Monday, 3 December 2018
Private Members' Business
Prime Minister's Veterans Employment Commitment
That this House notes:
(1) that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Veterans' Affairs launched the Prime Minister's Veterans Employment Commitment (VEC) on 2 November 2018;
(2) that the VEC is a way for businesses to pledge their support for veterans' employment and provides veterans with a way to easily identify those businesses that recognise the skills, experiences and capabilities they bring to civilian workplaces;
(3) that hiring veterans is good for business and encourages all Australian businesses to sign the VEC and hire a veteran;
(4) that the second annual Prime Minister’s Veterans' Employment Awards will be held in March 2019;
(5) that the awards recognise:
(a) businesses of all types and sizes that employ and support veterans and spouses of current serving Australian Defence Force (ADF) members; and
(b) the significant achievements being made by veterans in the workplace along with those who have built on their ADF experience to start up or take on a successful business; and
(6) the ongoing efforts of the Government to improve the support and services available to the men and women transitioning out of the ADF.
The Prime Minister and the Minister for Veterans' Affairs launched the Prime Minister's Veterans Employment Commitment on 2 November 2018. I want to take this opportunity to thank all men and women who have served this nation in uniform, whether they're currently still in uniform or whether they have left the service.
I've spoken on many occasions in this place and in the House about the mental health of veterans and the challenges that many of them face when they leave the service. I want to concentrate more today on the community's obligation to help veterans transition to civilian life. I've often talked about the fact that, when men and women are serving in the military, one moment they're flying, driving or sailing multimillion-dollar and sometimes multibillion-dollar equipment, and, when they discharge from the military, many of them have great difficulties in finding employment. It's the age-old saying: 'Idle hands make the devil's work.' When you're not engaged in meaningful employment, your self-esteem drops. There is nothing like having a good, solid job that enables you to pay the bills and contribute to our society. It's the feeling that you get from contributing to your society—that feeling of having to get up in the morning and go to work. It's that routine.
In my role as a parliamentarian, I've spoken to many service men and women about this issue. It's that loss of tribe, that loss of purpose, when men and women discharge that this employment commitment tries to overcome. I hope the member for Solomon is going to back me up on this, and I'm sure that all men and women in this place, particularly those who have served, feel very passionately about this. We need to concentrate on the positives. We often talk in this place about the challenges in relation to the mental health of discharging veterans. But that is a double-edged sword. I'm concerned that the more we talk about the mental health of veterans the more we almost set up an expectation, particularly in our younger veterans' minds, that, if you serve in the military, it's going to impact upon your mental health. It's almost as though there is a perception that it follows as night follows day. We've got to stop the expectation that, if somebody has served in the military, they are a broken person. Our veterans are highly skilled, highly motivated individuals who can add such a huge and different dimension to workplaces.
I'm throwing out the challenge today to employers across the nation. The next time you want to employ someone, make it a veteran—man, woman, doesn't matter. Make it a veteran. You will not regret it. You will find a person who is absolutely focused on the team, whatever the team might be, whether it's selling insurance or laying bricks. If you employ a veteran, you are showing that veteran that you care. But it's not about charity, because it's not about what you can do for them; it's what they can do for you and your business. They will add a different dimension, a different quality. You cannot buy loyalty. Veterans will bring a great degree of loyalty to their role in working for small business. It is up to us—it's not just up to government; it's up to all of us as Australians—to pull together and support veterans in employment.
I thank the honourable member for Fisher for this private member's motion on a very important topic. The Prime Minister's Veterans Employment Commitment that we've just heard about is a step forward, and the Minister for Veterans' Affairs is to be commended for his efforts to assist veterans. I attended the Prime Minister's Veterans' Employment Awards presentation, and I was very encouraged by the promise of the words that were spoken on that evening, obviously inspired by the veterans that we heard from.
