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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

5 September 2018

Darren Chester with Steve Chase (ABC News Radio)

**E&OE**

STEVE CHASE: What do you make of the Labor Party's plan to sign this covenant?

DARREN CHESTER: Well, the issue of developing a covenant is something that's already quite well advanced in discussions between the government and the RSL plus other ex-service organisations. And it's something that I've looked at in the last few months since I've become the minister because it recognises the role of the community as well as the role of the government to care and support for our veterans. So, as a government, we're determined to keep putting our veterans first and putting veterans' families first. And this is a way that we can, I think, provide more opportunities to the community to take some of that responsibility to recognise that we all have a role to support veterans in our community beyond the annual Anzac Day commemorative activities.

STEVE CHASE: Why is a military covenant needed? Tell us a bit more about what it will actually do if it's brought in.

DARREN CHESTER: Well, to be fair it is primarily symbolic in the sense that it provides an opportunity for — and the words we're framing at the moment with the ex-service community provides an opportunity for the community to swear an oath of support for our military returning personnel and obviously our serving personnel as well. It's not about putting legal obligations upon people, it's more about a frame of words that would indicate that as a grateful nation, we acknowledge there's about 80,000 Australians right now who serve in our uniform, they put on that uniform and defend our country and keep us safe, recognising the unique nature of that service and our obligation as a grateful nation to look after them when they leave the ADF, when they leave the Australian Defence Force, making sure we assist them in the transition to civilian life, that we provide opportunities for them to use their skills in civilian life and to go and have productive lives beyond the ADF. So, it's more about making sure we look after veterans. And I guess in this particular week being Legacy Week, it's a very welcome conversation to be talking about how as a community we look after veterans and their families. And I think it's a good week to have this conversation.

STEVE CHASE: Now, we'll get on to the commemoration for the Battle of Australia in a moment. But you'd be aware — as the rest of the country is — that the Prime Minister has stunned us this morning when he announced that he's going to scrap that plan to raise the pension age by 70 by the year 2035. How will that have an impact on the veterans, are they covered by service pensions or are they affected by this as well?

DARREN CHESTER: Well, it's a wide range of issue you covered there. A lot of our military personnel have a reasonably short military career in the sense that the average career's about nine or 10 years. So, when we think of the word veteran, we tend to think of someone in their sixties or seventies. But from an ADF perspective, our veterans are often in their late twenties or early thirties, so they have another career after they've been in the military. So, just as the conditions apply to everyday Australians in terms of their civilian life, it applies to our veterans. But they often have access to a military pension as well that they've accumulated during their time in the military. So, their superannuation and pension issues are a little bit more complex perhaps than the average Australians. But I would say that the vast majority of people who serve in the Australian Defence Force, when they leave go on to have a very productive second life, whether it's be in their own business or in some sort of a corporate life or business-type activity. So, our challenge is to make sure that the few and the minority — so, it is only a minority — the minority who struggle after their service, are properly supported. And I think that's why in the federal budget there's about $11 billion per year now provided for veterans and their families to make sure we do fulfil our obligations.

STEVE CHASE: Minister, as you would well know, it's a sad fact that a lot of the veterans who were in the Battle for Australia back in the '40s, middle of the Second World War, a lot of people younger than them don't realise how close Australia came on that occasion. And today is the day where we reflect on that.

DARREN CHESTER: Yeah, the Battle for Australia commemorative activities occur to — they coincide with the Battle of Milne Bay, which is one of the — one of several battles that really occurred over a period of 1942 to '43 where Australia —the Australian mainland came under attack and for several months there, Australians feared a Japanese invasion of our nation. So, it's an important date to remember and reflect on the service of others. Hundreds of our soldiers, airmen and navy personnel were killed during that period. And obviously the Battle for Australia is something that we perhaps didn't always learn enough about during our history days at high school but I think that's changing.

STEVE CHASE: Alright. Darren Chester, we'll have to leave it there but thank you very much for talking to us.

DARREN CHESTER: All the best, have a great day. And don't forget to buy a Legacy badge this Friday.

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