ABC News Radio, Thomas Oriti interview discussing the National Remembrance Day Service at the War Memorial

Thursday, November 11 2021

The Hon Andrew Gee MP
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel

TOM ORITI: So as I said a minute ago, today marks the 103rd anniversary of the Armistice which ended the First World War, the national service to be held at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. A bit of a different format this year to make sure it complies with COVID-safe rules. So, for more on what’s happening in the capital and around the country we’re joined now by the Veterans’ Affairs Minister, Andrew Gee. Minister, good morning.

ANDREW GEE: Good morning, and good morning to all of your listeners. It’s great to be on the program.

TOM ORITI: Thanks very much for joining us. So how are you marking today, and what events are happening across the country?

ANDREW GEE: Well, I’ll be at the National Remembrance Day Service at the War Memorial, and the telecast of that kicks off at about 10.45. But all around Australia now that we are coming out of these debilitating lockdowns many RSL sub-branches are organising local community services. And so I would just encourage anyone who can get to one of those to please do so, or if you can get to one of the major services in the capital cities, please do that as well.

But if you can’t do that, then tune in to – you can see it on the ABC or on iView. Or just wherever you are, pause for that minute’s silence yourself. Wherever you are – you could be sitting at your work desk. But just pause and reflect on that immense service and sacrifice made by so many men and women through the generations who’ve given so much in the service of our nation. And that’s what we ask today – that wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you take a minute out of your day just to pause and reflect on all that those men and women have done for our country and that immense sacrifice, including those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice.

And it’s very important that we do that today. It’s one of the most important days on our national calendar. And the men and women who served our country didn’t ask for much in return. In the end, it really just came down to one thing – that we remember, that we never forget them or what they did for our country. It’s a sacred national commitment of remembrance that currently rests with our generation, and in time we’re going to pass it down to the next generation. Today is about reaffirming and fulfilling that sacred duty to remember and giving thanks that we wake up to freedoms every single day.

TOM ORITI: Indeed.

ANDREW GEE: But we need to remember that those freedoms were secured through the service and sacrifice of generations of Australians. And that’s what today is about – it’s remembering that service and sacrifice and the freedoms that we enjoy that came at a very high price.

TOM ORITI: Indeed. So, Minister, earlier this year we saw the withdrawal of soldiers from Afghanistan. Can you tell me, what sort of support systems are in place for them, speaking as the Veterans’ Affairs Minister, and are you confident that they and other veterans currently have access to the services they need?

ANDREW GEE: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve got 24-hour-a day, seven-day-a-week counselling services available to not only current ADF personnel but also veterans and their families. And that is through Open Arms, which is the counselling service. That can be reached on 1800 011 046. And free and anonymous counselling is also available through Safe Zone Support. That’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week to all ADF personnel, veterans and their families on 1800 142 072.

There’s been a huge effort, especially since those very difficult days of the Afghanistan withdrawal, to make sure that the veteran community is very aware that, that support is there. All of our ex-service organisations have been doing their best to make sure that the word gets out. And I think we have been successful in doing that. But it is an ongoing effort just to make folks aware that support is available and that there is someone that they can talk to whenever they need it.

TOM ORITI: Okay. The latest data as well – just while we’ve got you there but obviously on a related issue given your portfolio – shows more than 1,200 Australian Defence Force veterans and serving personnel have died by suicide in the past two decades. Where are we at, at the moment, with regards to the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran suicide?

ANDREW GEE: The Royal Commission is going to commence hearings at the end of the month and they will take place in Brisbane. And I think that’s going to be – the whole Royal Commission will be a watershed moment for veteran care and support. I’ve been encouraging as many people as possible who want to share their stories with the Royal Commission to do so. I think that many of the stories that the nation will hear are going to be devastating and tragic. But they are stories that we have to hear and they’re stories that have to be told. Because, at the end of the day, politics and our parliament is all about making life better for the people we represent.
Those veterans have served our nation with distinction, and as we’re remembering today, many – over 100,000 – Australians made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. The very least that we can do for veterans and their families is provide them with the very best care that our nation can give.

