SUBJECTS: Call for a Royal Commission into Veterans’ Suicide; Medevac repeal, Angus Taylor and Scott Morrison misleading the Parliament; flailing productivity figures.
SHAYNE NEUMANN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR VETERANS’ AFFAIRS AND DEFENCE PERSONNEL: Labor is backing a call for a Royal Commission into the tragedy of veterans’ suicide. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Report last Friday confirmed the many reports and the Productivity Commission Report which came down after the election. This is a disgrace and a national shame, and we must do better. Shining a light with the comprehensive review into veterans’ suicide to give a voice to the families that have tragically lost their loved ones. To hear the voice of serving and ex-serving men and women. To look at how we spend our money. To shine a light on the DVA. All these things must be uncovered. So, Labor is asking the Government for bipartisan support. This should be above politics. And Labor is calling on the Government to draft terms of reference in relation to this matter. I will now hand it over to Anthony.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, Shayne. I want to thank Shayne and Richard Marles, our Defence spokesperson, Luke Gosling, Mike Kelly, and others who have spoken with me over a long period of time about these issues. As well, people across the Parliament. Jacqui Lambie has had a deep interest in the issues about veterans and the quite tragic figures that we see. If you’re a young female veteran, you’re twice as likely to be a suicide victim as if you have not served in the Defence Forces. The fact is that we sat down last week with Julie-Ann Finney, an incredible advocate, who told us about her son David. The fact is that this is something which has been debated in the community. It’s been debated by veterans’ communities, it’s now time to have a proper inquiry through a Royal Commission into not just what happens when people leave the services, but that transition from being a serviceman or woman back into civil society.
One death is one too many. And we need to act. Labor is calling upon the Government to act. I also want to acknowledge the Daily Telegraph’s campaign on this issue, which is really what raised awareness in the community about these tragedies and about the need to have a whole-of-government response, and indeed, a whole-of-society response. Men and women sign up to defend our country and our way of life. They are deserving of our respect. And in return we must do everything we can to ensure that both while they serve our nation, but indeed after as well, that we look after their interests, I might ask Luke Gosling to make some comments as well.
LUKE GOSLING OAM, MEMBER FOR SOLOMON: Thanks, Albo. As a veteran who’s the son of a veteran, who himself was the son of a veteran, this is very welcome news. We need to have a holistic inquiry by means of a Royal Commission into Veterans’ Suicide in this country. For too long, people felt like they haven’t got a voice. And there hasn’t been enough action to address the many problems that our serving men and women have transitioning from the defence back into society. And we need to make sure that those transition supports are there. We need to make sure that their supports are there in the community for when they do transition. And it is time, it’s past time that we had a Royal Commission into this issue. Also, I want to say that just last year, there were more ADF members that took their lives, former ADF members, current ADF members, that took their lives than have been killed in 20 years of combat operations and peacekeeping operations. In just one year. So, we’ve clearly got a big problem in this country. And we look forward to working with the Government. They need to call a Royal Commission. And we’ll work with them on the terms of reference to make sure that we’re properly looking after our serving men and women. And in particular, as they transition back into society and back into a grateful nation. Thanks very much.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: There have been inquiries into this in the past. Defence is well-funded and has led the way in research into PTSD and is currently doing so. What’s going to come out of a Royal Commission that we don’t already know?
ALBANESE: Well, what we need to do is to have a comprehensive look at this that you can only do through a Royal Commission. There have been inquiries in the past, but the numbers of victims of suicide has been increasing. This is an issue that requires a whole-of-government response. But also, for us to open the door and shine the light and hear from people who are the families of people who have committed suicide, about what the circumstances are. If you listen to David’s mum, about the circumstances when he was leaving the Navy as a sailor, and the fact that they were a number of lights that should have gone off that he needed assistance. So, we need to look at this. We need to look at it in, of course, it will be an emotional journey. But it needs to be looked at in a way that is about outcomes. Is about how we can make a difference.
JOURNALIST: When it was first proposed, Darren Chester seemed a bit sort of apprehensive. And just last week, he’s actually said, ‘No, I’m on board with the PM and I’d be very open to it’. What’s your response to that kind of change of mood there?
ALBANESE: Look, I’m not here to be critical of Darren Chester. I think he’s a person who’s very committed. But we need a decision. We need a decision. And that decision should be to call a Royal Commission. So, I’m not here to make partisan points. I’m here to make a difference. And as Labor Leader, we made this decision, I took this proposition to the Shadow Cabinet with Shayne Neumann and Richard Marles. And we were unanimous in our view that this action was required.
JOURNALIST: Universally, support among veterans, Royal Commissions are very expensive, and some argue this could be better spent bolstering existing supports.
