House debates

Monday, 7 December 2020

Private Members' Business

Returned and Services League of Australia

11:35 am

Photo of Vince ConnellyVince Connelly (Stirling, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes the Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) was founded in 1916 to ensure a unified approach to address the lack of organised repatriation facilities and medical services available to those returning from the Great War;

(2) recognises there are RSL branches and sub-branches in every state and territory, and most local communities have a RSL club;

(3) further notes the motto of the RSL is 'The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance';

(4) acknowledges that RSL clubs help veterans and communities right around Australia in many and varied ways; and

(5) congratulates the many hard-working volunteers and community-minded citizens who help make the RSL the success that it is.

The motto of the Returned and Services League, or RSL, is 'The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.' I read this in two ways. Firstly, we do need to be eternally vigilant and defend our freedoms, our liberty, against those who would oppress us. I also read it to mean that we need to look after and sustain liberty within our society, including the freedom and wellbeing of those who have served our nation and of their families.

This motion is particularly prescient at this point in time given the backdrop as we work through the findings and the recommendations of the Brereton report into Afghanistan. At this point in time, whilst we deal with the challenging nature of the report and its recommendations, it's imperative that we continue to provide every bit of compassion, understanding and support to our service men and women, veterans and their families nationwide. I know members on all sides of this House are of the same mind.

The RSL was founded in 1916 to ensure a unified approach to address a lack of organised repatriation facilities and medical services available to those men and women who fought in the Great War. This included looking out for the families of those comrades who did not return. The RSL arose out of discussions at a meeting in 1916 between the state branches or associations of returned soldiers. The core mission of the RSL has never changed, but it has continued to evolve as we meet the needs of each successive generation of service men and women and their families.

I'd like to take a moment here to congratulate the RSL in Western Australia, particularly the president, Peter Aspinall; the CEO, John McCourt; and the vice-president, Duncan Anderson. On 12 November, just under one month ago, RSL Western Australia opened its new headquarters, Anzac House, also known as Veteran Central. This is home to a veterans' hub which includes facilities which are dedicated to health, housing and, importantly, employment services for veterans. Anzac House Veteran Central will provide access to health providers, hearing health, physiotherapy, dental health, occupational therapy, mental health support and even financial, legal and employment support. In addition it will see services by Open Arms under the Department of Veterans' Affairs as well as easy access to counselling and services for veterans and their families.

The federal government is incredibly supportive of veterans' welfare, and this is what led to $30 million to partner with ex-service organisations and state and territory governments. The Anzac House Veteran Central hub I mentioned is one of a number around the country. In fact, there are six of those wellness hubs throughout Australia.

In September I was honoured to speak at RSLWA's state congress, where I touched also on the important work RSLWA is doing in supporting our current and former service men and women and their families through the partnership they have with the R&R Veterans Transition Centre in Jarrahdale, which itself is doing amazing things for veterans, service men and women and their families.

I'd also like to congratulate the RSLs in my own electorate, including RSL Osborne Park, where Richard Troughton and the committee there do great work; Nollamara RSL, with Keith Boxshall and the committee; and North Beach RSL, where my wife, Peta, and I are members. I particularly congratulate the president, John Rolfe; and executive members Brad Harrison, David King, Trevor McEntyre and Kochie. I also give a shout-out to the office bearers: David King, Chris Rampant, Alex Lennox, David House, Goughie, Paul McGuinness and Pete Edwards. I'm also compelled to commend a lot of those who lean in and help out constantly. This includes but is certainly not limited to Roger Hardwick, Greg Young, Macca Dougie and of course Rob Sweet, who is a tireless operator. I also commend some of the younger RSL members, who are starting to pick up the torch for the next generation, which is so important. They include Ben Pronk, Tim Curtis, Hannah Armig and Dave Singer. Well done to all of you. If I can give a final word of encouragement to those veterans out there who may not have joined their local RSL: please get on board and help pick up the torch.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

11:40 am

Photo of Shayne NeumannShayne Neumann (Blair, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Defence Personnel) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion. I want to acknowledge the member for Stirling and thank him for his service and for bringing this motion to the chamber.

