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Transcript of doorstop interview: Sydney Olympic Park: 27 October 2018: Veterans' Affairs initiatives; Nauru; Royal Visit

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The Hon. Scott Morrison MP Prime Minister





SUBJECTS: Veterans’ Affairs initiatives; Nauru; Royal Visit.

PRIME MINISTER: Well here we are again at the Invictus Games and I think it has been just an amazing week here in Sydney. From the opening last weekend and through all the courage and the wonderful events we’ve seen out here over the course of the past week. I want to thank again Prince Harry for the incredible job he has done in creating this movement, this movement which is just testimony to the valour and the courage and the spirit of servicemen and women all around the world. They’ve come here together all champions. Before they even took to the field, they all came here as champions. And we celebrate them, and a few more events this afternoon before we have the closing ceremony tonight.

But in honouring our veterans, we can never do enough. We can never do enough for the service and sacrifice, that service and sacrifice which doesn’t end when people come home, it continues. And as a Government, over the last five years, we have really put our shoulder to the wheel on this. Whether it was amping up for the big decision early on for defence force superannuation indexation to make sure that was fair. A fair indexation, that was $1.4 billion we’ve invested as a Government to make sure that veterans and superannuants from the defence forces were getting a fair deal. We’ve also put a lot into our systems. You know, the investments we’ve made over the last few years in our systems, the waiting time on veterans claims, going from 120 games down to 33. That makes a big change, a big change. We’ve got more work to do, a lot more work to do, but we are making big progress with the practical things.

But the other thing we’re doing is making sure that all veterans, whether they’ve served a day or decades, that they get access to free mental health care that they deserve. And that is another thing we have done as a Government. But today, we’re announcing some more measures that continue to honour the sacrifice and service of our servicemen and women. There are three initiatives that I want to take you through. The

first of those is to honour Lieutenant Fussell through Soldier On. His mother is with us today, Mrs Fussell, and Michael was the seventh Australian soldier killed in Afghanistan. And together with Soldier On, what they have proposed is we will be building a family facility here at Conchord so families can come and support our veterans, helped by Solider On where they are receiving treatment. That’s a big commitment, we’re working with the NSW Government to deliver that and it demonstrates that we are there to support families and to honour families of those who have fallen.

The second area that we’re announcing today is something that I have had a lot more association with and that’s Kookaburra Kids. You know, kids around Australia, whose mums and dads who have physically come home but have never come home. And can you imagine what that is like for the kids, and can you imagine what it is like for those kids just to battle through every day just trying to understand why dad or mum is not like they used to be before they served our country. And so what Kookaburra Kids does is pick up on a program, which I must say was Shire grown originally, helping other kids suffering in families with mental illness. And it provides them with respite camps and those respite camps are now being rolled out across the country, specifically for children from families who have suffered from mental illness, PTSD from their time in service. That means we’re going to go from just around 600 kids to 1,800 kids who are going to get the support through respite camps. It’s about honouring their families and the service of those who went and did what we believe in, what they believed in and they’ve paid a heavy price for it.

And the other thing we’re doing today as part, and I’ll let Darren Chester talk a bit more to this, and that is the Covenant. The Covenant that we will have will veterans that we are working with the State Governments and others on. But a key part of that is to ensure that we have a defence veterans card, a card and a pin. Now we all know we all see the medals on Memorial Day, on Anzac Day, on Armistice Day. Our veterans proudly wear those medals and their families wear them as well on the other side. But this is a recognition system which veterans have been raising with government, which means they can have that card, and we will be working with the corporate sector from the smallest business to the largest business to make sure that they can offer them discounts on everything from car insurance to a cup of coffee to their dry-cleaning to grocery bill to their fuel. And I want to thank particularly groups like Target and Bunnings, Coles, who have already come out and have told me, when I have spoken to them, that they really want to work together with the program. The NRMA have said they want to work with us on the program. This is just a really simple way for businesses, who really I do know honour and value the service of our veterans, just to say thanks. Here is 5 per cent off. Here is 10 per cent off. Or whatever it happens to be. Here is an extra cup of coffee for your mate who you’ve got there with you today. We've got a great culture of respecting our veterans and our servicemen and women, and these measures we have announced today are all about continuing to honour their sacrifice, not just when it is made on the field, but when the sacrifice means they are still hurting when they are coming back and supporting their families. So that's what we are doing. We are getting on with it, we are supporting our veterans and we are very proud to do it. Darren, did you want to say anything?

