Wednesday, 11 September 2019
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel. Will the minister update the House on the action that the Morrison government is taking to support the mental health and wellbeing of defence personnel and veterans?
I thank the member for Stirling for his question, and I note the member for Stirling's service to our nation in peacekeeping missions both in the Solomon Islands and in East Timor. I'd also like to acknowledge all members and senators in this place, on both sides of the chamber, who have served in uniform, and to quite simply say to them: thank you for your service.
Yesterday was World Suicide Prevention Day, and I think all members would agree that every day is World Suicide Prevention Day in our country. The only acceptable number of suicides in our Defence Force personnel and in our veterans—in fact, in our whole community—is zero. I would encourage anyone who's listening who may be disturbed by the commentary, the discussion on World Suicide Prevention Day, particularly our veteran community, to contact Open Arms on 1800011046.
I acknowledge that we need to do more, and as a government we are doing more, when it comes to mental health and the wellbeing of our veterans and our serving members. I want to stress, as I do on just about every occasion that I get to speak in this portfolio, that service in the Australian Defence Force is overwhelmingly a positive experience for those members. We can be proud, as a nation, of the work that the members of our Navy, Army and Air Force do on our behalf to keep us safe in a very challenging world, but it can result, and it does result on occasion, in physical injuries and in poor mental health. We encourage serving members, and our veteran community, to please seek help early. The best chance of a full recovery is to seek help early, receive treatment and to then go on with the rest of your life, so we do encourage those serving members and our veteran community to seek help early.
As a government, we have taken steps, which, I acknowledge quite freely, have been supported by those opposite, to support improved mental health of our veteran community and our serving members—changes like free mental health care for all veterans and their families. In fact, it forms part of a $230 million per year mental health budget to the Department of Veterans' Affairs. We've seen the expanding role of assistance dogs through a research program by La Trobe University, and now the Department of Veterans' Affairs is in a position to actually fund the purchase of assistance dogs to support our veteran community.
There was $30 million announced during the election campaign for six new wellbeing centres across Australia. We're rolling out those wellbeing centres in the weeks and months ahead in consultation with local members and the ex-service communities in those areas. Four million dollars has been announced for mental health first aid programs, in partnership with the RSL across the nation. And, only in recent weeks, I have had the chance to meet with not only state ministers but also backbenchers in this place on both sides of the House and sought their active engagement in our plans to have an improved new mental health strategy and action plan in place by the end of this year. So, as a government, and I think as a parliament, we are committed to putting veterans and their families first and eliminating the scourge of suicide across our nation.
on indulgence—can I associate the opposition with the comments of the minister, both in terms of the gratitude that he expressed towards those who have served in the uniform of our nation and also in terms of the efforts to engage in suicide prevention. I've noticed, as the minister has, that there is a particular scourge in terms of suicide amongst veterans, which is running at something like twice the national rate. It is something that across the chamber we absolutely need to address, and I commend the minister for his efforts in working with us to achieve that.