As the motion notes, the Returned Service League of Australia was founded in 1916. Cast your mind back: that was in the middle of World War I—in the middle. There were many, many veterans who were going to come back from that war and face the challenges of returning to civilian life, to our economy and to our community. The RSL advocates for the best possible conditions for serving men and women and for those who served in the past. It's something that Labor on this side of the chamber wholeheartedly supports. I made that point less than two weeks ago when I spoke at RSL Queensland's AGM. I spoke of the need for us to provide better assistance in the transition from military service to civilian life as well. It's the largest ex-service organisation in Australia, with more than 1,200 branches around the country. It supports veterans and communities in many ways.

In my electorate alone, we've got 17 RSL subbranches, covering the Ipswich and Somerset region and in the western part of Brisbane. Many volunteers make a huge contribution to our local community, not just there but across the state, and we've had many people serving in RSL Queensland at a higher level. I thank RSLs, particularly the local ones in my electorate, for the role they play in commemorative services, school leadership awards and citizenship awards as well as individual information, advocacy and support. I was recently at Ipswich RSL, having morning tea at their Christmas celebration and thanking them for what they do.

That said, the RSL itself has admitted that it's had its brand tarnished somewhat in the last few years, through governance and financial problems across state branches, through the actions of a few individuals who have done the wrong thing. The RSL branches and subbranches have taken steps to do the right thing and correct these problems. In recent years some younger veterans, as the member opposite said, have been a bit reluctant to engage in getting involved and supporting them. This is not unusual. We've seen this happen with every generation that has passed since 1916. But eventually they pick up the torch and get involved. You can see that happening with the change from the Vietnam generation, if I can put it that way, to the Afghanistan-Iraq war generation. I can see that changing in the leadership in places that I've been to as I've travelled around the country.

But I want to commend the RSLs for what they do in providing support for veterans in need. It's encouraging to see younger veterans getting involved. One of the things I've noticed as I've reached out to the RSLs is the great work done in New South Wales, in Queensland and in Western Australia particularly with homelessness—accommodation services—and raising the plights of veterans. On any given night, one in ten people sleeping rough in this country is a veteran. On any given night, there are about 5,800 veterans who are homeless. It's simply not good enough, and we need to take steps in an intergovernmental and cross-portfolio way to improve this situation. This is a shame for this country.

We see in the movies how America and England treat their veterans. Sometimes we get a little bit high and mighty, but we have this problem in our society. How many of us walk past? There is the wonderful biblical parable of the Good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke. I think it's about chapter 10, if I remember rightly. It's in there: it talks about the fact that we should be helping others. We've got to do better. One of the things I remember many years ago, when I was in Washington, just a few blocks away from the White House, were eight black veterans sleeping in a park. I thought, 'This shouldn't be happening in a country like America.' But it happens in our country. So I urge the RSLs to do better. And we've got to do better. We have to provide bipartisan support across this space.

In the time remaining, I want to commend Mates4Mates in my home state of Queensland for the great work they do. They do a fantastic job. They're looking to establish veterans' hubs, I know, across South-East Queensland. I just want to commend them for what they do and the help they provide. I've got friends in the Labor Party who are veterans who have experienced the help that Mates4Mates provide. I know there are constituents in my electorate who travel to Brisbane to get support from Mates4Mates. I know that Mates4Mates reach out. They do great things. They've got a fantastic gym there. They get involved in cycling. They have psychologists and psychiatrists and counsellors to help veterans. I thank Mates4Mates for what they do.

Vince, I thank you for bringing this motion. It's the right thing to do and we commend you for it.

11:45 am

Photo of Gladys LiuGladys Liu (Chisholm, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to take this moment to talk about the incredible work done by RSLs across Australia, including in my electorate of Chisholm. I know I'm not the first member to talk about their importance to the communities we represent and I hope I'm not the last one.

The Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia, from which today's Returned and Services League of Australia originates, was founded by those returning from World War I, to preserve the spirit of mateship formed during the horror of battle. These RSLs honour the memory of the fallen service men and women who gave their lives to protect the values we hold dear. Their primary aim was to ensure that those wounded, injured and suffering as a consequence of war were cared for. For more than 100 years, the Returned and Services League has ensured that care, advocacy and financial assistance is provided to past and present service men and women of the Australian Defence Force.

This important work continues to this day. RSL branches provide a wide range of activities, advice and support to Australian soldiers and their families. For many Australians, their local RSL branch is at the heart of the connection they have to their community.

The story is no different in Chisholm. Our branches, which include the Blackburn RSL, Box Hill RSL, Burwood RSL and Waverley RSL, do such wonderful work for local veterans. Amongst so many other things, our RSLs hold social gatherings, dinners and fundraisers, as well as special functions and services on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day. Having spoken to veterans at these services, I can attest to the value that many of them place on their membership of their local RSL and the connection and sense of community that they can find there.

The Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel, my friend the Hon. Darren Chester, has encouraged veterans affected by the ongoing coverage of the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force's Afghanistan inquiry to seek support if they need it. At this time, I cannot overstate the importance of RSLs to the ongoing mental wellbeing of our current and former service men and women.

We also must not understate the role that RSLs play for the rest of us. These proud institutions continually work to ensure that we do not forget the sacrifice that ADF personnel have made for this country, its people and our Australian way of life. But it has been a really difficult year for RSLs. COVID-19 has impacted the ability of branches to generate revenue in a big way. For months, with money no longer flowing from the sale of drinks and food and from the hosting of events, RSLs in Chisholm and across the nation have struggled financially. This has had a real impact on their ability to stay open and provide the services many veterans rely on them for. Now that restrictions are lifted and RSLs are operating, at least in a limited way, I would encourage everyone across Australia but particularly my community in Chisholm to get down to their local RSL and show their support: buy a pot and a parma, or just get a cup of coffee; every bit helps. RSLs are there for our service men and women and they have been there for more than 100 years. Now is the time that we as Australians can show our support. I'll be going to my local RSL next week, and I hope to see you there.

11:50 am

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to thank the member for Stirling for bringing this private member's motion to the House. Since its founding in 1916, the Returned and Services League has been the bedrock of ensuring support for our veterans, service men and women. Through its extensive networks of volunteers and community-minded citizens the RSL has upheld its motto—and made sure that successive generations understand and value it—that: 'The price of liberty is eternal vigilance'. Calwell has a long history of service, from the Great War of World War I to World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, and Afghanistan today. As a community, we are proud of the bravery and honour of those who served then and those who serve today, and we work to ensure that their sacrifices are not forgotten and that they as veterans, and their families, are cared for and tended to, as is appropriate and as is needed.

As a multicultural community, we have a special relationship with our veterans. Many of my constituents came to Australia as a result of the consequences of those theatres of war. In Calwell, we are served by the Sunbury and Glenroy RSLs, and the Craigieburn War Memorial supports the RSL badge sales on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day. Our local historical connection to the Great War begins with the presence of the Maygar Barracks in Broadmeadows. In 1913, at the onset of World War I, the Department of Defence purchased the Maygar Barracks, which is situated on Camp Road, Broadmeadows, and it served as a training ground for the Australian Light Horse brigades. According to the late Elayne Whatman—a fantastic RSL volunteer who also served for years as the Broadmeadows Historical Society secretary and lovingly collected and catalogued local veterans' stories—the Maygar Barracks was a huge camp of white tents that served as accommodation for Australian soldiers as they amassed there before departing for Gallipoli. The barracks are named after Lieutenant Colonel Leslie Cecil Maygar, a captain in the Light Horse division campaigns of 1914 to 1917. Lieutenant Colonel Maygar was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the second Boer War but died from wounds sustained during the Battle of Beersheba on 1 November 1917. I had the honour of visiting Be’er Sheva in 2015 with a group of parliamentary colleagues, and we conducted our own Anzac Day ceremony there. It was a very memorable and moving moment for us all. In an interesting twist of fate, the Maygar Barracks would in the early seventies go on to be, for a short period, a migrant hostel for the many new migrants who had begun coming to Australia from Turkey, who later moved out and settled in the suburbs of Broadmeadows.

