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It’s terrific to be here to represent the Prime Minister here at Soldier On Headquarters and an honour to be in the presence of veterans who have given so much to our country.
I’ve had the opportunity to meet many of our recent Veterans and each and every one of them possesses an extraordinary spirit.
Seamus Donaghue and Heath Jamieson, for example, overcame serious injuries sustained in combat operations in Afghanistan to undertake an epic journey to the South Pole.
They’re proof that anything is possible.
During my trip to the Middle East, I met countless soldiers helping our allies, defending our interests, and upholding our values.
Every day the members of the ADF defend Australia.
Mark Donaldson VC put it best when he described what it means to defend Australia. He said "Protecting our country doesn’t just mean battening down the hatches and staying on our island and hoping the threat won’t come our way. It can mean going somewhere else, going to war to uproot the threat at its source."
That is what we did in Afghanistan.
And it is what we are doing to meet the challenge of the Death Cult in Iraq.
There have been some 34,500 deployments by Australians to Operation Slipper Afghanistan alone, and many thousands more ADF members have been deployed to other overseas conflicts in recent decades.
The ADF has also supported domestic border protection, security operations and continues to train for future conflicts.
Regardless of where you served, at home or abroad, you fought for peoples’ right to live their own lives and to make their own choices free from fear and free from terror.
However, for many of our Defence personnel and their families this has come at a high personal cost.
We have all learned that the horror of war does not end when a soldier returns home from deployment.
Your mission may be over, but our mission to stand with you and support you continues.
We acknowledge the wounds many of you carry, both physical and psychological, and we acknowledge the effects on your family and loved ones.
We’ve long poured resources into dealing with the physical wounds of war, and rightly so, but with the help of groups like Soldier On we can also help to heal the psychological scars.
The growth of Soldier On, from servicing 200 people in 2013 to more than 300 people a month nationwide in 2015, is testament to the need for the services you provide.
Initiatives like the Hand Up programme complement the access Defence and DVA provides to mental health providers and medical services, by ensuring those who have worn our uniform have the skills to succeed after they come home.
Similarly, last year the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Senator Ronaldson, commissioned a pilot rehabilitation employment initiative operating in south-east Queensland. Fifty wounded and ill veterans self-nominated for the trial and they were partnered with organisations to support their rehabilitation into the civilian workforce.
Working with companies like Northrop Grumman, Citadel, KONEKT and Enabled Employment, Hand Up will provide young servicemen and women with the opportunity to grow and develop through education and employment, so they can better support themselves and their families.
Because of programmes like Hand Up the lives of wounded, injured and ill servicemen and women will be richer and their wounds easier to manage.
But this is a hand up, not a hand out – and the employers who take on our returned servicemen and women – will be employing the best of our ADF – and will see the benefits in their own workplaces.
They have been tested under extreme conditions.
They are disciplined, devoted, loyal, trustworthy and hard working – and they have an attention to detail which will be an asset for any company that employs them.
In time, I am sure the companies involved in Hand Out will say: these are our best employees.
Those who serve in the ADF deserve our highest praise.
No one deserves our thanks like those who have put their lives on the line for their country.
We owe so much to those who have risked everything so that we can continue to enjoy our cherished freedoms. Thank you for your service to Australia.
Thank you to Soldier On and congratulations on the launch of the Hand Up program.