnel and veterans. The ones that caught my eye included a new annual comprehensive health assessment by a GP for all separating ADF members; a new family support initiative, so providing extra child care and counselling services for the children and families of veterans who have undertaken warlike service; a new payment to support financially vulnerable veterans and their families while they await decisions on a claim they've made for mental health conditions, and early access to rehabilitation services; a new 24/7 counselling service for veterans and their families called Open Arms, which was launched by the minister recently; and, interestingly I thought, a trial using assistance dogs, which will be paired with veterans with post-traumatic stress. Those were some really interesting new initiatives and trials that had been announced and brought together in this year's ministerial annual statement. There were many others listed in the statement, but I won't repeat them all now.
On a related topic, the minister also mentioned in the statement the Invictus Games, currently underway in Sydney. It would be remiss of me not to mention a local Brisbane hero at the Invictus Games, Emma Kadziolka, who on Monday won a gold medal and a silver medal for indoor rowing. One for endurance and one for sprint. Emma was actually the co-captain of the Australian Invictus Games team last year, and so it seems Emma is really continuing to go from strength to strength this year. Congratulations to Emma, she's making her city and her country so very proud. We know that 'invictus' means 'unconquered', and all of our athletes, I believe, at the Invictus Games truly embody that spirit.
On another related topic, I want to mention how pleased I was just a few weeks ago to take the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, to a special fundraising lunch in Brisbane being run by a local community group called 42 for 42. The name 42 for 42 comes about because of their mission, which is to commemorate the 41 Australian service personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, and the 42nd represents all of those who have come back, and those who have lost their lives to mental health and suicide. They have a very special mission; they are hoping to build a memorial in Brisbane in an incredibly iconic location, in a beautiful memorial garden right next to the Suncorp Stadium. The lunch they held in Brisbane the other week was to raise awareness of their quest, but also to raise much-needed funds. It was so pleasing to see so much of the local community come together to support their fundraising and awareness efforts, including the Former Origin Greats, Kev Walters and all sorts of other people from around the community, including Rupert McCall, a poet who made a fantastic and emotional contribution to the lunch.
In conclusion, to all ADF service personnel, to all our veterans, to their children, to their families in Brisbane and right around the nation: thank you for your service and for your sacrifices. Australians should be proud of the many ways we do serve and care for our veterans and their families, but we strive, as we should, to do more and to do better. This year's annual ministerial statement on veterans and their families has been a useful marker for our progress, and it also serves as a road map and a guide for our next steps. I'm determined, as I'm sure is every member of this parliament, that we do not fail. We owe it to the many men and women who've served our country, and to their families. Thank you.
Townsville is a very proud garrison city, and as the elected representative for our community, it gives me great pride to stand here and speak to the veterans ministerial statement. I believe the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, said it best when he said, 'As a nation, we are better at honouring the memory of our dead than looking after the living.' These words are echoingly true when it comes to our Australian veterans. We can never fully repay our debt to our veterans, but we can give them our long-term gratitude, respect and support.
For many veterans, the freedoms that we experience in our nation are important enough for them to endure long separations from their families, miss the births of their children, freeze in subzero conditions, bake in the deserts and lose limbs. Far too often, sadly, lives were lost. Military spouses have had to endure career interruptions, frequent changes of address and a disproportionate share of parental responsibilities. The children often have had to deal with changes in schools, separation from friends and, hardest of all, the uncertainty of whether their mum or dad would return from their tour.
Warriors need advocates in parliament, and I am passionately one of the strongest advocates for veterans in this place. We are here to serve veterans, their families and our communities. Veterans need each other, but, more importantly, our country needs our veterans. Those who defend us must be supported. Whether their service was in Afghanistan or Vietnam, we need to serve veterans as well as they serve us. Veterans don't ask for much. They do not want to be a special class, but benefits are a mere drop in the bucket compared to the financial and human cost of war. While not all veterans see war, all who have served in the military have expressed a willingness to fight if called to do so.
Homelessness is another issue that affects veterans disproportionately. Too often today's tattered citizen on the street was yesterday's toast of the town in a crisp uniform, supporting a row of shiny medals. This is hardly the thanks of a grateful nation. We can do better and we must do better. We need to acknowledge their work, their sacrifice and its significance. Can any CEO or chairman of a bank truly claim to have more responsibility than a 21-year-old corporal walking on patrol in Afghanistan?
Veterans have given us freedom and security. It is impossible to put a price on freedom and security, but it is necessary to ensure that our support is readily available when needed. We must remember them and we must appreciate them, and that is partly what the annual statement on veterans provides. Every year the government provides a statement or an update in relation to our veterans. In preparing for my speech today I looked back on the speech I made last year regarding the veterans statement. It saddened me to see that in a year the issues are still pretty much the same: unemployment is still incredibly high in the veteran community; suicide is still occurring; and families are still suffering distress. These are not issues that will be rectified overnight, but the annual veterans statement holds the government accountable and responsible to those who have served this country. It's a chance for us to look back and reflect on the last year and genuinely ask: have we in this place done enough?
I have supported all of the government's veterans policies where the policies do make a positive difference, but I do not believe that their commitments go far enough to show our veterans that we are grateful for their sacrifice and service to this nation. However, I do believe that Labor's announcement to establish Australia's first military covenant does go further than just an annual statement. The annual statement is needed, but a legislated military covenant is critical. The military covenant will ensure that our serving men and women know, in no uncertain terms, that we value their service and remain committed to looking after them. A commitment to a military covenant builds on previous announcements that Labor have made, such as our $121 million veterans employment package.
Finding and maintaining employment after serving is very important to veterans for many reasons. It's not just about financial security. The dignity of work provides structure, community and a sense of purpose and belonging. It is a reason to get out of bed each day, and that is something that many ex-Defence personnel say they miss when they leave the ADF. Many veterans do not immediately find a meaningful career post their time with the ADF. These are highly skilled and desirable employees who would make a valuable addition to any workplace, but the statistics show us that these skills are not necessarily acknowledged or valued by civil society because many of these skills are lost in translation.
If we want veterans to know that we value the sacrifice that they have made then we must do better. We must ensure that veterans are best positioned to move into employment post service and that businesses understand the many benefits of employing a veteran. The government has developed the Prime Minister's Veterans' Employment Program, and I support this program. We can absolutely do better in this space. Labor's veterans employment program does just that. Labor is the party of jobs and employment, because it's in our DNA. We understand the employment issues that veterans face and, more importantly, we are committed to addressing these issues.
There are roadblocks because veterans' skills are lost in translation from military life to civilian life, roadblocks because veterans are discounted before reaching the interview stage because they don't meet the tick-and-flick process and roadblocks because employers ultimately fail to recognise the many skills that our ADF members have.
It is for this reason that Labor has announced a veterans employment program. This program will ensure that veteran skills are not lost in translation and will encourage businesses to benefit from employing these highly valuable young men and women. There are four key elements to our program. The first targets businesses by providing a $5,000 grant to address specific short-term skills gaps which may otherwise act as a barrier to the veteran's suitability. I have heard from veterans who have applied for hundreds of jobs and in some cases have never gotten an interview. The process is demoralising and doesn't value the many skills and experiences of our ADF members. While there could be many reasons for this, one reason could be that the veteran is simply one unit shy of a qualification or fails to meet the two years previous experience criteria but would otherwise be suitable. These grants will go a long way to ensuring that these gaps can be addressed and that there will be an incentive to remove those barriers and roadblocks.
In addition we have announced that we will provide $30 million to an industry advisory committee to fund the development of a national campaign which will highlight the many skills of former ADF members to employers. We will also establish an employment and transition service for transitioning members, which will provide greater individualised and tailored support to veterans over a longer period of time. This service will also work with veterans to identify other potential barriers to employment, such as housing, health and community support, that they may need in order to ensure they can also find fulfilling employment.