The RSL through its sub-branch structure has found it appropriate to include in its activities war veterans and members from our multicultural communities who have migrated to Australia and today are proud Australians. In doing so, the RSL has played a significant role in enabling the cohesive and successful integration of Australia's multicultural communities. These sub-branches include the Hellenic RSL Sub Branch. With 42 years of being a part of RSL Australia, it has provided great work for and support to the Australia-wide veteran community. I want to pay tribute to Major Terry Kanellos and president Steve Kyritsis OAM for their work. The Turkish RSL Sub Branch was founded in 1996 and has served as a very important part of developing the bonds of friendship between the Australian and Turkish peoples. It was in 1990 when my constituent and friend Ramazan Altintas, as the president of the Melbourne Turkish Education and Social Welfare Centre, applied on behalf of the organisation for it to become a member of the RSL. This was initially refused because of the centre's Turkish background. But, undaunted, Ramazan continued to invite war veterans, community members and politicians to the Turkish community's Anzac Day functions. In 1995, Gallipoli veterans Jack Buntine and Roy Longmore attended the Turkish community's ANZAC dinner and they sat down, as they said, to break Turkish bread with new friends.

In 1996 Ramazan visited the then Victorian RSL President, the late Mr Bruce Ruxton, to discuss his thoughts on the relationship between Turks and Australians. Ramazan, a quietly spoken but determined man, put to the charismatic and forceful WW2 veteran a simple proposition: 'We are not enemies—Australian and Turkish armies fought side by side during the Korean war.' On 14 November 1996 the Turkish sub-branch of the RSL was established. The Turkish community is one of the largest groups in Calwell and, at the time, the Herald Sun newspaper published: 'Once they tried to kill one another. But these days, former Turkish soldiers and Anzacs just want to grow old together.' I want to congratulate everyone, including Ramazan, for the wonderful work that they do in RSL activities.

11:55 am

Photo of Celia HammondCelia Hammond (Curtin, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Stirling for moving this motion. Respect, uncompromising directness and honesty, healthy scepticism and care and concern for all. When I think of what defines the men and women who belong to the RSL sub-branches in my community and underpins their actions and outlooks, I think of these characteristics. Members of the RSL, the veterans who have served Australia, respect our institutions, values and freedoms but they don't do it blindly. It is not in their character to fall for jingoistic rhetoric or fail to keep those in authority accountable. If they don't agree with something, they'll let you know—and in pretty blunt terms. Likewise, if they agree with something, they will let you know, but they will never pump up your tyres for no reason.

They are actively engaged with and participate in the institutions around them. They participate, they question, and they maintain a healthy scepticism, because the motto which defines the RSL is 'The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance'. That motto, which has been enunciated in different ways throughout the ages, is at its heart a reminder to all of us to be engaged in our democracy. The veterans who make up the RSLs throughout Australia, know that this vigilance is vital, because many of them have seen firsthand what happens to the citizens of nations where authority is unaccountable, where participation in institutions is prescribed. They know that this vigilance is not something that can be paused or taken for granted. We've seem time and again throughout history just how quickly liberties can be eroded—and our liberty is paramount. For members of the RSL, their service to Australia and their vigilance did not finish when they hung up their uniform. It continues to be demonstrated in how the RSL has advocated and continues to advocate for economic and health support measures for veterans and their families. It's also demonstrated in how they participate in their local communities. They care and are concerned for all.

