Australian Cold War Warriors – The Secret Aussie History of the Second Malaysian Confrontation (Counter Insurgency War)

The author, aged 19, Christmas 1977, RCB Malaysia

This is the personal account of Private Sean Arthur’s experience as a Rifleman at RCB in 5 Platoon, Bravo Company 1st Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) in 1977.

It’s kind of strange to think that an important and significant part of your own personal military history is based upon a lie.

It’s not my personal lie, it’s way bigger than anything I could come up with myself. This lie encompasses 50 years and involves every single government that Australia has had in that time. Even more astounding is the fact that the lie was openly discussed in government and military circles at the very beginning and that the real information is pretty much available for anyone to read today. The lie is part of Australia’s strategic and political history and the only ones directly affected by it today are the nine thousand Australian servicemen who participated in the Second Malayan Emergency against communist insurgents from 1972 to 1989.

Ours was not an actual shooting war, but our involvement was essential to keeping the insurgency down to a manageable level. If we had not been there protecting essential military aircraft, personal and other military assets the chances were almost certain that the Butterworth Airbase in Northern Malaysia would have been an irresistible target for the insurgents. If the airbase had been attacked, even once, and lives or materiel destroyed it would have had an incalculable effect to the security of Australia. It would also have given new life to the defunct geopolitical “domino theory” of the 1960s. The domino theory was the deep-rooted concept that every country in Southeast Asia would topple towards communism unless the West involved themselves more significantly in that hemisphere militarily.

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Ombudsman’s Inquiry into DFRDB Commutation

The Ombudsman’s office today (11th December) released a Media Statement on the outcome of his inquiry into DFRDB Commutation. A copy of that Statement and the Ombudsman’s Report is here.

Ministerial Statement – Independent Inquiry Report into DFRDB Scheme

 The Government acknowledges the release of the Commonwealth   Ombudsman’s independent investigation into the Defence Force   Retirement and Death Benefits (DFRDB) scheme.The Government   listened to the concerns of the ex-service community in initiating an independent review of the DFRDB scheme, which focused on the accuracy of information provided about commutation by the Department of Defence (Defence), the Australian Defence Force (ADF) or the scheme administrators, such as the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation (CSC).

While the investigation found that some information provided by Defence in the 1980s and 1990s regarding commutation was incorrect, the Ombudsman concluded that the decision to commute was, and still is, the more financially beneficial option.

In reaching this conclusion, the Ombudsman requested separate independent actuarial reports from the Australian Government Actuary and KPMG, considered a range of investment scenarios, which determined that it is highly unlikely any ADF members who commuted through the DFRDB scheme would have incurred a financial loss. For these reasons, the Ombudsman has determined that a specific compensation scheme is not appropriate.

The investigation also found that efforts had been made since 2004 by Defence and CSC to correct the information provided, and this report now reinforces the steps taken to provide clearer information on the decision of commutation.

While the report acknowledges that it is unlikely any members who commuted would be financially worse off, we recognise that the provision of misinformation has caused confusion and distress over many years with some ADF members believing their retirement pay would increase once they reached their notional life expectancy.

If anyone believes they did incur a financial loss they can apply for Compensation for Detriment caused by Defective Administration. Eligibility criteria and information on how to apply is available on Defence’s website.

The Government has no plans to make changes to the DFRDB scheme. Further information, including the report, is available on the Commonwealth Ombudsman website.

RELATED ARTICLES

Defence chief sorry for retirement scheme

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 Australia’s Chief of Defence Angus Campbell has apologised to veterans ripped off by dodgy advice about a retirement benefit scheme.
 General Campbell acknowledged many veterans were misled by Defence.
” We apologise for providing incorrect advice to some (scheme)   members and for the confusion and emotional impact that it may   have caused,” he said in a letter published on Wednesday.
His apology follows an ombudsman’s report into a compulsory Australian Defence Force retirement scheme that began in 1973 and closed to new members in 1991.
ADF members were required to choose between taking a defined pension for life or a lump sum upon retirement, with a lower pension for life.
Most members did – and still do – choose the second option.
Many members were told if they took this option, their pension would subsequently increase to the higher rate once they reached a defined life expectancy age.
“This was false, and created an expectation of a more generous long term outcome than the law provided,” Commonwealth Ombudsman Michael Manthorpe said.
Despite the misleading advice, the ombudsman found it was unlikely any members who took the lump sum and lower pension were financially worse off.
Even so, Veteran’s Affairs Minister Darren Chester has also apologised.
“We recognise that the provision of misinformation has caused confusion and distress over many years,” he said.
“If anyone believes they did incur a financial loss they can apply for compensation.”
The government has no plans to change the scheme.

