Tuesday, 16 June 2020
Political Donations, Veterans: Suicide
You are abusing the public's trust. That is what you are doing. You are selling us out in darkness for profit. Every single election pamphlet you print out should have a little message on the bottom of it: 'This pamphlet was paid for with dirty money.' You think the voters are idiots. You think you can just keep hiding this from them and nobody will do anything about it. Well, I have bad news for you. We see what you are doing. We all know that every time the Liberal and Labor parties get together to work on our donation laws, the loopholes get bigger and bigger. They are so big these days that you could just about drive a jumbo jet through them. We are seeing it happen again this week.
Ladies and gentlemen, here is the latest in a long line of betrayals of the public's trust. It is a bill to change our electoral laws that was introduced by the government last week. It would completely undermine strict rules on political donations in states like New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. I have a sinking feeling that the Liberal and Labor parties want to rush it through without even sending it to an inquiry. Won't that be another shameful day! I have that feeling because that is exactly what they are going to do. The bill would let the major parties' branches ignore the donation laws in their state and territory by claiming that they are using the money for federal purposes. What a load of rubbish. Just write 'For the feds' on a brown paper bag and you can give whatever you want, no matter who you are. Just like magic, you can get a free pass from the state laws. State branches of the major parties get to say, 'We don't accept dodgy donations,' while they are accepting them behind the scenes the whole time. It is designed to give politicians the chance to get money from developers while they say that they never received it—nothing to see here! It's designed to let them get away with keeping us all in the dark about where they get their money from, like it isn't already dark enough. I can't help but wonder: was the October Queensland state election in Minister Cormann's mind when he introduced this legislation? It'll almost certainly benefit the LNP up there. You can bet your bottom dollar on that one. Minister, do you reckon Queensland voters are okay with being sold out like this or did you simply hope that they wouldn't notice?
The sad fact is that Labor is in on it too. The major parties are working out a deal to avoid even a hint of public scrutiny, because they know that if this bill went to a committee inquiry they'd get torn to shreds. They know that it'll expose what they're really trying to do here and what they're up to. Well, here's a message to the Labor senators: if you don't finally grow a spine, especially after the last 48 hours, and insist that this bill goes straight to a full committee review, you might as well pack up your bags and go home, because you're all but done for the next election. If you wave this through, voters will finally know for sure that we don't really have an opposition party in this parliament any longer. We've suspected it for a long time, and I'm sorry to have to say that. For a long time, we've seen that the opposition will roll over for the government like dogs if it suits both political interests. I'm sick of these politicians who think they can buy their seats and not tell us where they got that money from and be transparent with the public about that. Seriously, you're just letting yourselves be bought and sold by the highest bidder, and the only thing missing in parliament these days is the auctioneer.
Two months ago thousands of people stood in their driveways at dawn and said, 'We will remember them.' Three years ago, Jesse Bird was alive. Jesse enlisted in 2007 and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2009. Two months later, Jesse's friend was killed by an improvised explosive device. Jesse came back in 2010, and his mum, Karen, said that he was different—he was moody; he was distant; he was evasive. On his post-service health examination, he said he was binge drinking and wasn't sleeping. Nobody in DVA screened his psychological health. Defence didn't hand over the recommendation from Jesse's occupational health and safety report, saying that he needed ongoing psychological treatment. The assessor didn't know about it. As a matter of fact, he got the all clear.
His partner at the time, Connie, said he was having night terrors and mood problems. She told him he had PTSD and that he should go and see someone about it. She helped him approach DVA for help. In 2016, they had a miscarriage. It broke both of their hearts, and not long after their relationship broke down. Jesse's family was scared that he was suicidal. His trauma was due to his service; it was due to his status as a veteran. He needed his department to be there for him, and for a while it seemed like they would be. DVA accepted liability for Jesse's claim. They acknowledged they'd received Jesse's needs assessment form, but he didn't hear anything further from them.
The whole time Jesse is telling his volunteer advocate that he feels like a burden. His advocate calls DVA to tell them he thinks Jesse is suicidal. He says, 'It's due to money.' He says, 'It's due to the time it's taking to process Jesse's claim.' Jesse hasn't heard anything for months and he lodges another claim for financial help. DVA acknowledges they've received it. They arrange for a doctor to check if Jesse qualifies for support. He meets the doctor in November. The doctor says Jesse isn't stable. DVA rejects Jesse's claim for compensation, and Jesse learns about it like so many others have: from a letter. Nobody explains the decision. Nobody explains he has a right of appeal. And here's the brutal truth of it: DVA's own policy manual says Jesse should not have been rejected. Once again, like so many others, it should never have happened. That letter should not exist. Instead, it does. It arrives and he opens it, reads it and is absolutely shattered, devastated.
DVA was the last little bit of light at the end of the tunnel, and, with one letter, the light goes out. Jesse writes to DVA and says:
… I would and have come close to becoming another suicide statistic. I've done my time and now I need your help …
'I've done my time and now I need your help.' DVA send another email back to Jesse, and—you wouldn't believe it—like many people, they get the email wrong. I just don't know how they do that. Nobody at DVA does anything about Jesse's threat of suicide. And nobody, still today, like with Jesse, bothers to follow up. Jesse is dead two days later. He's found alone in his room, wearing his uniform, 'duty first' printed on his jumper. He's surrounded by his medals, his military equipment and his DVA claim rejection letter—the one that should never have existed. Why did Jesse deserve this? How the hell do we let a veteran who's given everything to his country, who has served us with all he can give, die alone in a room, broken and bankrupt, covered in letters saying he deserves absolutely nothing?
Three years ago, the department lost Jesse. Since then, they've lost at least 150 more, and I'm being conservative. The scale of this absolutely breaks my heart. Jesse's family want a royal commission because they know there is no other way to get to the heart of what's breaking and taking our bravest. It needs independence, transparency, full powers and authority. It needs a royal commission. It's going to take more than what the government has announced. It will take more than a cut-price coroner and a review of the last 17 reviews from the last 17 years. Why would you put in place a commissioner that doesn't pick up a pen and start doing his job until the veteran is already dead? Who does that? Who does that? It's been three years since we lost Jesse, and he should be here. He should still be here.
Politicians get photographs saying 'lest we forget'. Well, guess what. You forgot—and you're still forgetting. We failed Jesse and we'll fail another veteran this week and next week and the week after. We failed Dave, we failed Michael, we failed Ian and we failed Daniel, and every week that we fail them we break that pledge; we let ourselves forget. Every week that we accept some cut-rate coroner instead of a royal commission into veterans suicide, we break that pledge. Well, I'm not breaking it; I refuse to lie down and break it. So this is my line in the sand. Lest we forget.