House debates

Monday, 26 September 2022

Private Members' Business


11:31 am

Photo of Shayne NeumannShayne Neumann (Blair, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) many veterans struggle to find work when they transition to civilian life, which can lead to other problems, such as mental illness, homelessness, incarceration and even suicide; and

(b) some veterans can experience stigma and discrimination in the job market;

(2) acknowledges that:

(a) the Government will deliver a comprehensive $24 million veteran employment program to provide greater support to defence personnel as they transition to civilian life; and

(b) this will aim to help veterans into good quality jobs by doing more to boost recognition of their skills and experience, and provide support for further education and training for veterans wanting to move into the civilian workforce; and

(3) welcomes a number of outcomes from the recent Jobs and Skills Summit to support veteran employment and training, including:

(a) a one-off income credit so that veteran pensioners who want to work can earn an additional $4,000·over this financial year without losing any of their pension; and

(b) improved access to jobs and training pathways for veterans and other disadvantaged groups, through equity targets for training places, 1,000 digital apprenticeships in the Australian Public Service, and other measures to reduce barriers to employment.

We have about 600,000 veterans in Australia, and more than 5,000 separate from their employment in the Australian Defence Force every year. Defence personnel and veterans have highly transferable skills, with the ability to work under pressure, flexibility and adaptability, teamwork and leadership skills, which are all sought after in the workplace. Many employers have reaped the benefits of employing veterans, and we're seeing a lot of veterans setting up their own businesses and employing other veterans, particularly in defence industry.

But the sad fact is that veterans and their partners remain a relatively untapped workforce for the skills crisis we're currently experiencing across the country. Many are overlooked for jobs because of the stigma associated with the psychological impacts of service on some defence personnel or a lack of understanding of how their skills and experience translate to civilian roles or, indeed, a lack of recognition of qualification by certification or degree. Unfortunately, unemployment can lead to some other problems, such as mental health issues, homelessness, incarceration and even suicidal ideation and suicide.

That's why, as the then shadow minister for veterans' affairs, I was pleased to announce before the election that an Albanese Labor government would commit $24 million over four years to ensure that our veterans' skills and experience are valued and appreciated by the wider community as part of Labor's comprehensive veterans package. I know the Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Defence Personnel, the member for Burt, is committed to delivering a strong veterans employment program to give our veterans and defence families more jobs and opportunities. This will involve a range of initiatives, including: educating businesses and raising awareness of the benefits of employing veterans; helping businesses to train veterans; more civilian-ready education and training programs; better translating the experience of veterans; and promoting veterans' businesses. This is why the Albanese Labor government wants to see more veterans and families earning or learning after they leave the ADF. Importantly, some of the assistance for veterans employment could be delivered through the 10 new veterans and families hubs that the government's rolling out across the country, in tandem with ex-service and community organisations like the Veteran Community Business Chamber and Veterans in Construction, just to name a few.

In my own electorate and in the wider community in Queensland, RSL Queensland and Mates4Mates are doing an outstanding job in helping veterans with career counselling, mentoring and job search skills and building connections with employers. In addition, the veterans charity Bootstraps in Gatton in the Lockyer Valley is delivering services in my electorate. They're currently running classes in leatherwork as a form of therapy in the Lockyer Valley and are also planning to run TAFE courses in leatherwork, hospitality and mechanics so that ex-service people can skill up for new careers. I'm encouraging them to relocate, specifically in Ipswich, and to have an outlet in the Somerset Region.

The Minister for Veterans' Affairs convened a series of round tables on veterans' employment in the lead-up to this month's Jobs and Skills Summit. There were a number of terrific outcomes from the summit that will specifically support veterans employment and training. First, the government announced a one-off income credit so that veterans who want to work can earn an additional $4,000 over this financial year without losing any of their service pension. It's a win-win for veterans and the country because it means older veterans over the retirement age will be able to earn more before their pension is reduced, and it will boost the supply of workers to help meet labour shortages. Secondly, the government will improve access to jobs and training for veterans and other disadvantaged groups through equity targets for training places and 1,000 digital apprenticeships in the Australian Public Service, as well as measures to reduce the barriers to employment. This will provide pathways for younger, working-age veterans to get jobs in the Public Service and to learn new skills.