December 11, 2019 

Australian Defence Veterans’ Covenant

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The Australian Defence Veterans’ Covenant serves to recognise and acknowledge the unique nature of military service and the contribution of veterans and their families. The Covenant is supported by the Veteran Card, Lapel Pin and Oath. These provide the opportunity for Australians to identify veterans when they are not in uniform or wearing their medals, and offer respect to them and their family.

Employers, businesses, local community groups and the broader Australian public are able to commit their support for the Covenant. The Covenant provides the framework that enables veterans and their families to better connect with their community.

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Veteran Card
Use your Veteran Card to gain access to treatment for service-related conditions or injuries that DVA has approved, and access to DVA-funded mental health treatment, if required.

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Lapel Pin
The Lapel Pin allows the wider community to acknowledge your service regardless of whether you served in the Navy, Army or Air Force.

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Oath
The Oath is a declaration on behalf of the Australian people recognising the valuable contribution that current and former members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and their families make and have made for our country.

How veterans can apply
Veterans and Reservists can apply for the Covenant, including the Veteran Card, Lapel Pin and Oath, online using MyService. Depending on your type of service, you may be eligible for all, or some, of the Covenant items.

How to support veterans
Employers, businesses, local community groups and the broader Australian public are able to commit their support for the Covenant to recognise and acknowledge the contribution of veterans and their families. 

The Prime Minister’s Veterans’ Employment Program was initiated in 2016 to raise awareness of the value and unique experience of veterans. Find out more about how the program assists veterans and employers on the Veterans’ Employment web site

Community Groups
Find out more about community groups and Ex-Service Organisations and their work to support veterans and their families.

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Covenant and lapel-pin legislation passed by parliament

Legislation to enact the Australian Defence Veterans’ Covenant was passed by parliament on 22 October 2019 and has been forwarded through appropriate channels for Royal Assent.

Australian Veterans’ Recognition (Putting Veterans and their Families First) Bill 2019 will establish the Australian Defence Veterans’ Covenant, which provides a formal way for all Australians to show their appreciation to our current and former Australian Defence Force personnel, and to the families who have supported them.

Upon Royal Assent in coming weeks, the Bill will become a separate Act to provide symbolic recognition for all veterans.

It does not change current entitlements.

Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel Darren Chester said the covenant, veteran card and veteran lapel pin would allow the community — including employers, businesses, community groups, veteran or sporting organisations and the general public — the opportunity to recognise the service and sacrifice of the men and women who have served our nation.

“The legislation also includes a statement requiring the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) to adopt a beneficial approach when interpreting legislation and apply a fair, just and consistent approach to veterans’ claims,” Mr Chester said.

“Arrangements are also being finalised for businesses across Australia to recognise the unique nature of military service by providing benefits through the veteran card, and I encourage any business that would like to learn more about how it can participate to contact the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

“We are committed to putting veterans and their families first and this legislation is part of our ongoing efforts to transform the culture of DVA.”

The Australian Defence Veterans’ Covenant is part of a wider recognition package, and enables the oath and lapel pin to be provided to veterans and eligible reservists.

The package also includes the veteran card — a redesign of the existing DVA health cards, which is open to new applicants and will be provided to existing card holders over the coming months.

Mr Chester said those who had already applied for the lapel pin and oath would begin receiving their covenant packs soon and he urged those who have not applied for the covenant to do so online using MyService.

More information on the Australian Defence Veterans’ Covenant, including how individuals can apply and how businesses and community organisations can register their support, can be found on the DVA website.

