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Thursday, 25 October 2018
Page: 11253


Mr GOSLING (Solomon) (12:09): Thank you, Deputy Speaker. It's a great privilege to serve our country both in the forces and in this parliament. I think one of our biggest responsibilities in this parliament is to make sure that we not only send those representing us overseas with the best possible support and for the best possible reasons but also give them the best possible support on their return.

I just want to acknowledge the minister's statement of yesterday, and also the member for Kingston and her statement. What I really love about the member for Kingston and her work—there are many things—is her focus on families. I acknowledge that the minister also spoke about the families. We can't underestimate the importance of the families and the burdens that they carry. In my electorate in particular, but not only in my electorate, serving people and veterans are often a long distance away from their families. They may have a nuclear family with them—their partner and perhaps children—but often their military colleagues become their family. We want to, in all possible ways, support them with as much family-like support as we can in our communities, because often, as I said, they're quite some distance from their actual extended families.

As I was listening to my good friend the member for Brand and her familial history, I was reflecting on a very stupid thing that I did back at the time when my mother had two sons in Darwin about to deploy into East Timor in the INTERFET mission back in 1999. We're coming up to the 20th anniversary of that INTERFET mission next year, which will be something really significant for us to remember. It's already 20 years. I was in Perth doing some Indonesian language training with the Army, and I was on the phone to my mother, saying, 'Mum, Dan and Xavier will be going to Timor soon, and I'm really hoping it's not too long until I can join them.' It wasn't until much later that I understood why my mother went silent and then said, 'Oh, that's great, Luke.' Three sons.

As it turned out, I didn't get over to Timor with the Army for another couple of years after that, but I remember reflecting on it later on. My mother grew up not really seeing her grandfather because he was shell-shocked from the First World War and had taken off up into the bush. He lived up in the bush, because he'd been gassed, and the air up in the mountains was cleaner and crisper and was more gentle on his lungs, but also because he just couldn't handle noise, the city and being around people. Then Mum married my father. They were engaged while Dad was over in the jungles of Vietnam. So her experience as a young mother was with Dad and Dad's mates as they tried to adjust back to life afterwards. And then, of course, her eldest son, me, joined the military. So on the eve of INTERFET, she wasn't over the moon about all her sons going off, but she understood that it was for a good reason. She just wanted her sons to be well.

In my electorate there are many, many partners and many, many children of members of our armed forces who wait, hoping that they won't get the knock on the door while their loved ones are overseas. Sometimes it's husbands whose wives are overseas. They hope that they don't get the call. What I'm really focused on is making sure that we've got more support for them in Darwin and Palmerston, in my electorate.

I'm really pleased that we've committed to—and it was pleasing to hear the minister say that the government is also looking at—this concept that we've put forward of a military covenant, which is an undertaking that we will ensure that the nation's armed forces are fully supported during and after their service and that we'll legislate regular reporting to parliament on how Australia is supporting our military personnel. I've heard some say that a covenant is just words, but it's the undertaking, the commitment to that and the accountability for that that is so important. I welcome that and thank those working on those policies to make that real.

I'm also proud that we've got a really good employment package. We're going to commit $121 million to a comprehensive veterans' employment policy, which will provide greater support to our defence personnel as they transition to civilian life. The family engagement and support strategy for defence personnel and veterans will provide greater support and resources to military families, focusing on what we know to be the stress points, including that transition for Defence Force members into civilian life. Such a strategy was a key recommendation out of the National Mental Health Commission's review last year, and that was a very important initiative.

In the time remaining, I want to talk a little bit about the importance of the things that were mentioned by both the minister and the shadow minister, in terms of dedicated services for our current and ex-serving personnel. In Darwin, I am committed to establishing a support centre not only for current and ex-serving defence personnel but also for first responders and their families. At present, there is a lack of services, there is a lack of coordination of support and there is a lack of this greater family outside of the base. Whilst on base, there are some support services. But I think both current and former members of our defence forces and first responders who serve our community need support services that are away from their place of work. That's what we're going to establish. It's going to help ex-services—and I use that as the broad service definition, including first responders. It will not only assist them to access the support that they need—whether it be mental health support or support transitioning or somewhere for their families to go and seek support—but also provide a hub of connectivity that will connect them to other members of those services and other agencies and also provide a connection point with the broader community, which I think is really important.

A lot of the studies are saying that it is extremely important—in aiding their return into the community—to never lose that connection point with community in the first place. So we'll look at the provision of mental health services and counselling. It'll be a place for professional workshops, physical training, wellbeing courses, men's shed types of facilities, movie nights, barbecues and, at times, events that the community can access so that that connection with the community occurs. I think it's really important. I think it's overdue. We're committed to it. We're committed to a covenant and better services for our serving people, because they deserve no less.