Sky News, Paul Murray interview discussing the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide

Thursday, July 8 2021

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

Paul Murray: The veterans’ royal commission is going to be taking place. Nick Kaldis, former Deputy Commissioner of Police in New South Wales will be one of its commissioners. The person who’s helped put all of this in place is a new broom in the issue of veterans’ affairs, his first television interview. He’s with us right now. Andrew Gee is that beforementioned Minister and he joins us now in Canberra. Now, Andrew, I apologise, I think some people may be confused if I made you out to be a former serviceperson. You’re not. Of course, we will get to that former serviceperson with their view on the decisions made today in a second, but before I get to anything else, congratulations on the appointment. You’re a decent bloke and I think you can achieve some pretty big things in this portfolio. Do you see this as a new broom? Are you just going to wait until the royal commission comes back with things? What happens as some of the first cabs off the rank for you?

Andrew Gee: No, we’re not going to be sitting waiting for the royal commission to hand down its final report in a couple of years. We’ve got to get this stuff cracking. We’ve got to get change cracking and we’ve got to make life better for veterans and their families. And I hope and want this royal commission to be a seminal moment in Australia’s treatment of veterans and their families, and they deserve it. And they deserve our best because they have given us their best over the years, but I think the reality is that Australia as a country hasn’t always done as much as it could for our veterans and you go back to the Vietnam era – my uncle was a nasho, went over Vietnam – the way they were treated when they came home was appalling, and the wounds are still there and they’re still very raw for a lot of our veterans. Fast‑forward to the present day where even with the best will in the world and all the support that we’ve got, we still have veterans feeling marginalised, feeling that they’re just a number in a large system and we have to change that, and I’m determined to be part of that change. And there’s a huge amount of goodwill in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. They want to help veterans, but we’ve just got to make sure that even with all this goodwill and the spotlight on this issue now, that we get the reform in place to get cracking now because there are things we can be doing while this royal commission is going to make life better for veterans and their families.

Paul Murray: So the knock on the department from people we’ve talked to, from people who’ve no doubt approached you as both an MP and a Minister now, is that dealing with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is like dealing with an insurance company where it feels like people get bonuses to say no. Whether that perception is the reality or not doesn’t matter. It’s people’s feelings about their relationship to their government, to their country and to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. What are you going to do to make sure that people don’t have that feeling anymore, that the system starts to move in the favour of those who are trying to get something out of it after already putting so much in via their service to the nation?

Andrew Gee: Well, I’m going to have a good look under the bonnet of what is going on with, for example, claims processing and see if we can not only speed the system up but make it more human so that it feels that our veterans are not just a number and they’re being shunted from caseworker to caseworker. Now, in the recent Budget, we got an extra $98 million for 440 new claims processing staff, which is great, but that’s only half the problem solved. More staff is great but we’ve got to make sure that they’re actually going to be doing things that get these claims processed in a fair way and in a fast way so that it benefits veterans and their families. So, I think there’s a heck of a lot of work to do just on that one issue alone, making sure that the compensation claims are sped up and that they’re fairly assessed and that it’s not a dehumanising experience for our veterans. I want to make sure that our Department of Veterans’ Affairs looks at what’s happening around Australia in terms of its – what’s happening in terms of care of veterans. For example, I think there’s interesting things happening in PTSD and our treatment of that.

We need to make sure that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is responsive to what’s happening around us and including what’s happening overseas – the good things that are happening there. Do we have enough clinical experience in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs? That’s something I’d like to have a look at so we can actually get change faster because I think that governments – as I said there’s a lot of goodwill there, but when you get governments putting down money into big bureaucracy, sometimes bureaucracies can get caught up in processes. So, instead of actually focusing on change and delivering an end result, we get caught up in processes and doing reviews and doing trials for years and, you know, waiting for response, and we need to get cracking on this stuff now. That’s what our veterans want. That’s what their families want. Just look at the impact that all of this has on families alone. For too long it’s the families who have been forced to pick up the pieces when, you know, there’s trouble and mental health issues at home. It’s a tremendous toll on veterans. It is a tremendous toll on families and the cold hard truth is we need to be doing better, and we’re determined to do better and make this the seminal moment that it promises to be.

Paul Murray: Well, Minister, I want to be a partner in that because we want solutions here so whatever we can do on the telly, we’ll gladly reinforce some of the things that are being done while that royal commission takes place. I appreciate the chat.

Andrew Gee: Thanks for having me on the show, Paul.

Paul Murray: The brand‑new 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