It's very important that businesses appreciate the skills and experience that veterans can bring to their business. As the member for Fisher just said, after ADF members leave the forces, they can bring core values and critical skills to the workplace: professionalism, loyalty, integrity, courage, innovation and teamwork—all essential also to good business. However, I also think there should also be more emphasis on assisting the veterans themselves to be more ready for jobs as they transition into civilian life. Around 6,000 ADF members transition every year from the ADF into civilian street—civvy street, we used to call it—and a significant proportion of them remain unemployed. When you consider the values that they could potentially bring to businesses, that's a big loss. That transitioning cohort represents, I think, one of the most underutilised segments of our economy. Sometimes veterans may not understand the civilian application of the skills that they already possess, so we must work, in a bipartisan way, with veterans and their families to prepare them for meaningful post-service employment.
To speak from the current federal opposition's perspective, but in no way to make this partisan, a Shorten Labor government will commit $121 million to a comprehensive veterans employment policy to provide greater support to our Defence personnel as they prepare themselves for the job market. Labor's plan will help our veterans into good jobs by doing more to boost recognition of their inherent and significant skills and experiences. We'll provide eligible businesses with training grants of up to $5,000 in order to help veterans gain the skills and experience they need to move into a civilian job, and we'll fund an education campaign on the many benefits of employing veterans and on their translatable skills. Employment and transition services to provide better tailored and individualised support are also part of our commitment, and we'll make sure that veterans receive recognition of those prior skills and experience by civilian professional organisations and institutions. That is what we on this side are committed to.
As for my electorate, we'll invest in the health and wellbeing of our veterans in the Top End by establishing the Scott Palmer Service and Veterans' Support Hub, a centre dedicated to providing support to our current and former Defence service personnel and first responders, and their families, including this important transition to civilian employment. It is a good investment, and I thank my friend the member for Kingston for her support for my electorate and the Northern Territory in that commitment. As I said, there will be assistance with finding employment. It will be a true hub. It is named after Private Scott Travis Palmer, who, tragically, lost his life on operational service in Afghanistan. Recently I met with one of Scott Palmer's 2nd Commando Regiment comrades, Dallas Hodgetts, from ex-service organisation the Shield Academy, and he reminded us, 'Hiring a veteran is not just a patriotic act; it is a shrewd and profitable business strategy.' I think that's important and that's why I wanted to repeat it. That is from a veteran who is helping other veterans get into work: 'Hiring a veteran is not just a patriotic act; it is a shrewd and profitable business strategy'. I commend to the House this motion on helping veterans into employment.
I rise today in support of the motion. I thank the member for Fisher for bringing it to the attention of our Chamber. I am proud to be part of a government which is investing a record $200 billion in Australian Defence Force capabilities, a government which recognises the significant contribution of all of our armed services and a government which is ensuring that Australia's veterans can be confident in their transition from defence to civilian life.
Australians have enormous respect for our veterans. However, respect is only one facet of what we can do to support them when they return to civilian lives. With 58,000 Australians serving in our defence forces for an average of 8½ years, service men and women spend a significant portion of their career in service. On leaving, many veterans still have a working life ahead of them and a full contribution that they want to make to society. Transitioning to the realities of civilian life is a major adjustment, and we must ensure that no-one falls through the cracks. With 320,000 veterans with deployment service in the Australian community, it should be clear to everyone that they deserve respect and support for their service, no matter whether it was in conflict or peacetime.
Every year, more than 5,000 people leave the ADF, and the coalition is working to ensure they transition smoothly and find meaningful employment. Many employers already recognise the value of the skills and experience of our veterans. The Veterans Employment Commitment, the VEC, which builds on the success of the Veterans' Employment Program, will be rolled out to businesses that want to benefit from the skills and experience of Australian veterans. The VEC will identify businesses that provide career opportunities to veterans to upskill and mentor them and are focused on how to retain them. Simply put, hiring a veteran is good for business. Businesses that sign the commitment will be listed on the official Veterans' Employment Program website and have their details shared with veterans looking for work and through networking events, and they will be able to use the commitment logo to advertise their support. By connecting veterans to employers, we can make the transition much easier. Over the course of their careers in defence, our ADF personnel acquire qualities that are in high demand. They are leaders, they are problem-solvers and they work well in teams.