It was pleasing, as well, to see last month's Veterans' Wellbeing Taskforce of federal, state and territory veterans ministers discussing the importance of veterans employment following on from the release of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide interim report. I note the minister will be making a ministerial statement in response to that interim report in the House today. It goes without saying that delivering a comprehensive veterans employment program will go a long way to address mental health issues and preventing suicides amongst our current and former defence personnel.

In conclusion, not only do we have a moral obligation as a nation to support our veterans as they transition to civilian life but it's also good for jobs and skills, and for our economy. I would encourage members to support this motion and speak in favour of it.

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Anne StanleyAnne Stanley (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

11:36 am

Photo of Gavin PearceGavin Pearce (Braddon, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Health, Aged Care and Indigenous Health Services) Share this | | Hansard source

In a momentary lapse of reason, I commend the speaker opposite on this motion and its content. I also recognise the service of the member for Solomon—and yours, Deputy Speaker. The other thing that I do agree with is the additional $4,000 this financial year as a one-off which covers veterans who still wish to study and claim that amount. I welcome that from those members opposite. What I don't welcome is the removal of the position of the minister for veterans' affairs and defence personnel from cabinet. I think that was a unique situation where we had veterans' voices around the cabinet table. I am saddened that that has been taken away by the Albanese government. Nevertheless, they are the government.

The coalition government, too, has a very keen eye on and a very sharp focus on looking after our veterans, to the point that we have invested over $11½ billion into supporting the wellbeing of around 340 veterans right around the country. Since 2017, all ADF members with at least one day of permanent service can access comprehensive support in those transition centres which are so valuable to defence personnel, and which help their transition from the big military life to the civilian life. They can do that for up to 24 months after they leave the ADF. Previously, this was based on a length-of-service criteria, but now it is simply on an as-needed basis. Since 2006, ADF personnel who have joined or transitioned from defence are automatically registered with DVA and provided with a veteran white card—another positive. The coalition government invested in several new programs and initiatives to improve the transition process, including the JTA—the Joint Transition Authority. They send their best officers and their best staff there, and I think that the work that they have done, particularly in the last few years, has been exemplary. Let the record show that I support their efforts.

The Veterans' Employment Program employs and promotes a wide range of skills of ADF personnel and employers, and rewards businesses for initiatives that support veterans' employment. Our veterans card gives Australian businesses and owners an opportunity to demonstrate their gratitude and respect for those who have served. There are a lot of businesses on board, and a lot more coming on every day. I would encourage every business out there to do so because this is a great program, and if you're employing people—and I know people are hard to get—then you can do no better than employ a veteran.

The coalition ensured that there are up to 10 hours of pre- and post-civilian-employment support. That's to cover things like the compilation of a resume and job interview practice to help veterans between that 12-month and five-year period post their service. We've invested and committed $414,000 in grant funding over the last three years through the Prince's Trust Australia to assist veterans and their families explore, start or grow a business—those startup businesses that we're all so trepidatious about starting. As well as that, our 2019-20 budget provided $6 million each to Soldier On and to the RSL, and $3 million to Disaster Relief Australia. That is an organisation which is aimed at getting veterans and emergency services together, and they're deployed and posted to various disaster sites around the country—fires, floods and the like. It's run by a bloke called Geoff Evans, a former serving member and an engineer. I have seen them firsthand in the devastation that happened near Sheffield in Tasmania. They run a first-class operation, and I commend their efforts.

In closing, the coalition put a very sharp eye and a very keen focus on looking after our veterans community and their families. I would welcome the re-engagement into cabinet forthwith of the Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel. (Time expired)

11:41 am

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to thank the member for Blair for moving this motion. Just before COVID locked the world down, I had the privilege of travelling to the Middle East on the Defence Force Parliamentary Program. Over about 10 days, I got a unique peek into the world of Defence Force personnel serving overseas at AMAB, ADAB and Camp Taji in Iraq.

One of the things that struck me was the extraordinary skill set of serving defence personnel. Some told me about the range of positions they'd moved through during their years in the Defence Force. Others talked about the multiple qualifications they got as they moved through the ranks. Above all, what was clear to me was that this is a group of people who, to civilian employers, don't necessarily look good on paper but who can bring a whole lot of hard-to-define skills on top of their formal qualifications: the ability to work as part of a team or to be entirely self-sufficient; the ability to follow orders precisely or to think creatively to urgently problem-solve; the ability to commit wholly to a role and be clear about the outcomes—all incredible skills. In other words, there is a good fit within a range of civilian workforces for people who have served in our defence forces, and success stories abound.

