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Previous Ministers' releases and speeches - Senator The Hon. Michael Ronaldson

Senator the Hon. Michael Ronaldson
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC
Special Minister of State

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Wednesday, 30 April 2014
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TRANSCRIPT OF SPEECH AT THE
NATIONAL CONFERENCE FOR RSL AND SERVICE CLUBS
HOBART - TASMANIA

[Greetings omitted]

It is a great privilege to be here in Hobart to address you at this National Conference – my first as the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC.

I last spoke to you in Tweed Heads in May 2011 on the same topic – the Centenary of Anzac.

As the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, I am committed to developing relations with the 270 registered RSL, Ex-Services, Memorial, Legion and similar Clubs to help you to represent the views of your members and bride the gap with Government.

RECENT VISIT TO TURKEY

On Sunday morning I returned from Turkey where I inspected preparations for the Centenary commemorations at Anzac Cove, and participated in this year’s commemorative ceremonies. A huge honour as I am sure you will appreciate. 

The Australian Department of Veterans' Affairs is working closely with Turkish authorities, and our friends in New Zealand, to ensure the safety and security of all 10,500 people who will participate in next year's commemorations.

In Ankara I held meetings with the Turkish ministers for National Defence, Foreign Affairs and Culture and Tourism about next year's commemorations.  I reiterated the Australian Government's thanks and appreciation for the assistance of Turkish authorities in the conduct of our commemorative activities.

They advised me that, at a Cabinet meeting last Monday, it was agreed to establish a special Agency to coordinate activities commemorating the centenary of what they know as the 'Canakkale Wars'.  We will of course work very closely with them through our Embassy in Ankara.

The Governor of Canakkale was also a participant in the Australian memorial service at Lone Pine on Anzac Day and has assured me of his ongoing cooperation.

Before the Dawn Service and the Australian service at Lone Pine, I had the opportunity to speak to so many Australians who had travelled to Turkey to participate in the commemorative events.

These Australians share my desire to see the spirit of Anzac live on.  They wanted to participate in this act of sacred commemoration, remembrance and reflection in Turkey to pay their respects to the fallen, to fallen family members, or family members who fought there.

My key message from last week’s commemorative ceremony was to ask the young people present – young Aussies and young Kiwis – to pass on the Anzac legacy and teach their children about the example of service and sacrifice that it set.

To teach them that the freedoms that we enjoy, ,and all to often take for granted, have come at a great price and paid for in blood. 

UPDATE ON ANZAC CENTENARY 

This year marks a milestone in Australia’s history where we all come together to recognise the more than sixty thousand Australians who made the supreme sacrifice in the First World War, while some 18,000 remain buried on the Western Front with no known grave. 

The Centenary of Anzac is much more than the building or restoration of old memorials as important as that is.

By 2018, we must have left a legacy in the minds of younger Australians, in particular, about the service and sacrifice of past generations, of the responsibilities to care for those who have defended our rights and way of life.

In addition to understanding when we fought, where we fought and the values we fought for, the Centenary must educate the generation of younger Australians about our collective obligation to care for those who serve their nation

This is what I hope the Centenary of Anzac will achieve.

Throughout this years commemorations, it is important that the legacy of service and sacrifice, along with that of other allied nations, is appropriately honoured, remembered and commemorated.

The Anzac Centenary will be a significant time in our country’s history – a period of national reflection, remembrance and commemoration of the dedication of service and sacrifice of so many Australians in defence of our way of life, our values and our freedoms

One of the centrepieces of the Anzac Centenary will be 100th anniversary commemorations at Gallipoli in 2015.

Let me take this opportunity to update you on our plans for the Anzac Centenary, which will begin later this year and run until 2018

This year, Australia and many other nations around the world will come together to commemorate the Centenary of the First World War.

The Centenary of Anzac will be a very special time for all Australians and will be one of the most significant commemorations to take place in our lifetimes.

The initial focal point of the Centenary will undoubtedly be the 100th Anniversary of the Gallipoli landings in April 2015. The events and initiative will run from 2014 to 2018.

Planning for the Centenary is well underway.

Over that period the Australian Government has committed approximately $145 million to ensure the implementation of the Anzac Centenary Program is symbolic of this momentous occasion

The Anzac Centenary Program will encompass all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations in which Australians have been involved.

During the Anzac Centenary, Australians will remember not only the original Anzacs who served at Gallipoli and the Western Front, but commemorate more than a century of service by Australian servicemen and women.

There will be events and initiatives to mark significant anniversaries related to the Second World War (70th and 75th), Australia’s involvement in peacekeeping (70th), the Vietnam War (50th) and Gulf War I (25th).

The Centenary will highlight the service and sacrifice of our past and modern day veterans and recognise the contribution of our National Servicemen.

Centenary events planned in Australia include a commemorative event at Albany in Western Australia on 31 October and 1 November this year to mark the 100th anniversary of the departure of the first convoy of ships that carried Australian and New Zealand troops to the First World War.