From speaking with veterans, I know that many leave with very clear goals in mind about what work they want to do after they leave the ADF, but sadly it doesn't always work out. Labor is promising that this service would remain available to veterans to return to over a five-year period after they have left the ADF, just in case advice, services or support are needed. We will bring the qualifying period for extra education and training assistance down from the current 12 years to five years, and the top level of assistance down from 18 years to 15 years. On average, members serve for 7.5 years. This change would mean that the majority of those who leave the ADF would be to access the assistance, and that is a very crucial point. In addition, Labor's plan increases the amount of funding available to individuals and allows greater flexibility in the way transitioning members can use this funding, such as in obtaining multiple qualifications that are required for employment.
In noting the importance of the service of our veterans, we must also acknowledge the family sacrifices and commitment. Serving families are routinely faced with the choice of packing up their lives and moving or spending significant time apart a loved one. Post-service lives are changed again as individuals and their loved ones reorientate their lives. As the mental health commissioner has identified, this strategy will give families a voice and provide a national blueprint to include engagement of the departments of Veterans' Affairs and Defence with military families. As the Centenary of Anzac draws to a close it is important that we consider how we keep alive the memories of men and women who have served and who have died. While we no longer have the benefit of any of our World War I diggers with us, it is crucial that we remember their experiences. I believe that Labor's commitments to our veterans and their families show a clear plan and reflect the gratefulness and thanks we have for our returning soldiers. I conclude by congratulating the nine athletes from Townsville that are competing in the Invictus Games. They have won numerous awards.
I acknowledge the contribution by the member for Herbert, who has a close association with the large serving and veteran community, and say how well she represents their interests here in this place. I also acknowledge the contributions made during speeches yesterday by the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, the Hon Darren Chester, the member for Gippsland, and the shadow minister, the member for Kingston, for demonstrating very clearly to those who were listening or may have been present in chamber that there is strong bipartisan support for veterans and our serving personnel.
I, like them, want to start by thanking those men and women who wear a uniform in service to our country, both those who are veterans and have served previously and those who are currently serving. And like the member for Herbert, who spoke in her final comments about competitors in the Invictus Games, I think all of Australia is inspired by what they're seeing at the Invictus Games, seeing people who have been, in some way, damaged by their service, wounded. They have found an expression, through their performances and through their love for one another at these games, of how we should view ourselves in working with our veterans' communities.
On 11 November next month, we will see the 100th anniversary of the Armistice. That will complete, in many ways, four years of commemoration activity, both here in Australia and overseas. Importantly, I think it has provided the opportunity for all Australians to acknowledge and understand the contribution, the sacrifice and the loss that happened as a result of so many Australians serving, firstly, and then losing their lives in the First World War. It has reminded us to think about all of those who have worn a uniform for us and made the ultimate sacrifice. But, as we've heard, it's not only those who make the ultimate sacrifice that we should be concerned about; it's the many tens of thousands of people who have served our country and come home from conflict with no apparent physical harm but, over time, developed what might be seen as issues to do with mental health as a result of their service. We are now alive to those things in a way which wasn't the case previously. After the First World War and even the Second World War, the standard of services available to our serving personnel once they'd come home were not what they are today. Thankfully, we have shifted in our mindset. We understand the issues people now confront and have confronted when they return from service and we are doing our very best to work with them and ensure their needs are properly met.
I want to commend the contribution yesterday of the shadow minister, the member for Kingston, and for her outlining of the initiatives she has developed in partnership with the Labor team around addressing issues to do with current veterans. I applaud them. I'm not going to articulate them again—the member for Herbert went through them—but I just do want to make a point that I'm really pleased that we're accepting the transition space is where we've got to do a lot of work. We've got to really understand also that there are some people who have transitioned or will transition into the future, who, when they're leaving the uniformed life behind, don't want anything to do with those uniforms or the organisations to which they belong and so they escape visibility and they escape connection, and it's those people that I am particularly concerned about. I know it's difficult because you can't interfere in people's choices but we've got to have some way that we can maintain a connection with all of the people who serve so that if and when—and we know this is happening regularly—their comes a time when their service impacts on their health, whether through some physical disability or mental health issue, they are able to get access to the services they need to address those issues. It's particularly important for those people with mental health issues.
I've expressed it before in this place that those of us who haven't worn a uniform in conflict cannot know what it's like. We can hear from people, we can talk to people, but we haven't the lived experience. We've had almost constant conflict in the Middle East for a damn long time, and we've had serving personnel, particularly Special Forces soldiers, on the front line on a continuing basis, effectively, doing six, seven, eight, nine and 10 tours of duty. The compounding impacts of those tours of duty over time are going to have an effect. We've got to make sure that the support structures are in place, both whilst they're in service and when they're not.
We know from the work which has been done by the Department of Veterans' Affairs and the Department of Defence that whilst those people are in service they have the psychological supports and are strong. If you remove those supports when people depart, it's no surprise that some people will find it difficult. The impact of their compounding service affects them. What we've got to do is find mechanisms—and this is what is happening through the proposals which have been put in place by the shadow minister—that will help address their needs.
We can't have the prospect that, because someone has served their country, whether it is for five, 10, 15, 20, 30 or 40 years, on leaving the uniform they're not able to find a job—should not. We've got to find the capacity to make sure that every person who leaves the Defence Force, on transition, knows that they have the support they will need to get extra training and an employment opportunity. That's an obligation that we, as a nation, need to accept. I know that both the minister and the shadow minister understand that.
I have been of the view for a long time that, as soon as someone walks through the gates at Wagga on their recruit training, they have an identifier which says: 'You are now part of the Department of Veterans' Affairs. We, the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the Commonwealth, have an obligation to look after you and your interests until you're dead.' Indeed, post service, veterans need to have full knowledge that their families are going to be looked after. We've got to inculcate this view in people so that they know it's normal to get access to services. I know the Department of Veterans' Affairs and the people who work within it are endeavouring to do their utmost to make sure that this is the case. I want to thank those people who work over there in the Department of Defence, who strive every day to do the best they possibly can for our serving personnel, and the Department of Veterans' Affairs for our veterans. They need our support.
I want to acknowledge the contribution from the member for Lingiari on this issue and also acknowledge the statement that the minister gave to the House yesterday on this government's commitment to veterans. It certainly is an incredibly important part of our culture that we continuously acknowledge the various conflicts which this nation has been a part of. We acknowledge that not one of those conflicts which have been a part of have ever been for personal gain for Australia; effectively we have always sent our troops overseas to maintain what we would call the status quo, to quell the invaders, to make sure that we could assist these countries to effectively stop people from invading other lands. One could have a debate about whether we were invading Turkey in relation to Gallipoli, or whether we were trying to stop the German army's invasions throughout Europe. But I think it's very fair and very reasonable and true to say that Australia has never effectively sent our troops away so that we could improve the amount of land that we were to rule over. So our history is rich and our history is honourable when it comes to our conflicts. In the space of that, or using that as a basis, we can be very, very proud of our troops for the work that they have carried out right around the globe.
It's also true that when many of our troops come back from service, they effectively don't want to be involved with the RSL. Many of them think that's for members from other conflicts, from other generations, to be a part of. But at various stages in their lives, in many instances, they do find their way back to the RSL. Sometimes it's in search of comradeship, other times it's in search of support and assistance that they need to get on with their daily lives. There's myriad of ways we are helping our veterans. As the minister stipulated yesterday, there's an $11 billion commitment from this government to our veterans. Over 280,000 veterans throughout Australia, along with their families, are currently being supported by the government. It's a very significant community and it's a very, very significant contribution from this government and the Australian taxpayer to assist with the work that we are doing to support our veterans.