But we know that there are challenges in transitioning to civilian life. I've explained to people that my time in the Middle East gave me an inkling of what that transition must be like for some people who have been in the Defence Force even for a short time. I could see how the Defence Force wrapped itself around you, to the exclusion of all else, and it became your whole focus. I could see that leaving it must be a wrench, even when it's your choice, and it's certainly an adjustment. We also know, thanks to this motion by my colleague, that many veterans struggle to find work when they transition and that that can lead to other really serious issues like mental illness, homelessness and even suicide. As the motion states, we know that veterans can experience stigma and discrimination in the job market.

That is why I'm pleased that the Albanese government will deliver a comprehensive $24 million employment package for veterans so we're giving greater support to defence personnel as they transition to civilian life. Part of this is about doing more to boost recognition of their skills and experience, and to provide support for further education and training for those wanting to move into the civilian workforce. It will also involve initiatives to raise awareness of the benefits of employing veterans, help businesses to train veterans and promote veterans' businesses.

I also welcome the outcomes from the recent Jobs and Skills Summit for veterans. There's the one-off income credit so that veteran pensioners who want to work can earn an additional $4,000 over this financial year without losing any of their pension. Veterans will also have improved access to jobs and training pathways under the Australian Public Service Digital Traineeship Program. The program's designed to build our national digital capability by increasing the pool of skilled digital professionals, especially in the Public Service, and it will help people establish a career in the APS. The employment opportunities for veterans will be flexible and available throughout the year in regional and metropolitan locations, starting in December. These are just two of the 36 urgent initiatives that came out of the Jobs and Skills Summit that we're immediately implementing, and I'm really pleased to see veterans will benefit from these.

What I'm also looking forward to discussing with my local defence and veteran community is how employment fits within the veterans and families hub that's coming to the electorate. The hubs connect veterans and families to a range of services, including support for transition, employment, health and social connections and a space for veterans services and advocacy organisations to co-exist alongside these government services. It's a one-stop shop. At this stage, no lead organisations have been determined for the new hub in the Hawkesbury area, and the Department of Veterans' Affairs expects to work closely with key stakeholders from the communities around the new location. I'll be working very closely with my stakeholders in the lead-up to make sure that the hubs have the focus on our veterans and what they and their families need. This is one of the things that can be a real change in assisting veterans in transitioning from their commitment and service into civilian life.

11:46 am

Photo of Bert Van ManenBert Van Manen (Forde, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Firstly, I thank the member for Blair for bringing this motion to the chamber. I also take the opportunity, Mr Deputy Speaker Wilkie, to acknowledge your service and also that of the member for Solomon.

Around half a million Australians have chosen to serve our country in the armed forces, whether that be on a full-time or a part-time basis or through the reserves, and I'm incredibly proud of those people who have taken that decision to serve our country in our armed services. I was disappointed that, as the member for Braddon previously touched on in his remarks, we see the Minister for Veterans' Affairs no longer in cabinet. I think that is a great disappointment, given the level of importance and the role that our veterans play. They deserve our respect and gratitude, and that they and their families no longer have a voice at the cabinet table, I think, is an enormous disappointment.

Each and every year, some 6,000 service men and women leave the ADF and return to civilian life. Many of those have a long civilian career and opportunity ahead of them. I also acknowledge that many of those struggle with mental health issues, in particular, but also other health issues as a result of injuries or other things that have occurred during their service.

I want to take this opportunity to reflect on some of the work that a gentleman by the name of Kyle Faram, a former Army sergeant, does in my electorate, specifically based on assisting people who have exited Defence but are struggling with PTSD and other mental health issues—and, importantly, also assisting first responders in other areas, such as police, fire and ambulance. Kyle has started a group called 2530 Tours, and this came out of his experience on leaving the Defence Force as a veteran with PTSD and also other health issues and injuries. He takes groups on long kayaking tours down our major rivers. He found, from his own personal experience, that the opportunity to get away from the everyday noise of life and the opportunity to talk to others and share their common experiences was instructive and beneficial to him and those that he took on these long journeys.

I want to use this opportunity to thank Kyle and his team for the work that they're doing to help our veterans and first responders who exit the rigours and structure of the Defence Force and struggle to adjust to life outside. This is just one of many examples I know of veterans and ex-service men and women right around our country seeking to help their fellow colleagues deal with the issues they have faced.

