Tuesday, 24 August 2021
Questions without Notice
Defence Personnel, Veterans
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Senator Payne. Can the minister advise the Senate on what measures are available to support serving members of the Australian Defence Force experiencing emotional distress and anxiety, including in my home town of Katherine and in Darwin, in the Northern Territory?
I particularly thank Senator McMahon for this very important question, because we are all very conscious that the devastating developments in Afghanistan are distressing for many of our serving defence personnel and for veterans, including, in particular, the very large defence community in the Northern Territory. We thank and acknowledge the 39,000 Australian men and women who served in Afghanistan and the many more Australians who've served both in campaigns and in peacekeeping efforts around the world, including the Battle of Long Tan, the 55th anniversary of which we marked last week. To all those who have worn an Australian military uniform, and to all of their families: we are grateful for your sacrifices and for the safety and security that you have afforded your fellow Australians.
In turn, we have a duty as a nation to be there for them by ensuring their physical and mental health needs are met. The government is committed to ensuring Australian Defence Force personnel have access to the right support at the right time. Defence has in place mental health services that operate around the clock. These include the confidential telephone support service for both ADF members and their families, the Defence Employee Assistance Program, which provides free professional counselling and support through defence members' chains of command through the chaplaincy service. Defence provides comprehensive mental health support services to deployed forces before, during and after deployments.
To all of those who served in Afghanistan: the government is unequivocal in saying that you did the job your nation asked of you. You did it overwhelmingly with great distinction, and nothing will change that.
The government does operate a range of services for veterans, such as the Open Arms 24/7 counselling service and 1800 VETERAN. Of course, our veterans community has generated an extraordinary depth of support over many years and more recently through groups like Legacy, the RSL, Soldier On, Wounded Heroes and Young Veterans, to name a few. I'm pleased to say that many of our veteran women are playing increasingly important roles as well. Talissa Papamau, who served as an ADF medic in Afghanistan in 2012 and in Papua New Guinea in 2014, founded Modern Soldier, an online veterans network that created a series of groundbreaking videos on post-traumatic stress disorder and now helps veteran-owned businesses to sell their products. The Women Veterans Network Australia connects ex-serving women and fosters a sense of belonging and reduces isolation. I commend all of the women and men working to help Australia's veterans.
Again, I thank Senator McMahon because I know that Senator McMahon has a particular interest in this issue in the Territory. The government recognises that military service creates special bonds between those who serve together and these bonds last for the rest of so many veterans' lives. Nothing can substitute for these bonds, so the very important thing that government can do is to nurture and support connections that the veterans have forged themselves. The Australian government is investing $40 million in a network of veteran wellbeing centres around Australia, one of which is in Darwin. I congratulate Senator McMahon on her support for the veteran community in the Northern Territory and I hope to have the opportunity to visit the Darwin veteran wellbeing centre in the future. It's being led by Mates4Mates in collaboration with a number of local organisations. It will provide a one-stop-shop of support services to veterans and their families.