The Hon. Barnaby Joyce MP
Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
Member for New England
13 September 2023
WE HAVE LET DOWN OUR FINEST: VETERANS’ MINISTER MUST BE REINSTATED TO CABINET AFTER DEFENCE AND VETERAN SUICIDE FOUND TO BE A NATIONAL CRISIS.
The Coalition has renewed its calls for the Minister for Veterans Affairs to be reinstated at the Cabinet table after the Chair of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, Commissioner Nick Kaldas APM, today declared a “national crisis”.
At more than 1600 suicide deaths since 1997, the suicide rate amongst serving and ex-serving defence force members is twenty times the rate of those killed in active duty over the same period.
Former Deputy Prime Minister and Shadow Minister for Veterans Affairs, Barnaby Joyce, said the Royal Commission had been established by the former Coalition Government with the broadest terms to investigate all aspects of military life.
Mr Joyce said the first decision of Prime Minister Albanese upon forming government, had been to remove the Minister for Veterans Affairs from Cabinet.
“That meant veterans lost their voice at the centre of government decision making and it sent a signal that the welfare of veterans was no longer a priority, it should be for government. That must be reversed,” Mr Joyce said.
"The tragic issue of veteran suicide is not exceptionally different than with serving members to that of the general population. The dire fact however is, it is tragically and emphatically different in former serving personnel. We are negligent in our duty of care for those that have left the defence force in their transition back to the civilian street and this is the role of the Veterans Affairs portfolio, and this is the role for the Minister for Veterans Affairs. So how can it be with this major national crisis we find him not in Cabinet? Why does he have to ask permission to go through the Cabinet door for to speak directly to the most senior office holders in our nation", Mr Joyce said.
Today the Commissioner found that investigating and reporting on suicide had progressed at “snail’s pace” and that he could not find “sufficient evidence of urgency” in responding to the complex mental health issues.
“It is an indictment that the Commissioner could not determine if Defence was committed to making change or whether they are just going through the motions”, Mr Joyce said.
Mr Joyce endorsed the Commissioner’s statement that the ADF must first acknowledge its role to actively and urgently embrace change and acknowledge the depth of the problem.
He said all sides of politics needed to urgently learn from the Commissioner’s finding, that there had been “far too much talk and not enough action” when protecting the mental health of servicemen and women.
Mr Joyce also acknowledged that waiting for veterans claims to be processed had driven some families to brink and, sometimes, tragically beyond.
“The Commissioner found the national crisis had been decades in the making. We must all take responsibility for that; and all sides of our Parliament must elevate this issue as a top priority. That is why we established the Royal Commission in the first place”, he said.
“That starts by putting the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs back into Cabinet to ensure this tragic issue is a constant presence and a constant focus at the decision-making table of government”, Mr Joyce said.
He said the Coalition would also await a report from the Commission on the creation of an independent body to hold all levels of government to account on defence and veteran wellbeing.
“Obviously that sounds like a common-sense recommendation”, Mr Joyce said.
MEDIA CONTACT: Jake Smith 0403 466 153