Press Conference with Minister Tehan and Minister Ley

Transcript
11 Aug 2016
Canberra
Prime Minister, Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Health
E&OE

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning. I am joined by the Minister for Health and the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and we have just had a very constructive meeting with a large number of ex-service organisations, veterans’ organisations and of course representatives from the ADF and the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

As I said at the outset of the meeting, the best way we honour the diggers of 1916 in this centenary year is by caring for the veterans of 2016 and their families by caring for the service men and women of 2016 and their families. By supporting them through their service and after their service by ensuring that they get the help and support they need, particularly in respect of mental illness and we will come to that in a moment in more detail, particularly with Sussan and Dan's remarks, but also that we ensure that they make a successful transition to employment. And let me deal with that first.

I announced some time ago at the RSL Conference, what we have described as the PM's Veterans’ Employment Initiative. And this is an exercise in using my office to raise awareness with employers, both in the private sector and the public sector, of the enormous value and unique experience our veterans have. And why they should be offered employment, why they can offer unique skills for employers right across the board and we will bring together in November leaders in the public sector at all levels of government, and in particular leaders from the private sector, from the biggest companies, in order to raise their awareness and get them involved in this initiative - because there is insufficient awareness. I have discussed this with young veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans not so long ago at the North Bondi RSL, I think I mentioned that this morning in the meeting in the Cabinet room and it is quite clear that there is - that many veterans struggle to make employers understand the extraordinary experience of leadership they have had in their service and how valuable that is in the civilian life. So that is a very important initiative and we will be working with all of those ex-service organisations, we will be working obviously with the ADF, the CDF is very committed to this as well and all of the influence of government to do so.

Let me now turn to mental illness. This is a huge issue right across our community. It is a particular issue with our veterans. And it is one where we need to do a better job, right across the board all of us and I mean all of us, not just governments but all of us need to be more aware of the challenges of mental illness and the debt we owe in particular to our service men and women. Now, we have - and we are announcing today a targeted review of the suicide and self-harm prevention services available to ADF members and veterans and their families to assess their effectiveness in supporting current and former serving members and their families. And I emphasise "and their families". Every servicemen and servicewoman is supported by a family and the pressure on them is as assume, in some respects even more acute than it is on the serving personnel. Now this work will be done by the National Mental Health Commission, it will be supported by an expert panel and Dan and Sussan can talk more about that. We have extended mental health services to ADF members and indeed veterans but there is more to do. We need to do that job better.

Now, an element of this, the third matter I wanted to touch on, is you would have seen recently Sussan and I have announced a very substantial increase in our investment and the scope of our mental health services. Again, I am quoting Ian Hickey, I would like citing Ian Hickey I like to talk about the mental wealth of nations. We have to recognise mental illness is a huge cost in every respect, whether you measure it in dollars or whether you measure it in human happiness. And all of us have a vested interest in the mental health of all Australians. It is part of the mental wealth of our nation - a critical concept. Now, we're setting up a number of 12 suicide prevention trial sites across Australia, and I'm able to announce today there will be a dedicated suicide prevention trial site in Townsville. Which as you know is Lavarack Barracks is a large ADF base and it has a large ex-service community and while it will have a substantial focus on serving personnel and ex- serving personnel, although not exclusively so. This will deploy best practice and new technologies to provide crisis support, clinical intervention and ongoing service, suicide and self-harm. Mental illness is a major problem in Australia. We haven't talked enough about it. There's been a stigma associated with it, a taboo. We are addressing that now because you can't solve a problem unless you own up to its existence. And that is what we are doing. So these are important measures and I'd now ask the Minister for Veterans' Affairs to address them in further detail.

MINISTER TEHAN:

