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Speech at the Soldier On World Mental Health Day event
Thanks Hugh and thank you Peter for that fine address. It’s wonderful to be here, as you said, with my Parliamentary colleagues Marise Payne, the Minister for Defence and Dan Tehan the Minister for Veterans Affairs and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, the Commissioner, the Australian Federal Police Andrew Colvin and the Chief of the ACT Police, Justine Saunders.
And of course, so many other leaders of our defence force, our veterans, leaders of our national security agencies, all of you who tirelessly everyday keep us safe. Some of you in uniform, the ADF in uniform, AFP often but not always in uniform when overseas. But all of you keeping us safe.
And as Peter said we owe it to you, to give you every support to ensure that when you return from service or even when you’re in service you have the support to enable you to do your job and lead your lives to the fullest, during and after your service.
So it is great to be here on World Mental Health Day with Solider On here with its CEO and founder John Bale. John, congratulations, the great work that you and your family have done in setting up Solider On since 2012 is remarkable, and the Robert Poates Centre is a great example of that.
Now, from the beach at Gallipoli to the front line against Da’esh in the Middle East today, our defence forces have always served Australia with courage, honour and great skill.
It’s dangerous work, defending our freedom and our safety putting their lives on the line and Australia is proud, immensely proud of all our men and women in uniform. We owe them a debt we can never repay and nor do we ever really understand the cost of that service; a cost that can endure long after the service ends.
We know them as heroes, but we know them also as mothers and fathers, boyfriends, girlfriends sons and daughters, mates.
The lives they put on the line are connected to all of ours, hopes, dreams and futures—the friends that wait for them, the families that pray for their safe return.
And sometimes, coming home can be among the toughest challenges these brave men and women face.
I’ve come to know a bit about that challenge through our own family.
Our son-in-law James served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and through him, I’ve met many of his generation of ex-servicemen and women – including John.
Sitting around a table with them at the North Bondi RSL, I began to understand more of what it’s like to come back and build a post-service life.
And so, meeting John and learning about Soldier On and meeting so many of your contemporaries, the veterans in their 20s and 30s and 40s, today’s veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. You recognised that we had to do a lot more, both in supporting veterans with PTSD with other challenges, ensuring that they were able to be restored to health, but also ensuring that they got great jobs.
And the veterans employment initiative which we set up, and which Dan’s doing a great job in leading and which is ensuring that more Australian businesses recognise the value and the importance of employing veterans - and I have to say it’s been really enthusiastically embraced by the business sector.
There’s a lot of good things about being Prime Minister, one of the good things is you’ve got great convening power or a big megaphone, so when you decide to put something on the agenda often you can succeed and we’ve had a great response there. That came out of another meeting at the North Bondi RSL, John and it was really a great tribute to the leadership of you and your generation of veterans that we’re achieving so much more.
Now, from helping 200 veterans in its first year to 500 each month in its third, Soldier On is now reaching thousands of veterans and their families each year, helping them stay connected, find new opportunities through education and employment, and get the psychological and emotional support they need.
The success has led to an expansion of services right around the country—with centres now in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth as well as Albury, Newcastle and Currumbin.
And it’s led, as Peter’s just announced, to expanding your reach to those who serve ‘side by side’ with our defence forces: our federal police and border force, our diplomats, intelligence and security services – all of them are dedicated tirelessly, as is your government, to keeping Australians safe.
And I want to acknowledge today, the extraordinary service both in the field and subsequently in looking after veterans from all of these agencies, through his own example and the commitment of him and his wife, David Savage and his wife Sandra, let’s give them a round of applause.
David as you can see here, was seriously wounded in Afghanistan serving side by side with ADF there. He has been part of the Solider On organisation, and John I think this expansion, which is an expansion of the practical love you show, has been driven, inspired by David and Sandra and they have done an outstanding job. They put their lives – David put his life at risk to keep us safe, and he deserves as do so many others like him our support, our acknowledgement, our love.