As I've said a few times in the chamber in the last week and a half, I was lucky enough to spend a week with our deployed servicemen in Afghanistan recently. It's an amazing experience, and in a short space of time it gives you a firsthand understanding of the calibre of our troops, the most amazing men and women I've ever met, and certainly their discipline, their commitment to the detail, their humility and their understanding of their place in the world. They understand the dangers that are associated with Afghanistan becoming totally lawless. They understand the horrible loss of life that happens in Afghanistan every day. They understand the importance of the elections that took place last week. The coalition forces over there must assist in helping the Afghan government reform after this election in a credible manner so that we can have a government over there that has credibility amongst the people of Afghanistan and is then able to plot a future that involves education and health services—a couple of key elements in the Afghani dynamic at the moment that are sadly lacking.
We face this incredibly complex situation in Afghanistan, with ISIS and all of its various forms popping up all over the place, and with the Taliban's constant lust for power and ability to drive down anybody—whether it be the local police force, the local army, a school, a council, or anybody that dare poke their head up and try and offer the people of Afghanistan some sense of a proper programmed life. They will be effectively under the threat of losing their life through the Taliban. So there's this very complex situation over there.
Our troops are toing an amazing job trying to normalise the daily lives of the Afghani people. And it's when you have these relationships with these people—albeit from a very safe area of the compounds, where we were looked after incredibly well—you can see in the eyes of what they call the guardian angels, these incredibly trained Australian troops, that they are on constant alert. They thrive on this pressure, they thrive on their responsibility to keep all those around them safe, they thrive on the fact that they are trained to within an inch of their lives. They are incredible specimens of troops, of military personnel. Their capabilities are phenomenal. However, you can see the stress that they are under. If you offered them an opportunity to leave, they would not leave. If they weren't in that deployment, they would be desperate to be in that deployment. So, whilst they love the situation they find themselves in, there is no doubt that they are under extreme pressure to be able to, at a later date, transition back into mainstream life here in Australia and pick up all of the long-term responsibilities that come with that—reuniting with their families, with their children that they haven't spent a lot of time with, with a partner who they've been away from for a long time. When you talk to them, you can understand the pressures that they are under. Many of these amazing troops are young and married with children.
I think the Defence Forces have been very wise in setting the time that they deploy our troops for—around six to seven months is the deployment time for most of our people. There is a cost in doing that, because the relationships that our troops forge with the Afghani army and the various office holders within the Afghani structure are critically important. Seven months is not a long time for our officers to forge those relationships and take their army forward. Ultimately, the entire operation over there is about our ability to take the Afghani army forward. So, we do pay a price for these shorter deployments than what would otherwise be optimal, but we do this solely with the health interests of our troops at heart.
I commend the structure that we currently have in place with our troops. They are desperate to go over there and test themselves in these conditions, but we all understand that it does place these young men and women under incredible stress. Therefore, when they do return, even people who may not be affected by any form of post-traumatic stress are still going to face this incredibly tough challenge and task of being able to assimilate back into family life and of being able to go and work in a workplace environment where discipline and structure is not necessarily the order of the day, where there can be a few loudmouths and larrikins floating around the workplace who may not respect the other people working in that environment. Moving into that environment is also very, very challenging for our troops.
We need to make sure that we are there to offer them support. As the previous speaker, the member for Lingiari, said: from the moment they turn up at Kapooka or Wagga or other training centres, we should be thinking about their interests—yes, let's use these brilliant young men and women in our Defence Force, but how do we help them after they have served their country? How do we help them for the rest of their lives? I think we've got a fair bit of it right, but there is also so much more continued work that we can do to assist our troops in their transition and in and out of mainstream work. The government is keeping this as a main priority, as a serious priority, but there is always more work to be done. The statement from the minister yesterday was very, very welcome. We understand that it's our troops who are doing us incredibly proud, each and every day. Many of us need to make sure that we continually thank our troops.
In a few weeks' time we celebrate the centenary of Armistice in the First World War. Almost 62,000 Australians died in that war fighting for our freedom and in service of our nation. On the centenary of Armistice, we'll take this opportunity to remember some of those from the Illawarra and the Southern Highlands, in my electorate, who gave their lives for us. One of those was James David Pope, who was a corporal in the 1st Australian Machine Gun Company. James was just 18 years of age when he enlisted in January 1915. He was with his mate, Bert Stokes. They had previously worked as a stonemasons with his father, who operated the trachyte quarries on Mount Gibraltar—and if you know Mt Gibraltar, it overlooks Bowral in the Southern Highlands. On 20 July, just four days after his 20th birthday, James was killed during heavy shelling and gas attacks at the Somme. James' name appears on the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, one of 11,000 Australians commemorated there who died in France and have no known grave.
We also remember William Alexander Beach, who was born in Dapto to a famous family and attended Dapto Public School. He was one of 12 children and the son of a world champion sculler, who gives his name to an aged-care facility and to a district in Dapto today. William, a labourer, enlisted in 1914 at the age of 33. After arriving in Egypt, William was sent on to Gallipoli, landed on 25 April and was wounded in action on 22 July 1916 sometime later at Pozieres. William returned to Australia in October 1917 and was discharged medically unfit on 11 January 1918 as a result of his wounds.
We also remember Fredrick Crisp from Bowral. Fred was a corporal in the 1st Australian Light House Brigade—again, another famous brigade—and was among the first men in the Southern Highlands to enlist. He was just 19 when he signed up on 25 August 1914 and he landed at Gallipoli some months later. Fred was mentioned in despatches for his bravery, including his daring rescue of a wounded mate, Trooper Donovan. At Quinn's Post, considered the most dangerous place on ANZAC Cove, Fred volunteered to go out under heavy machine gun fire to within 20 yards of enemy trenches to carry his wounded mate to safety. Fred was one of 11 Southern Highland boys killed during the fierce Battle of Lone Pine in August 1915. These were very small communities 100 years ago. To have 11 boys killed in the same place on the same day was a devastating blow to these communities. In June 1916, Fred was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for conspicuous gallantry in the rescue of Trooper Donovan. I'd like to thank Linda Emery at the Story Centre at Berrima District Museum for her assistance in compiling some of these stories. They are some of many hundreds of stories that are available to visitors to the museum, which does a great job of keeping the stories of the district alive.
It is a great duty and an honour to attend services and events to remember those like James, Fred and William—those brave boys who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. I am also very pleased to say that in later years locals have taken up the stories of the women who were enlisted in the medical corps—nurses, assistants and other women—who travelled to these war zones, many of whom did not come back, who died of injury or disease and who did not receive until late the recognition that they deserve. Their stories and the stories of everyone else who suffered the consequences of this horrific war never fail to move us. We walk in their shoes, on the same streets and on the same soil, but our lives in 2018 are so different to those 100 years ago. We often take for granted the freedoms that were fought so hard to defend.
Shortly our focus will turn to commemoration of the Centenary of Armistice. Commemoration is just one of the ways way that we ensure our appreciation of the service and sacrifice made by all of those from this date until today, from those days and until today, the men and women of our armed service continues. I am pleased to have provided some support to the commemorative efforts of the Berrimah District Historical and Family History Society, for example, for their recent poppy seed project as a part of the Armistice commemorations.
In January 1920, Joseph Maiden, the director of the Sydney Botanic Gardens, received a parcel from France, sent by Ettie Rout, who was the secretary of the New Zealand Volunteer Sisterhood. The box contained poppy seeds gathered in the Somme Valley by school children of Villers-Bretonneux and came with a request that the seed be distributed to the relatives of Australian and New Zealand soldiers who had fallen on the battlefields and given their lives for France, so far from their native land. Joseph Maiden published a letter in TheSydney Morning Herald offering a small packet of the seed to relatives who had lost a loved one. Volunteers from the Berrimah District Historical and Family History Society have indexed the 1,077 names from the registers and have so far identified more than half of the soldiers for whom the seed was obtained and planted. Funding from their Armistice grant will go towards publishing a book which will tell some of the moving stories uncovered by the society's volunteers. The book will be widely available in Australia and at the Sir John Monash Centre at the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, providing another tangible link to the town that is so significant in the commemoration of the Anzacs in France. The society will also encourage local schools to plant poppy seeds, and descendants of soldiers to plant those poppies as well.
