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Thursday, 25 October 2018
Page: 11238

Mr SNOWDON (Lingiari) (10:59): I acknowledge the contribution by the member for Herbert, who has a close association with the large serving and veteran community, and say how well she represents their interests here in this place. I also acknowledge the contributions made during speeches yesterday by the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, the Hon Darren Chester, the member for Gippsland, and the shadow minister, the member for Kingston, for demonstrating very clearly to those who were listening or may have been present in chamber that there is strong bipartisan support for veterans and our serving personnel.

I, like them, want to start by thanking those men and women who wear a uniform in service to our country, both those who are veterans and have served previously and those who are currently serving. And like the member for Herbert, who spoke in her final comments about competitors in the Invictus Games, I think all of Australia is inspired by what they're seeing at the Invictus Games, seeing people who have been, in some way, damaged by their service, wounded. They have found an expression, through their performances and through their love for one another at these games, of how we should view ourselves in working with our veterans' communities.

On 11 November next month, we will see the 100th anniversary of the Armistice. That will complete, in many ways, four years of commemoration activity, both here in Australia and overseas. Importantly, I think it has provided the opportunity for all Australians to acknowledge and understand the contribution, the sacrifice and the loss that happened as a result of so many Australians serving, firstly, and then losing their lives in the First World War. It has reminded us to think about all of those who have worn a uniform for us and made the ultimate sacrifice. But, as we've heard, it's not only those who make the ultimate sacrifice that we should be concerned about; it's the many tens of thousands of people who have served our country and come home from conflict with no apparent physical harm but, over time, developed what might be seen as issues to do with mental health as a result of their service. We are now alive to those things in a way which wasn't the case previously. After the First World War and even the Second World War, the standard of services available to our serving personnel once they'd come home were not what they are today. Thankfully, we have shifted in our mindset. We understand the issues people now confront and have confronted when they return from service and we are doing our very best to work with them and ensure their needs are properly met.

I want to commend the contribution yesterday of the shadow minister, the member for Kingston, and for her outlining of the initiatives she has developed in partnership with the Labor team around addressing issues to do with current veterans. I applaud them. I'm not going to articulate them again—the member for Herbert went through them—but I just do want to make a point that I'm really pleased that we're accepting the transition space is where we've got to do a lot of work. We've got to really understand also that there are some people who have transitioned or will transition into the future, who, when they're leaving the uniformed life behind, don't want anything to do with those uniforms or the organisations to which they belong and so they escape visibility and they escape connection, and it's those people that I am particularly concerned about. I know it's difficult because you can't interfere in people's choices but we've got to have some way that we can maintain a connection with all of the people who serve so that if and when—and we know this is happening regularly—their comes a time when their service impacts on their health, whether through some physical disability or mental health issue, they are able to get access to the services they need to address those issues. It's particularly important for those people with mental health issues.

I've expressed it before in this place that those of us who haven't worn a uniform in conflict cannot know what it's like. We can hear from people, we can talk to people, but we haven't the lived experience. We've had almost constant conflict in the Middle East for a damn long time, and we've had serving personnel, particularly Special Forces soldiers, on the frontline on a continuing basis, effectively, doing six, seven, eight, nine and 10 tours of duty. The compounding impacts of those tours of duty over time are going to have an effect. We've got to make sure that the support structures are in place, both whilst they're in service and when they're not.

We know from the work which has been done by the Department of Veterans' Affairs and the Department of Defence that whilst those people are in service they have the psychological supports and are strong. If you remove those supports when people depart, it's no surprise that some people will find it difficult. The impact of their compounding service affects them. What we've got to do is find mechanisms—and this is what is happening through the proposals which have been put in place by the shadow minister—that will help address their needs.

We can't have the prospect that, because someone has served their country, whether it is for five, 10, 15, 20, 30 or 40 years, on leaving the uniform they're not able to find a job—should not. We've got to find the capacity to make sure that every person who leaves the Defence Force, on transition, knows that they have the support they will need to get extra training and an employment opportunity. That's an obligation that we, as a nation, need to accept. I know that both the minister and the shadow minister understand that.

I have been of the view for a long time that, as soon as someone walks through the gates at Wagga on their recruit training, they have an identifier which says: 'You are now part of the Department of Veterans' Affairs. We, the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the Commonwealth, have an obligation to look after you and your interests until you're dead.' Indeed, post service, veterans need to have full knowledge that their families are going to be looked after. We've got to inculcate this view in people so that they know it's normal to get access to services. I know the Department of Veterans' Affairs and the people who work within it are endeavouring to do their utmost to make sure that this is the case. I want to thank those people who work over there in the Department of Defence, who strive every day to do the best they possibly can for our serving personnel, and the Department of Veterans' Affairs for our veterans. They need our support.