Standing up for Canberra

Transcript: Interview with Dan Bourchier

SUBJECTS: Veterans Access Network

BOURCHIER: Well the frontline Veterans Access Network office in Woden has closed and instead services will be offered by Centrelink. Labor MP for Canberra, Gai Brodtmann, has described the change as a disgraceful attack on veterans. To explain why, she's along. Good morning.

BRODTMANN: Good morning, Dan.

BOURCHIER: Tell me what do you mean by that statement, a disgraceful attack on veterans?

BRODTMANN: These offices are the first point of contact for the veterans’ community. They give them advice on issues from pension benefits, to financial assistance, transport problems and mental health issues. And moving this dedicated service from Corinna Street into the general service in the Department of Human Services in Bowes Street Woden is a disgraceful attack on veterans. Our veterans deserve better. They deserve tailored treatment. And they deserve advice and support that is dedicated to them.

BOURCHIER: So what is your understanding of why this has happened?

BRODTMANN: This is an ongoing attack by the Turnbull Government. It began under Tony Abbott where VANs were closed down in Victoria and New South Wales. In Ballarat, 60 veterans signed a petition to stop the move of the office into DHS, which was unfortunately unsuccessful. But it has been an ongoing attack for some time by Liberal Governments, by the Abbott Government and now the Turnbull Government on veterans.

BOURCHIER: The Government seems, for its part, to have explained it to those getting these services that this will enable veterans and their families’ access to a variety of government services in one location - in a sense to streamline that accessibility surely that is a good thing?

BRODTMANN: My late father-in-law was a Vietnam Veteran and I know he welcomed having dedicated services. I remember being in the Canberra Hospital with him and there was a little office there where he could go and be with other veterans and talk through his issues and his health challenges. So, veterans deserve better. Veterans deserve to have dedicated services and now what this government has done, it means veterans that are generally older - and many suffer from PTSD - will not have these unique services. We’ve heard reports of veterans being forced to stand in line with members of the public. Remember many of these are older veterans. Many of these veterans are suffering from PTSD. And are being forced to stand in line in what can be a very time consuming and stressful process for many of them.

BOURCHIER: Gai Brodtmann, have you heard from any of the veterans and if you have what have they said?

BRODTMANN: Veterans and the ex-service community are furious with the Turnbull Government about moving these services, particularly with such short notice. Veterans were only given four days’ notice. Canberra veterans were only advised four days ago about the change to the service. It's absolutely outrageous and our veterans do deserve better. What they have to do now is go into the DHS office in Bowes Street and identify themselves as veterans and then they will be advised by a customer liaison officer where to go from there. As I mentioned before a lot of these veterans are older, a lot of them are suffering from PTSD, a lot of them are frail. I know from the experience of my late father-in-law that they are frail and they quite often have to go in and have conversations about quite complex issues. They deserve privacy. They deserve respect. They deserve better.

BOURCHIER: And now that this office has closed down is there any chance of reversing this or is it simply a forgone conclusion now?

BRODTMANN: Unfortunately if you judge it by those 60 veterans who signed that petition which was unsuccessful then the Government will not be listening to the concern in the veterans' community and the ex-services' community on this issue. But we can maintain the rage on this. And I do encourage Canberrans to express their concerns by writing to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs.

BOURCHIER: Gai Brodtmann, thank you very much for your time this morning, I appreciate it.

BRODTMANN: Thanks Dan.