In the Curtin community there are over 1,000 vets, and we have the Campbell Barracks and the Irwin Barracks. We also have eight RSL sub-branches: Cambridge, Subiaco, Cottesloe, Mosman Park, Metlands, Scarborough, Shenton Park and Claremont. Each of these sub-branches plays an incredibly vital role in our community. They are more than just a meeting place for veterans and their families. These sub-branches and their members live out the RSL motto in how they support our community, and their contributions can be seen in any number of ways—from working with the local rotary clubs to help with collections for Foodbank to ensuring that the stories of the local veterans are shared with our community.

They also support local sporting clubs and regularly collaborate with schools in our community to engage students in both Anzac Day and Remembrance Day ceremonies and the Poppy Day appeal. Perhaps most importantly, RSLs help students to understand the sacrifices of those who have served our country in conflicts, which ensures that the young people and the generations that follow continue to understand how hard won the freedoms are that we all now share and what their responsibility is in maintaining our liberty. Equally, the individual members of the RSL are just as active in their individual engagement with the broader community. They serve on local councils and on the boards of charities.

While he will probably haul me over the coals for this, I want to call out one particular RSL sub-branch president, and that is Mr David Thomas. He's currently the President of the Claremont RSL. In addition to being the President of Claremont sub-branch of the RSL, he's also the President of the Royal Agricultural Society of WA, the President of the Boer War Memorial Society and Vice-President of Western Suburbs National Seniors Australia. David's leadership and commitment to our community is infectious. He's a stand-up kind of man and he's also a very down-to-earth man. He has given me advice and assistance on all manner of things. I know he'll will give me a bollocking for saying it, but, David, thank you for your service and thank you for your leadership, not only to our vets, our current serving men and women in Defence but also our broader community. David, you are a legend.

12:00 pm

Photo of Fiona PhillipsFiona Phillips (Gilmore, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I relish any opportunity to talk about the wonderful work the local RSL sub-branches across my electorate are doing every day. As a community with a large defence presence, it is no surprise that we also have a strong RSL sub-branch network that works tirelessly to support our veterans. This year has been tough on our RSL sub-branches, as it has been for everyone. Our normal commemorative services, which are usually large affairs on the New South Wales South Coast, had to be either very pared back or cancelled altogether. This was tough for everyone. These events give us the opportunity to come together to remember those who fought for our community and thank all our serving and veteran Defence Force members. They are incredibly important for so many reasons. While services were small across my electorate for Remembrance Day this year, I was pleased to have several members of the local community lay wreaths on my behalf at the services that could go ahead. This year, parliament was sitting, so I was not able to attend services in person, but I was pleased to be represented at services held by RSL sub-branches in Batemans Bay, Berry, Bomaderry, Callala Beach, Culburra Beach, Gerringong, Huskisson, Kiama-Jamberoo, Milton, Ulladulla, Moruya and Sussex Inlet. It was also lovely to have representatives at services held by the Keith Payne VC Veterans Benefits Group and Coastal Waters Retirement Village. Thank you to everyone who made these services possible. Sadly, the Nowra, Shoalhaven Heads and Tomakin services were unable to go ahead this year.

To help commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War this year, the Department of Veterans' Affairs produced a special commemorative medallion. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to present a number of these medallions to our surviving World War II veterans, thanks to the efforts of some local RSL sub-branches. There are obviously a number of challenges involved in organising events such as these, particularly when it comes to protecting our precious veterans. Not all RSL sub-branches have been able to do that, and that is no fault of theirs. It is a logistically very difficult task, but I want to make special mention of a few who did. On Vietnam Veterans Day in August, I had the privilege of attending the Sussex Inlet RSL sub-branch's combined commemoration day service. The service honoured the sacrifice of our Vietnam veterans, national service personnel and Korean War veterans and recognised the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Pacific. I was delighted to have the opportunity to present the commemorative medallion and certificates to a number of their veterans. In September, I was honoured to join with members of the Huskisson RSL sub-branch at Coastal Waters in Worrowing Heights to present a local World War II veteran with his medallion as part of a small ceremony. I also joined with the Nowra RSL sub-branch at a special service at the Nowra Ex Servos club to present medallions and certificates to a number of their well-deserving veterans. Thank you to all the members of the Sussex Inlet, Huskisson and Nowra RSLs for making this possible. I was absolutely overjoyed to be part of these special commemorations.

