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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

31 October 2018

Darren Chester on ABC Radio Darwin

**E&OE**

ALEX BARWICK: Well, the Invictus Games are done and dusted - I wonder how much of it you caught. If you did watch quite a lot of it, I'm sure those memories will remain for some time - inspirational and moving moments of veterans from around the world giving their all, overcoming incredible adversity, to come together in what was a huge show of talent and emotion.

You might have also heard, after the Games closed, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing a new veterans' card that will enable veterans to receive discounts on everything from car insurance to a cup of coffee to dry cleaning, grocery bills, fuel, electricity, and more. It's part of a broader package that the PM hopes will create, as he calls it, a new culture of respect for our veterans.

Darren Chester is the federal Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Defence Personnel and he's with us this afternoon. Minister, thanks for your time.

DARREN CHESTER: Great to be joining you, Alex.

ALEX BARWICK: Firstly - your thoughts on the Invictus Games?

DARREN CHESTER: Amazing. Just an amazing event. I didn't get to watch as much sport as I'd like - I had to do work with the veterans' ministers from overseas and also in Australia, but the events I did get to see were incredibly emotional - to see the veterans themselves, their families, the camaraderie between their competitors was amazing. It was sport at its purest. It was lovely to watch. But also to know that it had been a long and arduous journey for some of them and sport had been a vehicle to help them with their recovery and their recuperation. And I guess what it also means to highlight, I think, hopefully, for the broader public was that we need to see the abilities, not the disabilities.

So, see how these people - even though they may have overcome some adversity - can still play a very productive role in our community, can still go on to be employed. We often say that hiring a veteran is good for your business, and seeing the values and the hard work and the determination of some of those veterans during the Invictus Games, I think it proved the point very strongly.

ALEX BARWICK: Given the success of the Games and the response from the public, and the fact that these days there are large Anzac Day turnouts, do Australians really need a new culture of respect for veterans?

DARREN CHESTER: I think that's an interesting question, Alex. The point about Veterans' Covenant, which the Prime Minister announced with me last week, is about providing an opportunity - and in some ways it's quite symbolic - that we can make our pledge, our promise as those of us who haven't served to those who have to say: well, every day of the year, not just on Anzac Day or on Remembrance Day, we will recognise the service you provide, how you manage to keep us safe in an often challenging world, and we'll respect you and your families for being prepared to provide that service to us.

So, underpinning that is then perhaps the more practical implications, where we'll provide all our veterans with a Veterans Card, so that is a nationally identified and recognisable card that businesses may choose to - only if they want to, no one's going to make this compulsory - only if they choose to, business might want to offer a special deal for a veteran, it's up to them.

ALEX BARWICK: So, it's voluntary.

DARREN CHESTER: Oh, absolutely. And the lapel pin is more about, well, the veterans get to wear their medals on Anzac Day and at other ceremonial occasions and marches, but if they want to, they can wear a lapel pin which recognises the fact that they have served our country. So, it's not about trying to make it compulsory or anything else, it's more about saying to the Australian community: we can probably show our respect and our recognition of our veterans more than once or twice a year at commemorative events.

ALEX BARWICK: Okay. And I guess that's what I really want to nut into - I want to talk about the card in a moment, but what difference do you think it would practically make, day in day out, to a veteran's life, this Australian Veterans' Covenant?

DARREN CHESTER: Look, I think that is the core of the issue - think about the Vietnam War and the veterans who returned and in many ways were treated quite poorly and were subbed by the community. One of the issues is making sure that people respect and recognise those who serve and recognise that they're sent to do that job on behalf of the government of the day and they should never be criticised for having done that. It's a recognition that they didn't make the decision to go away and serve, it was actually a decision made by people like myself in the Parliament of Australia. So, I think that is part of it, that we support you, we believe in you, and we think you've done a great job for our country.

And for some who may be suffering perhaps from mental health issues or some concerns about their service, I think recognising that the community has its back and is supporting them on a regular basis is important in that regard.

