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Transcript of remarks at the Australian War Memorial: 4 October 2012: announcement of CPL Mark Donaldson VC as patron-in-chief of Solider On

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Minister for Defence - Remarks at the Australian War Memorial

4 October 2012



DATE: 4 October 2012

TOPICS:Announcement of CPL Mark Donaldson VC as patron-in-chief of Solider On

STEPHEN SMITH: Well Peter [Leahy], thank you very much for that and thank you for your

kind remarks. It’s a very, very good thing you do as Chair of Soldier On, so congratulations on

your contribution. Can I acknowledge Mark Donaldson VC. Can I also acknowledge Sergeant

Michael Lyddiard, who will be speaking to you subsequently, who is a Wounded Ambassador for

Soldier On. Can I acknowledge the Chief of Army, David Morrison and also my parliamentary

colleague, Parliamentary Secretary Mike Kelly. It’s my honour and privilege, Peter, to be here

today to associate myself with in some respects the launch of Soldier On, but also as you put

it, to make a significant announcement about the support that there is in the community and in

the Defence Force, both current and retired for Soldier On. Soldier On was launched earlier this

year by John Bale and Cavin Wilson, two young men, and the launch of this project will stand

for a long time as a tribute to their good work.

I’m reliably informed that one of them - I won’t name them, or name one of them - I’m

reliably informed that one of them from time to time is known to take beer out of the Chief of

the Defence Force- General Hurley’s fridge. So the fact that one of them can do that and get

Soldier On up and running is a significant reflection on the talents of these two young men. The

purpose of Soldier On is to support Australian service men and service women who have been

wounded in conflict, whether it’sAfghanistan,Iraqor indeed future conflicts. And its objective is

to help those service men and service women who have been wounded, whether it’s a physical

wounding or whether it’s psychological; whether it’s being physically wounded or being

mentally wounded. And it’s in the psychological wounding that very much, if not all of the focus

of Solider On is appropriately placed.

It’s another very fine example of individual Australians joining together to support service men

and service women who’ve made a contribution and who’ve come back from a conflict having

served their nation and their people proudly, but carrying the consequences of being a

wounded warrior. Peter referred to the effort that governments make - that successive

Australian Governments over a long period of time have made to help, assist, support and

contribute to wounded warriors who have returned from conflict, and also their families.

Governments do their bit. Governments can do, and we are, doing more, and I’ll mention a

couple Government initiatives which are under the portfolio management of Warren Snowdon,

the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel who’s not able to be here. He’s currently in

theNorthern Territory. But governments have always done their bit, but Australians have

always grouped together into organisations, whether it’s the RSL, whether it’s Legacy, whether

it’s other organisations to do their bit too. And that I think is part of the great Australian

tradition; the great Australian tradition of looking after those people who have made their

contribution in conflict.

I’ll mention just a couple of programs. The Simpson Assist Program is dedicated to this general

purpose. The support for wounded, injured, or ill program is I think a significant advancement

and a significant contribution. The aim of that program is to avoid, reduce, eliminate, get over

what we’ve seen occur in the past which is service men and service women falling through the

cracks when they return from conflict; falling through cracks that exist between defence and

Veterans Affairs. AndWarrenis doing a lot of good work together with Veterans Affairs and the

Chief of Army to make that transition a seamless one. The second initiative I want to mention

is an initiative of the Chief of Army; his wounded, injured or ill-digger forum. There’s now been

three such forums which have involved wounded Australian service men and service women

and also their families. And this year, last month he made a point of ensuring that the focus of

this year’s forum was on mentally wounded service men and service women. And this was a

very good initiative by the Chief of Army, and underlined his commitment to doing everything

we can in this area. And that commitment I know from my conversations with the Chief - with

General Hurley - is shared by him. But anyone who has read General Morrison’s e-mail to his

commanders in the aftermath of that forum would be in no doubt, and under no illusions about

David Morrison’s personal commitment to this area. And there are a couple of aspects of his

priorities which I think are both right and very important.

