Phillip Thompson OAM MP – Address to 46th Parliament

It is a tremendous honour to stand before the 46th Parliament as a representative for the people of Herbert—Townsville—to speak for the first time in this chamber. I would like to start by acknowledging our current and former Defence Force members, our brothers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice on operations in service to this nation and our many veterans who have succumbed to their war within back here on home soil.

I stand before you humbled and proud to be the elected member through a democratic process that I love and have defended. The people of Herbert have put their faith in me, and I’m determined not to let them down. That is my one-year-old baby girl, Astin. And I am happy she is making noise, because that’s why we are in this place: because we want a better Australia for our future generations.

This responsibility and honour is the same sense of duty I felt as an infantry soldier in the Australian Defence Force. My core values are protecting the Australian way of life, freedom of speech, family and reward for effort—values that I do my best to live by every day.

The powerful electorate of Herbert—the heart of Townsville—is 941 square kilometres which incorporates the iconic Mount Stuart and Castle Hill and takes in the beautiful Magnetic Island. Any local will tell you it’s a hidden gem we’re lucky to have on our doorstep. An iconic part of Herbert is the Aboriginal community located on Great Palm Island. Palm Island is home to the traditional owners the Manbarra people and Bwgcolman people and their descendants. I would like to acknowledge those people in this place today. It is my commitment to ensure that Palm Island, which is a part of the electorate of Herbert, will have a strong voice here in Canberra.

Palm Island is close to my heart—the birthplace of my mother-in-law, Florence Burns. Flo; my wife, Jenna; and my beautiful daughter, Astin, are all Aboriginal women who are here in the gallery today. As I stand and look at these three remarkable humans, I have no doubt that, as three generations of Aboriginal women, their rights have improved dramatically over the decades. But we must not forget there is still a lot of work to be done in recognising and valuing our First Nations people and their culture. I’m honoured to be a member of the House Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs and I’ll be working to make a meaningful and positive contribution.

I’ve had some extremely proud moments in my life, which include being the youngest member of this House of the 46th Parliament of Australia, being the 2018 Queensland Young Australian of the Year and serving our wonderful nation as an infantry soldier. However, no title or award compares or comes close to my greatest achievement: being called Dad. Whilst I acknowledge I will spend time away from my family to be in this House, it is because of the strength and support of my wife and my family that I stand before you representing the people of Herbert.

Herbert is, in my view, the best electorate in this nation. It has a heart like no other. We have the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef—the world’s largest coral reef system—on our doorstep. I stand proudly in this House today as a member of a government which is making record investment in ensuring this incredible natural wonder remains healthy for generations to come.

Herbert also has both copper and zinc refineries, a strong fishing industry and a strong desire to grow its tourism offering. The port of Townsville is northern Australia’s largest general cargo and container port, and a direct transport link to many important global markets. The port is Australia’s leading exporter of zinc, lead, sugar, fertiliser and molasses. With upgrades and new builds underway, trade is expected to treble over the next 30 years. I commend the CEO, Ranee Crosby, on her incredible efforts in driving the success of the port over many years.

Townsville is proudly home to James Cook University, which is placed No. 1 in the world for marine biology, and is ranked in the top two per cent of universities in the Academic Ranking of World Universities. Other leading institutions include the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Australian Institute of Marine Science, and our educational learning centres such as Reef HQ and the Museum of Tropical Queensland.

Townsville is also the largest garrison city. I’d like to acknowledge the Royal Australian Air Force’s presence at Garbutt and, of course—a place I know well—Lavarack Barracks. Townsville became my home in 2006 when I was posted to the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. I deployed to East Timor in 2007, and in 2009, at the age of 21, I deployed to Afghanistan.

Whilst deployed to Afghanistan, on 18 July 2009 a warrior was killed in action. His name is Ben Ranaudo, and I honour him in this House. My good friend Paul Warren lost his leg in the same blast, and, I honour his service and sacrifice in this House today. It’s a day I’ll never forget. It was a sickening feeling, hearing over the radio that an improvised explosive device had detonated and that an Australian was killed and another was critically wounded. After we sent our brother home via ramp ceremony in Tarin Kowt, we kept Ben in our hearts and Paul’s recovery in our thoughts, but it was back to the patrol base, because our deployment was far from over.

