Assistant Minister for Defence - Transcript - Launch of Australia's participation in Invictus Games, Canberra

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The Hon Stuart Robert MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

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26 August 2014

Assistant Minister for Defence, Stuart Robert, together with Commander, Joint Health Command Rear Admiral, Robyn Walker and National President, Returned and Services League Rear, Admiral Ken Doolan (Ret'd) officially launch Australia's participation in the Invictus Games, to be held in London in September 2014

STUART ROBERT:                 

It is my great pleasure to join some exceptional young Australians here with me, eight young Australians, to launch the Invictus Games. In a few days time, 36 Australians all wounded, injured or ill from the Australian Defence Force, 15 still serving and some 21 ex-serving, will fly over to the United Kingdom. They'll join some 400 athletes from 14 different countries for the Invictus Games.

It's a games for wounded, injured and ill servicemen and women and it's designed not only to assist them in terms of rehabilitation, but also to give them an opportunity to connect with other wounded, injured and ill soldiers, sailors and airmen and women from across the world. I'm so pleased that His Royal Highness Prince Harry began the Invictus Games, and quoting from William Henley's great poem about I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul , and, of course, Invictus is about unconquerable.

It's about sending a message that whist some of our nation's sons and daughters may well have been injured on operations and in training, their perseverance and their rising above adversity, their reaching in and going forward to achieve in terms of sport here at the Invictus Games speaks a lot about their unconquerable soul. It speaks enormously about their courage, not just physically, but morally, to confront their injuries and their illnesses and press on and continue to build their lives.

So I'm so incredibly proud to be here today to launch the Invictus Games. I'm also proud that we're doing it, the Commonwealth, in conjunction with the RSL and it's great to see the chairman of the RSL, Admiral Ken Doolan, here with me and, of course, the Commander Joint Health Admiral Robyn Walker as well. The RSL is a full partner in terms of what we're trying to do with the Invictus Games and has done an enormous job in coming forward to assist, especially with those ex-servicemen and women who'll be travelling overseas and competing in the games from 10 to 14 September.

I look forward to seeing some outcomes from the games. These extraordinary young men and women will participate in a range of sports from archery to road cycling, from sitting volleyball, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball, including athletics. I think there's going to be some great successes, but, more importantly, our fighting young men and women will learn a lot about themselves and will learn a lot about how they're going to continue to live their lives the great way they've been living it to date.

Let me quickly pass now to Admiral Walker to speak a bit about where the games is going and what we're doing to assist. Then I'll pass on to Ken Doolan.

ROBYN WALKER:                  

Minister, Admiral Doolan, and to the representatives of the Australian Invictus team, congratulations to all the athletes and those that can't be here today for now representing your country in a different way from that previously as your service in the Australian Defence Force. All of the athletes that are participating in the games have a challenge to overcome and this is very much part of a rehabilitation strategy.

It's about encouraging our men and women who may have been injured in the course of their service to continue to fight the fight or continuing to fight the battle, but represented in a different way. We hope that their participation in the games will also encourage them to continue this physical activity and this enjoyment of sport on their return.

As part of the commitment, the Defence Force, rehabilitation is all about families and not just the individual, and as part of the team that is going to the Invictus Games, each of the athletes will be accompanied by one family member to support them and to participate with them in this activity. There's also a rehabilitation summit that's being arranged during the games in which all the countries will come together to share and talk about the strategies, the way we can improve and what we can continue to do in the field of rehabilitation.

And I look forward to sharing our strategies with our allies and learning from them on additional things that we can bring back home. This is a great opportunity. I'm extremely proud of each of our team members and those that can't be here today, and I know that they will represent Australia fantastically. And we'll enjoy their successes just from participating.

STUART ROBERT:                 

Well said. Thanks [indistinct]. Ken.

KEN DOOLAN:                      

The RSL is very proud to be involved with the team going from Australia for the Invictus Games. We were set up nearly a hundred years ago by those who came back from the Great War with the aim of looking after those who'd come back in some respects damaged by their experiences in way.

So nearly a hundred years on it was with great pride that the RSL is sponsoring 21 of the team of 36 and their supporters because many of these persons standing with us today, these wonderful people who have been in harm's way on behalf of the nation, will need that support as we go across to the other side of the world for these very important games.

What we achieve out of this is something great for the nation, but, more particularly, we think of each of these individuals because they and their families have gone and done things beyond the call of most of our citizens. And we in the RSL have gone around our sub-branches and branches throughout Australia to gather together not only the financial but also the physical support to be able to help put together this team.

It is, as the Minister has said, a truly collaborative arrangement. Fifteen members of the Australian Defence Force, 21 who are veterans. That is an extraordinary effort by any stage, and we understand we are the third largest team to be participating in these Invictus Games. I join with the Minister and with Admiral Walker in congratulating each and every one of the team here for stepping up because they are the important people today.

