Support for Veterans

Ms WELLS (Lilley) (18:22): I'm pleased to support this motion by my friend the member for Herbert. In 2019, as many people have referenced in this debate, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare revealed that the suicide rates amongst male veterans who had left the armed services were almost one-fifth higher than Australian men in the general population. Since that report was released last year, I made the point of reaching out to veterans' families and advocates in my community to find out why they think the suicide rates are so rife amongst returned servicemen and what they want their representative in this parliament to do about it. That being said, I welcome the new national commissioner as a step forward and, if it proceeds, we're committed to working constructively with the government to ensure that the office is resourced properly and able to do its job to the best of its abilities.

Going forward, there is still much more we can do to address veterans' mental health and suicide more broadly. Mental health and suicide are issues where families, friends, employers, community and ex-service organisations and governments all have a role to play. For some time we have been calling on the government to do more to support veterans and the organisations that support them, particularly during the current coronavirus crisis. We welcome the fact that the government took on board our suggestion to expand telehealth coverage to mental health, which has been available to veterans during the pandemic. But more needs to be done to ensure that there are adequate mental health services to meet the very high levels of demand we have seen during this emergency.

With the cancellation of Anzac Day services this year, veteran organisations have really struggled to generate income to fund vital welfare and advocacy services for local veterans who rely on this support at a community level. I'm concerned by the fact that, so far, the stimulus packages have not included more substantial support for charities and nonprofit organisations, as this health emergency has had such a huge impact on many smaller ex-service organisations and their members, such as those in my electorate. We have been warned that more resources will be needed for frontline mental health and welfare services to support older and vulnerable veterans who may be in self-isolation and at greater risk of mental illness, of suicide and of domestic and family violence.

Ex-service organisations have also told us that we, as a federal parliament, need to urgently increase the DVA fee schedules for health services, including psychologists and psychiatrists, to reduce the excessive long wait times for veterans seeing mental health professionals at present. Veteran suicide campaigner Julie-Ann Finney's son David took his own life after being told that he would have to wait more than six months to see a DVA funded psychiatrist. So fixing this is critical if we are going to stop these needless deaths. Michael Frawley, the president of the Banyo RSL sub-branch in my electorate of Lilley, has suggested that service men and women returning from overseas service should automatically receive a gold card, to make sure veterans they can access quality mental and dental care and avoid the stress of applying and waiting for the card.

I would like to send a special thank you to the Banyo RSL sub-branch and their welfare and pensions officer Maureen Sargent and to Geebung RSL Sub-Branch's welfare officers Merv Ward OAM and Evelyn Radford for continuing their excellent support for veterans during this pandemic. Special thoughts are with Mr Gordon Wallace, a highly commended World War II veteran and one of our few precious remaining Rats of Tobruk, who is going through a poor health patch at present, and my thoughts and prayers are extended to both Gordon and to his wife, Trish. I would also like to highlight the work of Graeme Park and the Military Brotherhood, a motorcycle club who check in on the welfare of northside veterans and provide street feeds to locals. That might be of particular interest to you, Deputy Speaker Wallace.

I would like to finish by speaking directly to the members of the Kedron-Wavell, the Nundah-Northgate, the Geebung-Zillmere and the Banyo RSL sub-branches, in my electorate of Lilley. This year has been a really difficult year, especially because we couldn't meet in person to commemorate Anzac Day, and that has had huge consequences for you locally in your planning. I look forward to seeing you all again soon, now that the public restrictions are in the process of lifting. Labor will continue work with the government and the Australian veterans to identify where there are gaps or where more needs to be done, so that we do get the best possible care and support for veterans and for their families and do all we can to support veterans' mental health and prevent suicide. To that end, I want to recognise the work that has been done, the recent announcements in this space and, in particular, the member for Herbert, for bringing attention to these important issues through this motion. I thank the member for his service as well as the member for Stirling and the member for Solomon for all of their advocacy on veteran mental health and prevention of suicide. I commend the motion to the chamber.