Improvised explosive devices were the weapon of choice used by insurgents. We had many near misses, and only on limited occasions did we get to do our role: seek out and close with the enemy. On 19 October 2009, my life changed forever. Whilst on a combined Australian and Afghan National Army dismounted patrol, I was wounded in action by an improvised explosive device. As a result of the blast, I sustained severe injuries and was medically evacuated back to Australia. As well as the obvious physical injuries from the blast, I also suffered a traumatic brain injury and several other life-changing conditions.

On deployment to Afghanistan, I’ve had friends be killed in action, lose limbs and be critically injured. Many have also suffered from lifelong psychological invisible wounds from their deployment. I, like many others, went through a very dark and terrible place after war. My post-traumatic growth came from the strength of my wife, Jenna, who encouraged me to find meaningful engagement, which was then followed by employment. Having meaning and accountability changed how I thought and acted and gave purpose to a life which at that point had been written off.

Not all the brothers I served with came out the other side. Today is the anniversary of when I buried a close friend who died by suicide. His name was Jesse Bird, and I honour him in this place today. I have buried too many of my mates, mothers have buried too many of their sons, wives have buried too many of their husbands and fathers, and a nation has buried too many of its veterans. Mental illness and suicide prevention is our responsibility; we are all responsible. Suicide is not just a veteran issue and not just a Defence Force issue; it’s a societal problem. We can and must do more. There is nothing more precious than life and living your life well. With difficult topics, there can be an ‘out of mind, out of sight’ mentality. I will ensure that in this place we will never forget that there is always more we can do to help.

As I stand before you, I confess: I’m no saint. I’ve made mistakes and done and said things in my past that I’m not proud of. The harsh lessons that I’ve learnt from those dark times equip me to better serve the people of Herbert.

I’m the eldest of three children raised by a single mother, who shaped the man I am today. I acknowledge and thank her in this House today. We did it tough growing up, which cemented my ethos that with hard work and determination we can achieve great things. This has echoed with my siblings—my sister, Stephanie Thompson, a nurse, and my brother, Timothy Thompson, a property consultant. We worked hard and fought for everything we achieved. I hope to be a role model for people who didn’t have the best shoes growing up, who watched other families go on holidays, who learnt the hard way that we’re not all born equal, not all the same. But it’s my belief that with hard work, determination and a fighting spirit we can have equal opportunity. ‘A fair go for those who have a go’ couldn’t be a more relevant statement to how we were raised. I work every day to be a better man than I was yesterday, and it is a spirit which I vow to bring with me to this place each and every day as I give the people of Herbert a voice.

Earlier this year, Townsville suffered a devastating natural disaster—a flood event like no other. Tens of thousands of people have been impacted. The night the text warnings started to come in about the release of water from the dam was truly terrifying. No-one knew what to expect, and there really was a feeling for many people that the world we knew was coming to an end. Whole suburbs went under water. Many people are still displaced. Others are living in damaged homes and are trying to battle on. Through the devastation I saw our community come together—the military, emergency services and hundreds of people on boats rescuing others from their flood engulfed streets; shopping centres doubling as recovery centres; and normal, everyday people opening up their homes to strangers who had lost everything. Tragic stories of people who had lost everything were quickly followed by selfless acts of the community supporting one another. Our tragedy has brought our community closer than ever. The resilience of our region is remarkable. The number of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to help others will never be forgotten. It makes me so proud to say I’m from Townsville.

Our city has done it tough, and we need to be at the forefront of projects and economic drivers. But we are a proud bunch: we don’t want a handout; we want a hand up. I want to see the Herbert electorate prosper again, to be a region where there is opportunity and reward for effort and a city in which we can have great confidence in the future. Water security, affordable electricity and job creation are critical pieces of the economic puzzle and must be treated as such. Small and medium businesses are the engine room of the local economy, and I want Townsville businesses to have confidence to take risk, be rewarded and drive our local economy for years to come. Herbert has high unemployment, a topic often thrown around like a political football. The time is now, when we make strong leadership decisions and back projects that will create jobs for years to come.

I’m proud to say I back the resource sector. I’m from a part of the country where coal isn’t a dirty word and we support opening up the Galilee Basin and welcome the jobs that will come with it. Our community will not be told what projects we can support, what jobs we can have and what industries we can work in by people lacking any sort of local knowledge and understanding.

