Looking after our Veterans - 16/08/2017

17 August, 2017

Mr BROADBENT (McMillan) (11:32):  The first thing I would like to do is identify with the member for Canberra who obviously speaks from not only her personal experience but the heart with regard to veterans, and Canberra would be a place and an electorate where these issues are at the forefront, rather than at the minimal. It is the same in places like Townsville, Cairns and right around our country.

The member for Canberra described the family experience of a returned soldier from the Vietnam War, and I would say to the member for Canberra that this family experience would be shared right across the country, but they made it. You made it. They made it through.

On Sunday, I'll be immersing myself in veterans on Long Tan day at Longwarry North hall. The hall was given to the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Chapter, Gippsland Chapter, and they have a very, very big event where riders come from all over the state, and especially all over Gippsland, to be part of the commemorations for Long Tan day. Denny will be there. 'T Rat' and 'Buzz' Kennedy will be there, a long-time associate of mine. Most recently—and I am not naming any names—I sat down with a Vietnam vet who, to all intents and purposes, at the times I have met him, has been an entirely articulate, friendly, warm and engaging gentleman.

He was affable. He was kind and supportive of his fellow man. He said, 'I want to have a cup of coffee with you.' I said, 'Fine.'

We went up to Neerim South and we sat down and had a cup of coffee in a little coffee shop there. He explained to me the truth of his life and how it had worked out, from the time he'd left the Defence Force as a Vietnam vet to this day—the marriage break-ups, the business turnarounds, his life with a new partner and the way she managed him and he managed his life. It turned out that I was old enough to be connected to his father. I remembered his father very well, but I hadn't connected the two people. As he told me his story, that this facade that was him in life—as we saw him, as the community saw him, as his friends saw him, as the people saw him—was just that, a facade. Underneath that, he was living a completely different life, unknown to the broader community. His story as a Vietnam vet is not unusual. What we've got to give them is some hope in their lives, some control of their lives and a sense of belonging, which they had in the Defence Force. The relationships they formed in the Defence Force are removed from them. I am really no expert in this field. I am a local member only, simply dealing with issues that are raised with me, as far as veterans affairs go, and we do our very, very best to accommodate them.

As I stand here today and hear the bipartisan nature of this address and the care about our veterans and their families from the member for Lingiari, a former Minister for Veterans' Affairs, I am reminded that, when I first came to this place in 1990, Robert Ray was the defence minister and the late Con Sciacca was the excellent Minister for Veterans' Affairs. His offsider, who I became quite close to because of the veterans affairs issues that I was dealing with all the time, was a fellow named Greg Rudd. I had never put together the fact that the Greg Rudd that I knew, who worked for Con Sciacca, was the then Prime Minister's brother. It was not until the former Speaker pulled me aside at a function one time and said, 'Look at that profile and then look at that profile.' I hadn't known that, and we had been friends for a long time. That friendship was borne out of Con Sciacca and Greg Rudd, who was prepared to work with every member of parliament in this place to get an outcome on behalf of veterans.

It was the same with Robert Ray. I remember going to Robert's Ray's office and being quite in awe. I was a new member of parliament and I had to go and see a minister over a land issue in my electorate with the Defence Force. I was five minutes late. I walked in and he said, 'It is absolutely correct to be five minutes late in this place; it gives everybody a few minutes to pull themselves together before a meeting.' He put me at ease straight away. Like all the ministers that come into this place to do their best, Robert Ray—Senator Robert Ray at that time—just said, 'Yes, we can resolve this issue, and here's the way we're going to go about it.' We worked closely with one another to resolve an issue that was important to a community that was directly related to Defence. That's what members do. I am blessed that I have a fellow named Bill Westhead, who's a former serving officer, who is directly interested in all of the issues surrounding this debate, as a branch member of my party. Any time we meet, he is prepared to raise issues with me.

I have heard many ministers talk about this. This is an excellent statement by the minister about veterans' affairs and their families, and the way the government is going about addressing their issues. One of the problems that we always have when somebody has their own personal issues is marrying them with the services we provide, getting them to cross that bridge. We say, 'This is what the government have done. These are the services we have got there for you.' We then get the person to acknowledge there is a problem and enter in to the service that we provide. We have Vietnam vets, welfare associations, RSL welfare and myriad organisations that try to bridge that gap, and that gap is quite often getting people, men and women, to have an advocate to help them cross the bridge to the services that we provide. Getting people who have issues to cross the bridge to say, 'I acknowledge I need help,' has been an ongoing difficulty for every government that I have ever seen in this nation be it state, federal or local. I can only encourage veterans their families. If there is an issue, there is a phone line, there is a welfare agency and there is somebody who actually cares about you to give back your hope, to give back your control and to say that you belong to our community, equally, as anybody.

I stand in this place where Bruce Scott, the former member for Maranoa, had such an influence in changing the ambience of this chamber. Bruce was a highly regarded veterans' affairs minister. People have known through the times that all veterans affairs ministers have a real heart for veterans as individuals. They really do. They go out of their way. Every one of the veterans' affairs ministers I have seen over the years has been honourable in this place and, as does Dan Tehan, have done a marvellous job. We support what you do as ministers. We support you in your endeavours on their behalf and we plead with those people who are in need to take a look at the services provided and enter in. Please, cross that bridge.


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Russell Broadbent MP
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