Wednesday, 27 November 2019
Labor is committed to recognising the unique nature of service and sacrifice of our current and former ADF members and their families. This is an area where there is a lot of bipartisanship between both sides of politics, and it is really important that we do this. Labor intends to support the coalition as they develop their mental health and wellbeing action plan. I have met with Minister Chester in relation to these issues.
But we do have areas of concern. What is clear is that the government is intending to privatise or outsource important elements of the Department of Veterans' Affairs. We heard at Senate estimates that the government has reduced by 16 per cent the number of employees working in the Department of Veterans' Affairs. In addition to that, we have seen a 45 per cent outsourcing by using non-APS employees to work in that department and that 26 per cent of people who work in the Department of Veterans' Affairs are labour hire. So Labor has some significant concerns when it comes to the Department of Veterans' Affairs.
We have a government in its third term that is struggling for an agenda. I welcome the minister's recent announcement in relation to assistance dogs, but there are matters they have not undertaken in relation to art therapy and wellbeing centres. We will continue to hold the government to account. We will make sure they fulfil this commitment. One of the areas the government has failed in—and I had meetings recently with Mates4Mates in Brisbane—is that there is a need for a wellness centre in the northern suburbs of Brisbane. There is one out at Ipswich and the government has not undertaken one these areas.
There are clear areas where the government has failed across the Department of Veterans' Affairs, and Labor will hold them to account in relation to these areas. It took a very long time for them to bring the veterans' covenant into this parliament—and the pin and the discounts as well. I have seen significant angst recently when I have met with RSLs around the country. Veterans have very real concern in relation to these matters. For example, it takes a long time for someone to go through the process to get that pin. Labor is concerned that this is a clumsy way to go about it.
In addition, there are concerns in relation to housing. We have seen recent reports and concerns in relation to the plight of homeless veterans. Reports from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute have said, alarmingly, that about 5.3 per cent of the general population of veterans are homelessness compared to 1.9 per cent in the general population. This is an indictment of the way we treat our struggling veterans, and we can do much better. I recently met with the board of RSL New South Wales. They said publicly that there has been a 25 per cent increase in the number of veterans seeking their help. We've seen previous figures which show that one in 10 people sleeping rough are veterans. This is a shame. It's a national tragedy, and we should do much better. I'm urging the government, as part of its strategy, to think about tackling homelessness as part of wellbeing and suicide prevention as well. There needs to be a broader approach.
The government received on 27 June this year the Productivity Commission's review into veterans' support systems in this country, and it was publicly released on 4 July, but the government are yet to respond to that particular review. It's all well and good for the government to be saying, 'We are preparing a veterans' mental health and wellbeing national action plan by the end of the year,' but they haven't ruled out the recommendations of the Productivity Commission report to abolish or make substantial changes to the gold card for veterans and their dependents. This is of significant concern around the country for veterans and their families. I urge the government to rule it out.
In addition, the government seems enamoured with the idea of a veterans' services commission. But the Productivity Commission, in its final report, couldn't bring itself to recommend the abolition of the Department of Veterans' Affairs but recommended outsourcing—effectively privatisation. Labor does not support that, and I would urge the government to reject that recommendation.