Veterans Wellbeing Centres

I thank the member for Herbert for bringing this very important motion forward. Estimating the number of veterans on the Sunshine Coast is difficult. The Morrison government’s decision to include a question regarding veterans’ status on this year’s census will be a critical step forward in this regard. However, in the meantime the Queensland RSL has estimated that there are as many as 15,000 veterans living on the Sunshine Coast. Since my election in 2016 I’ve been committed to listening to them and ensuring that their voice gets heard in this government. I’ve held three separate veterans forums in Fisher, inviting local veterans and ex-service organisations to have their say on a wide variety of issues. I’ve hosted the Minister for Defence, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and the Assistant Minister for Defence in Fisher to speak to veterans. As well I brought Senator Molan to my community. I want to give Jim a big shout-out. I hope his treatment is going well.

Veterans in Fisher tell me they want the services they need to be accessible quickly and easily from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. They are not asking for more than they are due; they are simply asking that their services and support, which are at the heart of the covenant between Australia and its serving men and women, are as easy to access as possible. I know that many in my community would acknowledge that the government has already made important strides forward in this regard.

The government has instituted a policy of no discharge without documentation and ensured that the DVA is informed when a serving man or woman leaves the ADF. We’ve introduced the universal veterans card and the veterans lapel pin to give existing veterans other incentives to register with the DVA. Importantly, the government has invested more than $500 million in improving the DVA. In the recent budget we’ve gone further, with another $55 million to make it quicker and easier for veterans and their families to access the support that they need. It’s important to recognise that that’s on top of the $11.5 billion that this government spends on veterans every year. In the year ahead another 440 staff will be taken on to more quickly and efficiently process the claims that are made to the DVA.

However, all of this is only one side of the story. Dealing with the department can be challenging. Even when registered, getting access to the services and practitioners that veterans need, especially in regional areas like the Sunshine Coast, can be a mission in itself. In regional areas medical specialists, occupational therapists, employment consultants and mental health practitioners can be few and far between and those that are there can be scattered across multiple townships. For older veterans or those with significant impairments, sourcing a long list of practitioners and travelling hundreds of kilometres to visit each of them in turn is hard to sustain. Some, overwhelmed, give up. That is the challenge that the Morrison government is now helping to meet with the new network of eight veterans wellbeing centres across the country.

The government is investing some $40.7 million to get these centres going. There are already three open now, with two more operating from interim locations. The centres bring together in the one place transition and employment support, advocacy services, physical and mental health practitioners, and client engagement. They are a one-stop shop to put an end to the long trails that veterans in these regions must follow to get access to all of the services they need. This year, in the federal budget the Morrison government has acknowledged the importance of South-East Queensland, including, I hope, the Sunshine Coast, which has a major concentration of ADF veterans. Our populous but decentralised region needs a veterans’ wellbeing centre and, thanks to this year’s federal budget, South-East Queensland will be getting one.

Only one question remains to be resolved: where will it be located? For my money, one region stands out, and it won’t surprise you to know that that is the Sunshine Coast. I will be encouraging the minister to make our region its permanent home. I would urge all veterans in my community to write to me, to write to their federal member for Fairfax or Wide Bay, to express their support for putting a facility on the coast so that I can pass their views on to the minister and make their views known.

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