The other company I wish to speak to, because in part this motion is about employment for veterans, is one of my local companies, Guardtech. Guardtech was founded by three former tank commanders, and, interestingly, a lot of the lessons they're applying to their tech, whether it be robotic decoys or robotic vehicles for other purposes, were learnt on the battlefields of Afghanistan. These three gentlemen started this business from scratch several years ago, and it is now growing very rapidly. Not only are they employing a variety of other ex-servicemen but, at rate they're growing, they're seeking employees from all over the place; they have the same problems that many other businesses in our communities do.

I want to say that, whilst there are still things to be dealt with, there are many good stories in our community, such as what Kyle is doing, what Guardtech is doing and what many others are doing.

11:51 am

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to start by thanking the member for Blair for this excellent and timely motion, and I want to recognise your service as well, Deputy Speaker Wilkie. We dug into the same ground a couple of times in the past. I want to thank all MPs, including the member for Forde, who just spoke, and others here in the chamber, who really care about this issue. To my mind, it is one of the most important questions that we might consider in this place. And it is an issue where I am proud to say that I not only talk the talk in here but walk the walk in my electorate, where I have, in the past months, got three veterans into employment opportunities.

It is important that we assist our soldiers, sailors and aviators who have served Australia to integrate back into civilian life with supports and also, if possible, into meaningful work. It's about more than employment; it's about us living up to the social contract and ensuring that we, the citizens of Australia, fulfill our duty towards veterans, who have donned the uniform and been trained to serve and protect our country and our interests.

Far too many veterans struggle with the move into civilian life. Too many veterans sleep rough, find themselves incarcerated, have difficulties managing their own mental wellbeing and struggle to find a job. I always say that it is a minority, but it's way too many, and we need to do more. Because we campaigned hard on this based on the evidence of so many patriots—young men and women of this country who, having served, made the decision to take their own life—we know that the numbers of deaths by suicide that have been reported aren't the full picture.

I also look forward to hearing, later today, the ministerial statement on the interim report of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide. We know that there is a lot more that we can be doing, and I welcome the interim report to make sure that the royal commission is doing the best it can by our people in order to fix any systemic issues that we know are in the support scheme.

When they transition out of the Defence Force, many of our serving men and women end up, as the previous speaker mentioned, in our emergency services as our first responders—our police, firies and ambos. And aren't we lucky that they do, because they really underpin those emergency services with a lot of skill and knowledge and the attitudes that we need to get after it and to respond where those services are required.

However, we also know that many veterans have feelings of discrimination in the job market, where employers can't see the great employee in front of them when they're applying for jobs. It is outrageous, but it does happen. Some jobs have specific skill sets, but we know, from those who do employ veterans, that you'll find them to be the most eager, competent and thorough members of any corporate, not-for-profit or government team. It is those skills that the ADF training gives them, such as the military appreciation process and risk assessment. Just as a matter of course, every day, decisions that are made have good logic, common sense and that risk assessment process.

The mining industry is reaching out to employ more veterans for all those reasons, but we know that we need to do more. It will help our national productivity. It'll help our sovereignty. It'll help our industries across the board. We are committed to doing everything that we can do to make sure that veterans aren't left behind. I welcome the interim report from the minister later on, and I'm committed to ongoing work with him to improve the lot of our veterans when it comes to their employment.

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I give the call to the member for Riverina.

11:56 am

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Deputy Speaker and Member for Clark—a veteran. I also acknowledge the work and service that the member for Solomon has done for the veteran community. I thank you both for your service, and I thank other members for theirs as well. I quote:

Why employ a veteran?

Veterans come from diverse backgrounds and bring sought-after qualifications, skills, experience and an ability to work collaboratively under pressure

Those words are from an award-winning company, Executive Risk Solutions, founded by its executive chairman, Scott Houston, a former member of the Australian Special Air Service Regiment. Scott served in senior military and corporate roles across a diverse range of international environments. He's a former national winner of the Telstra Business Awards. He's doing his part to help veterans transition into civilian life, into civilian jobs—into highly paid, highly skilled jobs but also many jobs right across the spectrum. He says that there are many, many opportunities for veterans to fit back into civilian life. He says that his recruitment division provides clients with direct access to highly skilled and qualified ex-Australian Defence Force candidates, as well as 5,000 current serving members looking to transfer into civilian careers. Scott's doing his part, and we all should too. I commend the member for Blair for bringing this particular motion forward. Anything that the government can do to help our veterans, I'm sure, members on this side will support too, absolutely, because we need our veterans to know that there are many opportunities available for them.

