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Matter of Interest | Australian Defence Force

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN ( 15:34 ): It is my view that South Australia should be doing much more for the welfare of individuals who have left the defence forces and seek civilian employment. The principles of affirmative action must be extended to those who have served their country. Around 5,000 personnel leave the Australian Defence Force every year. Many in each cohort are unable to gain employment once leaving the services. While exact numbers are not easily to hand, best estimates indicate that the unemployment rate for ex-service personnel is higher than the state average. Many ex-service personnel mentally struggle with re-entering the civilian workforce. Robert Pickersgill, who served in the ADF for 23 years, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

You’ve gone from this mission of importance where everything counts towards preserving life, where you come to something else that’s not as focused.

Protecting one’s life is the most focused you can get, whereas you’re coming back to doing menial tasks.

In a submission to the Senate Standing Committees on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, the Phoenix Australia Centre for post-traumatic mental health advised, ‘The process of transition is a critical point in the military/veteran lifecycle and one which, if not managed well, may be the beginning of a downward spiral.’

Veteran unemployment is a prime causation factor for homelessness. In 2009, a homeless veterans’ survey found 3,000 veterans were homeless throughout Australia. In Victoria, it is estimated that 8 per cent of the homeless population are veterans and, in New South Wales, 8 to 12 per cent. The RSL’s submission to the Senate committee noted:

Many veterans feel a disparity between the length and intensity of training to become a member of the ADF versus a two-day transition seminar provided when they leave the ADF.

The difficulty in gaining employment post service was demonstrated by a report in The West Australian this year. The report revealed that former service personnel are being advised to withhold emphasising their ADF career on their resumes. It is pleasing that the Western Australian government this year announced the Veterans Employment Transition Support (VETS) scheme to combat the employment issues many veterans face. This program involves ex-ADF personnel currently employed with the Western Australian Public Service mentoring those seeking to transition to the Public Service.

The New South Wales government has also implemented a program to assist retired veterans enter into the general workforce after retiring from the ADF. The Veterans Employment Program announced in 2015 by Liberal Premier Mike Baird seeks to recruit 200 veterans into the New South Wales Public Service by 2019. The New South Wales government established this program, recognising ex-service personnel possess a range of transferrable skills which are a valuable asset for the public sector.

I congratulate the Western Australian and New South Wales governments on these initiatives. It is disappointing that we do not have the same policies in this state. It is remarkable that this Labor government is unable to drink from the spring of compassion and assist those who have volunteered to risk their lives so that we may live in peace and affluence.

Post 9/11, the US Congress passed the Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, recognising the higher unemployment rate for ex-service personnel. The act provides assistance with training and skills, as well as enabling service personnel to apply for civil careers while still in the service. The act also includes tax credits for businesses that employ ex-service personnel. In the US, several private businesses also have their employment program with the aim of hiring veterans. Coca-Cola has set itself the goal of hiring 5,000 veterans by 2018. Boeing has also employed 20,000 veterans.

Since 2010, Barclays, in conjunction with the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence and military charities, has implemented the Armed Forces Transition, Employment & Resettlement (AFTER) program. AFTER has assisted 3,500 ex-service personnel with transition programs to gain employment in the civilian workforce.

The South Australian government proudly proclaims we are the defence state. The rhetoric of the Labor government is hollow because it fails the very people who the defence industry works hard to protect and serve, that is, the men and women of the ADF. It is shameful that we do not have any program to assist our ex-service personnel. We must do better. I call on the state government to act.

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