An Anzac Interpretive Centre is also being constructed in Albany. It will provide visitors with the opportunity to better understand the departure of the Anzac convoy. The Centre will tell the stories of those Australians who left the shores of our young nation, and the many who did not return home.

Other Centenary initiatives include the local grants program of up to $125,000 per Federal electorate to enable local communities to commemorate the Centenary in their own way. 

I am determined to ensure that all Australians, no matter where they live, will be able to participate in Centenary of Anzac commemorative events.

Many iconic Australian institutions are incorporating the Anzac Centenary into their business-as-usual activities.

Excellent examples are Australia Post and the Royal Australian Mint.

Earlier this month, Australia Post released its first issue of special Anzac centenary-themed stamps. Others will be issued over the next five years. The stamps will commemorate key events, battles and individuals, relevant to each year of the Centenary.

The 2014 stamp issue marks Australia’s involvement in the first months of the war using evocative images from the period.

I recently represented the Prime Minister to help launch the Royal Australian Mint’s official Anzac Centenary Commemorative Coin Programme. The Mint intends to produce in excess of eighty Australians at War-themed coins over the next five years.

These national stamp and coin releases will serve to remind all Australians, in their routine daily activities, of the debt we owe, and continue to owe, to our servicemen and women, and those who support them on the home front.

NEEDS OF MODERN VETERANS – MENTAL HEALTH AND JOBS

I would now like to raise an issue which is receiving a lot of media attention – the mental health needs of contemporary veterans. An issue I am sure you too are concerned about, which is evident by the theme of this conference, “A New Perspective”.

The high tempo of military operations over the last decade or so has resulted in a new cohort of contemporary veterans.

I meet regularly with younger veterans after their return from recent conflicts to seek their feedback. Early intervention is pivotal and I have made it clear to my Department that the mental health needs of veterans is a very very significant priority for me as the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs.

Tackling veteran mental health challenges is one of the four pillars of the Governments plan for veterans and their families. Strengthening mental health services for all veterans is, as I said, a for me as Minister.

My Department is working hard to ensure that all Australian veterans who are experiencing mental health issues have access to the support and treatment when and if they need it.

DVA spends around $166 million per year on mental health services for clients, including online mental health information and support, GP services, psychologist and social work services, specialist psychiatric services, pharmaceuticals, posttraumatic stress disorder programs, and in-patient and out-patient hospital treatment. This figure is demand driven and not capped.

The Department has a clear understanding of the current client base but the profile and nuances of the contemporary veteran cohort – our future clients – is yet to be fully realised.

The veteran client demographic is changing and my Department needs to be responsive to change. As you know, DVA provides services and support across generations from young children and contemporary veterans to the widows of First World War servicemen.

Meeting the needs of all veterans and their families is of the highest priority for my Department

While the contemporary veterans share some of the military experiences of previous generations, they are also very different in their demographic profile and the ways in which they communicate with each other

For example, we know that contemporary veterans stay in touch with their peers using a range of online technologies, therefore they are less likely to join ex-service organisations unlike their predecessors.

This has required DVA to adopt a new approach to providing support and information to these cohort of veterans. The Department is now using channels such as social media and online and mobile applications to support the younger cohort of veterans.

Considerable progress is being made in the care and support services available to current and former ADF members. It is vital that we as a Government remain responsive and flexible to the changing needs of veterans, now and into the future.

Deployed ADF members are now being provided with a continuum of mental health support designed to enhance their ability to cope with the challenges of deployment and to improve their capacity for effective transition post-deployment back in to work and family life.

The close partnership between DVA and Defence is crucial in ensuring that our serving personnel are appropriately supported when they transition from the ADF and that no one falls through the cracks. To that end, I work in close consultation with all Ministers in the Defence portfolio.

I also recently announced a new Prime Ministerial Advisory Council (PMAC) with a renewed focus on veteran mental health

The Prime Minister and I are delighted that former Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Russ Crane AO, CSM, RAN (Ret’d), will Chair the new PMAC and that he will be supported by Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith VC, MG, as the Deputy Chair.  Mr Ryan Stokes will also be a member of the new PMAC.

The mental health and well being of our contemporary veterans is an issue that I take very seriously. I am committed to working in unison with the veteran and wider community to ensure the new generation of veterans have access to the treatment and support services they need now and into the future.

My Department is also examining ways in which we can provide more assistance and support to the former ADF members who are returning to the workforce. Initiatives we are looking at include assisting ex-serving personnel to find and maintain suitable civilian work and this area will continue to be a focus point in the years ahead.

CONCLUSION

In closing, I would like to thank you for inviting me to address the  Conference today.

It is a great honour to be here amongst you.

I wish you all a very successful Conference and again I express my gratitude on behalf of the Government for your ongoing service to the veteran community.

Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) and Veterans Line can be reached 24 hours a day across Australia for crisis support and free and confidential counselling. Phone 1800 011 046

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