| October 26, 2018

Ministerial Statement on Veterans

I want to acknowledge the contribution from the member for Lingiari on this issue and also acknowledge the statement that the minister gave to the House yesterday on this government's commitment to veterans. It certainly is an incredibly important part of our culture that we continuously acknowledge the various conflicts which this nation has been a part of. We acknowledge that not one of those conflicts which have been a part of have ever been for personal gain for Australia; effectively we have always sent our troops overseas to maintain what we would call the status quo, to quell the invaders, to make sure that we could assist these countries to effectively stop people from invading other lands. One could have a debate about whether we were invading Turkey in relation to Gallipoli, or whether we were trying to stop the German army's invasions throughout Europe. But I think it's very fair and very reasonable and true to say that Australia has never effectively sent our troops away so that we could improve the amount of land that we were to rule over. So our history is rich and our history is honourable when it comes to our conflicts. In the space of that, or using that as a basis, we can be very, very proud of our troops for the work that they have carried out right around the globe.

It's also true that when many of our troops come back from service, they effectively don't want to be involved with the RSL. Many of them think that's for members from other conflicts, from other generations, to be a part of. But at various stages in their lives, in many instances, they do find their way back to the RSL. Sometimes it's in search of comradeship, other times it's in search of support and assistance that they need to get on with their daily lives. There's myriad of ways we are helping our veterans. As the minister stipulated yesterday, there's an $11 billion commitment from this government to our veterans. Over 280,000 veterans throughout Australia, along with their families, are currently being supported by the government. It's a very significant community and it's a very, very significant contribution from this government and the Australian taxpayer to assist with the work that we are doing to support our veterans.

As I've said a few times in the chamber in the last week and a half, I was lucky enough to spend a week with our deployed servicemen in Afghanistan recently. It's an amazing experience, and in a short space of time it gives you a firsthand understanding of the calibre of our troops, the most amazing men and women I've ever met, and certainly their discipline, their commitment to the detail, their humility and their understanding of their place in the world. They understand the dangers that are associated with Afghanistan becoming totally lawless. They understand the horrible loss of life that happens in Afghanistan every day. They understand the importance of the elections that took place last week. The coalition forces over there must assist in helping the Afghan government reform after this election in a credible manner so that we can have a government over there that has credibility amongst the people of Afghanistan and is then able to plot a future that involves education and health services—a couple of key elements in the Afghani dynamic at the moment that are sadly lacking.

We face this incredibly complex situation in Afghanistan, with ISIS and all of its various forms popping up all over the place, and with the Taliban's constant lust for power and ability to drive down anybody—whether it be the local police force, the local army, a school, a council, or anybody that dare poke their head up and try and offer the people of Afghanistan some sense of a proper programmed life. They will be effectively under the threat of losing their life through the Taliban. So there's this very complex situation over there.

Our troops are toing an amazing job trying to normalise the daily lives of the Afghani people. And it's when you have these relationships with these people—albeit from a very safe area of the compounds, where we were looked after incredibly well—you can see in the eyes of what they call the guardian angels, these incredibly trained Australian troops, that they are on constant alert. They thrive on this pressure, they thrive on their responsibility to keep all those around them safe, they thrive on the fact that they are trained to within an inch of their lives. They are incredible specimens of troops, of military personnel. Their capabilities are phenomenal. However, you can see the stress that they are under. If you offered them an opportunity to leave, they would not leave. If they weren't in that deployment, they would be desperate to be in that deployment. So, whilst they love the situation they find themselves in, there is no doubt that they are under extreme pressure to be able to, at a later date, transition back into mainstream life here in Australia and pick up all of the long-term responsibilities that come with that—reuniting with their families, with their children that they haven't spent a lot of time with, with a partner who they've been away from for a long time. When you talk to them, you can understand the pressures that they are under. Many of these amazing troops are young and married with children.

I think the Defence Forces have been very wise in setting the time that they deploy our troops for—around six to seven months is the deployment time for most of our people. There is a cost in doing that, because the relationships that our troops forge with the Afghani army and the various office holders within the Afghani structure are critically important. Seven months is not a long time for our officers to forge those relationships and take their army forward. Ultimately, the entire operation over there is about our ability to take the Afghani army forward. So, we do pay a price for these shorter deployments than what would otherwise be optimal, but we do this solely with the health interests of our troops at heart.

I commend the structure that we currently have in place with our troops. They are desperate to go over there and test themselves in these conditions, but we all understand that it does place these young men and women under incredible stress. Therefore, when they do return, even people who may not be affected by any form of post-traumatic stress are still going to face this incredibly tough challenge and task of being able to assimilate back into family life and of being able to go and work in a workplace environment where discipline and structure is not necessarily the order of the day, where there can be a few loudmouths and larrikins floating around the workplace who may not respect the other people working in that environment. Moving into that environment is also very, very challenging for our troops.

We need to make sure that we are there to offer them support. As the previous speaker, the member for Lingiari, said: from the moment they turn up at Kapooka or Wagga or other training centres, we should be thinking about their interests—yes, let's use these brilliant young men and women in our Defence Force, but how do we help them after they have served their country? How do we help them for the rest of their lives? I think we've got a fair bit of it right, but there is also so much more continued work that we can do to assist our troops in their transition and in and out of mainstream work. The government is keeping this as a main priority, as a serious priority, but there is always more work to be done. The statement from the minister yesterday was very, very welcome. We understand that it's our troops who are doing us incredibly proud, each and every day. Many of us need to make sure that we continually thank our troops.

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