My office has also worked closely with the local RSL sub-branches across the South Coast to arrange the medallions and certificates for many local veterans. I know it means a lot to them and their families and it just wouldn't be possible without the hard work of our sub-branches. Thank you to you all. All of the RSL sub-branches across the South Coast do a fantastic job of supporting our veterans. There are varying shapes and sizes, but each and every executive and member works hard to do what they can for their fellow ex-servicemen and women. It does not go unnoticed. COVID-19 has certainly made that tough, but it hasn't stopped the fantastic efforts that are going on. Volunteer veterans' advocates form a critical part of the work the RSLs do, and I regularly hear from people who are grateful for that support. Being veterans themselves, this can be challenging work for them, but they do it because they care so much about getting positive outcomes for veterans who are doing it tough. Thank you to you all.

I also want to give a special shout-out to all of our current and former Defence Force members. You have dedicated your lives to protecting our community and many of you have continued that selfless work. Our community is forever indebted to you.

12:05 pm

Photo of Julian SimmondsJulian Simmonds (Ryan, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would really like to thank my good friend the member for Stirling for moving this motion today and giving us the opportunity to speak about our local RSLs and the impact that they make in our local communities. I know that as a veteran yourself, Member for Stirling, this is an issue very close to your heart, and I thank you for raising it.

RSL Queensland say it very well when they say, 'We are veterans helping veterans, united in our desire to champion the rights of all veterans.' I know, when speaking about the incredible RSLs that we have in our electorate of Ryan, this statement couldn't be more accurate because of the hard work of those individual volunteers. The local RSLs in the Ryan electorate provide a unique and much needed connection to veterans of all ages and backgrounds. They provide camaraderie and advice and practical support for our local veteran community. That camaraderie and support has never been more important than in this particularly tough year. I want to commend our local RSL sub-branches for the work they did to support their members throughout 2020. Thanks in particular to the Toowong sub-branch, The Gap sub-branch, the Bardon sub-branch, the Gaythorne sub-branch, the Sherwood-Indooroopilly sub-branch and for all that you did to bring together your members and the wider veteran community, not only to stop them from feeling isolated but by making it possible to mark significant days in the veteran calendar. I know from talking to the members of these sub-branches that in particular they miss very much the opportunity to get together as a large group, to have a beer and to swap stories as they normally do. Despite that they were stoic and they supported each other throughout.

A good example of this was of course Anzac Day this year, when RSL Queensland were instrumental in the powerful show of solidarity and respect that was their Light up the Dawn campaign. Our local RSLs were a big part of this campaign, and their members along with families and friends encouraged others in the local community to stand on their driveways at 6 am to be part of this nationwide Dawn Service. I did it myself with my young family, my son. It was a really important opportunity to talk to my son who, like all small children, complained about having to get up that early. It was important to talk to him about the fact that this is a very small sacrifice we make to honour people who have made far larger sacrifices for us. I enjoyed having that conversation with him. That is part of the process that all families go through every year.

I was also very lucky to speak with local veterans about what Anzac Day meant for them. Normally, as part of these very large services that we have in the electorate of Ryan you would have community members gather in large numbers to hear the stories of individual veterans. We couldn't do that this year with COVID, so it was my pleasure to help pull together a digital campaign to promote those local stories across the electorate of Ryan. I was lucky to video individual veterans like Tim Simkin and Ken Cullen from the Gaythorne RSL, George Hulse, the Toowong RSL president, and Rick Maher from the Kenmore-Moggill RSL. Even though they couldn't hear from the local community directly, the local community could still hear their stories of sacrifice. I think it was an important part of what Anzac Day is all about.

