Veterans - Annual Statement

Federation Chamber on 25/10/2018


It's pleasing to be able to speak for a second year running on the annual ministerial statement on veterans and their families. Representing Brisbane in the federal parliament, with the Enoggera Barracks on the edge of that electorate means I have the absolute privilege of spending a lot of time with serving Defence personnel as well as the many veterans across our community in Brisbane. As I noted last year when the inaugural statement was made, these ministerial statements are opportunities for governments to measure their efforts, their progress and their progress in policy and administration. They're intended, I think, quite deliberately to be a frank, warts-and-all type of assessment of how we're doing here in Australia—the good and the bad—and they should act as a yardstick over time for how government's performance is measured and viewed.

I see this deliberate approach by governments in more and more areas of critical policy. When these critical and complex issues are finally canvassed in the community, when problems are finally brought out from under the carpet, enter the national conversation and get the recognition that important issues deserve, it naturally follows that governments provide more resources, more focus, more efforts and more funding. But it's about more than that. These ministerial statements and the work behind them are about making a really conscious effort to try new things to succeed and to fail fast if some attempts, experiments or initiatives are indeed going to fail, but, when things work, to quickly ramp up on those successes. Further, these ministerial statements can accept and respond to the fact that all people are unique. Their needs and their experiences will be different. There's often no magic bullet or any one-size-fits-all policy. In other words, these annual ministerial statements are a very deliberate commitment to a process that will guide us to keep doing better.

In this year's annual ministerial statement, delivered yesterday, the minister mentioned a number of priorities where the government is addressing some serious DVA service problems, overhauling the systems of the DVA and getting them into the digital age—new online capabilities and services—leading to faster claims processing and also moving to that single point of telephone contact, 1800 VETERAN. The minister also mentioned continuing good work in areas like employment initiatives and transition-to-work programs. The minister also mentioned a number of independent experts and reviewers looking in their work at different ways to make the next round of big improvement. This includes work by the Productivity Commission into rehabilitation and compensation systems, studies into advocacy and support systems, and more.

There were a number of new initiatives and trials that were outlined in this year's statement, and a few of them in particular caught my eye and I thought would be particularly relevant given some of the stories and experiences that I hear around my electorate of Brisbane when I talk to serving personnel and veterans. The ones that caught my eye included a new annual comprehensive health assessment by a GP for all separating ADF members; a new family support initiative, so providing extra child care and counselling services for the children and families of veterans who have undertaken warlike service; a new payment to support financially vulnerable veterans and their families while they await decisions on a claim they've made for mental health conditions, and early access to rehabilitation services; a new 24/7 counselling service for veterans and their families called Open Arms, which was launched by the minister recently; and, interestingly I thought, a trial using assistance dogs, which will be paired with veterans with post-traumatic stress. Those were some really interesting new initiatives and trials that had been announced and brought together in this year's ministerial annual statement. There were many others listed in the statement, but I won't repeat them all now.

On a related topic, the minister also mentioned in the statement the Invictus Games, currently underway in Sydney. It would be remiss of me not to mention a local Brisbane hero at the Invictus Games, Emma Kadziolka, who on Monday won a gold medal and a silver medal for indoor rowing. One for endurance and one for sprint. Emma was actually the co-captain of the Australian Invictus Games team last year, and so it seems Emma is really continuing to go from strength to strength this year. Congratulations to Emma, she's making her city and her country so very proud. We know that 'invictus' means 'unconquered', and all of our athletes, I believe, at the Invictus Games truly embody that spirit.

On another related topic, I want to mention how pleased I was just a few weeks ago to take the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, to a special fundraising lunch in Brisbane being run by a local community group called 42 for 42. The name 42 for 42 comes about because of their mission, which is to commemorate the 41 Australian service personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, and the 42nd represents all of those who have come back, and those who have lost their lives to mental health and suicide. They have a very special mission; they are hoping to build a memorial in Brisbane in an incredibly iconic location, in a beautiful memorial garden right next to the Suncorp Stadium. The lunch they held in Brisbane the other week was to raise awareness of their quest, but also to raise much-needed funds. It was so pleasing to see so much of the local community come together to support their fundraising and awareness efforts, including the Former Origin Greats, Kev Walters and all sorts of other people from around the community, including Rupert McCall, a poet who made a fantastic and emotional contribution to the lunch.

In conclusion, to all ADF service personnel, to all our veterans, to their children, to their families in Brisbane and right around the nation: thank you for your service and for your sacrifices. Australians should be proud of the many ways we do serve and care for our veterans and their families, but we strive, as we should, to do more and to do better. This year's annual ministerial statement on veterans and their families has been a useful marker for our progress, and it also serves as a road map and a guide for our next steps. I'm determined, as I'm sure is every member of this parliament, that we do not fail. We owe it to the many men and women who've served our country, and to their families. Thank you.