The Hon Andrew Gee MP
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel
Steve Price: A very good morning to one of our ministers. Hello, Andrew? Are you there Andrew? I’ll just see if he’s there. Are you there Andrew?
Andrew Gee: Pricey, I’m with you.
Steve Price: There you are. Mate, are you calling from Canberra?
Andrew Gee: Yeah, it’s ruddy freezing down here, mate. And you’re up there in a Hawaiian shirt.
Steve Price: I am.
Andrew Gee: And I’m freezing.
Steve Price: Yeah?
Andrew Gee: And I’m jealous. I’m hearing about the weather at Magnetic Island and all of this stuff, and I’m stuck down here in Canberra. And I’ve decided that I’m going to get up there asap. I want to come up and see all the folks up there in Townsville. I want to do an interview in the studio in a Hawaiian shirt.
Steve Price: Done. You know, mate, yeah, from Canberra to here is a long way. Now you’re the new boy. How are you being the new boy at school, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel. That means a lot to us up here in our garrison city.
Andrew Gee: Yeah, I know it does. And that’s why I’m going to get up there, Phil Thompson has already been on to me, “Mate, please come up as soon as possible.” So we’re making arrangements to do that. I’m going to come and visit everyone up there. And we’ve got some really important work that we’re doing with this royal commission that was basically put into action yesterday. I took the paperwork over to the Governor-General myself, and he’s a veteran. Signed off on the commissioners, and that work has now commenced.
Steve Price: You know, there’s been recommendations for the past 10 years. Have you just tossed them out? Or you’ve gone through them as well? How come’s it’s taken so long?
Andrew Gee: Well, look, I think that the care of our veterans and their families, it’s had a difficult history. And if you look back at the history of veterans affairs, look at our Vietnam veterans were treated when they came home –
Steve Price: Indeed.
Andrew Gee: – I think we send those young men and women out. They are Australia’s best who give us their best, but I think the reality is they haven’t always got Australia’s best in return. Look at the Vietnam Vets. You look down to the present era where there is a tremendous amount of goodwill to help veterans but the reality is that I have veterans telling me that they’re feeling marginalised, that they’re not feeling human in a system where they get shunted from caseworker to caseworker. And we need to be doing better. We have to do better both for now, for the present ADF men and women and their families, but also for future generations. And the impact on the families of these mental health issues are huge. They are often left to pick up the pieces.
Steve Price: Yeah. Andrew Gee: And we have to do better. And so I’m hoping this royal commission can be a seminal moment in Australia’s treatment and care of veterans.
Steve Price: And so it should be. But I go back – you didn’t answer it – we’ve had 10 years. You know, what’s happened to those recommendations? As you are the new Veterans’ Affairs Minister, like, we’ve gone through four or five of you guys over the last six years, and you’ve only just been sworn in. You know, have you looked at these past recommendations? We know about these up here. You know, we don’t want just a political football saying, “Oh, well, you know, it’s top of mind at the moment. We’ll look good if we do a royal commission.” These terms of reference, will they make a difference, Andrew?
Andrew Gee: Pricey, it’s about getting results on the ground and getting this cracking and getting this moving asap. We don’t need to wait until the royal commission is finished in two years’ time.
Steve Price: Yeah, a long time.
Andrew Gee: We’re not going to sit on our hands for another year. There are things that we can be doing straight away when this evidence comes in. For example, I’ll give you an example – there are some really important developments happening in the treatment of PTSD.
Steve Price: Yeah.
Andrew Gee: We need to be making the Department of Veterans’ Affairs more responsive to changes and new treatments. We need to be looking at what’s happening overseas. There is a whole heap of stuff that we can be doing to make life better for veterans and their families. In the most recent budget we got $98 million for 440 new positions to get compo claims processed faster. That’s half of the story.
Steve Price: Yeah
Andrew Gee: The rest of the story is actually making sure that those people are working effectively to get these claims processed fairly and quickly and that we’re not just creating layers and layers of bureaucracy. I think we’ve got to get the old whipper snipper out, fire it up and cut through some of this red tape. And that’s what I want to do in this job.
Steve Price: Well, make sure you do, because that means a lot to us up here. We’ll have some of – we’ll have 4 Field Regiment come to your front door if you don’t do it. Mate, I’ll just give you this statistic – four times the national average 18 to 24-year-old blokes taking their lives. Four times. They’re our vets. You have to make a difference. You have to make a difference now. And I know there’s terms of reference. I know there’s a royal commission. But we can’t bugger around with this.
Andrew Gee: The royal commission – I agree with you, we can’t. We’ve got to move quickly on this. The royal commission is up and running. It’s taking submissions now. So if you go on to the royal commission website, just google www.royalcommission.gov.au/veterans, you can get your story and your experience in or the experience of a loved one.
Steve Price: Yeah, you know this opens up really sad memories, too. It could make it even too difficult. You know that?
Andrew Gee: Yeah, and that’s why I would say that we have to be very sensitive to that. So I would encourage anyone who needs counselling to contact Open Arms on 1800 011 046, and if you are going to be a witness in the royal commission, there is financial help there. There is counselling help available as well. We’ve just got to be very careful and treat this evidence very sensitively.
Steve Price: Absolutely.
Andrew Gee: Because it is going to be very traumatic in some cases, the evidence that is presented. And I would just urge anyone who is feeling stressed or distressed as this royal commission unfolds to contact Open Arms or you can call – if you’re a serving member of the ADF you can call the support line, all hours, 1800 628 036.
Steve Price: Yep.
Andrew Gee: Help is there if you need it. And I have asked the department to be there for anyone – serving members or veterans or their families – that need help through this process.
Steve Price: No worries at all. Our Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel, Andrew I see. Mate, thank you very much. And look forward to seeing you up here in a tropical shirt.
Andrew Gee: I’m going to be there very soon, Pricey And g’day to everyone up there in Townsville.
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