Now whether it’s a session with a psychologist, help to get a job or a degree, or just a coffee with a mate, the connections that Soldier On offers, matter enormously to the health and wellbeing of our ex-servicemen and women.
We’ve understood the physical scars of battle for a long time, but we now have a deeper understanding of the scars we can’t see.
Now my grandfather Fred Turnbull, was an infantryman, a private, in the First World War on the Western Front.
We talked about many things —fishing and carpentry, politics and poetry—but he never talked to me about his wartime experiences. In all of the hours I spent with him, I can’t recall any description or account of the horrors that he faced in the First World War.
A lot of his generation came back and never spoke of what they’d seen. They had seen unspeakable things. But at the time, we didn’t have the insight or the science to explain those mental wounds or help them and now we do.
Most importantly, we have the tools and the knowledge to help them heal and we were talking about that earlier inside. It is very important, just as we acknowledge mental illness – and it has been a taboo for too long – it’s important also that we recognise that mental illnesses can be cured, and are cured and that people who have been damaged, are not permanently damaged and can recover. And it’s the love and the support and the leadership of organisations like Solider On show, that enable that to be done.
Today, as I said, is World Mental Health Day and it’s a day to reflect on how much more we know about, what my good friend and a great psychiatrist Professor Ian Hickie calls ‘the mental wealth of nations’. It’s a very important concept. We all have a vested interest in each other’s mental health, that is why ‘R U OK’ is such a great initiative.
You know, your friend, your relative, your workmates mental state, is not just of concern to them it’s of concern to us all. So it is vitally important to be aware of your own, how you’re feeling, you’ve got to understand your own state of mind, but also keep an eye out for others.
Looking after your mates; what could be more Australian than that and that is why Soldier On is such a great Australian institution.
We recognise the importance of prioritising mental health and suicide prevention and we’ve backed that commitment with an additional $367.5 million over the past year.
We’re driving reform to support the mental health of all Australians, no matter who they are, where they live, or the nature or stage of the illness. We’re acutely aware of the social, economic and personal impacts of mental health, none more so than those experienced by our current and former serving members.
Last year I commissioned a review of suicide prevention services for veterans and ADF members. The review gave us a comprehensive understanding of those critical challenges facing our veteran and serving community and helped to direct the action we’ve taken in this year’s Budget.
We announced a $33.5 million expansion of the non-liability healthcare program to provide free, uncapped treatment for any mental health condition for anyone who has served one day in the ADF.
Dan, when you announced that initiative that was an enormous step forward. Again, a really practical commitment to support the men and women that keep us safe.
We’ve also invested more funding for new approaches to suicide prevention and expanding the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service to partners, children and families.
To ensure our personnel can make the transition to civilian life successfully and smoothly, we’ve launched – as I said, inspired at North Bondi RSL, launched at Kirribilli House, moved across the Habour - launched the Veterans’ Employment Program, partnering with industry, it’s going very well.
Again it’s an awareness issue, make industry more aware of the enormous talents and skills our veterans have, help the veterans to make sure they can get their resumes in shape and pitch their skills successfully and what that does is ensure great post-service opportunities for our veterans and of course, Vice-Admiral, assists in recruitment too. Because people will understand that, a period in the ADF is a great investment for their post-service career as well.
Now in these centenary years of the First World War, I firmly believe that we best honour the diggers of 1917, by supporting the servicemen and women, the veterans and their families of 2017.
That is the way we best honour those diggers of 100 years ago; looking after you and so many other men and women like you.
That’s what Soldier On is all about, it’s why it has grown so rapidly in just five years and why it continues to make such a significant difference, such a significant change for the better for veterans and their families and all who serve our nation to keep us safe in dangerous places.
Thank you for what you do. And John and all the Soldier On team, Peter, all of you, congratulations on your work so far and congratulations on what is going to continue to be an extraordinary exercise in demonstrating that great Australian principle, tradition of looking after your mates, looking out for each other, practical love for those who keep us safe.
Thank you very much.