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Transcript of doorstop interview with Ewen Jones: 3 October 2012: Support for returning personnel, budget cuts in Defence



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Transcript - Doorstop with Ewen Jones, Member for Member for Herbert October 3, 2012

RE: Support for returning personnel, budget cuts in Defence

David Johnston: I have just been to John Cantwell’s book launch he, as a Major General, talked about Post

Traumatic Stress Disorder. I have been speaking to the former Surgeon General in the Army and he says almost all

of our troops have some form or degree of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder coming back from Afghanistan and from

Iraq.

We spent just under $2 million for research into the psychological effects of this disorder; and that money was

virtually nickel-and-dimes on such an important subject. I am very keen that we offer the worlds best practice in

dealing with our troops when they come home to get them to express their feelings about post traumatic stress and to

come forward in a way that doesn’t mean this is a stigma, in a way that we can, as I say, practice world best practice

in getting to the bottom of this psychological stress.

Now, of all the syndromes and residues of our war against terror, this is in my mind one of the most important and I

will be looking to transition our troops across as they leave Defence and become veterans, entering the Department

of Veterans’ Affairs, in a way that gives them some meaningful and proper treatment. I think that I have a better

knowledge than most about how serious this problem is. May I say that we intend to attack it in a much more

vigorous, comprehensive way than ever this government has.

Ewen Jones: Can I just add to that at Lavarack here we see the uniform members getting on the front foot

themselves. Every exercise they do, every thing we do overseas, every action we have is an opportunity to learn, and

opportunity to improve.

The recovery and rehabilitation centre that is being piloted here in Townsville (at Lavarack Barracks) is a crucial step

in recognising it, dealing with it and being out and open about it. We all see these things, we all speak on the

condolence motions in Canberra and those people that have tragically paid the ultimate price - and whose families

have to pay an incredibly price - but it is the unmarked veteran that comes back, that is the penalty.

That is the price Australia has to be prepared to pay going into the future. It is a very real cost, something that we are

very aware of and something that the uniforms in Defence are very aware of. They know about this and they are

working on it with every operation we do they improve on the way we act on it.

Journalist:In the case of this alleged incident, the Private was downgraded as not fit for duty, but he still had a bullet

proof vest and a replica rifle. Can you comment on security of bases?

David Johnston: Well we have had a number of issues of security at bases. I’m not fully aware of what has

happened in this domestic situation here in Townsville, it is concerning. But can I say that, along with what Ewen has

said, we have become very aware from Iraq and now Afghanistan that posttraumatic stress disorder is a very real

problem. We are dealing with it, and we can deal with it in an even more determined and effective way.

Force protection is, from an Opposition perspective, our number one priority. Force protection extends to

management of troops upon their return; this is a crucial issue. Now, it might be that this young man is a timely wake-up call that we need to keep on the front foot in regard to PTSD. I am really determined that we transition these

young men and young women out of Defence - if they want to leave the defence force - over to being under the

jurisdiction of Verterans’ Affairs in a meaningful and proper way.

I talk to them regularly about what the transition is like, how they are travelling, how their treatment is progressing and

whether they feel stigmatised. I don’t want them to feel stigmatised, when a Major General is telling you this is a very

real problem people should feel confident in coming forward and putting their concerns - as to how they are sleeping,

how they are feeling - on the table.

Ewen Jones: When you think about post-Vietnam, we did nothing for these people. After every war we would just

send them to the pub or we would call them cowards. Now, the way we have improved, the way Defence has

improved, the way we deal with this thing is an ongoing issue. No system is perfect, no system will ever be perfect

but what we are seeing is a continually improvement and a continually attack by Defence on this issue. It is a very

real issue and it is something that no one shies away from. There will always be cracks, and there will always be

people falling through but we have got to narrow the cracks and limit the number of people falling through.

Journalist: With the high amount of money that has been cut from the Defence budget, as you were just pointing out

before, and with them saying it won’t affect frontline services do you think support services - such as the one that

would be supporting this young fellow and others - will falter and will suffer?

David Johnston: Obviously money of the magnitude that we are talking about has to have an effect. You simply can

not remove these sorts of numbers and take us back 70+ years in terms of the defence dollars in the budget. You

can’t do that without seeing a diminution, a reduction, a complete derogation on the level of support and services that

they are getting on the base in terms of medical health and in terms of off-base support.

These are things that really concern me. Unfortunately Canberra really seems to think that defence is an ATM. That

when you have a budget problem and the calculator doesn’t produce the number that you want - bear in mind that

we are chasing a $2.5 billion surplus out of a gross turnover of $500 billion - those numbers don’t add up so they

reach into defence and take money out.

Loyalty breeds loyalty. I want to be loyal to our men and women coming back from Afghanistan. You don’t treat the

portfolio in this way, and a place like Townsville is on the frontline of copping it in the neck from a Government that

simply is not interested in Defence.

And these guys are just - to use Major General Cantwell’ words - this budget was a shocker. They do not understand

defence; they simply treat it as a cash cow.

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