I believe Townsville has the potential to be Australia’s northern defence deep-maintenance, sustainment and logistics hub. There is enormous untapped potential in our region. Townsville is the key economic hub for Northern Australia and an industry powerhouse. Backing projects like the Townsville port widening project and the Australia-Singapore Military Training Initiative, which create job opportunities and stimulate economic growth is what I will do every day.

Tourism has been on the backburner for far too long in Townsville. That’s why I backed the Museum of Underwater Art, which is the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. We’re also funding a zip-line down Castle Hill and providing a NAIF loan for the upgrade of the Townsville airport, which will see more flights to Townsville and more people travelling to the beautiful north to experience the magnificent wonders of our region.

A strong north means a strong nation, and to have a strong north we must get back to nation-building projects that have clear long-term economic value. The coalition support of the Hells Gate Dam is a no-brainer. The large-scale agricultural development will have long-term benefits for our farmers, our exports and our industry more broadly.

To the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison: I thank you for your leadership, guidance and a helpful ear during the campaign. I also thank Mrs Morrison, who spent considerable time with my wife and daughter. We both appreciated it. I have had a lot of support from colleagues but extensive support from the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, and the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Matt Canavan. I appreciate the time they have invested in me. I would like to thank the LNP and its members, who have shown great faith in me.

On a more personal note, I have tremendous people in my life. First and foremost is the mother of my beautiful daughter, Jenna Thompson. She is a woman who, at the age of 21, nursed me back to health and literally saved my life. Jenna, you are an incredible woman who I love and adore and you are the driving force behind any success I have. My one-year-old daughter, Astin, can brighten up the most challenging days. Her first word was ‘Dad’, a moment that still brings a tear to my eye. Her laugh, cheeky smile and beautiful personality are what I look forward to at the end of a long day. Having my daughter here today fills my heart with pride and love.

On my campaign manager and close friend, Casie Scott, I would not be standing in this place without her help and guidance. Casie is a truly remarkable, selfless person. During a political campaign, there’s often a saying that every campaign needs a ‘blank’. In my case, everyone needs a Michael Brennan, an Anthony Meixner, a Dino da Bella, a Laura Sinclair and a Marie McMullen. These volunteers gave up hours upon hours of their time to help letterbox, doorknock, fundraise, man stalls, set up, pack down and just be involved. Our grassroots volunteers are why we were successful in Herbert. Regardless of what colour shirt you wear, everyone in this House is lucky to have people who are passionate enough about the future of our nation that they stump up for us time and time again.

I have had so much support through our country from all walks of life but especially from the defence and veteran community, and I cannot thank them enough. As a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, I’ll continue to put a spotlight on veterans’ issues in the hope of driving better outcomes.

In closing, my focus is to represent the people of Herbert with passion and integrity. I make this pledge to the people of Townsville: I will be your voice in Canberra every single day of the week. I will choose you, the people of Townsville, first. That means people before politics. I will back projects that create jobs and economic drivers for our region to ensure we have a bright and prosperous future for our children. I will listen to you, the people of Townsville, and will work hard to find solutions to your problems. I will never think I’m above you, the people who have put their faith and trust in me and given me the great privilege of standing in this House today. Integrity is everything, and I promise I will not forget that. Thank you.

ADF Retirees Association – DFRDB Update – June 2019

The Australian Defence Force Retirees Association (ADFRA) acts on behalf of Defence Force retirees and their military superannuation grievances.

Related Article: 50,000 veterans fired up over pension ‘shortfall’ The Australian 28th June 2019

Hi All, We assume that most of you are aware that the Commonwealth Ombudsman decided to commence an investigation into the administration of the DFRDB scheme with respect to commutation.

Today (27 June 2019), we as in Herb and Roz Ellerbock (our driver), Christian Bennett and I met with the Ombudsman’s investigation team.

Unfortunately, the Ombudsman himself, Mr Michael Manthorpe PSM, was called to Adelaide on short notice by the Attorney General, but the whole investigation team, including its team leader Paul Pfitzner attended the meeting.

Herb delivered this very powerful and compelling presentation (click to open – allow a bit of time for it to load). Some of the visual effects are lost in this PDF version but the content is clear enough.