This motion also draws the attention of the House to the second Prime Minister's Veterans' Employment Awards held in March 2019. With the success of the inaugural awards in 2018, this is an occasion to recognise the achievements of veterans in workplaces and recognise individuals who have honed their ADF experience to commence or take on a successful business.
Gallipoli Barracks is located in the Ryan electorate. I know all too well that the many jobs once performed internally by ADF personnel are now fulfilled by external contractors. While sourcing external defence contractors is not new, it is often disappointing that many of those working for those organisations have no defence knowledge—perhaps an opportunity upon which we could capitalise. I believe that we could, indeed should, further the remit of the VEC and make sure that, contractually, the successful proponents for government tenders are obligated to employ a percentage of veterans. Consider a successful proponent of a defence contract: with their own equal employment opportunity standards, a proponent should be empowered to employ veterans who most likely have knowledge and experience which is beneficial to the task at hand. Perhaps I'm just thinking outside the square. However, anything that can be done to support a smooth transition to civilian life should be of mutual benefit and should be considered.
The coalition government is not just ensuring that our ADF, whether it's the Army, the Air Force or the Navy, has the capabilities to keep us safe in the 21st century; we're also ensuring the best possible futures for those who give so much to keep Australia safe. Again I thank my colleague the member for Fisher for raising awareness of the government's commitment to the positive transition of veterans, from being battle ready to being civilian ready. Australian business employers, I encourage you to consider the invaluable contribution a veteran can bring to your workplace. Over the course of their careers in defence, our ADF personnel acquire qualities that are in high demand. This House must always remain indebted to Australia's veterans. The Veterans Employment Commitment is fundamental to recognising the service of our service men and women to Australia. I commend the motion to the House.
I rise to speak on this motion today and to thank everyone who has spoken in this debate—importantly, highlighting the issue around veterans' employment and what we can do better when it comes to supporting veterans to gain meaningful employment after their time in service. This is an issue I have been discussing for some time. It's an issue I have spoken about with veterans in most places around Australia. It's one of the significant issues that comes up. I have often talked about it as an issue—and not necessarily because veterans don't have the skills and experience. There is a lost-in-translation piece, where veterans do find it difficult to explain and summarise the skills that they've gained within the ADF, and employers don't necessarily always know how to interpret them.
Statistics compiled last year indicate that veterans' unemployment five years after discharge was shocking, at 30.2 per cent. Even those who were not medically discharged face a joblessness rate of about 11 per cent, which is almost double the national rate. Last week, a report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare stated that the joblessness rate for veterans who discharged between 2010 and 2014 was listed at 16 per cent and noted there was a lack of information available on the level of employment, unemployment and underemployment across the veterans' population. So the numbers vary, but I think all the numbers that have been put on the table clearly show that not enough is being done when it comes to our veterans' employment and not enough has been done so that those who have served their country and have decided to transition are actually supported to get meaningful employment after their time in the ADF.
Labor has continued to offer support to the Prime Minister's Veterans' Employment Program, and, indeed, to a number of the announcements. But we have stated that we, and I have been on the record stating that I, don't believe this goes far enough. These individuals are highly skilled and would be a valuable addition to any workplace. While it is important to ensure that businesses understand the many benefits of hiring a veteran, it's also important that we best prepare those businesses to employ veterans and those individuals to move into employment. Like I said, at the moment there is a lost-in-translation piece, and we need to do everything we can to address it.
It is for this reason that Labor has announced a $121 million veterans' employment policy, which will seek to meet our obligations to those who have served our country. Our policy has four main pillars, which include providing grants to businesses. These are training grants of up to $5,000. They are important for businesses because they might have an otherwise suitable veteran who has a small gap in their skills and abilities, and those training grants are about plugging those small gaps to ensure that an otherwise competitive veteran would get a job. Our policy also includes establishing a new veterans' employment service to better prepare, on an individual basis, an ADF person for their time of transition. It also includes better and expanded access to education and civilian training, and proactive work by Defence to translate the experience of the veteran into the civilian sector, so that the onus isn't always on the veteran to work out how they fit into the puzzle and so that work is done to ensure that they have Defence and other organisations proactively working with them to help them translate their skills.