TOM ORITI: Andrew Gee, on another matter, I mean, I’ve just got to – want to ask, because we’ve been talking a lot about climate issues over the past week, Glasgow underway. Now, you proudly represent regional New South Wales, you’re the member for Calare, that covers the central west of New South Wales, a member of the Nationals. A lot’s been discussed about Australia’s policies at COP26, and a report card out yesterday put it dead last. I mean, what’s your view? Should Australia be taking this more seriously?

ANDREW GEE: I think Australia is taking it very seriously. And I think that sometimes Australia gets criticised for their efforts, but when you look at what we’ve done, I mean, we’re way ahead of so many other countries –

TOM ORITI: Well, not according to the climate change performance index yesterday – dead last, that’s not a great report card.

ANDREW GEE: We’ve reduced emissions faster than any other major commodity exporting nation in the world – faster than Canada, faster than Japan, faster than New Zealand, faster than the United States, faster than a swag of other European countries. We’ve already reduced our emissions by 20 per cent, and we know that we are going to meet and beat the Paris targets. So, we’re coming in to 30 to 35 per cent by 2030; the target was 26 to 28 per cent. So, Australia is pulling its weight.

TOM ORITI: What about the road ahead, though?

ANDREW GEE: Yep, the road ahead. Well, we’ve just been through that in the National Party where we have committed to net zero by 2050. And I think that that shows that we are serious and that Australia is serious. But I think the task now is to get those big emitters into the tent – like China, like India and like other countries who have not signed up for this. That’s the task at hand. I think it’s all very well to throw shade on Australia and what we’re doing, but it’s a far different issue to tackle the biggest emitter, which is China. And I think that the fact that they weren’t at Glasgow I think was very disappointing. But I think Australia is serious. I think we’ve set serious targets. And whenever we have set a target we have not only met that target but we’ve beaten it as well, and we’re going to do it again.

TOM ORITI: Okay, but as somebody who represents regional Australia, you do acknowledge that climate change is having an impact on the industries in your region?

ANDREW GEE: Look, I think climate change is something that concerns people right across Australia, not just in regional Australia. And the focus of our discussions in the National Party was the impact of this policy on regional communities. And my own personal view was that there had been obviously quite a lot of work done on the front end of this policy.

But what I was looking for was work on the back end. And that included dealing with any potential impacts on regional communities. What I wanted to see was specific planning for individual regional communities that are impacted by this. And it’s one thing to have regional plans, which we need, but it’s another thing to actually back it up with serious dollars. That’s what I was looking for, or one of the key things I was looking for, in this discussion. And that has been secured.

So, I think that communities in my area, including places like Lithgow, that’s what our community leaders were crying out for. And that’s what will be delivered as part of this. So, I think there are some opportunities here for regional Australia through all of this. For example, carbon farming. I think that there are some great opportunities there for farmers.

But the key to it all for regional Australia is that we are not going to tax regional businesses out of existence. We’re not going to rub them out of business. We’re not going to decimate our regional manufacturing base, because it is so vibrant in many regional communities that we have. We’re not going to tell farmers what they can farm on their land, how many cattle they can run. We’re not going to tell them to lock up their land. We are going to get there in a responsible way that doesn’t see country people carrying the can on this for city people. And I think that’s the responsible thing to do, and that’s what our country communities want us to do.

TOM ORITI: Okay.

ANDREW GEE: They are concerned about the environment and we do need to make sure that we’re protecting the environment. But we’ve got to do it in a responsible way that doesn’t just shut down country industries and country businesses. We’ve got to keep costs down, we’ve got to keep the lights on, and we’ve got to build a brighter future for our kids and grandkids. And that’s what we’re doing.

TOM ORITI: Okay, minister, we’re out of time. Look, thank you very much for joining us this morning, appreciate it.

ANDREW GEE: Thanks for having me.

TOM ORITI: That’s Veterans’ Affairs Minister Andrew Gee.

** End of transcript **

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