Those who still believe that Commutation Payback is the most important concern that we should be addressing should take a close look at this presentation.
Our meeting was scheduled for one hour and lasted one hour and forty-five minutes. Some of the matters raised in Herb’s presentation were clearly outside of the stated scope of the investigation but at no point did the investigation team give us any impression that any of the matters we raised were out of bounds.
Many of you completed the questionnaire and submitted other relevant details of your circumstances.

Paul Pfitzner advised that by close of submissions they expect to have received some 3,000 completed questionnaires, the analysis of which would be a significant task, requiring the employment of 2 or 3 additional staff. Their aim is to provide an outcome as quickly as possible but under no circumstances would that be at the expense of thoroughness.

Paul committed to providing updates, as and when they could, containing advice that was not of a prejudicial or preemptive nature.

Thank you again if you made the effort of completing the questionnaire or making a submission. The sheer diversity of content already say much about how well we were advised.
Again, if you are not already a member then please go to our
web site and register. We will represent your concerns. If you are already a member, please encourage others to join.

Regards,

Herb Ellerbock & Jim Hislop

ABC News – Veterans put ‘through a lot of hoops’ in bid to claim compensation, minister says

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) has been “too adversarial” when it comes to handling the compensation claims of former defence personnel, Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel Darren Chester says.

Key points:

  • Veterans’ Affairs Minister Darren Chester says his department “has been guilty of being too adversarial” over compensation claims
  • Mr Chester said the culture in the department has been improving
  • He said he would act upon a recommendation to from a cross-party group on veterans’ mental health issues

Mr Chester made the comments to 7.30 after holding a summit in Canberra about veterans’ mental health on Wednesday.

The department has been criticised by veterans, their families and even the Productivity Commission, which said in a draft report that the compensation claim process for veterans was not fit for purpose.

One mother of a veteran who committed suicide started a petition on Change.org, which received more than 220,000 signatures. As part of the petition, she called for a royal commission into the rate of suicide among veterans and accuses the DVA of treating veterans poorly when they make compensation claims.

“I believe in the past that the DVA has been guilty of being too adversarial in terms of whether it’s protecting the public purse or putting veterans through a lot of hoops,” Mr Chester told 7.30.

He said the culture in large organisations was difficult to change but that the DVA was making progress.

“The changing culture now is around taking a more beneficial approach to the veteran or their family in terms of providing those support measures. So I think there has been improvement, I think there’s real progress here,” he said.

“The feedback I’ve received from the key ex-service organisations in about [the] 15 months I’ve been in the role is that they are seeing improvements, and they want to see us keep working with them to bed down even further improvements in the future.

“The DVA has to win back the trust of Australian veterans and their families and the service community more generally.”

Cross-party group to be set up

Darren Chester addresses the veterans summit in Canberra

PHOTO: Darren Chester addresses the veterans summit in Canberra. (ABC News)

Mr Chester said he would act upon a recommendation from the summit to contact MPs from all parties with military experience to form a group that will look at veterans’ mental health issues.

When it comes to a royal commission, Mr Chester said “all options are on the table”.

“But what I’ve been saying also quite clearly is, in about four or five days’ time the Productivity Commission is going to give me a report, which it has been working on for the past year,” he said.

“I understand it’s a 1,000-page report, looking at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and making sure it’s fit for purpose for the next 100 years.

“That needs to be worked through as well.”

Discovering ‘why these people have been doing nothing’

Jesse Bird posing in army camouflage with gun

PHOTO: Jesse Bird’s claim was rejected by DVA. (Supplied: Karen Bird)

In 2017, 7.30 reported on the case of Jesse Bird, a veteran of the Afghanistan conflict who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mr Bird took his own life after his claim for permanent impairment was rejected by the DVA.

He died at the age of 32 with just $5.20 in his bank account.

Mr Bird’s stepfather John told 7.30 his file shows his pleas for help were not taken seriously.

“He had his rejection papers prominently displayed along with a lot of other paperwork that he’d had to endure with the DVA,” he told 7.30 in 2017.

Mr Bird’s mother Karen Bird said her son had been pushed into a corner and could not see any other way out.

“He was my first-born son and I don’t have him anymore,” Ms Bird said.

Since Mr Bird’s death there have been major changes inside the DVA and the Government is spending $230 million a year on veteran mental health.

John McNeill, a volunteer who devotes his time to helping veterans navigate the complex claim system, wants a royal commission because of the failings he saw first-hand with Mr Bird’s case.