MINISTER FOR VETERANS AFFAIRS, THE HON DARREN CHESTER MP: It is dangerous of me to be in front of my senior minister. Thank you, Prime Minister. Can I say, as I look around this venue, and see the men and women in uniform that are gathered here with several veterans, can I simply say to you thank you for your service. Thank you for your service to our nation. We greatly appreciate it. I am proud to be part of a government led by Prime Minister Morrison which is putting veterans first and putting veterans' families first. What we are announcing today is in some ways quite a symbolic measure, with a veterans Covenant, but also practical measures to help veterans and their families.

It is great honour to be standing here beside Ms Fussell because she has been a veteran of the Invictus Games over the last week or so, doing great things here herself, but to have a facility named after your son is something which is quite magnificent and I know it means a lot to you. But it is also going to mean a lot to some our veterans, to be able to receive treatment at Concord and have their families with them and get the best possible care they can get. To the Kookaburra Kids crew, I had a conversation with you here today and your plans for expansion to offer more facilities, more opportunities for young people around Australian which is also very exciting.

In relation to the Veterans Covenant, I just want to say where this has come from. This has come from our discussions with veterans and their families right around Australia and it is about making sure that we keep our promise, we keep our pledge to veterans and their families that we will look after them when they return from service or when they finish their military careers. We do a great deal here in Australia. We provide more than $11 billion a year to support our veterans and their families. But there are things we can direct a community and on a business level that will also help veterans and their families. I think the Veterans Covenant, underpinned by the veterans card and lapel pin, is a practical and tangible measure where, not just on Anzac Day, not just on Remembrance Day, we can support our veterans every day of the year.

MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, THE HON CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Just briefly, because it is not my day today, it is the veterans' day and the Kookaburra Kids day and the Fussell family day, Soldier On’s day. I would just add to what my colleagues have said. The reason the Government can afford to make these kinds of measures is because we are managing the Budget. Because we are growing the economy. When you have a budget surplus coming back in a year or so's time, you can afford to do things like small business and family business tax cuts. Income tax cuts. New measures that certainly cost money from the taxpayer, but they are for a good reason. And so the announcements today in the veterans' space are a continuing demonstration of the Government's economic management and budgetary management that allows that to happen. So I think Darren has done a tremendous job as the Minister for Veterans' Affairs in a Government led by a Prime Minister that prioritises the service of others. Only because of the veterans do we live the free lives full of liberty and democracy that we enjoy here in Australia, and it is tremendous to be able to acknowledge that with practical measures, as Darren said, that will improve their lives.

PRIME MINISTER: John, did you want to say anything from Soldier On?

CEO OF SOLDIER ON, JOHN BALE: Thank you, Prime Minister, Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Defence. Ladies and gentlemen, for veterans here today this is a phenomenal announcement, obviously something that is very close to my heart. I went to school with Michael Fussell, who joined up to the army and unfortunately Michael was killed on November 27 2008. Almost ten years to the day. So to have something that will not just carry his name, but also supports so many families when they come to Concord Repatriation General Hospital and get the support that they deserve. It means so much not just to me personally obviously but so much to those families and to the veterans of Australia, and this is a great announcement that we look forward to supporting as an organisation so that we can make sure that we provide our employment services on site, we can help with some mental health support, and also ensure that we can provide the social activities that reduce social isolation and also work closely with our good friends at Kookaburra Kids who are doing fantastic work for the the young’uns, the really young ones who have the affected by their veteran father or mother who have unfortunately suffered mental injury from their deployment overseas. So thank you so much, Prime Minister, Minister for Veterans Affairs, Minister for Defence, thank you.

PRIME MINISTER: I am also the Parliamentary patron of Kookaburra Kids. So I'm very proud of what they do.

KOOKABURRA KIDS, DANIELLE MCGLOIN: This is great for us. We have been able to extend our reach in the last 18 months with the support of the Government and to be able to now go to Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia in the next two years is phenomenal. We already have children on our waiting list from these states waiting to come to a camp and come to an activity day. I just cannot thank the Government enough for this. It is just an amazing initiative. Our whole team has put this together. There are 33 of us that have worked tirelessly on this each day, so thank you.

PRIME MINISTER: Great stuff, thank you. Well, happy to take questions on our veterans announcements, and if there are other questions we might excuse all those who have joined us, they don't have to sit through that.

JOURNALIST: Just in terms of the card, how will you ensure that there are substantial benefits? How many businesses have you got assurances from that we they will come on board?