The horrors of World War I ended a hundred years ago. Each year, we have done what we can to hold commemorations to ensure that their sacrifice is not lost. We stop for a minute's silence and remember them. We remember those who have died in service of their country. We remember those whose service changed them forever. We remember the parents who lost children and the children who lost parents. On 11 November, we'll mark the Centenary of Armistice. Many will take part in the one-minute silence to recognise the guns falling silent on the western front after more than four years of continuous warfare. It's important that we do what we can to take time to remember and reflect.
Earlier this week, I was very pleased to visit the Australian War Memorial to see the field of knitted poppies that have been gathered in a remarkable display to remember the fallen. I was pleased to learn that some of these, in fact several hundred of them, were knitted in nursing homes throughout the Southern Highlands and gathered by Brendan Nelson, who is a resident of my electorate and leads the War Memorial, so that they could be transported and planted amongst that display. The visual impact of these goes some way to help us comprehend how many gave their lives.
Since Federation, almost two million Australian service men and women have served our nation. We thank them and their families for their courage, their service and their sacrifice. As a member of parliament, it's a great honour and privilege to represent the people of the electorate of Whitlam and to seek to be worthy of the ideals of those who sacrificed so much for us. Our democracy, while far from perfect, is the expression of that freedom that they fought for.
Since Federation, nearly two million Australian service men and women have served our nation. I've always been a proud and strong supporter of our veterans, not only in my electorate but across Victoria and across our nation. I will always be grateful to the courage and the sacrifice of the brave men and women who have put on their uniform to defend our nation. And I understand this personally as well, being the great-grandson of a veteran from World War I, the grandson of a grandfather who served in the Navy at HMAS Ceberus, and the son of a father who served for a period of time in the Army, based at Balcombe in Mount Martha on the Mornington Peninsula.
In a few weeks time on 11 November we as a country of many will commemorate the centenary of the First World War Armistice. It is a day to reflect and to respect those who have served on our behalf. The Anzac centenary has given us strengthened national awareness and increased knowledge of Australia's military history and the service and sacrifice of earlier and current generations of Australian servicemen and servicewomen. Just this July I had the opportunity to visit France, go to Villers-Bretonneux and see the new Sir John Monash Centre there as well as the Naours caves on whose walls are the inscriptions of those who served during World War I and in other conflicts. I must thank the representative of the Somme region, Jean-Claude Leclabart, for the opportunity to go with him and see a number of these sites that commemorate of the service not only of our veterans but also of other veterans who served in those conflicts.
I have also seen this awareness reinvigorated locally in Dunkley, with four community organisations and schools recently receiving grants under the armistice centenary grants program to appropriately commemorate the anniversary, drawing on our local heritage and the recognition across the community of the significance of the sacrifices made. Those who have received these grants are: the Seaford RSL sub-branch, who have received funds to expand their cenotaph area; the Mornington & District Historical Society, who have received funds to display their memorabilia from the First World War, which includes photos of soldiers, medals and old coins; Frankston RSL, who have received funds towards the new Frankston War Memorial and the commemorations that will be held there this coming November; and, lastly, Elisabeth Murdoch College in Langwarrin, who have received funds to display memorabilia from the First World War and to install flags at the school associated with the remembrance of those who have served.
I also recently announced BEST funding of nearly $23,000 to Mornington Peninsula Legacy House at Mt Eliza within my electorate, who do so much for the families of our veterans past and present. I know personally the work of Legacy. I mentioned my great-grandfather before, who served in World War I. He passed away from the effects of mustard gas poisoning several years after that conflict. As a result my grandmother, Patricia Wright, as an only child, was put through school by Legacy when her father passed away at just the age of 48. At the time she was 11 years old. Without the help of Legacy, I know my grandmother's mother would have struggled to get by and to have supported my grandmother.
Our government is also committed to ensuring that the sacrifice of our servicemen and servicewomen is appropriately commemorated and remembered by both current and future generations of Australians. It is encouraging to see so much engagement around the centenary. Earlier this week, on the day of the National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, I was joined in parliament here by a local constituent of mine, who experienced abuse as a 15-year-old cadet within the Defence Force. The Prime Minister later specifically mentioned these victims in parliament during question time and acknowledged those who had been impacted. As we know, those who serve in our conflicts both past and present go through a lot, but there are also those who have been affected by our not operating things as they really should have been operated.
The last thing I will note is that this government is committed to caring for the men and women who defend our country: our veterans past, current and future. We must continue to ensure that we look after veterans when they return from conflict and that we prevent situations arising by taking immediate action to help them straightaway and to connect them back into the community. While there is always more to be done, the government will continue to strive towards better meeting the needs of our veterans and their families. Of the almost two million people who have served in defence of Australia, more than 102,000 have made the ultimate sacrifice. To all ADF personnel, the veteran community and those who support them, thank you for all your service, lest we forget.
I rise today to add my support to the statements of the shadow minister and the minister in pressing the need to keep veterans and their families at the forefront of our nation's conscience. These are individuals for whom the notion of service has existed as a defining value for themselves, their families, their careers and their citizenship of this country. I say to these individuals: thank you for your service. These thanks must be given at multiple levels. Thank you for embodying your citizenship of this country through a commitment to protecting our interests at an international level. I say thank you for choosing a career of service above a career of comfort—a career where you gave of yourself beyond what most professions ask. I say thank you to your families—families who have gone without mothers and fathers for weeks while they've served overseas, families who've endured the uncertainty that comes with a loved one performing national service, families who've supported our veterans in their transition back into the civilian world and families who are often on the frontline of the treatment and care for PTSD, injury and other illnesses our veterans suffer when they come back from service.
Words are not enough, because our actions speak louder than our words and it is largely through our actions that veterans will feel the gratitude that we are expressing in this place today. It is our hope that, through Labor's military covenant, we will uphold these sentiments of gratitude within the concrete policy initiatives.
It takes a significant level of courage to dedicate oneself to national service in Australia's armed forces. As a country, Australia does well at acknowledging our veterans in public life. We speak often about sacrifice, honour and dedication to protecting the Australian values at the heart of our democracy. But, away from this public conversation, the parades, the ceremony and the public acknowledgement, our veterans frequently pay the personal price for their commitment to their country.
Our commitment to their gratitude must go deeper. We must do better to ensure our veterans are able to find supportive channels of meaning and service in the civilian world. The electorate I represent has an incredible military history. The suburb of Lurnea, in which I've lived all my life, was originally a soldiers' settlement developed in order for veterans to build life, family, work and community after the Second World War. Former soldiers were provided with parcels of land to begin market gardens and ease back into society. These beginnings are still evident in Lurnea today. It's a suburb that thrives on family, community and the values of a good day's work. We are a bright example of the incredible things that come from giving our veterans a solid start back into the civilian world.
Labor has a very strong commitment to veterans' employment. We want our veterans to find valuable, meaningful career pathways upon discharge from national service. This is why we have announced a $121 commitment to veterans' employment and transition. This commitment is about far more than employment and transitions; it's about our veterans feeling valued in our society. Much of this value can come from a good day's work with a supportive employer. We recognise that this needs to be in partnership that government is in the position to help facilitate.