“The same story has been said over and over and over again about what needs to change. Now it hasn’t,” he said.

“So I believe the royal commission would find out why these people that have been entrusted to be the voice of the veteran community are sitting back and doing nothing to help until the spotlight is shone on them.”

Hundreds of suicides

Warrior's Return collates statistics on suicides by veterans

PHOTO: Warrior’s Return collates statistics on suicides by veterans. (ABC News)

An official estimate records more than 370 suicides involving current or former defence personnel since 2001, with one volunteer group called Warriors Return keeping its own figures on suicide by veterans across the country.

Their research shows there have been 16 suicides this year alone, with 48 last year, 86 in 2017 and 80 in 2016.

But Brian Briggs, a military compensation lawyer with Slater and Gordon, argues against a royal commission.

He believes the money could be better spent fixing problems which are well known.

“I think the money would be more wisely spent elsewhere in providing services to the veterans and to the veteran community, not on having numerous lawyers appearing before the royal commission and spending $80 to $100 million, which is only going to lead to further delays,” he said.

“We already know what the issues are, what they need to do is get things happening and happening fast and happening now.

“All this money that’s being put in, what are the results? That’s where we need to sit back and see what is producing results and what isn’t working — and what isn’t working should be shut down.”

RELATED STORY: Man warned Veterans’ Affairs he could become suicide statistic days before death

RELATED STORY: DVA head offers apology after policy changed to thwart compo claim

RELATED STORY: ‘Bureaucratic bastardry’: DVA secretly changed rules to deny veteran’s claim

If you or anyone you know needs help:

ABC News – 27th June 2019

ABC TV 7.30 Report – Duty of Care

Calls for royal commission over the rate of veteran suicides

There are growing calls for a royal commission into the rate of suicide among military veterans. An official estimate is there have been more than 370 suicides involving current or former defence personnel since 2001. Despite ongoing reforms, the Department of Veterans Affairs is under fire over how it treats compensation claims and the toll it takes on those who have served our country.

Watch the video report here

Wed 26 Jun 2019, 8:45pm

Minister for Veterans Affairs talks about today’s summit on mental health

Minister for Veterans Affairs, Darren Chester, held a summit to discuss the problem of mental health issues among veterans.

Watch the video report here

Wed 26 Jun 2019 8.45 pm

Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Summit Statement – Darren Chester

“Thank you for your attendance here today (26th June 2019).
You’re here because you have expert knowledge in mental health, suicide prevention and the potential impacts of military service on individuals and their families.

Today’s an opportunity to take stock of where we are regarding mental wellbeing of veterans and serving ADF personnel… and where we want to be in the future.

This is your chance to help set the veterans’ mental health agenda for this term of the Morrison Government.

It’s an opportunity for a full and frank discussion about what is working, what isn’t working, our knowledge or research gaps… and what else we can be doing together to improve mental wellbeing.

The Prime Minister has made it clear that mental health will be a core focus of this government and he has already announced several initiatives aimed at suicide prevention and mental wellbeing in the wider community.
Every suicide is a tragedy, especially for families and loved ones left behind.
It is a sad and complex issue which costs Australia more than 3000 people each year and of particular concern to us, here today, is the estimated 30 veterans who take their own life each year.


When it comes to veteran suicide, the only acceptable number for me is zero – the only acceptable number for the Australian people is zero.
As a government we are determined to put veterans and their families first.
I’m working with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Australian Defence Force leaders, ex-service organisations, medical professionals and the community to improve mental health outcomes for veterans and their families.


We are spending more than $230 million per year to improve veteran mental health and we are working with Defence to improve resilience among serving members.
There have been a number of significant inquiries, research and reports which have led to significant changes and the key question today is, what else can we do that will make a practical difference?

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 1800 011 046 or +61 8 8241
4546) or visit www.OpenArms.gov.au

A Current Affair – Our Forgotten Heroes (Cont)

Julie-Ann Finney says the Navy deserted her son Dave, and it cost him his life.

We’ve been following her campaign for a Royal Commission into the crisis affecting our veterans.

Today, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs held a special summit at Parliament House in Canberra.

Watch the video report here

26th June 2019

A Current Affair – Our Forgotten Heroes

This is our campaign to help Australia’s forgotten heroes.

