HON PIERRE YANG (South Metropolitan) [11.29 am] — without notice: I move —
That this house notes the McGowan government’s veterans and families strategy and encourages the state government to continue its strong support for Western Australian veterans and their families.
Comments and speeches from various members
HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [11.59 am]: I rise to indicate my support for this motion. I thank Hon Pierre Yang for bringing such a thoughtful motion to the attention of this chamber. It is very helpful for us to discuss these issues. As has already been said, the Minister for Veterans Issues, Hon Peter Tinley, launched the veterans and families strategy on 4 September. The strategy has five themes: recognition and support, participation, understanding, commemoration, and education. It is designed to guide the development and implementation of policies and initiatives to promote the wellbeing of WA’s veterans. I note that the strategy also places importance on finding ways for the WA economy to benefit from the veteran community. Hon Dr Sally Talbot talked about some of the ways that can occur. I really welcome the development of this strategy. I recognise that the federal government has primary responsibility for providing programs for veterans, but it is really important that this state also takes a strategic approach to ensure that we augment the support for veterans here in Western Australia.
The number of veterans is unknown, but the federal Department of Veterans’ Affairs recently estimated that there are around 640 000 living veterans, which includes reservists, in Australia. We are talking about significant numbers of people. The Productivity Commission recently brought out a report entitled “A Better Way to Support Veterans”. That report makes a very clear case for why we need to support veterans better. It found that the current system is failing to focus on the lifetime wellbeing of veterans; it is overly complex; it is difficult to navigate; it is inequitable; and, unfortunately, it is also poorly administered. The all-encompassing nature of the Defence Force, as we know, requires veterans to completely redefine their identity and their place in the world when they leave the forces. For some people, it can be very hard to transition out of the Defence Force and into the community because the culture of the civilian employment sector is very different, and veterans can struggle to work out how their skills may translate.
But, members, what skills these people can end up acquiring! I look at my daughter, whom I have spoken about before, who is an Army reservist. She is also a full-time student but has been in the Army Reserve for a number of years. I really envy the sort of skills that she has accumulated. She knows everything from being able to change a truck tyre to being able to drive trucks at night. She said to me, “Mum, I learnt how to bayonet a man and patch a bullet wound in the same day.” She can fire guns and all these sorts of things. She has assured me that come the zombie apocalypse, she is well placed to protect me and the rest of the family. Apart from those quite extraordinary skills, she has also learnt the importance of leadership and teamwork. She quite enjoys it and feels like she gets an awful lot out of it, plus she is as fit as anything. We cannot underestimate the importance of the sorts of skills that people are able to benefit from in these environments.
Last year, we spoke to a motion on veterans and homelessness. We found that the situation is dire, with as many as one in 20 homeless people in WA being veterans. It is important that although we recognise that stigma around mental health within the veterans community can be a huge barrier to veterans being fully supported within the community, we cannot afford to gloss over those people who have ongoing mental health issues because the impacts can be profound. It is important that we refer to the statistics around this—the actual figures that show nearly half the veterans who leave the ADF will experience a mental disorder within five years. The most common problem is anxiety, then post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks and depression. I also remind members that one in two people—that is, at least half the people in this chamber—will experience mental health issues at any given point in their life; and, indeed, one in five of us will experience and live with mental health issues at any given point.
Therefore, I remind members that although there are specific risks for veterans, we have a broader issue of mental health within this community, and, therefore, we have an obligation to address issues of stigma around mental health. We also know that veterans are four times more likely to have an alcohol disorder compared with personnel who are still serving. As has already been said, veterans are more likely to take their own lives. We know that ex-servicemen aged 18 to 24 are at a particular risk, and they are two times more likely to die from suicide than Australian men who have not served and are of the same age. More Australian veterans have lost their lives by suicide than have been killed on active duty since the Vietnam War. I have also spoken in this place about the fact that my uncle was one of those people, so it is an issue that has deeply affected my family. Around 5 000 people leave the defence forces each year, but only one in 10 are seeking help from Veterans Affairs. We know that we have a huge unmet need and we know that we need to ensure that our services are appropriately tailored.
Going back to the report, I note that the section that refers to support recognises that service exposes people to a range of risk factors and can result in unique health and support needs during and after their service. It also states —
State Government agencies are frequently the first point of contact for veterans accessing medical, mental health or housing services. The State Government has a role in ensuring the services it provides, including those funded by the ... (DVA), meet the needs of veterans and their families.
This is a really pertinent point. Mental health issues, alcohol and other drug problems and a range of other areas of support are required right across the community, but we need to make sure that that support is appropriate, tailored and proactive as well as responsive to people who are seeking support.
I have to acknowledge that the mental health of veterans families is also very much impacted when a veteran is struggling. We have to ensure that our support services can recognise and accommodate for this. Previously, we have worked closely with the veterans’ families groups, who have talked about the need to ensure that spouses and children, in particular, can get specific support so they know what they can best do for the veteran as well as meet their own needs. It is vitally important that veterans can access the support they need when they need it, including mental health and health services, alcohol and drug services and tenancy support. It is fantastic that we, at least, have a framework to try to talk about how we can make sure that these services are appropriately accessed and will hopefully be co-produced with the veterans themselves, because they are best placed to say how it needs to happen. Hopefully, we can turn around some of the negative perceptions perpetuated around veterans, because, clearly, they have a range of skills that we should be capitalising on and that can be enormously advantageous. Let us see whether we can get it right. We need our veterans, and we need our defence forces, so let us make sure that those people who are doing this work are supported and valued as best we can. I welcome the fact that the state government has taken a keen interest in this issue.
Comments and speeches from various members
Motion lapsed, pursuant to standing orders.