Thanks, Prime Minister and I thank you for coming to the roundtable this morning and for the very insightful discussion we were able to have with your presence there and can I thank Sussan for coming along as well. These issues are broad issues - they're community wide. As you rightly pointed out in our meeting today, they cannot be siloed. We can't be ships passing in the night or submarines underneath, what we need is basically a whole of government approach to this and I think yours and Sussan's presence today was very important in sending out that message. Also, the three announcements that were made today build on the important work that has already been done recently. One of the constant bits of feedback that I have had in the last four or five months since becoming the Minister from roundtables like we had today and talking more broadly out into the community is that there are two things that they want to see addressed in the area of veterans. That is mental health and making sure that our ex-service men and women and also our current ADF members can get access to the services they need. And in the Budget, we were able to address that because what we have introduced now is non-liability mental health care, which means you don't have to prove anything to get access to those services. We also put significant funding into improving the DVA ICT system because one of the other big pieces of feedback we have been getting is it's about antiquated, it needs updating, there is still too much relying on paper file and we need to revolutionise the way the ICT system works in DVA. We got money to start that process. We will be looking to continue that and if we do that it will be the biggest transformation we have seen in DVA since it came into existence. So this - these initiatives builds on this work. We also obviously had in the Budget, $1 million to continue the funding for suicide prevention awareness out in the ESO community which is also very important. Then we had our election commitments. We have given money to the Phoenix Institute to make sure that they can do the research they need into PTSD but also get that out into the GP community so that veterans present to their local GPs they have an understanding of the complexities around PTSD and mental health. So these initiatives today build on this work. There is also $3.1 million in an election commitment to make sure that the veterans counselling service, which is for veterans and their families, continues to be expanded. Another important initiative. So, PM, thanks for your presence today. I know from the feedback at the roundtable it was greatly appreciated and, thank you also Sussan, and Sussan we might hand to you for a few remarks.

MINISTER LEY:

Thank you, Dan, and thank you Prime Minister for your ongoing real commitment to mental health of all Australians. And thank you, Dan, for the opportunity to participate in your ex-service organisation's roundtable. I think it's fair to say the three of us spent over an hour simply listening and for me the really powerful messages that came from the families and the partners underscored the ongoing commitment of this government to those families, to the girlfriends, the wives, the husbands, those left at home from sometimes complex family arrangements and the need for them to be able to access the supports over their lifetime. So I think we have real work to do but it was particularly important to hear what your department, Dan, is doing to effectively keep tabs on every veteran from the day they join Defence to when they depart, leave the field, they immediately don't feel they have to contact and ask for help but sometime later down the track that help is there when they need it. And that keeping in touch is so important. Now we have talked about the National Mental Health Commission conducting through an expert reference group a review of the services available to veterans and members of the ADF in relation to suicide prevention. So this informed reference group will comprise current and former members of Defence, chair of the Prime Ministerial Advisory Council on Veterans’ Mental Health and the Deputy President of the Repatriation Commission, as well as a younger veteran, a female veteran, and an older veteran. That expert reference group will complement the already strong work the Mental Health Commission has done in looking at where the gaps are in suicide prevention and mental health services across Australia.

We want to know, particularly in relation to the veteran community, where those gaps are, where those barriers are, where services are duplicated, where services are not working and what we need to do to improve them. This is going to be a relatively short review because we have to get on with this work, it will report early next year and we will have obviously more to say about implementing those recommendations. Dan also mentioned the work of Phoenix Australia, the government's commitment during the election of $6 million dollars to the Centenary Institute which is going to be part of the work of understanding best practice mental health, particularly for veterans, who while no-one, no veteran should be defined by their mental ill health, nor should anyone for that matter, we certainly know that veterans because of deployment, because of trauma, face particular challenges when it comes to post-traumatic stress.

The work of the Centenary Institute will look at best practice. How we actually treat and enable those suffering to live better lives or indeed to be cured completely. At the moment, there are a third of those diagnosed who are not recovering well. But the research from around the world can be brought to this group and promulgated into every GP's service and primary care organisation in Australia, so that when a younger, for example, returned veteran walks through the door of their doctor's surgery, they will get the best earliest intervention and the best possible chance and prospect of recovery and participating normally in society. So thank you, Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST:

Is there a question of restructuring health services so that they're based on a whole of government general community sense with a special focus on veterans and defence personnel? Has that changed from a much more veterans’ space? I suppose I have in mind that PTSD is also a problem, for example for a lot of former AFP officials who served overseas or who have worked domestically. I am just trying to understand whether there's, whether you are looking at when you are talking about gaps whether there's a change in the way this would work?

PRIME MINISTER:

Dan, do you want to address the DVA aspect?

MINISTER TEHAN:

What we are looking at in this study is the veterans’ community and the defence community - so it's specific to that. We want to identify the gaps there. But I think it's a very important question that you have raised. I think there will be telling information which comes from this review which will then lead us to have greater information when we deal with other organisations who are dealing with similar issues. But in the first instance, what we want to do is make sure that this is targeted around defence personnel and veterans.