ALEX BARWICK: So, Minister, this is all sounding obviously very positive - very positive messaging. We already know veterans are entitled to free mental health. So, is there anything practical outside of the card that will assist those veterans that, as you say, might be suffering with mental health issues?

DARREN CHESTER: Well, you're right. The changes we made this year to provide free mental health care for all veterans in their families, regardless of how they incurred a mental health issue is important because we've had some incidences where people weren't able to get services when they needed it. We should be proud of the fact as a nation that we provide more than $11 billion per year to support veterans and their families. So that's about 290,000 veterans and their families receive some level of taxpayer support through that $11 billion in the budget. So we do do some great things as a nation, as a community already. But this is not about government taking a backwards step, it's more about providing ways for the business community to step forward if it wants to and support our veterans on a more regular basis, if they want to. So it's not a question of government trying to hand pass its responsibilities, it's far from being that. It's more about, how do we as a community demonstrate our support and recognise the work of our service men and women other than on one or two days of the year?

ALEX BARWICK: And this new discount card is it already up and running or is there now a bit of a lag period for businesses to express interest in being involved?

DARREN CHESTER: Well we're already taking expressions of interest from businesses that can register with the federal government right now. In terms of the lag period you referred to, I've still got some consultation with the ex-Service organisations to occur. So they're very much aware that I was heading down this pathway, but until I had the policy approval from the Prime Minister, I couldn't take it much further. So I'll be meeting with them again this week, actually on Friday in Canberra, so some of the RSLs and other key ex-Service organisations will be there. And we work through now the design process; how we'll roll it out and how quickly we can make it available.

One of the really interesting points Alex, which I think people would be surprised to hear - we actually don't know every veteran in Australia at the moment. We only know the ones that have registered with us. So I think having a card like this may actually bring more people forward saying I want one of those cards, it might be- they might see a material benefit for them, but it also might help us make sure we can provide them the health services they need. So we think there's potentially tens of thousands of veterans still alive or haven't sought any help from DVA - Department of Veterans Affairs whatsoever. So I think that will be another benefit in terms of making sure that people are supported with the health services they need.

ALEX BARWICK: And just finally, look, PTSD - you know as well as I do, it's a huge issue right across the nation and here in the Territory, Darwin of course having a large military presence. You say you're listening to veteran groups right now; you might be aware that a veterans group in Darwin are looking for government support for a 10 bed, PTSD centre. They've got the money together - $15 million for the building, but they desperately need financial help to staff it; is that something that you would consider looking at?

DARREN CHESTER: Absolutely Alex. I haven't come across that particular project yet myself, but I'll certainly make myself aware of it now. I'm planning to be in the Territory in the next couple of months as part of a range of visits I'm doing and roundtables I'm doing to meet with ex-Service organisations. I'd be very keen to have a chat with them about that.

We need to make sure that we don't portray every veteran as being broken or damaged because most people will come out of the Australian Defence Force service with great skills and values and hard work, and have learnt things that can easily transition to civilian life. But at the same time for those who have been injured, physically or mentally, we as a grateful nation have to support them. So that's important that we recognise on both sides of the equation that yes, they're very employable and many businesses would benefit from having a veteran on their staff. At the same time, those that need our help should receive it. And I think government's working in partnership with the ex-Service organisations, in partnership with the community can perhaps do even more into the future and I think that's a positive thing.

ALEX BARWICK: Alright. We'll leave it there Minister. Thanks so much for your time this afternoon.

DARREN CHESTER: And I appreciate your interest.

ALEX BARWICK: Darren Chester there, he's the federal Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Defence Personnel.

ENDS

Media Contacts:

Whil Prendergast: 02 6277 7820
DVA Media: 02 6289 6466
Office of the Hon Darren Chester MP, Canberra

Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling provides support for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families. Free and confidential help is available 24/7. Phone 1800 011 046 (international: +61 8 8241 4546) or visit www.OpenArms.gov.au