I also need to point out that not all veterans are broken. There seems to be a perception, sometimes pushed by the media, that veterans come back—some from war engagements, some from peacekeeping arrangements and some who've never left the country but worked in canteens in various Army, Air Force and Navy bases around the country—suffering from PTSD and are of no use to society. Well, they are of use. Each and every one of them has a contribution to potentially make. Each and every one of them has untapped potential, and businesses should avail themselves of those opportunities to employ one of our marvellous veterans who have done their bit for our country. It's now our job, as a nation, to do our bit for them.

I commend the work being done by Bob Bak and his wife, Gladys, of Bethungra—both awarded OAMs—with their Integrated Servicepeople's Association, which is making the links between opportunities for veterans and the veterans themselves. I proudly come from Wagga Wagga. It's the home of the soldier. You know it well, Deputy Speaker Wilkie. Every recruit does their basic training for the Army at Kapooka. If you spend any time in the Royal Australian Air Force, you end up at Forest Hill at Wagga Wagga. And, of course, we even have a Navy base, even though we are a long way from the nearest drop of sea water. We are a proud garrison town. We are a proud military centre.

Five million dollars was offered by the coalition for a wellbeing centre for veterans, and I do worry that that centre may now, potentially, not be located at Wagga Wagga. If ever there was a centre in Australia that requires such a facility, it is Wagga Wagga, in the heart of the Riverina. I know the Wagga Wagga RSL sub-branch, along with the New South Wales RSL, have plans for an advocacy centre for our veterans. I know the work that Charlotte Webb and others have done in that space for the RSL. I am also well aware of the Pro Patria community-led initiative, where they have taken over the centre previously occupied by the Carmelite Sisters at 19 Morshead Street in north Ashmont, in Wagga Wagga. Their board, led by Lyle Salmon, is actively working to make sure that veterans have a future and have hope for a brighter, better future, and that they have employment opportunities.

I commend those two initiatives and urge the government to make sure that that facility is in Wagga Wagga.

12:02 pm

Photo of Peter KhalilPeter Khalil (Wills, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The release of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide interim report in August was a poignant reminder of the toll that service can take on our veterans. Just a few days later, I joined returned service members in my electorate of Wills to commemorate Vietnam Veterans' Day. Our Vietnam veterans know all too well about the challenges and discrimination faced by veterans transitioning to civilian life. They were certainly not—at least, initially—met with the gratitude and ceremony we afford to the commemoration of service in other conflicts. Our returning soldiers from the Vietnam War were met, from segments of society, with criticism, anger, derision and disrespect, which only compounded the trauma they experienced in the conflict. This was the case not just at the end of the conflict but throughout. They copped the political flak for what were government decisions—the very governments that were supposed to look after them yet often fell well short in their own duty. Of course, this issue has endured across generations of veterans, where there have been failures by various governments, of different stripes, in providing the support that veterans require to transition to civilian life. I know a lot of veterans who found it very difficult to come back to their normal life, particularly in our more recent history, from the campaigns in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan.

As part of the work I did in the Australian Department of Defence 20 years ago, I was posted to Iraq for almost a year, in 2003 to 2004, and I worked closely alongside Australian and other coalition forces. It afforded me the opportunity to work alongside our diggers on national security issues, such as rebuilding the Iraqi army, demobilising militias and negotiating with tribal forces to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq. A lot of those soldiers were often very young. Some of them were on their first trip overseas, even, and they had their own experiences. They had their own traumas from what they saw and experienced. Sometimes we call this the horrors of war or the trauma of war, and it affects people very differently. But I think those effects are compounded, certainly, if there is that lack of structural support to help veterans transition to civilian life. That really compounds those challenges that they face. Lack of support to find work, a job, in a market that's already difficult to enter, some discrimination and the lack of that structural support all compound those challenges. And we know, of course, some veterans experience PTSD, and they need those support systems across the board as well.