MINISTER LEY:

The 12 trial sites and we're tall calling them that because the learnings from each one will inform our approach to suicide prevention and that of clinicians and community organisations for everyone, everywhere. We are well aware that the emergency services including the police are overrepresented in those who suffer from post-traumatic stress. And what we learn about the treatment of post-traumatic stress will help everyone with that condition. But we do certainly know that we have to take an approach to veterans in this instance that, again, will spread across the wider community and the wider veteran community, not just Townsville.

JOURNALIST:

With the November summit, what do you want the company CEOs to bring to the table? And is your - the message about jobs just as important as the health services in terms of getting these people back on their feet?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes - absolutely. The message about jobs is just as important - absolutely. And the two are connected. So it's a good - that is a very good point you make and it's one that we discussed in precisely those terms in the roundtable. A number of the participants in the roundtable, both younger veterans and older veterans, made the point that the key, which I agree with is, that the key issue is awareness. We are not saying to business - and they don't want us to say to business you must hire veterans as a patriotic obligation - although we wouldn't mind if they did but the message is going to be there is an enormous well of human talent here with unique experience and you should be taking advantage of it. That is what the men and women in our roundtable want me to be saying and what I bring to the table is the megaphone and the platform of the office of Prime Minister. So it's a very good one for raising awareness. I had a very interesting discussion a little while ago with a number of veterans - younger Iraq and Afghanistan veterans I mean - and they - it was very interesting, their issues with employment, employers not really understanding military service, not understanding the skills that you develop there. Sometimes they have problems with their resume because a lot of their service is classified and they can't actually fill out what they've been doing so you have to have a work around there. So there is work to be done on the application side, on the veterans’ side. We had some very good input at the roundtable from Defence about how they are preparing now, they are very alert to preparing service men and women for employment while they're still in the ADF. So as they're coming to the end of their service, getting ready, making sure they're getting ready to re-enter the workplace because it's a very different civilian life is very different. Of course we're seeing now as Dan was pointing out that the average service time is seven and a half years. So you have young men and women joining, serving on average seven and a half years, so it is not 20 or 30 years, and then going back into the workplace. But of course it's also - apart from being important for the individuals involved and benefitting them and the community overall - it's also a very important for the morale and the ability of the ADF to recruit. It really is. It's absolutely in the interests of the ADF to be able to say, ‘join the ADF, join the Army, join the Navy, join the Air Force and serve your country and at the end of that you will be better prepared for a more successful future in civilian life.’ That has always been an element in recruiting and we have to make sure that we deliver on that. It is one of those classic situations where, if we get everyone working together, business, government and the various ESO’s, these are the ex-service organisations, we can get a very big win-win-win.

JOURNALIST:

On another topic -

PRIME MINISTER:

Can we just finish on veterans before we move on to other topics?

JOURNALIST:

What is the extent of mental illness in the veteran community as the Government understands? How does the prevalence compare to the rest of the general community and can more that can be done while they're serving to prevent the mental illness issues being a strain on the health system overall?

PRIME MINISTER:

I will make one observation and I will then throw to Dan. One of the issues that was raised at the roundtable and I have heard this from younger veterans myself directly, is that there is a real reluctance to acknowledge that you do have a problem because the concern is that that is going to be very detrimental to your career. And so what - Defence understands this now, and what we need to do now - and this applies right across the board. We have got to be - you've got to be able to have a culture in your organisation where if people do have or a concerned about mental illness that they can raise it and get help and get help in a way that does not stigmatise them or disadvantage them because plainly early detection enables better treatment and cure. This is why initiatives like ‘R U OK’ are so important - being able to reach out. It is also incumbent on us if we're working with somebody who we think might be depressed or excessively anxious to be able to say to them are you OK? Can I help? That human touch - it sounds a little bit, I don't know, a little bit touchy feely I suppose, but it's important. We all run the risk in extraordinary in this the most digitally connected time in human history when we are all potentially connected to just about anyone in the world, certainly anyone connected to the internet which is a large percentage of the world. You can connect to anyone but in some respects people find themselves more isolated than ever. So openness is important.

Dan.

MINISTER TEHAN:

PM, you have touched on pretty much the important points. It's making sure you get that early intervention, you get the self-reporting that is absolutely vital and Defence have done a lot of work in this area. And the figures are suggesting that it's paid real benefits. What we need to do is make sure we get that type of approach working also in the veterans’ community. That is a bigger task. That is a more complex task but that is why we are also seeking this review because hopefully we will get some ideas from that, especially when it comes to transition, when you transition from Defence into the broader community because there are a lot of stressors which are placed on the individual during that process. So more work to be done but the work that is already being done is bearing fruit and I think that is important.