Labor will provide funding to bridge skills gaps and assist industry with meeting the needs of returning veterans. It is also crucial that our veterans are able to access comprehensive treatment and ongoing care for the trauma they suffered in the course of their service. We must continue to support them through open conversation, supportive environments and resources they need to recover. Mental illness amongst our service personnel is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength that they have demonstrated in stepping up and serving their country.
All of this is about ensuring that veterans feel like the valued and supported members of civilian society we know they are. We want them to know they are not alone and continue to have a very special place in our society. This must be at the forefront of our sentiments when we say, 'Thank you for your service.' Lest we forget.
This debate, bipartisan as it is, and will always remain, is important to recognise the service of those who leave the comfort and the familiarity of Australia to fight for values we share. The observations of Kenneth Minogue, and more recently Svend Brinkmann, have looked at identifying what, as a nation, we stand for? What are the values that we're not going to keep trading away; we're actually going to stand firm and defend? That's an important question for young Australians educated in an age of moral relativism. Increasingly, we need to be able to identify clearly what is something that is a non-negotiable element in a civil and peaceful democracy that allows us to have elections in a peaceful way, to respect the pen and the word rather than the sword.
I want to make five observations in this opportunity I have been given today. The first one is to note it's not just conventional military service that we recognise in this motion; we recognise all Australians who served either here or overseas, not only in a military capacity but also in a peace-keeping capacity. As I will say later, even in a Kiap capacity through the police constabulary that served in Papua New Guinea. All these need to be recognised as part of this motion.
I had the privilege of serving in Afghanistan as a landmine-clearing medic and physician with English landmine clearers post the first Gulf War. I lost two of my three closest friends in a landmine-clearing accident in 1992, shortly after I had departed. But they had, as close friends of mine, written back to their families about what drove them to continue to serve even after they had resigned their commissions from the first Gulf War. Tim Goggs, Tim Porter, Julian Gregson: one of them went home to their relatives; the other two were trapped in a landmine-clearing tank after a dreadful accident in Afghanistan. That point is marked by a can of rocks and a small sign that recognises the work they did just to try to rekindle democracy in Afghanistan. That was in 1992. How long have we been struggling, and how many civilisations prior to 1992 were trying to do the exact thing? It's a fight we won't give up on for Julian and for Tim. Both of them were recognised with the highest civilian award for bravery by their own country—a point I'll be coming to later—but they were serving in an unconventional way in the farthest corners of the world for the same thing.
Closer to home, my dad was a Kiap. He trained as a civilian to serve as a patrol officer in Papua New Guinea. His unusual duty, in 1970, was to disarm the last coast watcher in Bougainville, who had been serving in Bougainville since World War II and was still in possession of his military allocation of both weapons and other equipment from World War II. I remember my dad said to me: 'I had to go and see this gentleman at the plantation and say, "The time has come. The emerging independent country of Papua New Guinea has asked you be disarmed."' While every military item was offered to my dad, he only took what he had to take by law, and that was the weapon. We need to remember those Kiaps now; many of them are passing away. We are yet, in this capital city of Canberra, to recognise Kiaps with a formal location where we can go and recognise the service of Kiaps. Though they served in peacetime, it was not always safe. Papua New Guinea was a very challenging environment for those Kiaps.
Bereavement and being recognised in the armed service is incredibly important. We can all remember the embarrassment of the 'mother's medal' up until World War II. Many of us have forgotten that those who lost a loved one in war were sent a letter to go and pick up a medal, a medallion, from their local post office. That is inconceivable today, but let us not judge previous eras by today's standard. We can now do it properly. I think that everyone in Australia who has lost a first-degree relative, a family member, in service to this great nation should be able to wear that proudly on the left breast with the medal array that they have from their relative. But we still can't do that. While we welcome every person who served and their family to march on Anzac Day, I think it's appropriate that we recognise that element of losing a loved one in this service. And that's quite easy to do through a medal that's awarded directly to the next of kin that is noted on those enrolment papers.
That's yet to occur, but what has occurred with each of the three of our armed forces is a bereavement pin, an element that had been lost to history until 2010, when the former member for Herbert Peter Lindsay retired from the parliament without it having been secured. We made it a coalition policy in 2010. It was forgotten in 2013, but all three wings of the armed forces have gladly gone ahead with a bereavement pin that can be worn proudly by the next of kin who've lost a loved one serving this nation.
In my own area of Bowman, a particular form of service that is almost forgotten now is the Women's Land Army. Hard as it is to imagine if you took away the equivalent of half a million young people to serve and, self-evidently, only 10 or 15 per cent of them were women, and you had a huge economy that you needed to be run by the women who stayed behind—but the Women's Land Army did that in World War II. Four hundred women at Victoria Point would go out and regularly tend to the fields in the food bowl of my electorate every minute of every hour of everyday, under the sun, doing a role they hadn't been doing up until then and thinking about whether their loved ones would be coming home. The way they thought about it was actually rolling up their sleeves and farming. It's an incredible story. They received a minor royal visit when a countess popped by in a limousine to see the Women's Land Army in my electorate. She didn't get out of the car, apparently, because it was spotting with rain and she didn't want to upset her bonnet, but all of the young women came up and offered her strawberries. What an era that must have been. And what an incredible and now forgotten service. Many of those women had to take their kids with them while they farmed.
Lastly, and very importantly, we are now just starting to recognise the breadth and dimension of service by moving of the year when the Vietnam War began. It's now officially 1962. It wasn't always 1962, because we were officially not at war. But I want to say today that Australians were serving then and Australians were dying. The first casualty in the Vietnam War was a gentlemen by the name of Kevin Conway from Wellington Point in my electorate. At the moment, we are reapplying for his bravery to be recognised. I would like to read into the Hansard the importance of his gentleman's service. Sergeant and Temporary Warrant Officer Class 2 Kevin Conway was killed in action in 1964 in the Battle of Nam Dong. As a member of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam, he was placed on his own to work with American consultants in building the capacity of the South Vietnamese to defend themselves. He was the first Australian, as I've said, to die in that war.
He left school at 15 years of age and attempted to enlist in 1943 but was too young for the Second World War. So he joined what was called the postwar army. It is unclear whether he was able to serve in Korea, but he did serve in Malaysia and was awarded the appropriate clasp. He was an efficient and conscientious soldier. He had a practical, common sense approach to problems. He was the kind of Aussie you would want to send to the front line. He was the kind of Australian who could work shoulder to shoulder with the Americans and do our nation proud, which is precisely what he did in an incredibly remote part of Vietnam, close to the Laotian border. What we didn't realise at the time was that up to a quarter of the South Vietnamese that he was helping to train were actually Vietcong. The very men who the Australians and Americans were trying to assist to build their nation and get their nation on its feet and be able to defend from what they saw as a northern threat had already technically deserted but remained to ambush these serving personnel when the time was right. When a bullet was heard and shot in anger, these South Vietnamese were instructed to pull their shirt off, identify as Vietcong and slit the throat or shoot at point blank the Australian or the American they were standing next to. Imagine serving in that context!
Conway was recommended the Victoria Cross by the AATTV and by Colonel Ted Serong in particular for not only running towards a mortar trench but urging others around him to organise themselves and defend. The US officer next to Conway, Captain Donlon, became the first recipient of the Medal of Honour in the Vietnam War for his actions alongside him. Several other Americans also received an award. But Conway only received the highest bravery award that Vietnam can offer and nothing from Australia.
When Colonel Serong visited the scene of the battle, he said Conway and a US Master Sergeant fought their way through the Vietcong just to get to a mortar pit where they began their assignment of firing illumination flares so they could see the enemy. When another Vietcong assault brought the attackers to within grenade-throwing distance of the trench, Conway had two choices: pull out his firearm and defend himself or continue operating the mortar. He chose the latter. We have been through the archives in the last month looking for a previous recommendation for a Victoria Cross for this gentleman. Archives have confirmed that they cannot find it. On those grounds, we are now applying directly to the ministry of defence to ensure that the valour of Kevin Conway is recognised.
