Standing up for Canberra

Ministerial Statement on Veterans and Their Families

Our ADF personnel put their lives on hold in service of our country. They take risks, they make sacrifices and they commit their lives and wellbeing to the protection of this country.

Upon return, the scars these men and women wear and bear are not always visible. But the message we on this side of the chamber want to send today and which also was sent by our Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs, the member for Kingston, yesterday is that Labor stands by our ADF personnel and stands by their families. That point couldn't be made clearer than by taking a close look at the policies that have been announced by Labor's shadow minister for veterans' affairs, the member for Kingston.

The member for Kingston has announced a range of initiatives to underscore Labor's commitment to veterans. These include a veterans' employment policy, a family engagement and support strategy and, most recently, Australia's first military covenant.

Veterans' unemployment has been cited as sitting at 30 per cent, which is significant. For those who did not medically discharge, there is an estimated 11 per cent unemployment rate, which is more than double the national rate. This is simply unacceptable, which is why the member for Kingston has developed a comprehensive veterans' employment policy that will provide greater support for our Defence personnel as they transition to civilian life. The policy focuses on helping businesses train veterans. It focuses on a new veterans' employment service. It focuses on expanding access to additional education and civilian training and translating the experience of veterans.

Our veterans', as ADF personnel, are incredibly well trained. We've got a lean and mean Australian Defence Force. As a result of that, those ADF personnel are incredibly well trained across a broad range of areas. Unfortunately, all that training, all that investment that is made in the highly skilled and professional Australian Defence Force is not translating into civilian life. I can't understand why, when they are so highly trained. This is why focusing on that transition, as this policy does, is so vitally important. It ensures that we get the best translation of those skills and that training that they have in the Australian Defence Force into the civilian area. In areas like recognition of prior learning, it is vitally important for the skills and training that the ADF personnel have. There is recognition of prior learning in the academic setting, ensuring that that translates into units and credits. There is a range of other areas.

I've spoken many times on this employment policy that was announced a few months ago by the Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs, the member for Kingston, and once again I commend all those listening to read the policy to gain an understanding of it. Again, I commend the member for developing the policy.

I also want to commend our Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs for the announcement that a Labor government will put in place a formal agreement—a military covenant—to ensure the nation's armed forces are fully supported during and after their service. We will legislate regular reporting to Parliament of developments in that area, particularly on how we are supporting our ADF personnel. This policy will change the lives of veterans. It's a policy that has been modelled on what's actually happened in the United Kingdom, I understand. It's something that the community has been calling for some time, and the Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs has listened to the community, has responded to the community and has come up with this suggestion and commitment that, should Labor win government, we will put in place a formal agreement under the auspices of a military covenant.

In terms of families, we all know the ADF put their lives on hold in service of our country, and in many ways so too do those families that are supporting our ADF personnel: constantly moving around the country, constantly changing schools, constantly changing jobs, constantly there to support ADF personnel in difficult circumstances, particularly when they're deployed.

It's vitally important that our support is provided not only to our ADF personnel and our veterans but also to our ADF families, who play a pivotal role in supporting our current serving ADF men and women and our veterans. These men, women and children are the unsung heroes of our defence forces, and greater support for our military families is greater support for our serving and ex-serving personnel.

Our family engagement and support strategy is one of the key recommendations from the National Mental Health Commission's Review into the suicide and self-harm prevention services available to current and former serving ADF members and their families. The review highlighted that there is currently a lack of emphasis on the critical role that families play in the lives of current and former serving members. We know that families play an especially unique role in military life and service, themselves making many sacrifices. Our ADF personnel and veterans look to their families for support while in service, in transition and in civilian life. There's no doubt that families also play a critical role in providing support to our serving and ex-serving personnel suffering from mental health issues. Labor is committed to developing this family engagement and support strategy, which will be co-designed with Defence and veteran's families and communities to focus on known stress points for families, including transition for Defence members into civilian life. You can imagine how stressful it is going from that very particular environment into civilian life. That's why we need to provide those supports through the exit process and then through the transition process.

I also mention that, as we know, there are so many support groups out there for veterans. One of them is here in Canberra, and I just want to do a shout-out to them. It's the ACT Veterans Rugby Club. It's a bit like a men's shed. It's an inclusive environment for men from all walks of life who just want to run around and have some fun, but it's more than that. I acknowledge the importance that this organisation has to our service and ex-service personnel and their families. ACT Veterans Rugby consists of men aged over 35 who have a love for rugby. They compete against a variety of Defence Force teams like the Navy Old Salts, the RAAF Mirages, the RASigs, RMC staff and cadets and the crew of the HMAS Canberra in charity matches. ACT Vets Rugby has raised almost $240,000 for charities based in the ACT since they've been holding these fundraising events and matches. Thank you so much for the work you do. Apart from keeping veterans on the rugby field—husband, take note: this is not a suggestion that you should put the boots back on; you are banned from getting involved in rugby again.

An honourable member:  Is he watching?

I don't know whether he's watching, but just in case he gets a glimmer in his eye and a rush of blood about scoring the final try for Australia. Thank you to ACT Vets Rugby for everything you've done in keeping our veterans healthy and engaged in sport and also for raising funds for the community.

Finally, in closing I acknowledge one Canberra veteran who has been involved in the Vietnam Veterans Association for many years and in many ways is the brains behind the logistics of the Long Tan ceremony that we hold here each year down at the Vietnam veterans memorial. His name is Peter Ryan. He was involved in the Vietnam War. Peter earned an Order of Australia Medal for his 20-year dedication to helping veterans. He was the ACT president of the Vietnam Veterans Association from 2003 to 2013 and was also national vice-president for two of those years. He has been very actively involved in the Vietnam veteran’s community for many years. Unfortunately last year Peter passed away after a long battle with cancer, but he did get to see that final Long Tan anniversary service. Vale Peter Ryan. Thank you for your service to our Vietnam vets.