They are the people who we owe and we're trying to help, and I do thank you very much indeed, Geoff(*), the team vice captain, and the rest of your team for stepping forward to go. And we hope to continue to support you in the RSL, not only through this, but into the future as well. Thank you, Minister.

STUART ROBERT:                 

Well said, Ken. Happy to take any questions before we give the opportunity to speak really to the true champions, which is our team we're going to send.


Minister, what inspired Australia's involvement in this? Is it part of an international effort to try and recognise things like post-traumatic stress disorder and other injuries - wounds, as you say?

STUART ROBERT:                 

Prince Harry had the opportunity to see the Warrior Games in Colorado last year, and from that he came to the conclusion that Great Britain needed to put on the games. Hence the Invictus Games, quoting from William Henley's great poem. He actually spoke to our Prime Minister and said, Prime Minister, if I put this on, are you interested? And the Prime Minister, of course, instantly committed Australia to it and has been one of the great driving forces behind it. Tony, like the rest of us, has an enduring respect, even awe, for our fighting men and women and all that they do and all that their service has done for our country, so I'm exceptionally pleased that the Prime Minister committed the nation to this and gave us the opportunity to put together what I think is a great team.


How much funding is going into this from the government's perspective or from the RSL's perspective or both?

STUART ROBERT:                 

Oh, give or take, the Commonwealth will put in about $400,000 from our committed budget. I think the RSL is dangerously close to that; over $300,000, which is extraordinary, and will, of course, provide military aviation assets in the form of a KC30 to fly our team over there in great comfort, so I'm told.


And is this the first of what you think will be an annual event or is this…?

STUART ROBERT:                 

Look, I hope so. Prince Harry will outline his charter and direction of where he wants to go, but I sincerely hope this will become at least an annual event in terms of getting our wounded, injured together, giving them a sense of self-esteem that you can achieve; even though you might have an injury, you might have a wound, you can still do enormous things in your life. And sport, of course, is a great way of actually rehabilitating, reteaching and re-self-esteeming, if I can say that.


Minister, what do you make of funding being cut to the War Memorial's travelling exhibitions?

STUART ROBERT:                 

Probably the wrong person to ask. It's probably a question for the Veterans' Affairs Minister.


Can we have a chat to one of the [indistinct]…?

STUART ROBERT:                 

Yeah. Yeah. I'll finish up here. I'll leave these great Australians with you to have a chat about what they're doing and where they're up to. Can I just say how proud the government is of all of you. We're looking forward to some great results and the results aren't winning and the results aren't losing. The results are having a go. So thanks for all THAT you do. Thanks for all you've done. We're all pretty proud of you. Geoff, good luck, as the deputy of the team and we'll leave you in the hands of our faithful media. Thanks.


What is involved in these games?


I was contacted by RSL New South Wales and I had the good fortune of having a long-standing relationship with them because when I was wounded in action in Afghanistan in 2010, the RSL were the first people who helped me when I came back. So when the opportunity came up with the Invictus Games, I was contacted by the RSL and told about it and I was certainly very eager to be involved.

It's a big step forward in terms of sport as therapy. The US, the UK and Canada are quite a long way in front of us in terms of using sport as therapy and as part of a broader rehabilitation program, but we are fast catching up. This is the first time that I've seen a large-scale Defence and RSL commitment working together, and that's important, because it shows ex-serving members that there is life after defence and those who are still in the services that, you know, Defence doesn't forget you and the RSL will be there to support you and you can still be part of the team when you leave.

And then there's obviously the very important aspect of putting like-minded people together. It's talking to other people that you realise my issues are common for people who've been through the same sort of experience and yet you find a great kinship and you go on to seek the help.


What were your wounds in Afghanistan?


I was in a Bushmaster armoured vehicle that drove over an improvised explosive device that crushed two of the joints in my spine. It gave me a traumatic brain injury, hearing loss, balance issues, [indistinct] PTSD.


And how is the recovery now and what do you hope to achieve through this Invictus Games?


It's been a long and very slow and very painful recovery. It has taken me three years, working out of the Ryde Brain Injury Centre. Things like Invictus Games are very, very good for rehabilitation because the soldiers were all very goal-orientated because life is always about the next mission. So when you put something like this in front of you, it gives you something to train for.

I personally found it really hard to find the motivation to train because in Defence, I always had to be fit. When you took the onus off me to necessarily be fit, it was very hard to find the motivation. And then when the Invictus Games pop up and suddenly, I've got an attainable goal, I've got the support of my comrades here with me who are training as well, then we've got something to look forward to into the future and train and try and represent Australia. It's a great opportunity.


And what's your sport and what are some of the other sports that some of your other teammates are going to be doing?


I'll be participating in three swimming events, three running events, javelin and archery. There's a whole range of sporting events from wheelchair rugby, wheelchair volleyball; there's discus, there's weightlifting. All sorts of activities that are modelled along the Paralympics lines; different categories.

Thanks very much.

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