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Veteran Affairs - Afghan Refugees

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 9 September 2021

Tags: Refugees, State Budget, Veterans

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, I understand there's some 14 500 Tasmanians who have served and about 5500 of them are members of the RSL.

Mr BARNETT - If I can clarify or correct the record - it's 10 500 veterans in Tasmania, just for your records.

Dr WOODRUFF - So 10 500.

Mr BARNETT - Yes, 10 500. That's the estimate and, of course, that number is probably going down somewhat although we've got some younger veterans including from Iraq and Afghanistan. We would want to pay a tribute to our Afghanistan veterans right here right now, some 39 000 over that 20 year period, many of them Tasmanians. I say thank you for your service to those Afghanistan veterans at this time.

Dr WOODRUFF - That is one of the things I wanted to mention. I've been personally approached by people who have served in Afghanistan who are extremely distressed by the chaotic unfolding of events and the situation it has left the people that they've personally worked with, Afghan people, when they were in Afghanistan. There is a great sense of distress at the injustice that people who have put their lives on the line for them and their comrades have been left without support and without being able to leave the country. It fits into a conversation about the mental health and wellbeing of returned soldiers many of whom are in excellent health but there is a higher risk of developing affective disorders such as PTSD. I really feel for people who have been retraumatised by what is happening in Afghanistan. I wonder if you can speak to any concrete actions that your Government is taking to connect with people who are living in Tasmania who served in Afghanistan to address the issue. They all say to me that we should bring as many refugees here. They see that as a sense of repairing the injustices of what has happened in some small way.

Mr BARNETT - I can respond to your question and I thank you for that question or a number of questions in there. On behalf of the Government, I publicly stated our strong support for our Afghan ADF personnel and the veterans' community at the time of that very sad and challenging situation unfolding in Afghanistan and Kabul; getting our Aussies out and other personnel and people who supported those Australian defence force personnel.

I mentioned some 39 000 of those, 41 of course gave the ultimate sacrifice with their lives and there were some 240 casualties. We should particularly acknowledge Corporal Cameron Baird who gave his life in 2013. VC MG Corporal Cameron Baird, Burnie boy born and raised and the member for Braddon was very aware of that. We want to recognise him at the moment and we think of Doug and Kate Baird, his mum and dad.

You asked what we are doing to assist the younger veterans and their transition back into Tasmania and into the workforce. That is primarily a federal responsibility but we have a range of programs to support them, including the active recreation program which is working with the Parks and Wildlife Service, $225 000to support them in their mental health and wellbeing.

Dr WOODRUFF - I specifically asked the question about Afghan returned soldiers, not just general returned soldiers.

Mr BARNETT - That is identified for the younger veterans so it might be Afghanistan, it might be Iraq but certainly younger veterans. Afghanistan has been around for 20 years so a number of those were in the conflict, Operation Slipper. A number of those would be in part of that program and that is what it is designed for. In addition to that, we are working to help them transition into employment. We are developing a strategy to provide employment in our State Service for our younger veterans. In addition, we have the support from the federal government with the health and wellbeing service.

This is rolling out in the very near future, we are working with the federal government but that is a $5 million commitment to rollout those services here in Tasmania. Darren Chester when he was the minister, was down here working with the various RSL sub branches. We put in $60 000, they put in $60 000 for the Health and Wellbeing report and recommendations and we have been through that. Now that is about to be implemented in the months and years ahead. That will definitely provide further support for our younger veterans, which is excellent.