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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, 29 January 2014
MINVA001

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP INTERVIEW WITH MR EWEN JONES MP, MEMBER FOR HERBERT – DVA OFFICE, TOWNSVILLE

Topics: Ministerial visit to Townsville, meeting with DVA Townsville staff, meeting with ex- service organisation representatives, mental health, care for contemporary veterans Coalition commitment to restore BEST funding

MINISTER MICHAEL RONALDSON:

Thanks for coming along today. I’m here at the invitation of Ewen Jones, the local Federal Member for Herbert. I’ve been meeting with the DVA staff today. They are a dedicated group of men and women, there’s about 23 in total and we met with the ex-service organisations to get some feedback from them on about what the challenges are and where we need to go.

During my discussions with the department it became clear that mental health issues are something that the department has got to spend more time on. As a Minister I will be announcing various initiatives in relation to that matter over the next couple of months. We’ve got a changing face of the veteran population and in the electorate of Herbert there’s about
3600 DVA clients. In the wider Townsville local government area it’s about 4300. The local
VVCS, the counselling service, there were nearly 12000 sessions last year.

And so it is working and working well in Townsville but we can do more and we will do more and as Minister it was very important for me to come out and speak to the locals firsthand about
what the issues are.

JOURNALIST:

What sort of feedback did they give you? What would they like to see the Department of
Veterans’ Affairs bring to the table?

MINISTER:

Well the real issue today was the restoration of BEST funding, which is the Building Excellence in Support and Training, and there was a million dollars taken out by the former Labor Government. They want that restored – we made that an election commitment – and Ewen and I promised that when I was in Townsville before the election. We will restore that.

People have got to remember that in five years’ time a large number of the Second World War veterans, regrettably, will not be with us and that the face of the DVA is changing quite dramatically. We’ve got as many young men and women who served this nation in the last 20

years that served in the whole of the Vietnam War and the department has got to move with that changing client face and that was a focus of discussion today.

JOURNALIST:

What are the needs of that new, I guess, generation of veterans?

MINISTER:

I suppose their needs are no different to those who have returned in the past but it’s in a modern context. There are now a variety of Acts under which people will seek support and that depends on whether they’ve had operational service or otherwise and there are other criteria.

But this is a different group of young men and women, they are technology savvy. They use the internet. The Department’s got to make sure that we are not moving with, but moving ahead of the requirements of these young men and women.

And people should not forget that the youngest client of DVA is some six months old. So as a new grandfather, my new grandchild will still have a responsibility for looking after those DVA clients in 70 years time and this nation has an extraordinary responsibility to these young men and women and their families. As Minister I am not prepared to sit back and watch the mistakes of the past, as in Vietnam, repeated by this nation and I am determined to ensure that it will not occur.

We let that group of men down very, very, badly and the responsibility for myself and the department, and people like Ewen, and George Christensen is to ensure that we don’t repeat those mistakes.

JOURNALIST:

How does Townsville’s needs differ from the needs of other cities or other states?

MINISTER:

Well Townsville, of course being a garrison city, is unique and that’s why there’s an enormous workload for the DVA staff. We have the on-base advisory service (OBAS) and I’ve met two of the operators here today. They’ve got a very significant workload. They work very closely with the unit welfare officers and others. So that’s working well.

So Townsville is unique to the extent as a garrison city and has a large number not only of returning men and women but those who are transitioning out of the forces and those who are based here full time.

JOURNALIST:

You mentioned mental health as a significant priority. We’ve unfortunately seen an increased number of people suffering PTSD, turning from alcohol, going through our court system. We’ve also had Captain Paul McKay who you probably heard died overseas. What can you say to the families who are dealing with this day in, day out? What are you going to do about the PTSD crisis?

MINISTER:

I don’t want to talk about individual cases, for obvious reasons.

Well this is an issue where we can do one of two things. We can run and hide from it, and pretend it’s not happening. Or we can get on the front foot and do something about it.

Ewen and I are not prepared to sit back and not do anything about it. But it does have enormous challenges.

I meet on a regular basis with younger veterans, contemporary veterans, to see what they need. Clearly, early intervention is absolutely pivotal. Clearly, the speedy processing of claims and the engagement of young men and women with the department is very, very important. The longer that it takes to process those claims the more removed those young men and women will feel from the department and the ramifications of that are obvious.

So we have enormous challenges. I don’t in any way wish to under play those. We’ve got to look after those men and women with mental health issues as well as looking after those men and women without mental health issues who are going to go and join the workforce and continue to make their contribution.

JOURNALIST:

Will we see more funding devoted to issues like PTSD?

MINISTER:

Well there’s substantial amount of funding at the moment. The former government announced a considerable funding increase about 18 months ago. I am going to revamp the way I’m getting advice. I want to get younger veterans more involved. I want to ensure that the services that we are providing meet their needs.

They are an entirely different group of returned men and women, as you’ll understand, from those from the Second World War, Vietnam, Korea, Malaya, Borneo. They are a different generation, their needs are different and the department will need to respond to those needs and will need to be ahead of the game, not playing catch up.

JOURNALIST:

On other matters, the Defence Force has announced they are cutting danger money to those serving overseas. Is that a move you support?

MINISTER:

I only read reports of that this morning, in the national newspapers. The Minister for Defence and his Assistant Defence Minister have responsibility for that. I understand the Defence chiefs have ticked off on it and from the first of March there will be some changes made and from the first of July I understand the operations will be separated in to three components.

JOURNALIST:

And do you think that might have an impact on the families of soldiers?

MINISTER:

Well as I say, it’s a Defence Department decision and I am unable to comment further.

 

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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