House debates

Thursday, 13 February 2020


Mattiske, Mr David Henry, Veterans

12:43 pm

Photo of Angie BellAngie Bell (Moncrieff, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak about a very special WWII veteran in my community. David Mattiske is an ex-serviceman who I first met on Anzac Day last year. Recently he shared some of his incredible story and delivered his report on the 75th anniversary commemorations for the Leyte Gulf landings and Battle of the Surigao Strait in the Philippines.

This clash of warships, including the HMAS Shropshire, occurred in World War II on 25 October 1944. David, who is now 94, signed up to the ADF on his 18th birthday and spent three years in the Navy before moving to the HMAS Shropshire. He's a wonderful gentleman and just saying his name brings a smile to my face. He was in my office recently, just last week. In his words, the Shropshire was the most efficient and battle honoured ship in the Royal Australian Navy. It took part in the greatest sea battles of all time.

In honour of the Battle of Surigao Strait a magnificent three-level memorial has been built in Surigao in the Philippines. It's at the centre of Surigao history to remind our Filipino friends that, during the time when they were being liberated, Australia was there to help them. Within this memorial, a wall that stands in permanent remembrance of the HMAS Shropshire crew and as a special acknowledgement of David's efforts has now been unveiled. The inscription on the wall is David's own quote. It says: 'Let us pray that we never have another world war.'

I'd like to acknowledge three other gentlemen from my electorate who accompanied David on the commemorative trip: Ken Orr, the deputy president of the Southport RSL branch; Rob Nicholls, who represented his father, Stan, and also served in the HMAS Shropshire Philippines campaign between 1943 and 1945; and Michael Everett, a close friend to David. There's a large veteran community in my electorate of Moncrieff, with 1,000 men and women who have served. This community spirit was felt over the festive season last year, when I was privileged to attend the Christmas parties of the Vietnam veterans, the Southport RSL and the South East Asian Korea and Peace Keeping Veterans Association, otherwise known as SEAKS.

I would like to commend the work that our government continues to do to improve the lives of veterans. Veterans like David are our heroes. They've protected our community and our freedoms, and it's our job to look after them. The mental health and wellbeing of our veterans and Defence Force members is an issue of national and enduring importance. I welcome the establishment of a national commissioner and a family advocate for veterans affairs. This powerful new body will tackle the very difficult area of ADF and veteran suicides. This means we'll get to the bottom of each and every case and learn lessons that can help improve the lives of our veterans and their families into the future.

This is a very complex issue, and we have a whole-of-government approach towards a zero goal on suicide, because one life is too many. Too many of our young people take their own lives—too many young Indigenous and too many of our veterans. In each of these areas—youth, Indigenous and veterans—and across the board, our government has put in practical measures. A national commissioner for veterans will look at each and every case. Immediately, there will be a comprehensive and independent review of more than 400 suicide deaths since 2001. This review will consider all risk factors and trends, including military service and veterans' postservice experience, to improve our understanding of systemic issues. Importantly, the families of serving and former members affected by suicide will be invited to share their stories and insights. A veteran family advocate will be appointed to engage with the families of veterans. The focus will be on mental health and suicide prevention and this will contribute to our understanding of risk factors that relate to the wellbeing of veterans and their families. These comprehensive measures have been developed with a very clear focus. We need to find effective and practical ways to better identify, prevent, understand and act on suicide and suicide risks among our veterans and service men and women.

The government also supports transition to civilian life for at-risk veterans. Research shows veterans under 30 who are involuntarily discharged are at higher risk of suicide than the general population. We want to ensure that they get the support they need as they navigate the range of government services on offer. A personalised career employment program will give them greater opportunity for job placement within civilian life. The Morrison government has also launched the Australian veterans card and lapel pin so veterans can be appropriately recognised by business and community.

To finish, I would like to thank every single veteran for their service to our country. It's because of you that we enjoy the freedoms we have today.