Earlier this month, we brought you the heartbreaking story of Dave Finney – a poster boy for the Royal Australian Navy.

His mum Julie-Ann claims the Defence Force deserted her son.

Now, there are growing calls for a Royal Commission, as two mothers lead the charge to make it happen.

Watch the video report here

See Julie-Ann’s petition online here.

20th June 2019

Open Arms provides 24/7 support for former and serving ADF personnel and their families. Contact them on 1800 011 046 or visit the website.

Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Opinion – RSL NSW Head calls for Royal Commission into military suicides

The NSW RSL’s President, James Brown, has backed calls for a royal commission into military suicides in this article published in the Daily Telegraph 26th June 2019.

“Darren Chester, the Minister for Veterans Affairs (DVA), has announced there will be a photo opportunity on veterans’ mental health convened in Canberra for 10am this morning.

But there is no clear plan for how the wellbeing of veterans and their families will be improved in this parliament.

That’s a problem for the thousands in Australia’s veterans’ community who need help.

What we do know is that the minister does not support a royal commission into the issue of veterans’ suicides, or the structural weaknesses of our veteran support systems.

Too expensive he says — leaving aside the fact that DVA found a lazy $58m last year to top the coffers of a single consulting firm on variously undefined “strategic” projects.

There is no clear plan for the wellbeing of veterans and their families. Picture Gary Ramage

Several veterans’ groups are concerned about the potential cost of a royal commission too. I understand their worry: No one wants to see yet another lawyers picnic or yet another lengthy inquiry.

The department points to its ongoing veteran centric reform program as the solution, but as well-intentioned and progressed as this is, it is largely a revamp of IT systems, staff culture, and bureaucratic processes.

And it still has a long way to run.

Last year I applied for a DVA white card, the first step towards accessing free mental health care.

It took nearly six months and multiple follow ups to complete that transaction because DVA’s computers don’t talk effectively to the Defence department.

Imagine how hard it must be for veterans who, unlike me, don’t have time to wait and are struggling with the basics of everyday life.

A senate inquiry into veteran suicide two years ago recommended four strands of reforms.

Improving DVA was just one of them. Progress against the others has been variable.

Veterans tell me for all the reviewing and reforming progress has not come fast enough and no one is joining the dots across all of the systems meant to support veterans, including among the nearly 5000 veteran support organisations outside of government.

Nor does anyone have an eye to the fact that the veteran volunteer network of thousands of advocates and welfare officers is fast retiring and overwhelmed by the complexity of the bureaucratic system.

So what can be done?

First, the government needs to appoint a veterans tsar.

A respected leader, reporting directly to the Prime Minister, who can cut to the heart of the issues in our veterans’ support systems and forge a plan to address them.

An ambassador who can range across the breadth of federal and state government to ensure that all departments and agencies are enlisted in the fight to respect and support veterans.

Aussie Diggers in Iraq on Anzac Day. Picture Gary Ramage

Someone who can take a hard look at what the whole of government isn’t currently doing to help veterans, and the clout to map what more could be done.

The problems are bigger than just what happens in DVA; the solutions will need to be whole of government too.

Second, the government should immediately commit the $10m required to ensure a question is included on the next Australian Census identifying prior service in the Australian Defence Force.

Our veterans should be counted in the census — the fact that they are not is a national disgrace.

That will tell us how many veterans Australia actually has, where they live, and help identify what support services they need now and into the future.

We must count veterans in our state government health and justice systems too.

Not doing so has had tragic consequences in recent years.

A simple box on an admission form querying prior service in the military can save lives by ensuring veteran-specific problems are understood and veteran support services immediately accessed.

We still don’t know, for example, how many veterans are homeless each night — though it seems anecdotally that the scale of veteran homelessness could be larger than any of us expect.

Third, the government needs to fully fund, prioritise, and implement the forthcoming recommendations of the Productivity Commission review into veterans, the inquiry into why incapacitated veterans are asked to live on 63 per cent of the minimum wage, as well as the recent Cornall review into veteran’s advocacy and legal support.

The required reforms could be extensive, and costly.

The bill to bring incapacitated veteran payments in line with the minimum wage alone could cost government more than $200m per year.

But what greater imperative could there be than keeping our promise to those who have risked their lives for this country?

All we are asking for is a frank conversation of what more can be done to help veterans and their families, and a plan to get it fixed in the next three years.