Poem “Don’t Sell Australia Out”

When the shearing sheds are silent, and the stock camps fallen quiet,   When the gidgee coals no longer glow across the outback night,
And the bush is forced to hang a sign, ‘gone broke and won’t be back’,
And spirits fear to find a way beyond the beaten track.

When harvesters stand derelict upon the wind-swept plains,
And brave hearts pin their hopes no more on chance of loving rains,
When a hundred outback settlements are ghost towns overnight,
When we’ve lost the drive and heart we had to once more see us right.

When ‘Pioneer’ means a stereo and ‘Digger’ some backhoe,
And the ‘Outback’ is behind the house, there’s nowhere else to go.
And ‘Anzac’ is a biscuit brand and probably foreign owned,
And education really means brainwashed and neatly cloned.

When you have to bake a loaf of bread to make a decent crust,
And our heritage once enshrined in gold is crumbling to dust,
And old folk pay their camping fees on land for which they fought,
And fishing is a great escape, this is until you’re caught.

When you see our kids with Yankee caps and resentment in their eyes,
And the soaring crime and hopeless hearts is no longer a surprise,
When the name of RM Williams is a yuppie clothing brand,
And not a product of our heritage that grew off the land.

When offering a hand makes people think you’ll amputate,
And two dogs meeting in the street is what you call a, ‘Mate’,
When ‘Political Correctness’ has replaced all common sense,
When you’re forced to see it their way, there’s no sitting on the fence.

Yes, one day you might find yourself an outcast in this land.
Perhaps your heart will tell you then, ‘I should have made a stand’.
Just go and ask the farmers that should remove all doubt,
Then join the swelling ranks who say, ‘Don’t sell Australia out!

Australian Defence Veterans’ Covenant – Now Legislated

Advice from Liz Cosson.

“Good Afternoon,

I would like to thank you for your ongoing commitment and support to ensuring veterans and their families receive the recognition and respect they deserve for their service and sacrifice to our country.

I am pleased to let you know that the Government’s Australian Veterans’ Recognition (Putting Veterans and their Families First) Bill 2019 has passed Federal Parliament today.

This legislation formally establishes the Australian Defence Veterans’ Covenant which includes an oath, lapel pin and Veteran Card which are available for veterans and eligible reservists.

With the passing of this legislation we will now start to send out the lapel pins and oath to those who have already registered via mail in the coming weeks.

The new Veteran Card, which is a redesign of the existing DVA health cards, continues to provide access to treatments and benefits and will soon provide access to thousands of offers from businesses across Australia as a part of a new benefits program.

We are expecting to launch the benefits program very soon and will be sending information packs in the mail to Ex-Service Organisations and RSL Sub-branches which includes promotional material and a set of frequently asked questions to help you support veterans to ensure they get the most out of the program.

Veterans and reservists can continue to register for the Covenant online through MyService, by calling DVA on 1800 555 254, or by visiting your local Veterans Access Network office.

For more information about the Covenant, please visit here
Regards Liz,”

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Liz Cosson AM CSC
Secretary
Department of Veterans’ Affairs

The Australian Editorial – When scrutiny becomes enemy of the state

Media’s Right to Know Campaign. When the Government hides the truth from you what are they covering up?

The front pages of every major newspaper were censored this morning as part of Australia’s Right to Know campaign which is calling for greater protections for journalists and access to information.

The coalition of more than a dozen of the nation’s media companies and organisations is campaigning for change to six critical areas of law that has allowed a ‘veil of secrecy’. 

The media coalition has asked the government for the right to contest warrants, exemptions from poorly crafted laws that make journalistic practice an offense, protection for public sector whistle-blowers, fewer secret documents and reform in the Freedom of Information regime. The two fundamental rights are the : RIGHT to KNOW and RIGHT to CONTEST

Here are extracts from the Australian Newspaper Editorial of 22nd October 2019

If you think journalists are the people who control information, you’re in for a big surprise. Never before has the state collected more data on citizens, employed more message merchants to shape the news agenda or constructed a mighty firewall to stop information about its activities reaching the public.

