News from the Minister
The Hon Darren Chester MP
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel
Australians rising to the occasion
Australia is a resilient country. That special quality has really been tested over the last few months, and will continue to be for some time.
The Australian Government is doing everything it can to protect Australians from the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including those who have served our nation. All the actions we are putting in place are based on advice from Australia’s leading medical experts. The National Cabinet continues to urge all Australians to play their role in reducing the spread of COVID-19 through personal social distancing and hygiene measures. We are also doing everything in our power to ensure that as many services as possible remain available to the veteran community.
A total of $189 billion is being injected into the economy by all arms of Government in order to keep Australians in work and businesses in business. This includes a $2.4 billion health package to protect all Australians from COVID-19, including vulnerable groups such as the elderly and those with chronic conditions. In addition, the Government’s economic stimulus package, which includes payments for which many veterans and their families are eligible, will help support our veteran community through this challenging time.
Just as the Government continues to make tough decisions to protect the Australian people, DVA remains focused on ensuring plans and processes are in place to ensure the ongoing support of veterans and their families. This includes telehealth consultations and home delivery of prescriptions to those at risk or in self-isolation.
I recognise that people may be feeling uncertain and anxious in these difficult circumstances. I strongly encourage everyone reading this to keep up to date with information regularly provided by the federal and state and territory governments, and to remember that the pandemic will, in due course, pass. I would encourage you all to keep up-to-date with the latest advice at Australia.gov.au, the latest health advice at the Department of Health website as well as the latest advice from DVA on this website.
I also remind you that if you do need additional support through these times to contact Open Arms — Veterans & Families Counselling to access free and confidential counselling and support. This is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 1800 011 046.
National Commissioner and Family Advocate
In February, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the establishment of two new positions: the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention and the Veteran Family Advocate.
I can’t emphasise enough how important this is. The Government has listened to the stories of deep and ongoing grief told by our veteran community, ADF personnel and the families of those who have tragically been lost to suicide.
The National Commissioner will be established as an enduring authority with powers equivalent to that of a royal commission, including the power to compel the production of evidence and summon witnesses.
They will look to identify and investigate any systemic issues and make recommendations to Government on suicide prevention, to support the wellbeing of veterans and ADF personnel. They will set out the long-term path to help reduce suicide risks within the military and veteran community, and provide an annual report to Parliament.
In addition, a new Veteran Family Advocate will be appointed to undertake engagement, liaison and advocacy across the veterans’ sector, drawing on the advice of families of veterans, to help shape veteran policy and the administration of veteran benefits and support.
While many of the details are still being ironed out, the Advocate will sit within the Veterans’ Affairs portfolio. The Office of the National Commissioner will be a new statutory office within the Attorney-General’s portfolio.
As you all know, suicide is a complex issue and an increased understanding of suicide in the context of military service and transitioning to civilian life will help the Government bolster support to veterans and their families, and help shape future policies and services.
At the start of this year, bushfires ravaged my electorate of Gippsland and many other parts of the country. The thing I noticed again and again was how people affected by the fires showed remarkable resilience and community spirit. I was particularly impressed by the response of our veterans and ADF members. Through voluntary organisations, or as individuals, members of the veteran community have done remarkable work rebuilding not just their own communities but others too. The bushfires showed precisely what our veterans and serving ADF personnel are made of. It’s proof that veterans are a valuable resource to employers, as well as to the nation.
This also applies to the 3,000 Reservists the Government deployed to assist with the bushfires alongside the regular ADF as part of Operation Bushfire Assist. I cannot overstate how grateful communities are for the assistance veterans provided.
I would also like to thank the support delivered by the defence forces of other countries, including New Zealand, the United States, Japan, Canada, Fiji, Singapore and Papua New Guinea. On behalf of Australians, and especially those in my community, I thank you for your service.
You will no doubt have heard that Australian-led overseas Anzac Day commemorations have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as have domestic commemorations around the country. I can absolutely assure you that the decision was not taken lightly. While Anzac Day is one of the most important days in our national calendar, public health considerations have to come first.
The Australian War Memorial will run a commemorative service on the morning of Anzac Day with coverage starting at around 5.00 am this year, which will be broadcast nationwide. Although you will not be able to attend a service, Anzac Day itself has not been cancelled. This year, Anzac Day is more important than ever and I encourage you all to watch the broadcast and to reflect on the resilience, dedication and service of our ADF personnel, from the original Anzacs to those still serving today. And we should all remember and commemorate the service and sacrifice of the more than 102,000 Australians who have died in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.
On 18 February Australia commemorated the 50th anniversary of Operation Hammersley, one of Australia’s significant operations during the Vietnam War. It was an opportunity to remember all those who served in the operation, especially those who were killed or wounded.
The following day, on 19 February, I had the privilege of attending a commemorative service for the bombing of Darwin, which took place 78 years ago. Tragically, more than 250 people were killed in the bombing.
On 22 February 2020, the nation commemorated the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda, known as Operation TAMAR. The service provided us all with the opportunity to recognise the dedication and sacrifice of those who served in this conflict.
Later this year on 15 August, we will acknowledge the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War on Victory in the Pacific Day. The Second World War is the focus of additional educational and online resources. DVA is recording the first-hand experiences of Second World War veterans as part of its ongoing oral history project, Veterans’ Stories, and the National Archives of Australia has Government funding to digitise the more than one million Second World War service records.
The Second World War had a profound impact on our nation and we should never forget the sacrifice of the some 39,000 service men and women who died fighting to protect Australia and its allies and the almost one million men and women who fought in this terrible conflict that spanned more than half a decade.