JOURNALIST:

Will you be setting any kind of targets or any outline for employment goals in the private or public sector and how will you determine that the November conference is a success?

PRIME MINISTER:

The meeting in is November is just the beginning - the formal beginning of the initiative and its success will be proved over time. The mood in the room, in the roundtable, was that a number of people spoke against setting quotas or targets and said that what they sought was greater awareness and the recognition that one of the great privileges of this office, of the Prime Minister, is the ability to bring people together and raise awareness of this important, very valuable human resource that we believe employers, particularly in the private sector can take more advantage of.

JOURNALIST:

Could you give us the comparative suicide rates of veterans, people in the ADF and youth in the general community?

MINISTER TEHAN:

A very good question, Michelle, and one of the reasons why we have sought this review. We've got pretty good figures when it comes to Defence. There was a 2015 Griffith University study which shows that within the Defence Force it's actually 30 per cent lower than what it is in the general community. When it comes to veterans, we don't have as accurate as figures and it's one of the reasons why we are doing this review and also why there is ongoing work which started in 2014 by the Health and Wellbeing Institute, looking at this specifically and my understanding, and it comes under the auspices of Sussan, but that we will have that data available to us at the latest by the end of the year and that will be another key aspect of what we do going forward and is also one of the, specifically one of the terms of reference of our review.

JOURNALIST:

Would you know how it compares to youth suicide which has been an increasing problem?

MINISTER TEHAN:

We will have those comparisons. We will be able to directly make those comparisons. So this is going to be an incredibly important piece of work which we expect to have by the end of the year.

MINISTER LEY:

May I just on that, that the expert clinicians don't want to talk about this in terms of numbers but they want to talk about it in terms of the fact that veterans are in the high risk groups across the community. So it's not necessarily linked to being a veteran but it may well be and we know that post-traumatic stress is highly linked to deployment. When it comes to suicide, the AIHW will collect data by the end of this year but those practising want us to be aware that veterans are in high risk groups.

JOURNALIST:

But it is good to have numbers, surely?

MINISTER LEY:

That is why the Institute of Health and Welfare is doing its best to coordinate those numbers accurately with relation to coroner's reports another information because obviously we don't know at the moment the fate of every particular veteran who has died and the exact circumstances. And that is important that we get as much information as we can.

JOURNALIST:

How much clarity do you have around this denial of service attack on the Census? Because what they in invited people to do is every household in Australia to access the same website after dinner most likely on the same night, is it possible that they just weren't tooled up for that kind of traffic?

PRIME MINISTER:

That is a very good question. And I will tell you precisely what the advice I have on this information. The site was provisioned to deal with up to 260 forms being submitted per second. The highest rate it reached was 150 is my understanding. So they planned for obviously a very high submission rate. As to the denial of service attacks, as I said this morning on the radio, for government websites, particularly something as high profile as this, denial of service attacks are absolutely predictable. Absolutely predictable. It was always going to happen. And so the part of the job of the service provider, in this case IBM, was to ensure that there were measures to repel denial of service attacks and for those watching this a denial of service attack is basically when, generally, a series of remotely coordinated computers is used to simultaneously access a website so that it becomes overloaded so that - and people wanting to access it for their normal business, whether it's submitting a Census form or doing their banking, or reading the news on the ABC or the Seven site can't get on. That is what a DOS attack is. So they were very predictable. The fact is that the measures put in place were inadequate. That is the fact. There was also at least one hardware failure - which, this is again, I'm giving you the advice they've received from the Australian Signals Directorate, who have been investigating this and overseeing the rectification. So that compounded that. Plus there was some anomalous traffic on the night that appeared to be anomalous. Actually it was quite innocent, it turned out, but that caused the ABS to take the site down. So the site was not crashed by denial of service but there was what you could describe as a confluence of events which caused the ABS to make that decision. But there is no doubt that there was a failure on the part of the - there were failures on the part of ABS and its systems provider. All of that is subject to review. I know people have said to me will heads roll? Which heads roll where and when will be determined once the review is complete. Right now, my objective, as Prime Minister, is to ensure that the site is back up, it should be restored today, that is the advice I have as of a little while ago and that when it is restored the protections that ought to have been in place are in place. But there has clearly been a failure.

JOURNALIST:

What can you say about the scale of the denial of service attack? Was it just a bunch of kids or is there evidence it was something more serious than that? Secondly, do you accept that ultimately there's ministerial accountability here and your Ministers must be held responsible?

