House debates

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Questions without Notice

Veterans: Mental Health

3:21 pm

Photo of Phillip ThompsonPhillip Thompson (Herbert, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is for the Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel. Will the minister outline to the House how the Morrison government is addressing the very serious and real issue of veteran suicide?

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Deputy Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Herbert for his question. I acknowledge him, along with many others in this place who have served in uniform, and I thank them all for their service and congratulate them on their decision to join the parliament. I also acknowledge the member for Herbert's comments earlier today in this place, just before question time, where he told us that, just this week, he'd lost a mate to suicide—a veteran in his community. I know he's already made contact with the young family involved, and I wonder if he could pass on the condolences of the House to his mate's family.

I acknowledge that this is a complex and difficult issue for all of us, a difficult issue to resolve. It is a real issue of concern to the entire parliament. The only acceptable number for me as a minister is zero. The only acceptable number to the veteran community is zero. So I thank all members, from the Prime Minister down—for his personal interest in this topic—to the ministers on this side, the backbench, the crossbench and those opposite, for their willingness to work in a very bipartisan way when it comes to issues of suicide prevention. There must not be political allegiances when it comes to this topic. There just has to be a shared humanity, a shared determination to improve mental health and eliminate suicide in our community, particularly for those of us who work amongst the Defence community and amongst our veterans.

I want to assure our veteran community and those listening today that help is available for you. The Open Arms service is available on 1800011046. The free counselling service is available for you to reach out and seek help. I also want to assure those listening at home, members opposite and those on this side of the House that changes are being made. We have been successful over recent years with bipartisan support to implement a whole range of new mental health measures. In fact, we provide more than $230 million per year now to support our veterans and their families when it comes to good mental health. There is free lifetime mental health care for anyone with one day of service. That includes reservists as well. There is needs based transition support at that difficult time when members leave the Defence Force—needs based transition and employment support for vulnerable groups when they leave the ADF. There are immediate payments for those submitting mental health claims to the DVA. We've expanded Open Arms to provide more support across the nation. We're piloting new approaches to suicide prevention, including things like the provision of psychiatric assistance dogs to those veterans with a PTSD diagnosis. There is a national network of Veterans' Wellbeing Centres being established right now—six new wellbeing centres being established by the DVA across our country. So work is being done. Changes are being made.

Finally I say to those who have lost loved ones to suicide: please take some comfort that this parliament is united when it comes to improving mental wellbeing and preventing suicide. None of us can pretend to fully understand your grief at the loss of a loved one in these extraordinarily difficult times—the anger, the frustration, the grief you must feel—but we can commit ourselves in this place to working together to prevent suicide across our nation, and particularly in our veteran community. We can do better. I believe we must do better and I also believe we will do better. I thank the House.

3:24 pm

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

on indulgence—I associate Labor with the remarks of the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, and I thank him for the ongoing, cooperative consultation that he has had with myself, with the shadow minister for veterans' affairs and the shadow minister for defence on these issues. It was my great honour yesterday, with the three of us, to meet Julie-Ann Finney, who lost her son, David, to suicide. Ms Finney has a very passionate perspective that she brings to this debate. I indicated to her that I'd continue to discuss with the government the issues that she raises in the context of how we can truly make sure that those who have put their lives on the line to defend our nation, to defend our way of life and, indeed, to defend all of us can be given the respect and care that they deserve whilst they're in service but also after they leave the service.

3:25 pm

Photo of Scott MorrisonScott Morrison (Cook, Liberal Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

on indulgence—I also am meeting with Ms Finney this afternoon. I have met her on other occasions, as well as other parents. These are difficult conversations. They have suffered a loss that we just can't imagine. I know all members of the House would extend our deepest sympathies to them for their terrible loss, which is with them every single day. I want to convey to the member for Herbert and all of his mates that this entire place stands with you and all of their families. On that note, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.