Senate debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023


Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide

4:21 pm

Photo of Anne UrquhartAnne Urquhart (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak to the motion to take note of the documents at No. 2 on page 6, on the defence and veteran suicide royal commission interim report. In relation to this, I just want to make a few short statements.

Sadly, we know that the latest report found that 1,600 ADF members and veterans with service after 1985 died by suicide between 1997 and 2020. That reveals an additional 327 deaths by suicide since the last year's report, largely due to an expanded study period which now includes an additional five years of data and does not reflect an increased rate of suicide overall. The 2022 report found that the most common risk factors for permanent reserve and ex-serving ADF members who died by suicide were: experiencing a mood or affective disorder, such as depression, and problems in spousal relationships.

One of the things that the Albanese Labor government is doing is that we are delivering on our commitments from the federal election, including a veterans employment strategy and expanding the network of Veterans' and Families' Hubs right around the country. I want to talk specifically about the veterans' hub that I assisted Minister for Defence Personnel Matt Keogh to launch in Burnie on 16 January 2023. The funding was $2.2 million to the veteran welfare board in Burnie, to assist in developing that hub to provide physical and mental health services, advocacy, wellbeing, housing assistance and employment for the whole north-west Tasmania region.

We have a lot of veterans in north-west Tasmania. That area stretches right along the north-west coast, down as far as Marrawah in the far north-west and also down the west coast of Tasmania. It's a really broad area, and quite often it's difficult for some of those veterans to be able to travel even into Burnie. So I was really pleased to understand that part of the funding for the veterans' hub in Burnie was in fact an outreach capacity, where they would have the capability to go to the veterans, rather than the veterans having to come to them in at the hub. It is a really great program that will be implemented in Burnie.

I know the veteran welfare board there were very excited when the final message came through in relation to the funding. It's run by, particularly, volunteers in Burnie, and they're a great bunch of veterans from right across the north-west coast. Obviously, the RSL also plays a very important role in that, not only in Tasmania but also right across the country.

One of the points I want to make in talking about this report is that the Australian government, in implementing the government's response to the royal commission, has agreed to invest $233.9 million to engage 500 new frontline staff at DVA to eliminate the compensation claims backlog. I know that that's been in place for a period of time, and it was really important that we made sure that we cleared that backlog because that was one of the issues that veterans were facing in trying to get their cases managed. We also invested $9.5 million into developing a pathway for simplification and harmonisation of veterans legislation, which again has been a really important factor when I have spoken to veterans and veterans groups about their difficulty in navigating the various parts of the legislation. We're also investing $87 million to modernise the IT systems in the Department of Veterans' Affairs, and that will also help improve the claims processing. We committed $24.3 million to provide increased support to veterans who are having their claims processed and to improve modelling capabilities needed to forecast and manage future demand for DVA services.

In summary, I want to put on the record that the Albanese Labor government accepted the positions expressed in the royal commission's report. We've put in a lot of funding through the last budget, and I was very pleased to see that we supported the veterans hubs, which the previous government commenced. We have continued to do support those hubs, and I was very excited to assist Minister Keogh in opening and kicking off the one in Burnie, on the northwest coast, so we can assist veterans in that area.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.


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