House debates

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Questions without Notice

Australian Defence Force: Mental Health

3:09 pm

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

My question is to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel. Will the minister please outline to the House what steps the Morrison government is taking to ensure positive mental health and wellbeing for our veterans, ADF personnel and their families?

3:10 pm

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 and recognise his service in uniform to our nation.

Throughout our nation's history, more than two million Australians have served with great distinction in uniform, and often they are the first people that we turn to when problems get too big for our state agencies. We saw it last summer with Operation Bushfire Assist, we've seen it all this year with COVID-19 and we've relied on them for peacekeeping missions and conflicts throughout our nation's history. That service to our nation can have impacts. When you consider that, in 2020, the average Defence Force career is about seven years, we need transition measures in place, and they need a partnership between the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the Australian Defence Force, ex-service organisations and the community at large. I want to stress, though, that, for the majority of men and women who serve, that transition goes very well. But there is no question that some do require additional support. My message today to those serving men and women and our veterans community is that help is available. You are not alone. The Open Arms counselling service is available on 1800011046. It's not a sign of weakness to reach out for help; in fact, it's a sign of strength and it's also a chance to get better sooner.

Australians can be very proud of the support that's actually in place for our veterans community and for the wellbeing of their families. We provide, through the Australian taxpayers, more than $11 billion per year, with $230 million specifically put aside for mental health programs to support the mental wellbeing of our veteran community. There's no question that 2020 has been a very tough and challenging year for many people, and the recent media coverage has certainly added to the anxiety and stress for many in our community. The last thing that our veterans need now, that Australian Defence Force families need now, is our judgement. They need our support. They don't need our judgement; they need our support. The overwhelming majority of Australian service men and women throughout our nation's history have served with great distinction and they can be proud of that service: you have nothing but the respect and thanks of a grateful nation.

We must not allow the alleged action of a small number of people to define or in any way diminish the service of the vast majority of men and women. We need to let the process take its course. As I mentioned earlier, it's a partnership between our veterans, our serving men and women, their families and the broader community. I urge all of our veterans and all of our serving members to check on their mates. Maybe ring four or five of them up this week. Check on your mates. Support each other. I urge the Australian people to continue to support them through the Department of Veterans' Affairs and the ex-service community.

I will finish where I started and just say, simply, thank you to our service men and women. From the recruits who I watched march out of Kapooka last week right through to the Chief of the Defence Force: we respect you; please continue to serve with the pride that you rightfully hold and please uphold the values of the Navy, the Army and the Air Force.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The Leader of the Opposition has indicated he wants to speak briefly on indulgence on the minister's answer.

3:13 pm

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

Labor and, I'm sure, all members of this House stand in support of our veterans. We should all be very grateful for the men and women who wear our uniform. At a difficult time, such as this, we do associate ourselves with the comments of the minister in terms of reaching out to each other. But those of us who aren't service men or women should encourage all Australians to reach out to those who proudly wear our uniform and defend our nation.

Photo of Christian PorterChristian Porter (Pearce, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.