14 September 2023
SUBJECTS: 2023 Prime Minister's National Veterans' Employment Awards,
National Peacekeepers Day, Royal Commission into Defence and Veterans’ Suicide.
NATE BYRNE, HOST: G'day team. Here on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, it has already been quite a busy morning with the Long March stepping off just a short while ago, but actually I'm in town because last night was the 2023 Prime Minister's National Veterans' Employment Awards and it was a fabulous night, and I managed to track down the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and also Defence Personnel, Matt Keogh.
Minister, a very good morning to you. Tell us about this event last night, 'cause it was pretty impressive.
MINISTER FOR VETERANS’ AFFAIRS AND DEFENCE PERSONNEL, MATT KEOGH: It's great to be with you, Nate, and it was a great event last night, because it was celebrating all the good things about veterans, and employing veterans, and employers taking on veterans into their businesses, acknowledging the great skills that our veterans develop when they're in service, and how they can contribute to a business no matter what the industry is, and how businesses really benefit from that, and acknowledging the businesses that make a special effort to employ veterans and to support veterans into civilian employment.
NATE BYRNE: There were some great stories from the veterans themselves last night. Was there a stand‑out for you in the award winners?
MINISTER KEOGH: I think what stood out for me actually was the veterans also acknowledging their family members. The awards, there's special categories of awards for serving personnel and veteran families, because we do acknowledge that they are in a difficult position sometimes, themselves, moving around the country with their serving member, and acknowledging that and supporting their employment is important. But hearing the veterans talk about how their time in service, their camaraderie, their mateship gave them the opportunity, the entrepreneurship to start their own business, to get out there and support others and acknowledging their family support of them on their journey.
NATE BYRNE: Today actually, a day of coincidences, it's also the National Peacekeepers’ Day and we're here in front of the Canberra Memorial on Lake Burley Griffin. What's the significance of that day?
MINISTER KEOGH: Well, Peacekeepers’ Day is very important, because Australia has been involved in every peacekeeping operation that the UN has conducted, and we've had continuous service since that time in peacekeeping operations all the way up to and including today. And so we'll be having a service on Anzac Parade at the National Peacekeepers Memorial to commemorate those that have lost their life in peacekeeping operations and to commemorate and to acknowledge the great service that not only our Defence Force personnel, but police and others, civilians across Australia have contributed to keeping the peace around the world.
NATE BYRNE: Yesterday, we heard at the National Press Club from the Chair of the Royal Commission into Veteran and Defence Suicide. A difficult listen, I think perhaps for many, the Commissioner was quite scathing, or the Chair was quite scathing. You look after people from recruitment right the way through to their life as a veteran. What did you think about his suggestions, even though the Commission hasn't actually released its findings yet.
MINISTER KEOGH: So the Commission did give us an Interim Report last year, and we got on with the job very quickly of implementing those 13 recommendations, and some we've already implemented in full, and we're continuing to work on the remaining recommendations, because we see the absolute importance of this Royal Commission. The scourge of suicide amongst our Defence and veteran population is an absolute national tragedy, frankly, and we acknowledge where Defence and Veterans' Affairs have gotten things wrong, and there is a need for improvement. It's why we called for this Royal Commission, so we can get that feedback from them, and at the end, next year, get their final recommendations, so that we can implement those and provide a better future for our veterans, their families into the future.
NATE BYRNE: The Commission asked for an extension of time just a few weeks ago; your Government said no. What's more important here? Is it getting it right, or getting it done quickly?
MINISTER KEOGH: So the Royal Commission did come to Government and said they had a lot of more work that needed to happen before the Commission wraps up, and so we engaged with them about what that work that they needed to undertake was, and we've just got legislation going through the Parliament this week that will provide them with some additional powers to be able to undertake more work in parallel, so that they can wrap up the Royal Commission next year, because the other thing that's going on is people want these recommendations.
We want to get on with the job, and we don't want to see that drag on, we want to get their recommendations so we can be implementing them, and that's a very strong message we've received from the veteran community as well. So we're making sure they've got the powers they need so that they can do the work that they need to do that they've spoken to us about but do it in a timely fashion as well.
NATE BYRNE: Since your concern is Defence people right the way through, overnight we had some news about Putin, the leaders of Russia and North Korea meeting, and an Arms Agreement coming out of that. There would be some concern for Defence people that things are escalating even more, and potentially in our region. What's the feeling at the moment, what are the concerns here?
MINISTER KEOGH: Well, certainly, we've been very clear, and the Defence Strategic Review that we handed down earlier this year is clear, that we are in the most complex set of strategic circumstances in our region since the Second World War, and we're seeing those sorts of issues play out, of course, in a land war in Europe right now in Ukraine. It's why we have been very supportive of the people of Ukraine, supporting their sovereign integrity, and we are one of the biggest non‑NATO contributors to supporting Ukraine with equipment in their defence of their borders and making sure that their sovereign integrity is maintained, because as another smaller country, we're committed to that; we're committed to the Rule of Law, the Rule of the Sea, making sure that we have a prosperous region, but also a safe one
NATE BYRNE: If there are calls for more material from Australia, will the Government support that?
MINISTER KEOGH: Well, certainly when we've had those requests we've assessed them and have provided the support that we have when those requests have been made, and we obviously have to assess a number of things when we're doing that, but we have made a significant contribution to Ukraine, and they are certainly benefitting from the contribution we've made. The world acknowledges the advances of our Bushmaster, for example, and Ukraine is making full advantage of having access to those that we've been able to contribute, and it's been good to see the success of the Bushmaster in the field for Ukraine.
NATE BYRNE: Minister, thank you so much for joining us this morning on News Breakfast.
MINISTER KEOGH: It's been great to be with you, Nate, great to be down here on the cold Lake Burley Griffin.
NATE BYRNE: Yeah, sorry for getting you out when it's so chilly. Wonderful awards last night, team, and some very important things going on in the veterans’ space. And I'll be here warming up slowly for the rest of the morning for you.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay, Nate, thank you. And if you or someone you know is experiencing distress, you can always contact Lifeline.