Friday, May 16 2014

Senator the Hon. Michael Ronaldson
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC
Special Minister of State


[Greetings omitted]

It is a great honour to be here in Launceston for the 2014 RSL Tasmania Congress and to have the opportunity to address you.

As a community we must never forget the service and sacrifice of our veterans and their families; and

We must also do all we can to ensure that future generations understand this service and sacrifice and the contribution it has made to the way of life we all enjoy today.


The 2014 Budget delivers what we promised to the veteran community at the 2013 Federal Election and lays the foundation for the delivery of appropriate support to those who need it in the future.

The Abbott Government’s four pillar plan for veterans and their families are:

  • recognition of the unique nature of military service;
  • retention of a stand-alone Department of Veterans’ Affairs;
  • tackling mental health challenges for veterans and their families; and
  • supporting veterans through adequate advocacy and welfare services.

The Budget delivers more than $12 billion in funding to support the veteran community including $6.5 billion in pensions and income support and $5.4 billion in health services.

It is important to consider this figure for a moment because $12 billion is almost the same amount we’re spending on interest payments to pay off Labor’s debt each year.

For just a moment, imagine what could have been done if we weren’t shackled by Labor’s legacy of debt and deficit.

The federal budget is a responsible one that recognises the unique nature of military service and the sacrifices that military personnel and their families have made and continue to make on behalf of all Australians.

Importantly, it is a sustainable budget that will enable this support to be able to be provided into the future.

I can confirm that veterans eligible to access the Veterans’ Pharmaceutical Reimbursement Scheme will continue to receive a reimbursement for out of pocket pharmaceutical expenses, following changes to the co-contribution announced in the budget.

Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) Gold and White treatment card holders are not impacted by co-payment measures.  Under DVA arrangements, the DVA fee will continue as the full payment to the provider with no charge to the card holder.

Indexation of pensions paid to Defence Force Retirement Benefits (DFRB) Scheme and the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits (DFRB) Scheme superannuants, promised before the election and legislated on 27 March 2014, will remain in place.

Some of the highlights of the Budget for the Veteran community include

Delivering fair indexation to recipients of the DFRB and DFRDB military superannuation pensions. This fulfils our election commitment and means that from 1 July 2014, superannuants aged 55 and over will have their pensions indexed by the better of movements in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the Pensioner Beneficiary Living Cost Index (PBLCI) and Male Total Average Weekly Earnings (MTAWE).   It is the least we can do for our servicemen and women who have given so much for their country.

Increasing BEST funding by $1million per annum over the forward estimates, restoring funding inexplicably cut by the former Labor government in 2011. This funding will support the very important work of veterans’ advocates, pension and welfare officers in helping veterans access important information and services.

Implementing a range of initiatives focussed on the mental health of our veterans such as providing greater access to the VVCS for ex service members and their families.

Increasing funding available for the Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program to $125,000 per federal electorate.


I would like to take this opportunity to discuss an issue to which I am personally committed to addressing to the best of our ability - the mental health needs of contemporary veterans. And I am sure it is an issue that you too are concerned about.

Military operations over the last decade or so has resulted in a new cohort of veterans.  Some 72,000 ADF members have served overseas since 1999.

Without wishing to be overly technical- funding for the treatment services provided by DVA is set out in legislation-the Veterans' Entitlement Act, MRCA and SRCA.

This means that if a treatment service is required it is funded with no limits placed on the amount that can be spent in any one year.

I am determined for my Department to continually  improve the mental health services it has available and to develop new approaches to meeting the mental health needs of veterans.

I meet with younger veterans on a regular basis to seek their feedback and a key issue raised with me is the importance of early intervention.

In opposition, as you know, we conducted more than 100 veterans forums, including five in Tasmania. I hope to hold another one later this year.

I have made it clear to the Secretary of DVA, Simon Lewis, at our first meeting  that the mental health needs of veterans is a very significant priority for me as the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs.

Together we are all working very hard to ensure that veterans who experience mental health issues have access to the support they need.

DVA spends around $166 million per year on mental health services for clients, including online mental health information and support, GP services, psychologist and social work services, specialist psychiatric services, pharmaceuticals, posttraumatic stress disorder programs, and in-patient and out-patient hospital treatment.

Whilst we have a fairly clear understanding of the current client base the profile and nuances of the contemporary veteran cohort – our future clients – are yet to unfold.

Although veterans of contemporary operations currently constitute only a small percentage of the overall mental health cohort, they are growing in number and meeting their needs is a high priority.