I need to be very clear that our policy is not about charity. Veterans and ex-service personnel have a wealth of practical skills that would make a valuable contribution to any workplace. It is about ensuring that industries have the support they need and that veterans are best prepared to move into employment.
I'd like to also thank every veteran and veterans' advocacy group who have helped us to develop our strategy. There has been extensive consultation with current and ex-serving Defence personnel, and we believe that our program will deliver tangible outcomes and support for veterans and their loved ones. That is why I absolutely think that if the government would like to steal our policy then we are happy for them to do so, because we think it is an important way forward to ensure that veterans receive the support they need. (Time expired)
There has not been a bill, motion or ministerial statement concerning ADF veterans and ex-serving personnel that I have not spoken on in this place. Every and any time there is a chance for me to support our current serving and ex-serving veterans and their families I will always stand up and voice my support. Those who have served have given so much to us and to our country. I will always stand in this place to recognise them, acknowledge them, support them and ensure that they get the best policies to meet their needs.
I have made no secret of the fact I am proud to represent the largest garrison city in Australia in this place. That is why I set up the first defence reference group in the country, the Townsville Defence Community Reference Group, which has representations from Lavarack, the RAAF base and all of the ESOs. Working with the ESOs enables me to stand in this place and truly represent their voices, their opinions and their needs, as I am today. Veterans' issues have always been bipartisan, and I am more than happy to work with and support the government regarding our veterans and ex-serving personnel and their families.
When I meet with veterans, the No. 1 issue discussed with them and their families is transitioning to civilian life, particularly in relation to employment. ADF personnel have developed a vast range of skills and capabilities during their service time. It is unfortunate that more often than not these skills are not recognised when our members leave the forces. There is not a certificate from TAFE or a degree from a university. In meeting with these young men and women and witnessing the work that they undertake, I know they possess an extensive range of skills. This is a very big issue for them.
Although I support the government's initiative, I must also be a little critical of it in order to provide a fair voice for veterans and ex-serving members who are struggling with transitional work. There are, of course, some veterans that have no issues in transitioning, but I take the view, as do many veterans, that we must not leave one good man or woman behind. Yet that is what is currently happening with the government's commitments; they just don't go far enough in providing support. Governments need to provide support for our veterans during this most difficult time. That is why Labor has committed $121 million to a very comprehensive veterans employment policy, to provide greater support to our defence personnel as they transition to civilian life. Labor's plan will help our veterans into good jobs, by doing more to boost recognition of their significant current skills and experiences and better support veterans moving into the civilian workforce.
Best estimates cite veterans' unemployment as sitting at about 30 per cent. For those who do not medically discharge, there is an estimated 11.2 per cent unemployment rate, which is more than double the national average. This is unacceptable. A Labor government will provide eligible businesses with a training grant of up to $5,000 in order to help veterans gain the skills and experiences that they made need to move into civilian work. Whilst businesses are open to employing veterans, there can be specific short-term skill gaps which may act as a barrier to employment for an otherwise suitable candidate. This grant is designed to bridge that gap.
In addition, Labor will fund an education campaign on the many benefits and translatable skills of veterans to be developed by an industry advisory committee. Furthermore, a Labor government will establish an employment and transition service that will provide greater individualised and tailored support to transitioning veterans over a longer period of time. Labor will enable better access to additional education and civilian training for transitioning ADF members by reducing the length of service required to access the career training assistance scheme and increase funding for members, starting from $5,000 and increasing to $7,500, depending on the number of years served.
When our men and women commit to serving our country we must in return make a commitment to support them after their time in the ADF. Labor's veterans employment program is a key initiative to ensure that those working in the defence forces can move into meaningful and purposeful employment, which is a key element of a successful transition from the ADF into civilian life.