It's a great privilege and honour to speak on this ministerial statement on veterans and their families. I'm all too aware of the dedication, commitment and sacrifices made by our veterans and current serving members. I want to start by acknowledging the longstanding commitment to bipartisanship in this place on Veterans' Affairs and defence. I pledge to continue working in this spirit for the benefit of our Defence Force, veterans and country. I'm proud to have spoken on this topic many times before in the parliament. Today I again place on the record my unwavering support for and gratitude to the brave men and women who have served our nation, for their service and contribution to the Australian way of life, and to the families of our veterans, who have also made tremendous sacrifices for the betterment of our nation.
I have had the great privilege while serving in this parliament to meet elected members who have also served our nation in the ADF. I acknowledge in the chamber today the service of the member for Solomon, Luke Gosling OAM; Andrew Hastie, the member for Canning; and Mike Kelly, the member for Eden-Monaro. It has been such a privilege to get to know them, to listen to their stories and to understand the service that they delivered for our nation. They continue to serve our nation in this parliament as well.
I have not served in the ADF, but I do come from a military family. My father served in the Navy during the Second World War. He was a signalman onboard HMAS Ararat. He enlisted at the age of only 20. He served in the 2nd Australian Imperial Force until Allied victory in the Pacific. I listened to the member for Bowman talk about pins. My grandmother wore a pin every day that my father served in the war. She slept with that pin because she was afraid to take the pin off—if something happened to that pin, something might happen to her eldest son.
The Ararat was an Australian warship positioned in the newly captured Allied territory of Cape Gloucester near Britain. Whilst my father was not one to tell many stories from the time he served, I'm pretty sure it's safe to say that life onboard the Ararat was not easy. This is reflective of the experience of many of our service men and women and veterans today. They gave up and have given up so much so that we can enjoy freedom today.
There are currently almost 2,000 veterans and a further 1,000 current serving members of the Defence Force who now call my electorate of Oxley home. I'm proud to know many of them personally. I enjoy working alongside our local RSL sub-branches to help improve services for members. Every electorate in Australia has RSL sub-branches, but today I want to place on record in the parliament the following that I work closely with and to acknowledge the service, understanding and care they give to veterans: the Centenary Suburbs RSL Sub-branch, the Forest Lake RSL Sub-branch, the Dara and District RSL Sub-branch, the Goodna RSL Sub-branch, the Redbank RSL Sub-branch and the Redbank Plains RSL Sub-branch.
Listening and talking to the executive, the liaison officers and the community people who support and attend meetings has given me a better understanding of what veterans require, what support services they need. I do believe that it's important that we as parliamentarians take the time to listen to their stories, their concerns and their challenges—whether it be better access to medicine or more support for mental health services. It could just be lending an ear for a friendly conversation. It's important that we continue to build relationships with veterans in our community.
I've also been fortunate to work alongside our future service men and women and see firsthand the next generation of cadets coming through the ranks. This includes in my electorate the Australian Air League Forest Lake air squadron. Most recently I visited their women in aviation event and met with some inspiring and amazing young female cadets, who are in training now for a career in our Defence Force. This was in contrast clearly to those who have gone before them and who joined us at the event. They paved the way for our younger generation to learn the values of the Defence Force and to become role models for others. Next month we will see our young cadets line up alongside our veterans.
As we've heard in this debate in this parliament and as we've witnessed, we will be seeing the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, when the guns fell silent on the Western Front and, after more than four years of unimaginable bloodshed and destruction, the war was finally over. Earlier this week, I was really privileged to join with a number of my colleagues and with the Leader of the Opposition, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the shadow minister for veterans' affairs and the shadow minister for defence, Richard Marles, when we visited the Australian War Memorial with the director, the Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson AO, and saw the 62,000 poppies made by Australians from all walks of life to commemorate the fallen during World War I.
A little earlier this year I visited the YMCA headquarters in Brisbane, located in Fortitude Valley. The YMCA at Lutwyche also has undertaken a similar poppy project, with 80,000 poppies from around Queensland and Australia, under the leadership of one of their dedicated staff, Meg Woolf. I've spoken about this in the chamber before. I didn't know the reason we wear poppies until I visited the YMCA. Two days before the Armistice was signed, a person who was attending the 25th conference of the overseas YMCA war secretaries decided to pin a poppy to her collar. It's claimed it was Moina Michael, who was working at the 25th conference of the overseas YMCA war secretaries, who decided to do that. To think that one person began what the whole world now knows as a symbol for honouring the fallen is an amazing story. As Labor's shadow minister for veterans' affairs said yesterday:
As the Centenary of Anzac draws to a close, it is important that we consider how we keep alive the memories of men and women who have served and who have died. While we no longer have the benefit of any of our World War I diggers with us, it is critical that we remember their experiences and their sacrifice.
That's why I am really pleased that a conversation has begun and that the opposition has proposed establishing the Western Front Fellowship. This fellowship, based on the successful Canadian program, is proposing to support eight post-secondary students a year to work at the Sir John Monash Centre, acting as tour guides, presenting some of Australia's most important history to visitors. This is just one of many new initiatives proposed that include, obviously, the recent announcement by the shadow minister and the Leader of the Opposition about the military covenant, signed by the Chief of the Defence Force and the Prime Minister of the day, that will be accompanied by legislation that will ensure regular reporting to the parliament on how we are meeting our commitment to those who have served. I recognise that the government has also made comments that they're exploring the idea of a military covenant. I'm really pleased that in the true spirit of bipartisanship we will work together, hopefully, to see this progress. Alongside a whole range of announcements that have come forward, particularly around veterans' employment programs, I know that it is critically important that we don't lose the skills of the veterans, that they're not lost, that they're encouraged to enter business and that they're assisted with their work in the community post a career in the ADF.
In closing I also want to acknowledge the bipartisan ADF Parliamentary Program, which many members, including myself, have attended. It gives us a glimpse—a very small glimpse, as the member for Braddon and I supported and visited Afghanistan—and we're able to better understand some of those huge sacrifices our men and women are delivering for this nation. It's amazing to be able to talk to them in country and to understand the challenges of being separated from family and loved ones, and I encourage all my fellow parliamentarians to participate so that, together, we can develop a better understanding and an even greater appreciation of our men and women serving overseas.
I welcome the opportunity today to note the ministerial statement made by the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Mr Chester, in regard to veterans and their families and also the accompanying statement made by the shadow minister for veterans' affairs, the member for Kingston. There are many veterans who live in Rockingham and Kwinana, across my electorate of Brand in Western Australia. There are many women and men serving on HMAS Stirling on Garden Island, the Royal Australian Navy base located in my electorate. Families of serving women and men offer critical support for those who do enlist to commit an important part of their lives to our nation. Soon HMAS Ballarat will depart from its berth at HMAS Stirling to participate in Operation Manitou in the Middle East. It's a very long way from home, a very long way from the beautiful surrounds of Garden Island and Rockingham. In my capacity as the member for Brand, I've had the very great honour of being at one of these farewell ceremonies as one of our Anzac class frigates goes off to participate in Operation Manitou. I don't have family on board these ships but, as a local member of parliament and as a human, it is nonetheless a very heart-wrenching experience to witness a large ship like that, with its large complement of women and men serving our country, drift off from its berth to go and do its great work in the service of this nation. And when HMAS Ballarat does depart, I will be there and I will witness that sadness of families waving goodbye to their loved ones. Their loved ones, the ones serving on the ship, are doing their duty. Equally, the families themselves do their duty and get on with their lives, as they must. It is important that we as parliamentarians and also the community as a whole continue to support those families that have to get on with their lives while one of their family is away serving this nation.
