Australia has led the world in taking care of its veterans. The Returned and Services League was formed in 1916 to continue the camaraderie, concern and mateship shown amongst Australian diggers. It focused on the welfare of returned servicemen from the First World War. From a population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted—of whom more than 60,000 were killed and 156,000 were wounded, gassed or taken prisoner. It is worth noting that more than a quarter of those who landed at Gallipoli on 25 April were Western Australians. In fact 32,231 men volunteered in WA. This was 10 per cent of our population at the time. It was the highest proportion of any state.
The RSL was born from that conflict and it has looked after Australia’s veterans from all subsequent conflicts, including our current veterans returning from more recent operations. The 2017 budget represents some very significant changes in how we look after and respect our veterans, and our current serving members. The Turnbull government is investing an additional $350 million to support our veterans. A major focus of that is on mental health. The rate of suicide especially amongst recent veterans is far too high, and the government is committed to turning those numbers around. We are building on the measure announced last year that gave free and immediate treatment for those suffering from depression, anxiety, PTSD and alcohol and substance abuse. Under this increase in spending, the government is committing to providing treatment for all mental health conditions. From now on, active personnel and veterans will receive free and immediate treatment without the burden of proof that prolongs the process and can actually worsen the health outcomes. It will make an immediate change in how veterans receive health care and relieve them of the anxiety—and it is anxiety—of going through a sometimes torturous process with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to simply prove their condition. There will be additional funding to streamline the DVA processes.
I know all of this will be welcomed by the nine RSLs and the veterans they support in my electorate. I now want to acknowledge, and thank them for, the huge amount of work done by my local RSLs’ welfare officers and advocates, who assist our veterans—wonderful volunteers like Ken Parish of the Bunbury RSL, Bev Streeter, Rob Lennox and Graeme Caddy of the Busselton RSL and Les Liddington of the Harvey RSL, to mention just a few. I also want to thank the office bearers and members of all RSLs in my electorate of Forrest, who are so genuinely committed to the physical and mental health and wellbeing of their members.
There are several other important measures, one of which has relevance to my home state. The government will provide health care for Australian participants of the British nuclear tests and Australian veterans of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force. This is very important, because in Western Australia three tests were conducted by the British government on the Montebello Islands off the coast of WA. This measure is significant, and I thank and acknowledge the minister and the Turnbull government for this initiative. The extension of a gold card to access medical treatment will also be granted to veterans of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force.
All of these measures are of practical value to our veterans. They show the government’s ongoing support for and commitment to veterans for the service they have provided to this country. I would say it extends to the families by default. I think I would be one of the few people in this House who is the daughter of a war widow, and I know what my older sisters and mother went through as part of that.
So I commend this bill to the House and thank the government for taking these initiatives to show respect and support for our veterans and those ahead who will access these services.