We see a higher-than-average incidence of unemployment as well as elements of mental illness, and an overrepresentation in homelessness, incarceration and, most tragically, suicide rates. More than 1,200 former and serving defence personnel have taken their lives since 2001. That's a shocking statistic. Those numbers don't really speak to all the individual human stories. Our men and women who served make enormous sacrifices—they really do—and they put their lives on the line for each of us and for our country. I think that puts the onus on us to honour that sacrifice more than in just a commemorative sense—to honour that service by doing what we need to do to ensure that when they return home they have the full support, services and resources that they need. That's a genuine honouring of their service. This is a priority of the Albanese Labor government.

As part of our $24 million employment package for veterans, we will provide veterans with support to return to civilian life. We will raise awareness of the benefits to be had in employing veterans, which we're talking about today, and it's great to see the bipartisan support for that. We will support veterans education and training. We will promote veterans business opportunities. We'll help train and provide educational opportunity opportunities to help veterans adapt their skills—and they are great skills—that they develop in service to transition to new forms of employment. It's a package that will also ensure we cut the wait times at the Department of Veterans' Affairs by funding 500 staff to speed up the processing of claims and so on. It will deliver 10 veterans hubs across the country that will provide important mental health, wellbeing, employment, housing and other services. It will increase the totally and permanently incapacitated veterans pension, recognise the increasing cost-of-living pressures on veterans, and implement a veterans homelessness plan. We are getting to work on this very, very important work that needs to be done to genuinely and substantively honour our veterans and work that they have done for us and for our nation.

12:06 pm

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker Wilkie, I acknowledge your service and that of the member for Wills. There seems to be a growing cohort of veterans in this place, which is a great thing. I've never served in the military. I have a great deal of respect for those that have. When I think of veterans, I think of people like my political parents, Elizabeth and Ron Worthington, who served in the Royal Australian Air Force. I think of my next-door neighbour and friend Greg Keiley, who served as a navy clearance diver. I think of all the men and women that I have met in my role as the member for Fisher through organisations like the RSL and its various sub-branches in my electorate, Young Veterans, SMEAC, and all those veterans organisations which do terrific work.

Fisher is home to one of the largest veteran populations in the country. If you're going to retire, why not retire on the Sunshine Coast? That's pretty demonstrative of people in almost all lines of work—it appears everybody wants to end up on the Sunshine Coast, and why wouldn't they? But that brings certain challenges, and the challenges that veterans face are many and varied. I've often spoken in this place about those challenges, but it's worth while bringing them up again. Those challenges essentially arise out of transitioning into civilian life. One minute these men and women are flying, driving, sailing or being responsible for multimillion dollar or sometimes multibillion dollar equipment. They have the benefit of what we all long for, and that's a sense of mission—a sense of purpose, something to get us out of bed in the morning. They have that camaraderie that you would well know, Deputy Speaker. But when they leave the military they often lose that sense of purpose, that mission, that camaraderie—unless they replace it with something else. And many young men, particularly young men who leave the military involuntarily, either from a disciplinary perspective or a health perspective, find that transition extremely difficult. This is where it is vitally important that the government of Australia, no matter what political stripe it may wear, step in and support them.

The member for Riverina said something very poignant in his speech earlier. He said that not all men and women who leave the military are broken and busted, and I could not agree more. Our men and women who transition from the military are, by and large, successful, happy and go on to lead very fulfilling lives, and good on them. But a small number of them struggle. They struggle because of the lack of a sense of purpose or a sense of mission and because of the lack of the family connection that they enjoyed when they were in the military. They struggle because of not being wanted, not being needed and no longer being entrusted to use very expensive equipment.

This is where I think we've got a really great opening for governments of Australia. I have been to see every veterans' affairs minister and encouraged them to implement a similar concept to what the United States did after World War II, which they called the GI Bill. The GI Bill provided free tertiary education to US servicemen, essentially, because that's what it was after World War II—men and women. It provided free tertiary education to help re-integrate them and to help transition them into civilian life. It replaces that concept of mission or purpose. Studying for an undergraduate degree or even, perhaps, a postgraduate degree is a great opportunity to shift your focus from the military to civilian life.

I want to acknowledge the great work that's being done by the Australian Catholic University, Griffith University, and the University of the Sunshine Coast in this regard. All three universities are doing some tremendous work—without a lot of assistance from governments, I might add. They're doing this off their own bat. They should be acknowledged. It is so incredibly important that governments get behind these tertiary organisations and, more importantly, get behind their veterans.

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) 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 sitting.