The Morrison government is committed to making sure that our RSLs have the funding they need to continue to support their local membership. I have been very pleased to help secure some recent funding for my local RSLs to support these ex-service men and women. The Kenmore-Moggill RSL has received $1,200 out of the Building Excellence in Support and Training program, and the Gaythorne RSL has received over $44,000 in the Building Excellence in Support and Training program as well to support their efforts in pensions advocacy and welfare work.

We're also very excited in the Ryan electorate to be building the first Australian cadet unit at Brookfield, which was made possible by the $100,000 commitment that I helped secure in this year's federal budget. We know that Australian Army Cadets is an important community based youth development organisation. It's very passionately supported and pushed by the president of the Kenmore-Moggill RSL sub-branch, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Maher; and sub-branch Treasurer Richard Ponsonby. They have been instrumental in this, and I really appreciate the support.

To all of our veterans in Ryan: thank you so much for your service both when you were in uniform and now out of uniform, supporting your fellow veterans through the RSLs.

12:10 pm

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

A defining Australian characteristic is that one would struggle to find a township without a war memorial or an RSL club. It's largely a legacy of World War I, when few households did not have at least have one family member enlist and more likely than not were left to grieve a loved one by the war's end. Grief and loss bring people together in an enduring way. For those who serve, who face the horrors of war, the experience will very likely never leave them. Only those who have lived through war would understand the effects it can have on a person and the help that is needed. That is why in 1916, as Australians began returning home from World War I, often mentally and physically damaged, the need for an RSL became apparent. It would be a place where those returned soldiers could find comfort, understanding and mateship.

Today around 550 RSL clubs still exist around Australia, with a membership of around 177,000. There are several in the region I represent. Only a week ago I attended a centenary celebration lunch of the Salisbury RSL. The Salisbury branch was established on 3 July 1920, but, because of the COVID pandemic, the lunch was deferred until last week. As I sat in the clubrooms, as I have done so many times before, I looked around at the walls adorned by 100 years of memorabilia, photos and honour boards. It brought home to me the number of people who had passed through the clubrooms and the very unique purpose it serves. On the day, club President Don Prider gave a brief overview of the club's very extensive 100-year history.

The same can be said of the Tea Tree Gully RSL, which I also visit often, including in recent weeks. It too has a very long and proud history, with a great leadership team who always put the interests of veterans first. Over recent weeks, with assistance from Tea Tree Gully President Mal Fergusson, Vice-President Terry Nicholas, Secretary Wayne Langford, longstanding member Michael Sherlock and SA RSL state President Cheryl Cates, we organised several special presentation ceremonies of World War II appreciation medals to Colin Keay, Bill Andrew and Brian Attrill. Time doesn't permit to read their military citations, but I felt very humbled by each of their military contributions. Sadly, Brian Attrill passed away earlier this year, so his medal was accepted by his wife, Alma, and other family members who gathered for the presentation.

Today, 104 years since their inception and some 75 years since the end of World War II, some RSL clubs are beginning to struggle with membership numbers and many of their members are, understandably, also getting to an age where they can't regularly attend. Yet the needs of the veterans have never been greater, as evidenced by around 600 veterans suicides over the past two decades. The prevalence of mental health, family breakdowns and homelessness across veterans should be of concern to us all, and I know those matters have been raised by other speakers. That's why we need a royal commission into veterans suicides and why the government's proposition of a veterans commissioner falls well short of what is needed and what the veterans community is asking for. The statistics of course would be much worse were it not for the RSL clubs, which is why we not only acknowledge the RSL's history but also thank them for their efforts since 1916 in supporting veterans.

Finally, I thank RSLs for their broader community work and for telling the story of the defence forces to younger generations through things like school visits and visits to other community facilities. In doing so, they are not only passing on our history and appreciation to the men and women who have served in Australia's defence forces over the years; they are also educating our young people about those who have come before us and who have made this nation the nation that it is—none more so than the men and women who have served in our defence forces and done so in the protection of our country.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned, and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.