PRIME MINISTER:

As you know, we have a system of responsible government and Ministers are responsible for everything. But it is very important that I set out the facts. I made it very clear early yesterday morning when I was obviously speaking to officials and Ministers late in the night before, but when I got together with ASD and ABS and IBM and others, I made it very, very clear that what we needed to do was be absolutely straight and frank with the Australian people. This has been a failure of the ABS. We have inconvenienced or the ABS has inconvenienced millions of Australians. It shouldn't have happened. I am not happy about it. None of us are. We are very disappointed. What was important was to ascertain the facts, and make sure that they were set out. Now everything I have said to you about these events is based on the advice I have from the ABS but in particular the Australian Signals Directorate as those of you all being Canberra insiders know very well that is the - that contains some of the smartest brains in Australia, and they have been deployed to investigate the problem and rectify it. And as I say, the site should be - my advice is the site should be restored today.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, will that transparency continue throughout the course of the investigation and will the Australian people ever learn who was behind this attack?

PRIME MINISTER:

The answer to your question is the review will certainly be transparent. If there are national security issues, then they will be dealt with in the normal way. Obviously national security, there are some things that can't be disclosed. But in terms of what went wrong with the system, with the networking arrangements designed, so-called geo-blocking arrangements, I think everyone understands what we are talking about, this is to be able to sense the IP address computers connecting to the network and if they are not from Australia to be able to block them. Of course the further from the ABS server you block them, the more effective it is. So there were some failures there and there were also inadequate redundancy. You can probably gather I am not very happy about this. But having said that the ABS was dealing with one of the largest technology computer companies in the world that had handled the online Census previously, with the online portion of the Census previously. So that is an important context.

As to the identity of the DOS attack, the denial of service attacks, the information I have today is that they appeared to be coming from the United States. That does not of course mean that the people involved or entities involved were American because it is relatively straight forward to be able to route traffic using virtual private networks and other techniques through the US. That will be investigated. That is being investigated. But it is a very common problem. All of your websites, from time to time, get hit by denial of service attacks and, if you are in the banking industry in particular, it's happening all the time.

JOURNALIST:

What is your understanding of the responsive rate that is going to be required to make the Census still significant and at what point does it become worthless?

PRIME MINISTER:

Again, the advice, David, I have this morning is from Mr Kalisch, the statistician, is that 2.3 million forms have been completed online. There are 3.7 million forms that are either with households or on their way to households. We are talking about - so the statistician advises me - about 10 million households, so you can do the math yourself. Once the site is restored and as I said my advice is it should be restored today, we will be encouraging Australians to complete it. It was as you know Lucy and I completed our form before it was taken down and it is - it worked very well. But clearly there was a subsequent failure. So it is important -

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

That is a question you have to address to the statistician. I think we will see a high degree of compliance, or of completion I should say of the form.

JOURNALIST:

On the economy, PM, Glenn Stevens in his outgoing speech yesterday gave a stern warning on needing to balance the Budget and talked about having to dispense with the narrow notions of fairness if we are to get serious about it. Prior to the Senate about to sit in the Parliament - is that something with which you agree and you will have to get tougher in that area and the banks have asked you to hold your nerve on the pending company tax plan. Can you tell me what you think your chances are of getting the whole plan through the Senate?

PRIME MINISTER:

The Senate has only just been identified. The election results have only just been identified. We are reaching out to all members of the Parliament, including the Labor members - the Labor Party and the Greens. We want to get the cooperation from all parties and particularly of course the crossbenchers for our program. We took a very positive economic plan for jobs and growth to the election. A key part of that was getting the Budget back into balance, living within our means. And that is founded on a fundamental concept of fairness. There is nothing more unfair than saddling our children and our grandchildren with mountains of debt that we have created because we could not - our generation could not live within its means. The most critical thing to remember in all of this discussion about the Budget is that you cannot be fair to the people whom we should the most, our children and our grandchildren, if we saddle them with a growing mountain of debt. We have to look at this as a long term challenge and we have to ensure that future generations are not in a position where they have to pay massively higher taxes or live with massively reduced services because our generation has left them with that mountain of debt. So can I say to you, right through, every element of our economic plan is fairness. When the Labor Party went to the election and said they were going to have higher deficits, higher spending and higher taxes, there was nothing fair in that. There was nothing fair in that. Nothing fair to businesses today, nothing fair about people wanting to get a job, and, above all, nothing fair for those who for whom we should care the most, our children and grandchildren, their future depends on us living within our means and on that note thank you all.