Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP speaks on veteran suicide

15 June, 2020


This is an important motion, and I thank the member for moving it. I agree that mental health and suicide are indeed complex issues.

Warringah has a strong community of veterans, with over 1,300 veterans and over 2,500 clients of the Department of Veterans' Affairs. Some of our most iconic sites in the electorate are dedicated to diggers: Mosman War Memorial; Poppy Park in Forestville; North Head Memorial; Manly Warringah War Memorial State Park, known, of course, as Manly Dam; and Freshwater Anzac Precinct, incorporating Soldiers Avenue and Jacka Park. They are all important monuments to our veteran community.

Recognition of veterans' service brings us together on important days such as every year on Anzac Day. Service in the Australian Defence Force is more than a job. It is part of a veteran's identity, their community, their extended family and often their home. Initiatives such as the Invictus Games provide a mechanism to connect with a new community and give a sense of purpose for veterans, central to combatting mental health problems. We need to do more to build community and networks in our local areas.

The statistics are frightening. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report last year found that there were 419 suicides in serving, reserve and ex-serving personnel between 2001 and 2017. The rate of suicide for ex-serving men was 18 per cent higher than for other Australian men, and the data shows that veterans are more likely to commit suicide once retired than whilst serving, demonstrating that it is the transition that is clearly a pain point. It's not only suicide that plagues our veterans. Our veterans are also twice as likely to be imprisoned than those who haven't served. Veterans are 2½ times more likely to experience homelessness than the general population. So it's clear we need to improve the support provided to veterans to ease the transition and help them redefine themselves outside the military.

I welcome the appointment of the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention. This role will be important in drawing attention to and working through the key issues faced by veterans in their transition and throughout their lives post-service. I also welcome the appointment of the Veteran Family Advocate. Families are the first to experience the mental health struggles of our veterans. We need to support them, integrate them in the support structure and assist veterans with their transition. These two new roles will reinforce the work already underway through the Veteran Centric Reform program. I encourage the government to continue with the full implementation of this program to realise its benefits.

I'm proud to report on the efforts of the Veterans Centre Sydney Northern Beaches, which continues to support many current and former Australian Defence Force personnel and their families. The handover between Australian Defence Force and Department of Veterans' Affairs rehabilitation teams can be a long administrative process. The veterans centre offers to bridge this gap and ensure that the transitioning member is not left unsupported whilst they navigate their way out of the service environment and into civilian life. They currently serve 137 regular clients. Twenty are on the waitlist and we have seen a 25 per cent increase in the number of inquiries during lockdown. The centre has not been immune to the economic impact of COVID-19 and the restrictions. Funds are limited and they will be seeking additional funding from both fundraising and public funds to continue their services. I encourage the Minister for Veterans' Affairs to consider advancing projects that will assist—for example, the 10 Terminal facility at Middle Head, which has the support of the local community.

I support this motion and the attention devoted to this important issue of veterans' suicide. It's essential that we continue to support the men and women who have served in the Australian Defence Force and their families. The strength of the community in the ADF is one that we would do well to strive towards in our local communities. Doing this and bringing our veterans with us may well assist in transforming the issue. On this, I believe we are all united to make change.