As outlined yesterday by the shadow minister for veterans' affairs and my friend, the member for Kingston, Labor has proposed a military covenant to be signed by the Prime Minister and Chief of Defence Force and support it through legislation so regular reports can be issued to parliament to make sure we're meeting our commitment to those who have served. I know the government is looking at this as well and I welcome action so that we can do better to help serving men and women once they have left the service of our nation. As has been noted, it won't be dissimilar to the United Kingdom's Armed Forces covenant.
It's also very important, as we know, to support veterans in their post-service employment opportunities. It can be a very difficult time for veterans and their families as they leave the service of the Australian Defence Force. Labor's been very supportive of developing a national family engagement and support strategy for the benefit and wellbeing of the families of those serving. It is particularly important to make sure all families are helped through any distress and post-service injury that their loved one has suffered. We look forward to being able to work with all members of parliament, whether it is this year or in future years or with future terms of whichever government, to make sure we serve our nation's veterans well.
I would like to note my local associations that serve veterans and their families: Rockingham RSL sub-branch, which my father was a member of for many years before he died a number of years ago; Kwinana RSL sub-branch; the Port Kennedy RSL sub-branch, a fantastic organisation—each of these are fantastic organisations; and also the Totally and Partially Disabled Veterans Association of Western Australia located in Baldivis. I look forward very much to attending the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice ball that is being organised by the Safety Bay Ex-Services and Community Club in Rockingham on 10 November. It will be a remarkable commemoration of 100 years since the end of World War I. Other support organisations in my community that support veterans and their families I would like to acknowledge include the Marilla House Community Centre on Point Peron Rd at the Naval Club and also the Veterans and Veterans' Families Counselling Service. They always do great work for the families of serving women and men when they are away, and I thank them for all the work they do.
November 11 2018 will be the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice that brought to an end the four brutal years of conflict that was World War I, a war that devastated Europe and, of course, had ramifications for Australia. Australia was a nation with quite a small population at the time and it's fair to say it lost a generation of men and that affected this country's development for a number of years.
In World War I, which was called the Great War, nine million combatants died and seven million civilians perished, so all in all it's estimated that 16 million souls were lost to that very brutal and devastating conflict. On the anniversary of Armistice Day, we'll stop on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month to remember the Great War. In 2018 we'll remember a hundred years since that devastation came to its end. My grandfather, Major George Morris, was a royal marine in World War I, and he's part of that generation that lived to also serve in and survive World War II, having been provost marshal in Alexandria. We can barely understand the catastrophe that was Europe in the first half of the 20th century from the very safe and secure lives that we live here in Australia. People like my grandfather and my grandmother certainly lived that, as did many, many others. They were lucky to survive, living as they did in England but nonetheless serving that cause at that time. My father, John Morris, was also a veteran of World War II, having been a radar operator on ships that participated in the Arctic convoys during the last couple of years of the war. He would tell us many stories, often; I can't remember them all. It was a terrifying time for a young man, quite frankly, in the swells of the northern oceans on the way to protect merchant navy vessels trying to supply Russia so that they might survive the last days of World War II.
This 11 November, coming up soon, will be our opportunity to reflect on this catastrophe and the part Australians played in it as well as to reflect on the devastation and the deaths that were caused by that brutality. There have been ceremonies across Europe since 1918 to reflect on the Armistice. I once went to an Armistice Day ceremony in Benouville in France, a village near the Pegasus Bridge, which was a World War II landmark for some of the British forces; Benouville was one of the first towns in that part of France they retook in World War II. I went with my mum and dad and my husband Jamie. We were travelling and wanted to be in France on 11 November, and that's the town we rocked up to at that hour. We participated in a very simple, very dignified ceremony to remember the Armistice. We were welcomed by the French people in that village and by some British people who were also there at the time. In fact, the young mayor of the village at the time invited us into the local town hall and shared a kir royale—a type of sparkling champagne. They were very kind, and they recognised at that ceremony, in an impromptu fashion, the contribution of the Australian soldiers to both the conflicts, World War I and World War II, which that part of the world had to participate in just by virtue of their geography. That was a long time ago, maybe about 15 years ago, but I remember it fondly and I remember the French and their kindness to us when we visited.
On 11 November we will remember all those lost in conflict, beyond World War I and World War II—all those who still serve in conflicts and put their lives on the line to protect the ideals of this nation and of Western liberal democracies. I, and all parliamentarians along with me, acknowledge the commitment of the personnel of the Australian defence forces. We must do better to help our serving women and men when they finish that time in service. We must recommit to them, this day and into the future, to make sure we do the right thing and help them as best we can to have a future beyond their service. I want to encourage as many people as I can, if they can, to make the effort to get along to an Armistice Day or Remembrance Day ceremony on 11 November. They're very moving. They're quite simple. They remember a particularly brutal war that we must always remember, never forget, and make sure we don't repeat. Even though we still continue to engage in conflict around the world, maybe one day that will end. But, in the meantime, lest we forget.
Thank you, Deputy Speaker. It's a great privilege to serve our country both in the forces and in this parliament. I think one of our biggest responsibilities in this parliament is to make sure that we not only send those representing us overseas with the best possible support and for the best possible reasons but also give them the best possible support on their return.
I just want to acknowledge the minister's statement of yesterday, and, of course, also the member for Kingston and her statement. What I really love about the member for Kingston and her work—there are many things—is the focus on families. I also acknowledge that the minister spoke also about the families. We can't underestimate the importance of the families and the burdens that they carry. In my electorate in particular, but not only my electorate, serving people and veterans are often a long distance away from their families. They may have a nuclear family with them—their partner and perhaps children—but often the military and their colleagues become their family. We want to, in all possible ways, support them with as much family-like support as we can in our communities, because often, as I said, they're quite some distance from their actual extended families.
As I was listening to my good friend the member for Brand and her familial history, I was reflecting on a very stupid thing that I did back at the time when my mother had two sons in Darwin about to deploy into East Timor in the INTERFET mission back in 1999. We're coming up to the 20th anniversary of that INTERFET mission next year, which will be something really significant for us to remember. It's already 20 years. I was in Perth doing some Indonesian language training with the Army, and I was on the phone to my mother, saying, 'Mum, Dan and Xavier will be going to Timor soon, and I'm really hoping it's not too long until I can join them.' It wasn't until much later that I understood why my mother went silent and went, 'Oh, that's great, Luke.' Three sons.
As it turned out, I didn't get over to Timor with the Army for another couple of years after that, but I remember reflecting on it later on. My mother grew up not really seeing her grandfather because he was shell shocked from the First World War and had taken off up into the bush. He lived up in the bush because he'd been gassed as well, and the air up in the mountains was cleaner and crisper and was more gentle on his lungs, but also because he just couldn't handle noise, the city and being around people. Then Mum married my father. They were engaged while Dad was over in the jungles of Vietnam. So her experience as a young mother was with Dad and Dad's mates as they tried to adjust back to life afterwards. And then, of course, her eldest son, me, joined the military. So on the eve of INTERFET, she wasn't over the moon about all her sons going off, but she understood that it was for a good reason. She obviously just wanted her sons to be well.
In my electorate there are many, many partners and many, many children of the members of our armed forces who wait, hoping that they won't get the knock on the door while their loved ones are overseas. Sometimes it's husbands whose wives are overseas. They hope that they don't get the call. What I'm really focused on is making sure that we've got more support for them in Darwin and Palmerston, in my electorate.
I'm really pleased that we've committed to—and it was pleasing to hear the minister say that the government is also looking at—this concept that we've put forward around the military covenant, which is an undertaking that we will ensure that the nation's armed forces are fully supported during and after their service and that we'll legislate regular reporting to parliament on how Australia is supporting our military personnel. I've heard some say that a covenant is just words, but it's the undertaking, the commitment to that and the accountability for that that is so important. I welcome that and thank those working on those policies to make that real.