PRIME MINISTER: Over the next few months this will come into effect early next year, so over the next few months what Darren will do with his team is consulting with all the veterans' organisations, but I've got to say, we made a few calls and the response has been fantastic. I’ve already mentioned some of those companies, and other groups, they will be coming out and making their own comments, I think, in the not too distant future. It doesn't surprise me. Australians honour their veterans. I think the Australian business community, from the smallest retailer, from the biggest shop there is, are going to want to do this. They’re going to want to get behind it. What this does for us is enables them to know who they can recognise and who has that eligibility, and that’s what we do as a government, but I think it will be up to all of them to make their own decisions. I think it will be well received. We will spend the next few months consulting, getting it right, and we look forward to that and that means businesses will have the opportunity to think through their response. They’ll know how many people are involved in this program. They’ll be able to work out their pricing and be able to tailor their offers. So when it gets off the ground in the first quarter of next year, early next year, we will hit the ground running.

JOURNALIST: How much money will the federal government spend on the Card and where will that come from?

PRIME MINISTER: We have allocated just over $11 million to put all this system in place, and that can be taken into the Budget and it has been dealt with through the normal Budget process.

JOURNALIST: How can those people who want to get involved? Is it a sign up, an application process?

PRIME MINISTER: That is what is being put in place now through the consultation program we’ve had with veterans service organisations over the next few months. What’re we’re announcing today is the commitment of funds to do that and to get on about it and to make sure it’s up and running early next year.

JOURNALIST: Have you consulted with the states and territories on this?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes we have been.

JOURNALIST: Have they been supportive?

PRIME MINISTER: Of course they have, yeah. Why wouldn't you be supportive of this? This is a no-brainer. Honour our fets, get on board. Excellent.

JOURNALIST: On to other issues…

PRIME MINISTER: Onto other issues, people are free to stay with us or they can go and watch the [indistinct]. Good on you.


Thank you in particular to the Fussell family for joining us today, it has been very special.

JOURNALIST: Is there an update on the number of children on Nauru that are being held?

PRIME MINISTER: We are constantly getting briefings on their status and as we reported to the Parliament it is just over 50. That has come down by 30 over the last four or five weeks. So those numbers have been coming down and we will continue to work on that, but we will get about it in a quiet way. The way to deal with these issues is not to showboat or grandstand. It is to deal with things compassionately based on medical advice and to work carefully through the program.

JOURNALIST: Sorry so does that mean there are now about 20?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I am saying that over the last four to six weeks we have been able to reduce the numbers by that amount, and that has been based on medical advice. That is something we have just been getting on and doing. And we will just continue to get on and do that quietly and consistently with the Government 's policies.

JOURNALIST: There is growing consensus they have been there for too long, including from members of your own party. How much longer [indistinct]?

PRIME MINISTER: Well we are very sensitive to this. That is why we have been acting. Over 200 children have been removed from Nauru under our government, and no children have been put on Nauru under our government which is an important point. You have got to manage both. You do not get children off Nauru by doing things that put children on Nauru.

We have been quietly getting on with this job, reducing the child population on Nauru. You've got to remember, I remember it five years ago, the Labor Party put pregnant women and children on Manus Island, for goodness’ sake. That is what the Labor Party did. We've closed 17 detention centres, got 8,000 children out of detention in Australia. Our record, our form as a government has been the compassion of stopping the boats and getting children out of detention. That's what we've been doing on Nauru as well, we haven't been going around blowing our trumpet about it, we have just been getting on and doing it like a responsible and compassionate government should.

JOURNALIST: Can you provide a rough timeframe for when the children…?

PRIME MINISTER: We’ll continue to work on the program we’re working on. We’re working closely with the United States, as you know. We will keep getting on with the job.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask you quickly about Prince Harry and Megs being here? A little bit light hearted. They’re leaving tomorrow-

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah I know, we’ll miss them. He loved Jenny's pav. He smashed it.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct]. How much of a boost has their visit been for the Invictus Games in particular?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh look, it is hard to estimate. They are such a lovely couple. And, I mean, we were there last Saturday night at the opening and his presentation was truly inspiring. Particularly the guys and girls who are here competing. His ability to just recognise people and see people, I think is a gift. For him to bring that gift here to Sydney and to Australia and just really honour what they have achieved to be here, and he has spoken to so many athletes over the years and here in Sydney again, you know, both Prince Harry and Meghan have brought a real gift to Sydney and we really thank them for being here and we hope to see them again soon.

Thanks very much.


Contacts: Press Office, (02) 6277 7744 The Hon. Scott Morrison MP, Sydney