Doorstop interview - $5million veterans hub in Queanbeyan

Doorstop interview - $5million veterans hub in Queanbeyan  Main Image

28 March 2022


SUBJECTS: Labor commits to a veteran hub in Queanbeyan; Veterans’ Affairs Minister’s threat to resign over Department of Veterans’ Affairs budget shortfalls; Government failures in Veterans’ Affairs. 
KRISTY MCBAIN, MEMBER FOR EDEN-MONARO: Thank you very much for joining me today in Queanbeyan. I am with Labor's Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel Shayne Neumann. I'm also joined by members of the RSL Sub Branch of Queanbeyan and also the Veterans Motorcycle Club President as well. Today's announcement is one that we have been working on because we know that in this region, there are four and a half thousand currently serving or ex serving defence force personnel. We know that there have been issues in terms of transitioning out of the services and into civilian life, and we want to make that transition easier for people. Today's announcement is one that shows that the Labor Party has been listening to people in this region, one that shows that we understand that a Veteran Wellbeing Centre is a centre that listens to veterans, that advocates for them, that is more than just a one-stop shop, but has a social connection for them. A centre that is led by veterans for veterans. And today, the Labor Party is committing $5 million to a veterans’ hub in the Queanbeyan-Palerang region. I’d now invite Shayne Neumann to say more.
SHAYNE NEUMANN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR VETERANS' AFFAIRS AND DEFENCE PERSONNEL, MEMBER FOR BLAIR: I'm delighted to be here with Kristy McBain, the Member for Eden-Monaro. Eden-Monaro is in the top ten in terms of the number of veterans we have in Australia as an electorate. So it's timely and appropriate that we provide $5 million for a veterans’ hub in this region. Kristy has been on my back about it and I've met with local veterans in a Zoom meeting recently. Kristy has talked to me on numerous occasions about the need for this, in this particular community, for a veterans’ hub as a one-stop shop with wrap-around services in advocacy, mental health, wellbeing, employment and transition advice to veterans in this type of community. It can also act as a sort of a hub and spoke model if necessary, for people in rural areas and that's really critical. Wherever I've gone from Northern Adelaide to Ipswich, we've been to Perth and elsewhere, we've discovered that veterans want this. This is for veterans, families, serving personnel, but also those personnel who have got family in this region as well. So we want to support families because we know military life's a hard life. They get moved around a lot and we want to support those families. So every one of these veteran wellbeing hubs will be a local hub with different aspects to it. We'll have a leading organisation but I want local veterans and their families to have input into this particular hub. So Kristy will be working with the local veterans’ community, the local RSLs, Vietnam veterans, veterans’ motorcycle clubs, Soldier On and other organisations locally to specifically get the kind of veteran hub that's necessary in this region. 
I want to make another couple of announcements as well and comments, if I can, in relation to what we saw over the weekend. We saw over the weekend the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Andrew Gee describe the administration of his department in terms of veterans claims as a national disgrace. Not my words, his words. It's pretty extraordinary that the Minister would threaten to resign if he didn't get what he wanted. And then when he got what he wanted in terms of an assurance from the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, he still has the same press conference and muses about resigning. So I look forward to, if the money's not in the Budget on Tuesday night, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, who said that it's a national disgrace, the administration of his department, provides his signature on a piece of paper that resigns his commission as a minister of the Crown. 60,000 claims are outstanding. We need, according to the Minister, $96 million by the middle of next year to address those issues. So the Minister engages in a political kamikaze act over the weekend, threatening and holding to ransom, almost, his own government. An extraordinary thing for a minister of the Crown to undertake. So I call on the Minister, if you have failed to get the money in the budget, resign on Wednesday. Happy to answer any questions. 
JOURNALIST: Do you think more support for veterans is needed? And do you think people are comfortable asking for help when they leave the military?
STEPHEN ‘BONES’ WILLIAMS, PRESIDENT VETERAN MOTORCYCLE CLUB FEDERAL CHAPTER: Yes, I always think more help is needed. A lot of veterans just by the nature of their, I guess, their personalities and the service that they’ve been through, aren't likely to put their hand up and say I need help. Quite often, it's it's not until they are in a I guess a social group amongst themselves when these topics come out. And people understand talking to other veterans, well maybe I need help, as opposed to putting their hand up first.  
JOURNALIST: What do you think the challenges are with the existing support services?
WILLIAMS: I think the existing support services aren't fit for purpose. The way you look at DVA, and I guess the other support services out there that have been set up over a long period of time, I don't think they currently are meeting with the requirements of contemporary veterans, because their experiences are totally different to the experiences of veterans previously. And society has changed. I don't think a one size fits all approach is actually meeting the needs of the veterans. 
JOURNALIST: And what do you think of today's announcement for veterans wellbeing? 
MATT HELM, PRESIDENT QUEANBEYAN RSL SUB BRANCH: We think it’s long overdue in this area. We have a welfare officer, Richard Stone OAM, who has dedicated half his life to helping veterans in this area and I think a hub would open up more fully the services we provide at the moment. We have a very large catchment area and we have a lot of veterans coming from Canberra because of the availability of the services. And it's an excellent idea. I trust the Opposition and the Government, whoever’s in power after the election, can get together and resolve the matter in the affirmative. 
JOURNALIST: Do you think more support for veterans is needed? And do you think people are comfortable asking for help when they leave the military?
HELM: I believe that the service is definitely needed. When I left the Navy in 1989 I was sort of middle of the road. Those in between the old ways and the new ways haven't come. I can see a graduation, very limited as it, in the services provided now that do not meet the requirements of current ex-service or serving members of the Australian Defence Force. The structures are very antiquated. The computerisation of the DVA is a work in progress I believe. I don't want to bag anyone. I believe that DVA should go towards the 21st century. We’re now in the 22nd year of the 21st century. We seem to be marching still. The complexity of the DVA Acts – there’s three to four Acts now. The average joker in the ex-service community would have no idea how to navigate these Acts. They overlap each other probably.
JOURNALIST: And so what do you think the challenges are with existing veteran support services?
HELM: Well, I talk to a lot of people in the district and I go right down to Southern Highlands and the coast and I'm the Vice President of this Council. I believe that, a lot of people tell me, that their experience with the Veterans’ Affairs Department is that it seems to be very challenging to a lot of people. And I’m not being smart here, but a lot of people my age had a very limited education when they matriculated in those days. What I'm saying is the forms you have to fill out, then you put the forms in, you get the medical stuff and then they write back and say we're going to start all over again. Now a lot of men and women that have served this country they get despondent now and then they say well I’m not going to worry about it. But there entitled to these things. Once it’s an entitlement you should get it. And I think that DVA, and I know the lady that's running it, Liz Cosson, is doing the best she can but they need to give it a good shake up.