Press Conference, Townsville

The Hon Matt Keogh MP
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel

E&OE transcript 
Press Conference
The Oasis, Townsville

MINISTER KEOGH: Thanks for coming out to Oasis Townsville, today we’ve received some very interesting and important statistics that have been released as part of the Census data and it shows that, in Australia, we have over 580,000 existing serving personnel and veterans.

It’s the first time we’ve been able to get that sort of data and see the extent and the number of people who have served our nation. And what’s really important about this information which shows that we’ve got about 85,000 people who are serving our nation right now, as well as 496,000 odd who have served our nation in the past, is that we can see that DVA is only working with less than half of that number. What that’s telling us is that more than half of our veterans are actually living really good, fulfilled lives. They are not needing those additional supports through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. And that’s a really good news story.

But right here in Townsville through the release of this data we can see the importance of Townsville as the garrison city that it is. Supporting 5,500 service personnel and 8,700 veterans. It’s got the most veterans, the most serving personnel in the country. It demonstrates the importance of Townsville to our Defence Force and to our veterans, but also the importance of the Defence community to the city of Townsville. In a city of 180,000 people, one in 10 people in Townsville are connected to Defence and have served our nation.

It clearly demonstrates why places like this, places like Oasis Townsville are so important. They provide that opportunity to support our serving personnel as they transition out of service back in to civilian life. They support our veterans by connecting them to each other and connecting them to community. Helping them find work, connecting them to businesses and supporting their families as well.

So Oasis Townsville is an example of a Veterans and Families Hub, we want to roll out Veterans and Families Hubs around the country, we’ve got 10 new Hubs that we will be creating across Australia to support our serving personnel as they transition out, our veterans and their families, who we know serve with their serving member as well.

One of the other pieces of great news that we’ve seen in this Census data release today is that veterans volunteer at a higher rate in our communities at a higher rate than the general population. And it demonstrates something that I think we already knew, which is people that have served in Defence are about serving our community and servingAour nation, and they continue that service once they leave Defence, by supporting their communities, volunteering, engaging and it’s great to see how people can continue serving their nation after they’ve left the Defence Force. And that’s what the statistics from the Census show us.

JOURNALIST: There might only be half of that number that we talked about that are accessing DVA. But we are seeing at the moment how much work needs to be put in to that space, especially with the Royal Commission currently in Townsville. What are your thoughts on what you’ve been hearing in Townsville, things like hazing being a problem, there not being enough psychologists on base, things like that.

MINISTER KEOGH: So I think the Royal Commission, and we’ve had the Royal Commission here in Townsville this fortnight, is doing very important work and it’s good to see that it’s working its way around Australia to engage with veterans and families and Defence and with Veterans’ Affairs and with the former Ministers seeing where balls have clearly been dropped. It’s why our government has made the firm commitment of 500 additional staff into the Department of Veterans’ Affairs so we can get through this backlog of claims processing which is so important. Serving personnel and veterans should not have to wait any longer than absolutely necessary to get those claims processed and to get the support that they need and deserve. I think in terms of some of the other things that we’ve seen come out of the Royal Commission it demonstrates why the Royal Commission is important. We know that the rate of suicide amongst veterans is significantly higher than across the general population. There are clearly problems that need to be addressed. It’s why from Opposition Labor were so supportive and called for this Royal Commission to be established because we need to see what’s been going wrong and what can be done to fix this. And that’s why we support the Royal Commission and we look forward to seeing its recommendations and the interim report to come out in August and the final report to come out in two years so that we can work on solving those problems, to work on saving lives and to make people’s service experience and their experiences as a veteran better.

JOURNALIST: You’ve spoken about Labor promising a significant amount of funding to the veteran space, but the portfolio was also moved out of the Ministry. Surely that’s not sending the right message to the people that you guys are claiming to look after?

MINISTER KEOGH: I think what’s really important in the veterans’ space is that for too long under the previous government the outcomes were bad. And we saw the previous government drop the ball, we saw these backlogs develop, and what we are committed to doing is solving these issues. We are committed to the 500 additional staff, we’re committed to getting through these backlogs, creating new veterans and families hubs, supporting veterans in housing crisis. Working with veterans and families and Defence personnel about how to improve their experience in service and when they transition out to make sure they get better connections to employment. Improving flexibility around Defence Housing.

All of those things are what’s going to make a difference and we are committed to delivering those outcomes. And I think delivering outcomes for veterans is much more important than what table I happen to sit at. Remember that the Defence Minister across this whole portfolio is the Deputy Prime Minister, you can’t get more senior than that. And what I’m committed to as the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs is delivering the outcomes that veterans need and the outcomes that veterans need and the outcomes they deserve.

JOURNALIST: The former Minister Mr Darren Chester said there wasn’t a direct handover when he resumed the role of DVA Minister. What has occurred since you took office in terms of being brought up to speed on the portfolio of the Minister in terms of the backlog of complaints?

MINISTER KEOGH: So as with any incoming government when there’s a change of government, I received a number of incoming government briefs, working with the department around what’s going on and what can we do to get these problems resolved and we made a number of election commitments like the 500 additional staff to get through the backlog. We are starting on engaging those staff already to make sure we can get through this as quickly as possible. But I am also engaging with the ex-service organisations, with family members of veterans, with people around the country, coming and visiting the Family and Veterans Hubs like Oasis Townsville to make sure I’m getting the full experience and feedback from the veteran community and the Defence community.
I’ve been at both of the barracks here in Townsville over the last couple of days. Because that’s important to get the lived experience of people so that I get the widest array of knowledge and benefit from the experience and the frontline experience of our service personnel and our veterans to inform how we can best help them.

JOURNALIST: Is some of the work that you seek to achieve, um, include harmonising the highly complex legislation that the Productivity Commission recommended to address the backlog of complaints, Minister?

MINISTER KEOGH: So certainly one of the things that I’m looking at as a new Minister coming in to this role is the recommendations that have come out of the Productivity Commission, and looking at how we can improve the lives of veterans and the way in which they interact with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to make it easier for them to get the support that they need and deserve. There’s a lot of work to go in to understanding and unpacking what the Productivity Commission has recommended there and nothing like that can happen without some really broad consultation across the whole range of the veteran community to make sure that anything we do in that space we get right.

JOURNALIST: Just on the proposed hubs, you’ve said there’s going to be 10 around the country, will they follow a similar model to this and where have you slated them to be?

MINISTER KEOGH: So there will be 10 new hubs, Veterans and Families Hubs around the country. They will be similar but not necessarily the same as what we have here in Townsville. Because it’s important that we meet the needs of veterans and their families as they exist in each different location. They will be across all of the states of Australia and they are going to be in the areas where we see the highest need with the biggest concentration of veterans. And we’ve announced a number of locations for those but we will be working through that process and finalising those soon.

JOURNALIST: What are some significant successes from The Oasis that you’ve been made aware of that you might see elsewhere?

MINISTER KEOGH: I think one of the great things about Oasis Townsville is the way in which they prioritise connection to community and that’s community amongst the veteran community but also veterans into the broader Townsville community. And the way in which they are a broad service that allows many different businesses and services and volunteers to engage here, in neutral space if you like, not just any one service but also in an area that is welcoming and familiar for veterans and their families. Because we know how important that veteran family connection is. Families are often first responders if you like to any veterans that find themselves in trouble. And that connection of being able to support families as well as the veteran themselves to access the services they need, employment, assistance with getting claims through DVA is really important. But we will be tailoring each of these hubs around the country to meet the needs in those areas.


Media contacts:
Stephanie Mathews (Minister Keogh’s Office): 0407 034 485