Tuesday, 3 December 2019
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Senator Reynolds. Julie-Ann Finney has collected nearly 270,000 signatures on a petition to the minister to call a royal commission into veteran suicide. Ms Finney's son David was a veteran who suffered from PTSD and, sadly, took his life in February. Last month the minister rejected calls for a royal commission into veterans affairs. He reportedly told Ms Finney that he would rather hold hundreds of coronial inquests than call a royal commission. Does the minister believe that DVA's approach to veteran suicide is working?
I thank Senator Lambie for her question. I also commend the senator for her deep and abiding interest in and support for our veterans. It's greatly appreciated. Can I start by saying that it is a national tragedy that over 3,000 Australians take their own lives every year. There is no single solution to this sad and highly complex issue. When it comes to suicide, the only acceptable number for veteran suicides is zero and the only acceptable number for the Australian people more broadly is also zero.
The government recognises the sacrifices made by ADF members and their families. The loss of a current or former member is deeply felt by the entire Defence community and also, I know, by all in this chamber. The government considers that all options should be on the table to address this complex issue of suicide across the Australian community, which, of course, includes our veterans. As the Prime Minister has said, and, I understand, has just reaffirmed in the other place, it has not been ruled out and it is under active consideration, along with the government's response to the Productivity Commission report, and a range of other issues.
The Productivity Commission report itself was tabled in parliament on 4 July this year. It outlines very comprehensive recommendations to update a century-old system of support for veterans and their families to ensure that it is fit for purpose for the next 100 years. We're very grateful for the bipartisan approach adopted by those on the other side of the chamber.
We are talking extensively to veterans, their families and all other stakeholders to co-design the next DVA and Defence mental health and wellbeing strategy and also a national action plan for veterans. But transforming DVA is only part of the solution. The broader issue of veteran suicide cannot just be fixed by government alone. Like suicide more generally, it is an issue for us all. (Time expired)
Our veterans are clearly struggling to cope with PTSD and other afflictions that they have developed as a result of their service, but DVA seems hell-bent on making their lives more miserable than ever. Is the minister aware that the department is currently fighting the claims of 94-year-old World War II veteran, and holder of a Military Cross, John Hutcheson. Why is the DVA going after vulnerable war veterans at 94 years of age?
Mr President, I will have to take on notice the particular case that Senator Lambie cited. But can I just say that I do not for a second believe that DVA has anything but the best interests of all veterans at heart. I just want to quote some of what the Prime Minister has just said in the other place. He said that he wanted to thank the department and the ADF for the changes that have been implemented. Again, I note that they have had bipartisan support through the various tranches of legislation that have already gone through this chamber. The Prime Minister said, as he said to Julie-Ann Finney:
I wish that those arrangements had been in place when her son was in the Defence Force. I wish they had been in place for all of those Australians who have served in our defence forces and have passed away by their own hand.
The Prime Minister said that all of those lessons are now being put into place. He also said that he welcomes further input and feedback from veterans on the other side of the chamber—in fact on all sides of the chamber. Today he met with the member for Herbert to discuss this further. (Time expired)
Stories like this one show that the DVA and Defence are not looking after our veterans who are vulnerable. The Minister for Veterans' Affairs won't commit to holding a royal commission, so I have to ask this, as one woman who served to another: you were a brigadier. Both Defence and DVA have diggers under them who are actually hurting a lot and not getting their claims through the Department of Veterans' Affairs. I want to know why the top brass—it used to be the 'top brass'—in our military are not standing by their former diggers and asking for a royal commission?
Again, I thank Senator Lambie. I will extend an offer to Senator Lambie to come to me, please, with specific cases and specific details, or to go to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, and we can work through those individual cases.
But just to confirm: the Prime Minister has again reiterated today that he has given an undertaking to reflect further on the issue of a royal commission. He will reflect on that deeply over the break, including doing more consultations. I'll also say, Senator Lambie, that Defence does recognise that transitioning from military service to civilian service can be a significant life-changing event for the 5½ thousand people every year who transition out of Defence. While the vast majority do transition very successfully, we do know and understand that there is a percentage who do not. This is why we have put in a comprehensive range of measures within both Defence and DVA, to make sure that we identify the people potentially at risk much earlier and assist them— (Time expired)