From the Minister
The Hon Matt Keogh MP
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel
A better future for veterans and families
It is a huge honour to be appointed Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel. As it is for my colleague, Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Matt Thistlethwaite.
Australians owe a debt of gratitude to our Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel, veterans and families. Thanks to the recent Census, we now know there are more than 581,000 people right now that have or are serving our nation.
As a nation, Australia values their ongoing commitment to service and it is our duty to support veterans and families as they transition from the ADF, to enable them to continue their commitment to service in civilian life, in different ways.
Our objective quite simply is to deliver a better future for everyone in the veteran community.
However, I am under no illusions. I know the task ahead is a large one but I’m determined to make sure we deliver the services and supports that our veterans and families not only need, but deserve.
I will strive to be as accessible as possible, making sure I’m hearing directly from the front lines, and Assistant Minister Thistlethwaite and I have already met with many stakeholders across the country.
Members of the veteran community have had very different experiences of service and post-service life. Not everyone requires support, but those who do often have specific, individual requirements. That means the kind of support they receive has to be tailored accordingly, without leaving anyone behind.
As a Government, we are committed to delivering a package of practical support measures that will improve the welfare and wellbeing of all veterans and families, now and into the future, building on the range of services currently available.
For instance, I am very conscious of the compensation claims backlog, with some veterans waiting much too long for their claims to be processed. This is unacceptable, and DVA has been under-resourced for too long. As a Government, our goal is to cut the backlog and waiting times by rebuilding DVA, investing an additional $226.3 million to employ 500 new staff.
We will also abolish the Public Service staffing cap, which has prevented DVA from hiring and retaining more well-trained permanent staff to process claims faster.
On the services front, we know that many veterans want to access services close to home, while ex-service organisations (ESOs) want to deliver co-ordinated support and services to fellow veterans and loved ones locally.
That’s why we will develop 10 new Veteran and Family Hubs across Australia, in Rockingham, Northern Adelaide, the North Brisbane- Moreton Bay region, Ipswich, Queanbeyan, the Hawkesbury region, the Hunter, the Tweed and North Coast region, Surf Coast and Geelong region, and Tasmania.
The Government will deliver these hubs in consultation with local veteran communities and in partnership with state governments and community and ex-service organisations.
Veteran homelessness is another key issue. Studies have found chronically homeless veterans need tailored services to help get them into permanent and supported accommodation. The Government will invest $30 million over five years to support housing and specialist services for veterans who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of homelessness.
Another priority of this Government will be to deliver a comprehensive veteran employment program to provide greater support to Defence personnel as they transition to civilian life. We will inject $24 million over four years to ensure veterans’ skills and experience are valued and appreciated by the wider community. This will be achieved through initiatives to raise awareness of the benefits of employing veterans, helping businesses to train veterans, supporting veterans’ education and training, translating the experience of veterans, and promoting veteran businesses.
Meanwhile, this Government is acutely aware of the national tragedy that is Defence and veteran suicide.
We have listened to the families of veterans and supported their calls for the Royal Commission for quite some time. We have an obligation to ensure that all of our personnel are kept safe, here and abroad, both mentally and physically. The same goes for when they come home.
When a person enlists in the ADF, they undertake a commitment to our country and, necessarily, may be placing their health and wellbeing on the line in service to our nation. Families join them on this journey too. In return, we are compelled to look after them and their families, both during and after their time in the ADF. This commitment is more than just about their physical health. It is about taking a holistic view of the member and their loved ones.
The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide is an important opportunity to learn from the past to strengthen our approach to the mental health and welfare of ADF personnel and veterans into the future.
I look forward to the Royal Commission’s interim report, which will be delivered by 11 August. Submissions can be made up until October 2023, and I encourage people to do so.
We are very lucky in this country that Australians are willing to come forward and support others in their community through volunteering. The recent Census tells us that veterans are even more likely to volunteer and often they continue their service by helping other veterans as an advocate.
I’d encourage those of you who would like to continue your service to consider training to become an advocate. Contact your local ESO, which can arrange to have you sponsored to receive that training. I would also encourage anyone in the veteran community who would like the help of an advocate to visit the Advocacy Register website at www.atdp.org.au.
To all of you who have served your country or are still doing so, as well as the families that support you, thank you for your service.
As a Government, we are committed to delivering a package of practical support measures that will improve the welfare and wellbeing of personnel, veterans and families, now and into the future.
I am very much looking forward to working closely with you all to ensure we deliver a better future for the veteran community.