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Monday, 26 November 2018
Page: 11506

Ms O'TOOLE (Herbert) (17:02): I rise in this place today to stand up for the veterans, ex-serving personnel and their families not only in my electorate of Herbert but for all those who have served our nation. These are the very men and women who selflessly put their lives on the line so that we can live in the freedoms and democracy that this great nation offers our citizens. These brave men and women fought for our freedom and, as elected representatives, we have a responsibility to fight to ensure that they receive the services that they deserve and need.

I come from Townsville in North Queensland, the home of the largest garrison city in the nation and home to a very large veteran and ex-serving community. Our current and ex-serving members, veterans and their families contribute enormously to the Townsville community both socially and economically. Our community recognises and values their ongoing contributions and service to Townsville, and we are very proud to be a garrison city. We can never fully repay our veterans, ex-serving personnel and their families, but what we can do is ensure that they have access to effective counselling services. If changing the name of the counselling service to Open Arms means that more veterans and ex-serving personnel get access to much-needed counselling then that can only be a very good outcome for these men and women.

Labor is committed to ensuring that veterans and ex-serving personnel and their families are supported. Labor has listened to our current and ex-ADF community, and we have acted. A Shorten government will establish Australia's first military covenant, a formal agreement that will ensure that the nation's Defence Forces are fully supported during and after their service. We will legislate for accountability via regular reporting to the parliament. Labor will deliver a $121 million comprehensive veterans employment strategy to provide greater support to our defence personnel as they transition to civilian life. Labor's policy will have four main platforms that are designed to assist veterans into meaningful employment post their ADF time. Labor will deliver a family engagement and support strategy for defence personnel and veterans.

Labor took note of the recommendations in the National Mental Health Commission's 2017 review to ensure that support for families at known stress points occurs. Labor also pushed to establish the Senate inquiry into antimalarial drugs to ensure people's voices were heard and recognised. Labor have supported the calls to include the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation in the banking royal commission, because we understand that our veterans and their families deserve the right to have their super fund under the same scrutiny as every other Australian.

When I was first elected into my role as the member for Herbert, one of my primary priorities was to establish a mechanism that would enable me to engage meaningfully with the defence community in Townsville. Hence, I established the Townsville Defence Community Reference Group, which has successfully supported and informed the veteran suicide prevention trial being conducted by the Northern Queensland Primary Health Network, which I note is one of the most successful suicide prevention trials in the country. The group has also been instrumental in the formation of the leading veterans and ex-service personnel defence hub, known as the Oasis. I want to thank everyone in the Townsville Defence Community Reference Group for their dedication and commitment to improving the lives of our current ex-serving men and women, veterans and their families. I'm proud to stand in this place as a representative of the largest garrison city, and I will continue to stand up and fight for defence communities. We can never fully repay our debt to veterans, but we can give them long-term gratitude, respect and support.

For many veterans, the freedoms that we currently experience were important enough for them to endure long separations from their families, miss the births of their children, freeze in subzero temperatures, bake in deserts, lose limbs and, all too often, lose their lives. Military spouses have had to endure career interruptions, frequent changes of address and a disproportionate share of parental responsibilities. Children have often had to deal with changes in schools, separation from friends and, hardest of all, the uncertainty from not knowing whether mum or dad would return from their next tour. Whether their service was in Afghanistan or Vietnam, we need to make sure that our veterans and ex-serving personnel are served well. Veterans don't ask for much and the very least we can do is provide them with a counselling service that meets their needs in a timely manner.