Following the Federal election, I was honoured to be reappointed to the Veterans' Affairs and Defence Personnel portfolios – a responsibility I take very seriously.
[DVA] has recognised that some veterans and their families do not have the best experience when they leave the Australian Defence Force.
However, I do want to correct some of the ongoing myths surrounding service in the ADF.
Not everyone who leaves the ADF is broken, busted and bad.
For the vast majority of people, serving in the ADF is overwhelmingly a positive experience. They leave the ADF and transition into civilian life successfully, having had a career that has set them up with the skills, training and attitude to succeed.
This is clearly shown through the Prime Minister's Veterans' Employment Program, which has showcased the drive, entrepreneurship and leadership of our veterans.
This Government has achieved a lot, introducing and building a range of programs and services to support the health and wellbeing of veterans and their families.
From January this year, Defence has adopted a needs-based approach to individualised transition.
Regardless of time served, members can now access coaching, including career planning, full service documentation, skills recognition, resume preparation, job search programs, and financial literacy education.
Former ADF members are able to access this support, including employment support, for up to 12 months after transition.
All serving ADF members now have access to the two-day Job Search Preparation program at any time in their career.
For those personnel leaving for medical reasons with complex circumstances, Defence has introduced tailored assistance to gain civilian employment through the Transition for Employment program.
It is also important for all of us to know that the traditional view of a veteran has changed.
While some choose to stay in service for the majority of their life, the average career in the ADF is now around eight years, meaning some may be leaving at age 25 or under.
This can be an incredible shock to some and is why in January we launched the Personalised Career and Employment Program.
I regularly see the professionalism, dedication, leadership, teamwork and the ability of our ADF personnel to work in high-pressure environments.
We all need to get the message out that employing a veteran is good for business.
Through the Prime Minister's Veterans' Employment Program we have introduced the Veterans' Employment Toolkit. This provides information to veterans on how to translate skills based on their defence rank, prepare a resume and job application, prepare for interviews and adjust to the civilian workplace.
As part of the Program, the Prime Minister and I announced the Veterans' Employment Commitment last November, inviting businesses to make a public commitment to the employment of veterans.
As of today, more than 150 organisations have signed this Commitment.
And almost 2000 vacancies have been advertised on the Government's JobActive website, flagging defence force experience as desired.
Recognising the important role played by ex-service organisations, the most recent Budget provided $16.2 million to support SoldierOn, Team Rubicon and the [RSL] to deliver programs to assist veterans find meaningful employment.
The Government is also building on the Veterans’ Employment Program by implementing a Support for Employment Program, which will support veterans who have not secured employment 12 months after separating from the ADF.
Mental health and wellbeing
In this year’s Budget, the Government provided more than $11.5 billion to support more than 280,000 veterans and their families across Australia.
This includes more than $230 million in funding to support the mental health needs of veterans and their families. This funding is uncapped – if there is a need, it will be met.
All veterans are eligible to access mental health care for life for any mental health condition and we have expanded Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling.
Separate to treatment of any mental health condition, we have made immediate income support available for those veterans with compensation claims for mental health conditions which are caused by their service. This is known as the Veteran Payment and includes access to whole-of-person rehabilitation for those with extra needs.
Building on current research commissioned by Government into the benefits of assistance dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), we are now providing psychiatric assistance dogs to eligible veterans.
When it comes to veteran suicide, the only acceptable number is zero.
Mental health and suicide prevention are very complex issues, and one of my priorities when I was re-appointed was to convene a Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Summit, bringing together experts from around Australia to plan the best way forward.
The Summit was the first step in a broad consultation process we have been undertaking to help reshape the Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy and develop a National Action Plan.
DVA is also piloting two important suicide prevention initiatives to support vulnerable veterans.
At the election we committed to investing $30 million in a network of Veteran Wellbeing Centres in partnership with ex-service organisations and state and territory governments.
In the last Budget, the Government provided an additional $4 million for a partnership between Open Arms and the RSL to deliver a national program of mental health training to up to 7,000 people across Australia.
Open Arms is also partnering with Defence and Phoenix Australia in three innovative clinical research programs.
The Government has extended the Provisional Access to Medical Treatment trial allowing veterans to continue to have access to treatment for specified conditions before their claim is approved.
I encourage anyone in the veteran community who is struggling with their mental health to engage with DVA and Open Arms on 1800 011 046.
Women and families
In 2016, the Government established the Female Veterans and Veterans’ Families Policy Forum, which provides a platform to generate ideas to address issues facing their communities; to co-design DVA policy and services; and to build networks.
One of the issues raised at this Forum was the inequity between former spouses and former de facto partners of veterans around the Partner Service Pension. In the last Budget, we allocated $6.2 million over four years to remove this inequity.
Another idea generated by the Forum was to create a Council for Women and Families United by Defence Service, which was established last December.
Transformation of DVA
The Government has committed nearly $500 million to-date to improve DVA, by building a better client experience, making it faster, simpler and easier for veterans and their families to access services, whenever and wherever they need them.
DVA is now better connected with Defence, sharing data and enabling it to develop more robust policy based on evidence and respond more effectively to needs of veterans.
This is why I support a question in the 2021 Census regarding ADF service.
DVA has consolidated its telephone numbers, making it easier for clients to speak to the right person at the first point of contact.
DVA's partnership with the Department of Human Services is also providing more opportunities for veterans and their families to connect with DVA through the DHS Mobile Service Centres and agent networks.
Under this Government, DVA has developed and introduced an online service portal, MyService. DVA is also continuing to digitise its files.
The Productivity Commission's final report, A Better Way to Support Veterans, was provided to the Government on 27 June and tabled on 4 July.
I look forward to the Government's response to this report in due course.
Australian Defence Veterans' Covenant
Last year the Prime Minister and I announced that the Government would develop an Australian Defence Veterans’ Covenant to be enacted in legislation, so the nation can recognise and acknowledge the unique nature of military service and support veterans and their families every day of the year.
It is an important and historic step. The Covenant includes an oath, a new Veteran Card, a Veteran Lapel Pin and a Reservist Lapel Pin.
The Government has committed $498.7 million over nine years to a significant redevelopment of the [Australian War] Memorial.
Along with the Memorial, my department delivers a range of domestic and overseas commemorative activities.
Looking ahead, our attention turns to the Second World War.
To mark this period in our history, the Government has committed $10 million to the digitisation of Second World War service records held by the National Archives of Australia.
DVA is also working on the second stage of the Anzac 360 virtual reality app series, which will focus on Australians during the Second World War in South East Asia and the Pacific.
Delivering on our election commitment, the Government is expanding the Saluting Their Service (STS) Commemorative Grants Program, by providing an additional $10 million over four years, with a particular focus on commemorating the Second World War.
I am pleased to advise that the scoping studies to develop a new interpretative centre in Papua New Guinea and to replace the existing interpretative centre at Sandakan Memorial Park in Malaysia are underway.
I can also advise the scoping study for a new interpretive site at Lemnos, commemorating the role of Australian nurses and doctors during the Gallipoli Campaign on the former site of an Australian field hospital is well advanced.
In conclusion, this Government is committed to caring for those who have served our country and their loved ones, and to ensuring the flame of remembrance continues to burn brightly in current and future generations of Australians.
And all Australians can be rightly proud that the Government spends more than $11.5 billion a year to support our veterans and their families.