While the contemporary veterans share the military experience of previous generations they may also have different characteristics compared to their predecessors. For example, we know that contemporary veterans are less likely to join ex-service organisations.

This has required DVA to adopt new approaches to communicating with and providing support to these veterans by increasingly using social media and a range of online and mobile applications.

Considerable progress is being made in the care and support services available to current and former ADF members. It is vital that the Defence and Veteran Affairs departments remain responsive to the changing needs of veterans both now and into the future.

Deployed ADF members are now being provided with a continuum of mental health support designed to enhance their ability to cope with the challenges of deployment and to improve their capacity for effective transition post-deployment back in to work and family life.

Of particular note is the Case Formulation E-Learning Program developed in partnership with the Australian Centre For Post Traumatic Mental Health. This program provides resources that will help clinicians meet the mental health needs of a new generation of Australian veterans.

These resources were developed with the assistance of a range of research including the identification of capability gaps in the practice of evidence-based treatment for PTSD and treatment planning for complex co-morbid cases.

The new online support and e learning resources that have been developed include; the At Ease Professional website; the Mental Health Advice Book and the Understanding the Military Experience online training program. 

The close partnership between DVA and Defence is crucial to ensuring that our serving personnel are appropriately supported when they leave the ADF and that no one falls through the cracks.

The mental health of modern day veterans is an issue I am very focused on and I am committed to working with the veteran and wider community to ensure veterans can access the treatment they need.

It is essential that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past and I believe that we are much better placed to do this than ever before as information and research is being collected much closer to deployments.

Earlier this year I was pleased to announce the establishment of a new Prime Ministerial Advisory Council (PMAC) with a renewed and particular focus on veteran mental health issues , particularly those relating to former service personnel with service after 1975.

I am delighted that former Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Russ Crane AO, CSM, RAN (Ret’d), will Chair the new PMAC and that he will be supported by Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith VC, MG, as the Deputy Chair.  Mr Ryan Stokes will also be a member of the new PMAC. 

The new PMAC membership will also comprise experts in mental health matters, representatives of the Australian Defence Force, the veteran community and industry leaders.

I have also asked DVA to examine ways in which it can provide more assistance and support to former ADF members who are returning to the workforce. This is a key objective that will have both short and long term implications.

It  is not an attempt to deny benefits to anyone who is entitled to them, but is a positive step in the rehabilitation of young men and women who  desire to return to meaningful work.

Other initiatives that are being considered to assist former ADF personnel to find and maintain suitable civilian work after their service ends include.

Critical Incident Mental Health Support screening following critical incidents; Special Psychological Screens conducted mid deployment; and Return to Australia Psychological Screens conducted for all ADF members at the end of overseas deployments.


I recently had the privilege of visiting Turkey where I inspected preparations for the Centenary commemorations at Anzac Cove, and participated in this year’s commemorative ceremonies.

As you will be aware DVA is working closely with Turkish authorities and our New Zealand counterparts, to ensure the safety and security of all 10,500 people who will participate in the 2015 commemorations.

Whilst in Turkey I took the opportunity to meet with the relevant Turkish Ministers who informed me that the Turkish Government had decided to establish a special agency to coordinate commemorative activities at Gallipoli in 2015.

I also took the opportunity to speak to many Australians present at the Dawn Service who expressed their desire to see the spirit of Anzac live on and to participate in this important and sacred commemoration.

Centenary events in Australia include a commemorative event at Albany in Western Australia on 31 October and 1 November this year to mark the 100th anniversary  of the departure of the first convoy of ships that carried Australian and New Zealand troops to the First World War.

Other initiatives include the Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program of up to $125,000 per Federal electorate that will enable local communities commemorate the Centenary in their own way.

One of the key goals of our Anzac Centenary Program is education – to increase the understanding of all Australians of the involvement of our troops in the First World War, their service and sacrifice and the cost and impact of the conflict on our community.

For those of you who were successful in the ballot, and will be attending Anzac Day at Gallipoli next year , congratulations.

Some 42,500 applications were received  from Australians for the Gallipoli ballot along with 9,900 from New Zealand.

All applicants, successful and unsuccessful, have now been notified.

For those commemorating the Centenary in Australia there will be many national and local opportunities to be involved in the commemorations.    


In closing, I would like to thank you for inviting me to open your Conference today.

It is a great honour.

I wish you all a very successful Conference and again I express my gratitude on behalf of the Abbott Government for your service to our community.


Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) and Veterans Line can be reached 24 hours a day across Australia for crisis support and free and confidential counselling. Phone 1800 011 046

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