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Monday, 3 December 2018
Page: 12336

Ms O'TOOLE (Herbert) (13:00): There has not been a bill, motion or ministerial statement concerning ADF veterans and ex-serving personnel that I have not spoken on in this place. Every and any time there is a chance for me to support our current serving and ex-serving veterans and their families I will always stand up and voice my support. Those who have served have given so much to us and to our country. I will always stand in this place to recognise them, acknowledge them, support them and ensure that they get the best policies to meet their needs.

I have made no secret of the fact I am proud to represent the largest garrison city in Australia in this place. That is why I set up the first defence reference group in the country, the Townsville Defence Community Reference Group, which has representations from Lavarack, the RAAF base and all of the ESOs. Working with the ESOs enables me to stand in this place and truly represent their voices, their opinions and their needs, as I am today. Veterans' issues have always been bipartisan, and I am more than happy to work with and support the government regarding our veterans and ex-serving personnel and their families.

When I meet with veterans, the No. 1 issue discussed with them and their families is transitioning to civilian life, particularly in relation to employment. ADF personnel have developed a vast range of skills and capabilities during their service time. It is unfortunate that more often than not these skills are not recognised when our members leave the forces. There is not a certificate from TAFE or a degree from a university. In meeting with these young men and women and witnessing the work that they undertake, I know they possess an extensive range of skills. This is a very big issue for them.

Although I support the government's initiative, I must also be a little critical of it in order to provide a fair voice for veterans and ex-serving members who are struggling with transitional work. There are, of course, some veterans that have no issues in transitioning, but I take the view, as do many veterans, that we must not leave one good man or woman behind. Yet that is what is currently happening with the government's commitments; they just don't go far enough in providing support. Governments need to provide support for our veterans during this most difficult time. That is why Labor has committed $121 million to a very comprehensive veterans employment policy, to provide greater support to our defence personnel as they transition to civilian life. Labor's plan will help our veterans into good jobs, by doing more to boost recognition of their significant current skills and experiences and better support veterans moving into the civilian workforce.

Best estimates cite veterans' unemployment as sitting at about 30 per cent. For those who do not medically discharge, there is an estimated 11.2 per cent unemployment rate, which is more than double the national average. This is unacceptable. A Labor government will provide eligible businesses with a training grant of up to $5,000 in order to help veterans gain the skills and experiences that they made need to move into civilian work. Whilst businesses are open to employing veterans, there can be specific short-term skill gaps which may act as a barrier to employment for an otherwise suitable candidate. This grant is designed to bridge that gap.

In addition, Labor will fund an education campaign on the many benefits and translatable skills of veterans to be developed by an industry advisory committee. Furthermore, a Labor government will establish an employment and transition service that will provide greater individualised and tailored support to transitioning veterans over a longer period of time. Labor will enable better access to additional education and civilian training for transitioning ADF members by reducing the length of service required to access the career training assistance scheme and increase funding for members, starting from $5,000 and increasing to $7,500, depending on the number of years served.

When our men and women commit to serving our country we must in return make a commitment to support them after their time in the ADF. Labor's veterans employment program is a key initiative to ensure that those working in the defence forces can move into meaningful and purposeful employment, which is a key element of a successful transition from the ADF into civilian life.

Debate adjourned.