The last thing we need is another photo opportunity.”

VETERANS’ MENTAL HEALTH SUMMIT TO INFORM GOVERNMENT’S STRATEGY

Tomorrow’s Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Summit will bring together key stakeholders at Parliament House to improve services and support to those who have served in the Australian Defence Force.

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The Summit, to be chaired by Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel, Darren Chester, will focus on extra steps that can be taken to improve veterans’ mental health, wellbeing and suicide prevention.

“As a Federal Government, we are determined to put veterans and their families first, which is why I’m convening the Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Summit this Wednesday,” Mr Chester said.

“It’s an opportunity to take stock of current programs and assess what else can be done to improve mental wellbeing of veterans.

“While we have already expanded access to free counselling, and introduced new payments to ensure veterans submitting mental health claims have financial support while their claims are being considered, it’s important to constantly assess the Government’s strategy.”

Experts will be brought together to consider the current range of services, programs and pilots offered by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA), and to give advice about the strengths of current settings, where gaps could be addressed, and to inform the Government’s forward plan and strategy.

The Summit will be the first stage of a structured engagement with ex-service organisations, veterans, families and service providers, over the coming months and will be a great opportunity for stakeholders to continue working with the Federal Government on veteran matters of great importance.

“I will also be working through the Government’s approach to veteran’s mental health and well-being with my Federal Ministerial colleagues,” Mr Chester said.

“State and Territory Governments also have a vital role to play and mental health will be a focus at the Veterans Ministers Council meeting in August.

“The Prime Minister has made it clear that mental health will be a core focus of this government and he has already announced several initiatives aimed at suicide prevention and mental wellbeing in the wider community.

“It is a sad and complex issue which costs Australia more than 3000 people each year and when it comes to veteran suicide, the only acceptable number for me is zero – the only acceptable number for the Australian people is zero.

“We need to keep working together to improve mental wellbeing and prevent suicide throughout Australia.”

Free and confidential help is available through Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling, for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families. Help is available 24/7 by calling 1800 011 046.

Tuesday 25 June 2019

DFRDB Commutation -Ombudsman investigation

On 25 March 2019 the Minister for Veterans Affairs announced an Independent Inquiry into the Administration of the DFRDB scheme to be undertaken by the Ombudsman.

On 25 May 2019 the Ombudsman announced its “own motion’ or internal investigation limited to the accuracy of information provided to DFRDB scheme members by scheme administrators, particularly in relation to commutation. The Ombudsman must be guided by what is in the legislation only. The Ombudsman has since then called for submissions from scheme members in relation to commutation – remember this is the limit of its investigation. 

 The scope of the investigation is limited to the accuracy of information provided by scheme administrators and relevant departments to DFRDB scheme members in relation to commutation.
The Ombudsman is accepting submissions from members of the DFRDB scheme about the information they were provided about commutation. You or your organisation are invited to provide a submission. The form for you to do so, is available electronically here on our website at ombudsman.gov.au/dfrdb

Specific details about the investigation, including information about making a submission, can be found at ombudsman.gov.au/dfrdb.

If you want to speak with a member of the DFRDB Investigation Team please contact the team by email [email protected] and a member of the team will contact you. Please let the team know if you would like to meet with us in as part of this investigation, and we will be in contact to find a suitable time.

Note that the closing date for submissions is 30 June 2019. 

ADSO encourages scheme members to respond to the Ombudsman’s Questionnaire. Do not be dissuaded by the limited space on the form but make a separate submission if necessary. Be constructive and considered in your responses.

ADSO Comment. Somewhat perplexing is that, contrary to the Minister’s statement that the ESO community will be consulted about the inquiry’s Terms of Reference, no such consultation has eventuated. Also perplexing is that, while the Ombudsman doesn’t say so in his letters, the Ombudsman’s website states under the Overview that:

“We are undertaking an own motion investigation into the administration of the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits (DFRDB) scheme, specifically the issue of commutation.”

Perhaps the ‘own motion investigation’ needs clarification because it certainly does not fit the original plan to conduct the DFRDB inquiry under the guidance of Terms of Reference. 

In the meantime, ADSO through DFWA has written to the Ombudsman seeking clarification of the extent of its investigation and are developing draft Terms of Reference (ToRs) for the Independent Inquiry that will be put to the Minister at the earliest opportunity.