In a democracy, our job is not to be a mere vehicle for the executive or bureaucracy, to use our platforms to carry official statements to a micromanaged populace. That’s what life is like in China and, as controversial as it may sound to some, that’s not the liberal, open, free country Australians want to live in.

We are in the disclosure business. Not because we are gossips, dobbers or scolds but because the task of scrutiny is necessary to make sure the state itself is not above the law.

That line — the law — is changing, often due to difficult and dangerous circumstances. But also because in a territorial game the scrutinised, as a class, always want to do their work on their own terms. Their lives are much easier if they never have to explain why taxpayer money gets wasted, they want to spy on citizens or people are locked up without cause. Ignorance has never been a solid basis for citizenship or a method to get the best out of elected governments. And their bureaucracies  Politicians and officials, whether by accident or design, have constructed a “trust us” apparatus.

But the enemy is not journalism per se. The enemy they’ve constructed is any scrutiny at all — not only do they want to keep our eyes off their actions and inactions, they ultimately don’t want you to know what they are doing.

As a news organisation we do not think we can do as we please: there are constraints of defamation, sub judice and privacy. Yet secrecy is increasingly being declared in matters that do not pose security risks but, rather, the acute embarrassment of the stuff-up or bad idea.

We want to change laws that give the custodians of state power — ministers, the heads of defence forces, security agencies and departments — the ability to do as they please and evade scrutiny. The public wants to know what’s being done in its name and expects us to step up.

Trust in institutions, including media, is falling; part of that is due to poor performance, press infighting and competition, and “gaslighting” by those who want us to stop asking questions. Our work is out in the open, around-the-clock, subject to 360-degree review by critics and competitors. Readers expect us to get to the truth

But what about the state? You can’t sack it. But you can make power better and accountable. That is the essence of our democracy. The news media plays its role when it single-mindedly pursues the truth. We want laws that promote transparency and limit the state’s tools of secrecy and control.

We trust an informed people, not governments, as the ultimate guardians of our freedoms.

READ THE FULL EDITORIAL

New Liberal MP vows to fight for veterans

One of Australia’s newest members of parliament has vowed to fight for veterans during his time in politics.

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The new Liberal MP for the Tasmanian seat of Braddon, Gavin Pearce, reflected on his time in the army during his first speech to parliament, saying too many veterans were taking their own lives.

The former sergeant major said he couldn’t help but feel partially responsible.

“I still agonise with the notion that maybe I should have seen it coming, I should have picked up on the signs, I should have stopped this,” he said on Wednesday.

“I live with those memories every day, and it’s something that I live with every night.”

He praised Prime Minister Scott Morrison for focusing on the mental health of veterans and the wider Australia community, vowing to do his bit to help the diggers.

“I want to make sure they are reconnected to family, to a job and to a new way of life,” he said.

“I want all business owners and all employers, right across the nation, to know that employing a veteran is good for your business.”

Mr Pearce won the Tasmanian seat from Labor’s Justine Keay at the May election, one of two electorates in the Apple Isle the coalition snatched from the opposition.

The former beef farmer thanked the community for their support during the election, and also when his wife passed away from cancer.

“My little boy and I were nurtured by that community, as they gathered around us. I couldn’t have done it without them and they are a wonderful family of farmers.”

Australia’s biggest dairy is in Braddon, he boasted, before saying the local farmers are the nation’s true environmentalists.

“They deal with every challenge before them, but what they shouldn’t have to deal with is extremist protesters invading their farms, endangering their workers, their family and their livelihoods.”

Mr Pearce also said small businesses should have less red tape to deal with, to ensure they can grow and create more jobs.

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The Tasmanian shared a story involving former governor-general Peter Cosrove, from the pair’s army days.

“I recall General Cosgrove addressing a meeting of staff and senior advisers, which ended up with him banging his hand on the table in exasperation saying, ‘I’m sick of senior people telling me what I can’t do. I need you to start telling me how I can’.

I received that message loud and clear, and think that’s a message that will serve me in good stead as I represent the people of Braddon.”

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.

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

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ABC News – 27th June 2019