From the Minister

Studio portrait photo of middle aged man smiling and wearing a suit.

The Hon Andrew Gee MP
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel

I started my first day as Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel with an ending.

The pews were full at Penhall’s Funeral Home in Orange, with medals clasped over many hearts for the funeral of former digger, Glen Sutton. Dozens of people braved the brisk morning air, listening from outside to the farewell of an old mate most had never met.

From 1968, Glen Sutton served in the Engineers, then later in the 1/19th Battalion RNSWR. With little known family or friends to attend Glen’s funeral, fears were held that few people, if any, would bid him goodbye.

The airwaves and papers quickly filled with his name and his story, and soon a handful of attendees swelled into a congregation, as the region showed up to say farewell, and thank him for his service.

The spirit of that generation of Australians, and all who came before, was on display recently at Exercise Talisman Sabre 2021. There, the current generation of Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel showed those fortunate enough to see them in action, just what they can do.

It was a privilege to meet some of the 8,300 men and women of the ADF at the military exercise in Shoalwater Bay and Rockhampton. The event, which is the largest bilateral military exercise between Australia and the US, showcases the important work ADF personnel are doing for our country.

The command centre for Exercise Talisman Sabre ‘21 was at Lavarack Barracks in Townsville, which I also had the honour of visiting recently. I observed first-hand just how large the Talisman Sabre logistical operation is, and I got to meet some of the 4000 strong 3rd Brigade who call the barracks home.

Since being sworn in, I have spoken with many current serving members and veterans and listened to their stories. Through these conversations, I have gained a strong insight into the need for ongoing care throughout a veteran’s life.

While in Townsville I visited the newly opened Oasis Veteran Wellbeing Centre which does just that. This centre, like several being built around the country, offers specialised community support and engagement with veterans and their families. It provides services such as transition and employment support as well as physical and mental health services.

It is our nation’s duty to look after our old and young diggers, not just during their service, but through their transition into civilian life, and beyond.

I have arrived in the job at a seminal moment for the portfolio, with the establishment of a Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide. The Royal Commission will be a chance for veterans and their families to be seen and heard. To tell their stories, share their views and express their ideas. Their contributions will help shape policies to improve the treatment and care of veterans and their families, both now, and for future generations.

The Royal Commission will conduct its inquiries in a trauma-informed way and hold private sessions for those who don’t wish to give their evidence in public. The website for the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide website is up and running so I urge any veteran or current serving member to visit it and share their story. General information on Royal Commissions can be found on the Royal Commissions website.

Our veterans have been counted on to protect our country. Now, I ask something more of them — to stand up and be counted in this year’s Census. At present, we don’t know the exact number of veterans living in Australia, or whereabouts they call home. The simple fact is we can’t help veterans we don’t know about. Therefore, this year’s Census will ask: ‘Have you ever served in the Australian Defence Force?’.

The answer to this question will help us to better understand veterans’ needs, reach more veterans, and provide the right services to veterans and their families.

Each day, I’m determined to advocate as hard as I possibly can for all of those who’ve given so much to our country.

Just some of the areas of the portfolio I’m keen to progress include: making claims processing faster and more efficient; seeing through the adoption of new medical treatments; increasing support for veterans transitioning out of the military; and to provide mental health support services.

I look forward to working with the entire veteran community and their families to make sure they’re properly supported both during and after their service.

Middle-aged man in suit sitting a desk, smiling and holding document up to the camera.

Having been sworn in as the Minister for Veterans' Affairs and the Minister for Defence Personnel

Middle-aged civilian man smiling with people in Army uniforms

Visiting Lavarack Barracks, Townsville — command centre for Exercise Talisman Sabre