I'm also proud that we've got a really good employment package. We're going to commit $121 million to a comprehensive veterans' employment policy, which will provide greater support to our defence personnel as they transition to civilian life. The family engagement and support strategy for defence personnel and veterans will provide greater support and resources to military families, focusing on what we know to be the stress points, including that transition for defence members into civilian life. Such a strategy was a key recommendation that came out of the National Mental Health Commission's review last year, and that was a very important initiative.
In the time remaining, I just want to talk a little bit about the importance of the things that were mentioned by both the minister and the shadow minister, in terms of dedicated services for our current and ex-serving personnel. In Darwin, I am committed to establishing a support centre not only for current and ex-serving defence personnel but also for first responders and their families. At present, there is a lack of services, there is a lack of coordination of support and there is a lack of this greater family outside of the base. Whilst on base, there are some support services, but I think both current and former members of our defence forces and first responders who serve our community need support services that are away from their place of work. That's what we're going to establish. It's going to help ex-services—and I use that as the broad service definition, including first responders. It will not only assist them to access the support that they need—whether it be mental health support or support transitioning or somewhere for their families to go and seek support—but also provide a hub of connectivity that not only will connect them to other members of those services and other agencies but also will provide a connection point with the broader community, which I think is really important.
What a lot of the studies are saying is extremely important in aiding their return into the community is to never lose that connection point with community in the first place. So we'll look at the provision of mental health services and counselling. It'll be a place for professional workshops, physical training, wellbeing courses, men's shed type of facilities, movie nights, barbecues and events that the community can access at times so that that connection with the community occurs. I think it's really important. I think it's overdue. We're committed to it. We're committed to a covenant and better services for our serving people, because they deserve no less.
Our ADF personnel put their lives on hold in service of our country. They take risks, they make sacrifices and they commit their lives and wellbeing to the protection of this country. Upon return, the scars these men and women wear and bear are not always visible. But the message we on this side of the chamber want to send today and which also was sent by our shadow minister for veterans' affairs, the member for Kingston, yesterday is that Labor stands by our ADF personnel and stands by their families. That point couldn't be made clearer than by taking a close look at the policies that have been announced by Labor's shadow minister for veterans' affairs, the member for Kingston.
The member for Kingston has announced a range of initiatives to underscore Labor's commitment to veterans. These include a veterans' employment policy, a family engagement and support strategy and, most recently, Australia's first military covenant.
Veterans' unemployment has been cited as sitting at 30 per cent, which is significant. For those who did not medically discharge, there is an estimated 11 per cent unemployment rate, which is more than double the national rate. This is simply unacceptable, which is why the member for Kingston has developed a comprehensive veterans' employment policy that will provide greater support for our Defence personnel as they transition to civilian life. The policy focuses on helping businesses to train veterans. It focuses on a new veterans' employment service. It focuses on expanding access to additional education and civilian training and translating the experience of veterans.
Our veterans', as ADF personnel, are incredibly well trained. We've got a lean and mean Australian Defence Force. As a result of that, those ADF personnel are incredibly well trained across a broad range of areas. Unfortunately, all that training, all that investment that is made in the highly skilled and professional Australian Defence Force is not translating into civilian life. I can't understand why when they are so highly trained. This is why focusing on that transition as this policy does is so vitally important. It ensures that we get the best translation of those skills and that training that they have in the Australian Defence Force into the civilian area. In areas like recognition of prior learning, it is vitally important for the skills and training that the ADF personnel have. There is recognition of prior learning in the academic setting, ensuring that that translates into units and credits. There is a range of other areas.
I've spoken many times on this employment policy that was announced a few months ago by the shadow minister for veterans' affairs, the member for Kingston, and once again I commend all those listening to read the policy to gain an understanding of it. Again, I commend the member for developing the policy.
I also want to commend our shadow minister for veterans' affairs for the announcement that a Labor government will put in place a formal agreement—a military covenant—to ensure the nation's armed forces are fully supported during and after their service. We will legislate regular reporting to parliament of developments in that area, particularly on how we are supporting our ADF personnel. This policy will change the lives of veterans. It's a policy that has been modelled on what's actually happened in the United Kingdom, I understand. It's something that the community has been calling for for some time, and the shadow minister for veterans' affairs has listened to the community, has responded to the community and has come up with this suggestion and commitment that, should Labor win government, we will put in place a formal agreement under the auspices of a military covenant.
In terms of families, we all know the ADF put their lives on hold in service of our country, and in many ways so too do those families that are supporting our ADF personnel: constantly moving around the country, constantly changing schools, constantly changing jobs, constantly there to support ADF personnel in difficult circumstances, particularly when they're deployed. It's vitally important that our support is provided not only to our ADF personnel and our veterans but also to our ADF families, who play a pivotal role in supporting our current serving ADF men and women and our veterans. These men, women and children are the unsung heroes of our defence forces, and greater support for our military families is greater support for our serving and ex-serving personnel.
Our family engagement and support strategy is one of the key recommendations from the National Mental Health Commission's Review into the suicide and self-harm prevention services available to current and former serving ADF members and their families. The review highlighted that there is currently a lack of emphasis on the critical role that families play in the lives of current and former serving members. We know that families play an especially unique role within military life and service, themselves making many sacrifices. Our ADF personnel and veterans look to their families for support while in service, in transition and in civilian life. There's no doubt that families also play a critical role in providing support to our serving and ex-serving personnel suffering from mental health issues. Labor is committed to developing this family engagement and support strategy, which will be co-designed with Defence and veteran's families and communities to focus on known stress points for families, including transition for Defence members into civilian life. You can imagine how stressful it is going from that very particular environment into civilian life. That's why we need to provide those supports through the exit process and then through the transition process.
I also mention that, as we know, there are so many support groups out there for veterans. One of them is here in Canberra, and I just want to do a shout-out to them. It's the ACT Veterans Rugby Club. It's a bit like a men's shed. It's an inclusive environment for men from all walks of life who just want to run around and have some fun, but it's more than that. I acknowledge the importance that this organisation has to our service and ex-service personnel and their families. ACT Veterans Rugby consists of men aged over 35 who have a love for rugby. They compete against a variety of Defence Force teams like the Navy Old Salts, the RAAF Mirages, the RASigs, RMC staff and cadets and the crew of the HMAS Canberra in charity matches. ACT Vets Rugby has raised almost $240,000 for charities based in the ACT since they've been holding these fundraising events and matches. Thank you so much for the work you do. Apart from keeping veterans on the rugby field—husband, take note: this is not a suggestion that you should put the boots back on; you are banned from getting involved in rugby again.
An honourable member: Is he watching?
I don't know whether he's watching, but just in case he gets a glimmer in his eye and a rush of blood about scoring the final try for Australia. Thank you to ACT Vets Rugby for everything you've done in keeping our veterans healthy and engaged in sport and also for raising funds for the community.
Finally, in closing I acknowledge one Canberra veteran who has been involved in the Vietnam Veterans Association for many years and in many ways is the brains behind the logistics of the Long Tan ceremony that we hold here each year down at the Vietnam veterans memorial. His name is Peter Ryan. He was involved in the Vietnam War. Peter earned an Order of Australia Medal for his 20-year dedication to helping veterans. He was the ACT president of the Vietnam Veterans Association from 2003 to 2013 and was also national vice-president for two of those years. He has been very actively involved in the Vietnam veterans community for many years. Unfortunately last year Peter passed away after a long battle with cancer, but he did get to see that final Long Tan anniversary service. Vale Peter Ryan. Thank you for your service to our Vietnam vets.