Interview, Andy Park, ABC Radio National Drive

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The Hon Matt Keogh MP

Minister for Defence Personnel

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

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Stephanie Mathews on 0407 034 485

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11 August 2022


ANDY PARK: Matt Keogh is the Veterans Affairs Minister. Welcome to RN Drive. You've already apologised for defence failings today. Just what were you apologising for?

MATT KEOGH: Well, it's pretty clear in the statistics that we've seen of veteran suicide being considerably higher than the general Australian population that things have not been working in Defence and Veterans' Affairs. We've also seen the harrowing stories in some cases of people that have given evidence to the Royal Commission and described in the report of where people have not received the treatment, the support that they should have and deserve to receive from Defence or from Veterans Affairs. And I apologise where theres been deficiencies for that because government should be doing better, especially to look after those that serve our nation and those that have.

ANDY PARK: I noticed that when you apologised in your press conference today, you apologise to people who felt the Department hadn't adequately supported them, but only after you were asked by a journalist. I know you're new into government and you agitated for this Royal Commission, but will you now advocate for a formal apology from the government or is that yet to come?

MATT KEOGH: Well, it's not a matter that has been recommended by the Royal Commission in its Interim Report. I'm happy to consider that going forward. And obviously, I've expressed our apology today in providing the response immediately upon receiving the report from the Royal Commission. It's not easy reading for anyone, this report. But what's really important is that we take the recommendations that are here. What we've seen so far in the hearings from the Royal Commission and get on with the job of making sure that we're improving the lives of people who serve in our Defence Force and for veterans. And that we're addressing the issues that have been highlighted and recommended to get on with that job.

ANDY PARK: One huge thing that needs to be addressed immediately is this backlog of claims. I think there's something like 42,000 of these claims. Will these be settled by March 2024 as the recommendation - as was recommended by the Royal Commission?

MATT KEOGH: It was very clear to us, even from opposition, that there was a considerable backlog in the processing of claims in DVA and that was a huge problem. And that's why we made a commitment to employ 500 additional staff for the Department of Veterans' Affairs, precisely to get through this backlog. And we started employing those staff now and we're looking to try and get through that backlog as soon as possible. With the department -

ANDY PARK: Jackie, Jackie Lambie, who we'll hear from in just a moment, says that might not be enough staff. Are you limiting that number to 500 or are you willing to give it the staffing numbers? Whatever is required?

MATT KEOGH: We've made a commitment to 500 additional staff and we're working through with the Department the modelling of how that will work to get through all of this backlog, as well as looking at what the claims yet to be made to the Department may look like. I'm confident that we'll be able to get through this backlog. That's why we've gone with that number. And we will obviously be keeping a very close eye on that as we move through it.

ANDY PARK: In your press conference today, you said that there are some recommendations that will be easier to implement than others. Which recommendations are you looking at?

MATT KEOGH: Well, I'm not going to get into the detail of all of the recommendations. There's 13 recommendations that have been made and seen by us only this morning. We will be providing a formal response to each of those recommendations as a government shortly. But there are some that should be able to be proceeded with in shorter time frames than some others. For example, there are the ones around reporting the statistics and the processing times through the Department of Veterans Affairs, for example, that I'd like to think we can get on with in pretty short time.

ANDY PARK: Well, as you'd know, one of the key advocates for this Royal Commission, Julie-Ann Finney, has called for all claims up to July 1 to be processed immediately, and the Department's legal team can then investigate any fraudulent claims. This is basically the opposite to the current thinking and approach of the Department of Veterans' Affairs. Will you take her advice?

MATT KEOGH: Look, I've met with Julie-Ann. In fact, she was one of the first people that I spoke to upon coming into this portfolio the day I was sworn in. And she's been a huge advocate around this area for the calling of the Royal Commission in the first place. And we joined with Julianne and others. The sad situation that she confronted, as other families have, in calling for this Royal Commission, that specific issue, we're looking at those recommendations that go to getting through that backlog. We'll look at what the Royal Commission has said. It's made some points about how processing can occur, and as have other reports and reviews as well. And we'll make a formal response to each of the recommendations shortly.

ANDY PARK: Minister, I'm cognisant that you've only seen these recommendations, these interim recommendations this morning. However, is it clearer to you and your mind as to why the Department isn't working the way it should be now?

MATT KEOGH: One of the things that has been very clear is that under the term of the previous government, the resourcing requirements for the Department of Veterans' Affairs to be able to process claims was constrained by the previous government. They weren't given the resources that they needed. It's why we made this commitment to the 500 additional staff for the Department of Veterans' Affairs. It's why we made the commitment to remove the staffing caps, because we knew that was creating problems within the Department in terms of meeting the demand to process these claims from veterans and serving personnel. That's become even clearer, I think, in the course of the Royal Commission and the report that's come down today.

ANDY PARK: So given the severity of the task at hand and the length of time it's likely to take to rectify, does Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and the Shadow Minister Barnaby Joyce have a point in asking for your portfolio to be brought into Cabinet?

MATT KEOGH: I think what's really important is that we get on with the job of delivering on these recommendations. And I think what really matters is the outcomes that we're able to achieve. And we've made commitments already around these matters, like the 500 additional staff or the Department recognising that need that we need to get through claims, it is now the 13 recommendations that will provide a formal response to. That's the thing that I'm concentrating on, and I think it's the outcomes to concern people most rather than what table. I see that.

ANDY PARK: Veterans' Affairs Minister Matt Keogh. Appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.


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