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Transcripts

The Hon Darren Chester MP
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC

TRANSCRIPT

Date: 24/04/2018
Time: 5:50 PM

Darren Chester with Tom Tilley (Triple J Hack)

Station: Triple J
Program: Hack

**E&OE**

TOM TILLEY: It was actually on this night 100 years ago, there was a huge battle going on in World War 1, it was the battle of Villers-Bretonneux in France just north of Paris and almost 2500 Australians died in that battle and that's why our Veterans Affairs Minister is there for tomorrow's Anzac Day service. Darren Chester, thanks for joining us.

DARREN CHESTER: Terrific to be with you.

TOM TILLEY: What's so important about being in Villers-Bretonneux this year?

DARREN CHESTER: Well this is the centenary of Anzac, the final year. Obviously the [indistinct] at the end of this year marks the end of World War 1 but today in Villers-Bretonneux we're unveiling the new Sir John Monash Centre which really tells the story of Australians at war on the Western Front in a way that's never been told before. It's very multi-media interactive. It challenges the visitor to walk a mile in the boots of the Australian solder to get a better understanding of what they went through.

TOM TILLEY: And this battle is often talked about as a turning point in World War 1. For young Australians, can you tell them what happened?

DARREN CHESTER: Yeah, it's absolutely critical. I know growing up in school we learnt a lot about the Gallipoli campaign which was the coming of age for Australia on the international stage. It was- it's highly celebrated in our history but it was a great military failure in many regards whereas here on the Western Front we obviously suffered major losses but also some of our greatest military victories, the win against the Germans at Villers-Bretonneux to save the town and protect [indistinct] a nearby town, was critical in turning the war around. Australians are highly celebrated here in France, even today the local communities have signs up all over the place at the moment saying they've never forgotten the Australians.

TOM TILLEY: It's a fantastic opportunity to remember those Australians that died in battles like Villers-Bretonneux, there's 2400 Australians there that gave their lives. But do you think Anzac Day's inclusive enough of the young vets, almost 30,000 of them have come home and we've spoken to some of them right after Anzac Day last year and several of them agreed live on air on this show that they feel disconnected from it, that it's lost it's meaning for them.

DARREN CHESTER: Look I think you raise a very, very important point, is that Anzac Day is not just about our First World War trials and tribulations. It's about recognising everyone who's served, whether it be in World War 1, World War 2, Vietnam, Korea, and peacekeeping conflicts right through Iraq and Afghanistan and I think our challenge as a nation is to make sure that we are inclusive of a younger veterans, those who serve today in the uniform and their families. We need to be supporting them as well. So I think it's a critical point you raise and it's one that I'm very keen to work with, the RSL's, the Returned Services League, and other ex-service organisation to make sure they're responding to the needs of younger veterans.

TOM TILLEY: Are we doing enough though, Darren? Are we putting too much time and money on the remembrance of the former soldiers and not enough just working on veteran's affairs? I know just recently you announced a new payment that will help some veterans get the support they need but from what we're hearing, so many of them are frustrated with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the support they're getting.

DARREN CHESTER: I think you raise another fair point Tom, and the total Department of Veteran's Affairs budget's about $11.3 billion per year and of that one per cent is spent on commemorative activities, so thinks like Anzac Day and other activities. So I think we've got the balance right in the sense that we are supporting veterans and monies available for them with any health claims, particularly mental health claims, or [indistinct] injuries, our challenge and this is one where I've been working very closely with the department since taking on the job, is making sure we're providing those services to younger veterans in a way that they can access them very quickly. An old paper based system, which is quite an antiquated system which we're improving and making it more digital friendly or technology friendly for younger vets, so they get support when they need it.

TOM TILLEY: You're listening to Darren Chester, he's the Minister for Veterans Affairs. He's speaking to you from France. He's right near Villers-Bretonneux, a very important place in the history of World War 1, 100 years since that battle. It kicked off exactly on this day 100 years ago.
Last question Darren Chester, there will be female soldiers leading marches around Australia tomorrow. How do you feel about that?

DARREN CHESTER: I'm completely comfortable with that. I mean the number of women in our Navy, Army and Air Force is increasing. It's something that we need to see more of into the future. We need to make sure our Defence Force reflects the society that serves and more women are involved in a whole range of professions throughout the Australian community. We need a diverse Defence Force just like we have a diverse community. Women in the military play very important roles and we're seeing increasing numbers, still well below the number of men who are in the Defence Force but I've been in the fortunate position to see women in command of ships, women in command of Air Force operations and Army platoons around Australia. So, they're doing a great job and I think it's important to recognise that service equally.

TOM TILLEY: Minister Chester, great to speak to you. All the best for a special day in France tomorrow.

DARREN CHESTER: I appreciate your interest and simply encourage everyone to show their respect on Anzac Day to attend their local march whether it's in a big city or a small country town just to get out there and back those people who have served us in the past.

TOM TILLEY: Darren Chester, the Veterans Affairs Minister speaking to me from Villers-Bretonneux in France.

End

Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) can be reached 24 hours a day across Australia for crisis support and free confidential counselling. Phone 1800 011 046 (international: +61 8 8241 4546). VVCS is a service founded by Vietnam veterans.