ALBANESE: Well, the truth is that there have been a range of inquiries. What there hasn’t been, and the difference is a Royal Commission is the peak, if you like. It is the one that brings everything together, obviously taking account the other inquiries which have been held, look at what measures are being put in place, what are working, what aren’t, and what new measures are required. The fact is, we’re not doing enough in this area. And that’s why the call for Royal Commission is reasonable. This is one that’s been led not by politicians, this has been led by the families of veterans.
JOURNALIST: The RSL are saying this could just kick the can further down the road and the Government could act today by merging the three laws that oversee Veterans Affairs. Why delay this long? Do you reckon just act on those laws?
ALBANESE: Royal Commissions don’t delay any action which should be taking place immediately. What Royal Commissions do is point towards new action, which should be taken.
JOURNALIST: Just on Medevac quickly.
ALBANESE: Can we just deal with this first? Sorry.
JOURNALIST: There’s a few Royal Commissions happening at the moment with this making it the third one. Are we at risk of becoming a country that has Royal Commissions, and I’m not trying to downplay veterans’ suicide, but is three running concurrently too many and reducing the power and weight of one?
ALBANESE: No, it’s not. You have Royal Commissions into areas where you have systemic failure. Aged care, we’re seeing some tragic stories come out. The Disability Royal Commission is also really important. What this Government did in its first couple of terms, I will make this point, is have Royal Commissions in the Labor Party to make political points. I’m not doing that, and Labor hasn’t done that. Royal Commissions should make a difference. I am very proud of the fact that I was part of a Cabinet that made a really tough decision to have a Royal Commission into the Institutional Abuse of Children, by church organisations, civil organisations, that has made an enormous impact on the issue of child sexual abuse. That was a tough decision. This one, frankly, should be an easy one. The Government should make this decision. They should make it today. And we should, as a country, all welcome that announcement because I’m sure it will be welcomed by veterans and their families.
JOURNALIST: I’ll go back to Medevac very quickly. Kerryn Phelps this morning on ABC Radio said the governmental department is deliberately leaking the private medical information that occurred to some of these medical transfers. And she’s calling for investigation. Do you believe that something like this should happen and is the governmental department, in your view, deliberately leaking private medical data to discredit the repeal?
ALBANESE: I didn’t hear Kerryn Phelps’ interview, so I’m not going to comment on it. What I would say is that for the Government, this is all about politics. They said that Medevac would end border security. It hasn’t. They said that people wouldn’t be able to get into public housing. There’s no evidence that is happening. They said that citizens of Australia would miss out on medical treatment in hospitals if this happened. None of that has happened. The truth is that this is measured legislation. It’s simple legislation. It provides for the basic view that if someone needs health care, who we are responsible for, they should receive it. It’s as simple as that.
JOURNALIST: Can Jacqui Lambie be convinced to not support the Medevac repeal?
ALBANESE: Well, we’ll continue to talk to the crossbenchers. But Jacqui Lambie, I think, should look at the gap that is there between the rhetoric of the Government before this legislation was introduced a year ago, and what’s actually happened. And I’ll make this point too, the bigger issue than Medevac is why are people still in offshore detention who’ve been there now for seven years? Why is it that the Government hasn’t both looked after the interests of those people by settling them in third countries, and looking after the interests of Australian taxpayers by doing that as well?
Can I make one point before we end, on today’s productivity figures. My second vision statement was on the economy, in Brisbane two weeks ago. There, I emphasised the major point of that speech was about the need to lift productivity to drive economic growth and job creation. Today’s figures on productivity are the worst in 25 years. Productivity is actually going backwards for the first time. It’s an extraordinary outcome at a time when the Reserve Bank will have its last meeting today to decide whether they’ll further cut interest rates from the record lows that are already there. This Government continues to say, as they did yesterday, at the dispatch box in Parliament, that everything’s going really well. But the truth is that real wages are just not coming through to people. People are struggling to pay their electricity bills, people are struggling to pay the childcare bills and their mortgage. Productivity is going backwards. Consumer demand is flatlining. Economic growth has been downgraded. Interest rates have been reduced to below one per cent.
The truth is that this Government is complacent when it comes to the economy. They are complacent when it comes to energy policy. They are complacent when it comes to emissions. They’re complacent when it comes to a Prime Minister who is loose with the truth. Who has misled Parliament day after day after day. Who thinks he can stand at the dispatch box and say anything, as he did yesterday, saying that under Labor there were no trade deals completed. As he did last week, where he misled the Parliament multiple times in defending Angus Taylor, who himself has deliberately misled Parliament. The fact is that because of Angus Taylor, who has now embroiled the Attorney General, the Prime Minister, the current Treasurer, all as part of the four scandals that he has had, this is becoming an Angus Horribilis for Prime Minister Morrison. The fact is that this minister should be cut loose, because he’s just not up to the job. Thanks very much.