Firstly, the fact that the forum focused on mental illness, on the mentally wounded, on the

psychologically wounded was of itself a significant event and occasion. His involvement of

families, the focus on reducing and eliminating the stigma in this area, and also establishing a

pilot program for mentoring - learning from those who have already come home and suffered

from these consequences. So I think that underlines the commitment that the Chief of the

Defence Force, Chief of Army, Warren Snowdon and the Government have to working in this

area. We of course these days - whilst we have a number of overseas operations focused on

Afghanistan, I made the point earlier, Peter made it very strongly about how successive

governments have assisted people who come home wounded. But in the area of private

citizens getting together to help and assist, we’ve seen over the last five or six years as a

direct result of our engagement in Afghanistan three trusts set up, initiated privately,

supported by government, supported by the Defence Force, the Defence Organisation, and

Army, which has also seen assistance to the families who have suffered fatalities in

Afghanistan. But also the families of those who come home wounded. The SAS Trust, the

Commando Welfare Trust, and the Legacy Services Trust which we now call the Australian

Defence Force Assistance Trust so as to ensure there’s no confusion with Legacy generally.

These are three very good examples of where the institutions of Defence and the institutions of

state have joined with private citizens to add to what occurs at the Government service level. I

mentioned the Legacy Services Trust, and of course with that combination of SAS Trust,

Commando Welfare Trust, and Australian Defence Force Assistance Trust we cover the field of

all of our people who have made a contribution in Afghanistan and who have returned

wounded, or in those 38 cases of the terrible tragedy of families who have lost their loved

ones. And the objective of these trusts is to particularly provide for families, particularly

children’s education. So that’s a very good addition that we’ve seen in this area over the last

five or six years. I referred to Legacy and it’s here that I - now - make some remarks about

Mark Donaldson VC and also introduce him and make the announcement that Peter referred to.

There’s this old adage that Mike Kelly and I know which is called ’what’s said on the floor of the

House stays on the floor of the House’ . Sporting teams say ’what’s said on tour stays on tour’.

And in Mark’s case, the last time I spent some considerable time with Mark was when I gave

him a lift fromDarwintoPerthtogether withUSAmbassador Beazley. And the condition of him

getting on the plane was that he told us some things about himself for the five or six hour

journey. And I’d love to tell you some of those things, but I’m bound by the convention which

says ’what is said on the plane stays on the plane’. But the three of us had an enjoyable

conversation, and to say that Bomber Beazley was mightily impressed would be a massive

understatement. Everyone knows of Mark’s great achievements on the field of battle, reflected

by the VC that he was awarded a couple of years ago. I think also everyone is impressed with

not just what Mark does on the field of battle, but how he conducts himself and carries himself

in general life. How he conducts himself off the field of battle.

There’s an old saying, ’often you can judge a person by the cut of his cloth and the way he

carries himself ’. And I think you can say that very advisedly of Mark. Humble in the greatness

of his achievements, self-effacing, but also a person who is not shy to associate himself with

good causes. I mentioned Legacy. Mark’s a Legacy boy and publicly, openly, and regularly

supports Legacy. That I think comes from a great trait and characteristic that he has which is

also a great Australian characteristic, value, and virtue which is understanding there’s always

someone around who’s less well off than you are. There’s always someone around who needs,

or is deserving, or who requires a helping hand. And to me that sums up Mark Donaldson.

Someone who understands that you can give a helping hand.

The fact that he as one of our very small number of VC awardees is prepared to put his

shoulder to the wheel and support Soldier On again is a very good thing that he does, and I’m

very pleased to announce that today, Mark Donaldson VC has accepted the position of Patron

in Chief of Soldier On. Mark - for that contribution, you have our thanks. Again, thank you for

making a substantial contribution off the field. Your support will bring considerable focus,

attention, and support for Soldier On generally, and in your now announced capacity as Patron

in Chief of Soldier On, I’d like you to make some remarks.

Thank you.