Australia’s war veterans are “not broken”, despite the publicity surrounding the royal commission into defence and veteran suicide, the minister for veterans affairs Matt Keogh has told a leading British security think tank.
Mr Keogh addressed the Royal United Service Institute in Whitehall on Thursday, ahead of Remembrance weekend events, noting that Australia faced defence recruitment challenges for “many and complex reasons”, and highlighting the need for appropriate acknowledgment and commemoration of veterans’ service.
Mr Keogh told the largely British audience that the Australian Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide was underway, a necessary extremely important body of work.
But he added: “However, a negative side effect of the increased attention on these matters has been the false impression that all veterans are broken. The truth is that the very opposite is the case.”
He said that statistics show the vast majority of those who serve in Australia’s Defence Forces go on to have successful lives and careers when they transition to civilian life.
He added: “Indeed, they outperform the general population: they are more likely to be employed, they earn more, they have a higher level of education, they are healthier and more likely to own their own home. The skills they gain through service, the attributes they possess – leadership, teamwork, agility, an ability to work under pressure – are the skills in demand in every organisation, by every employer.”
Mr Keogh said that joining the Australian Defence Force sets up young people for success, and they rightfully should be acknowledged as some of the best in the business – no matter the business.
“So when the narrative tells us that veterans are broken, we need to change the story,’’ he insisted.
The royal commission has heard how suicide in Australian Defence Force members is a “significant concern”. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, ex-serving ADF members are at a much higher risk of suicide than other Australians, with males 24% more likely to die by suicide, and females double the risk than their peers in the general population.
But at this particularly heightened time when Europe is enveloped in two wars: the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Israeli war against Hamas in Gaza, Mr Keogh believed that commemoration of service “done well, and appropriately” remembering those who served and lost their lives in conflict was also a pledge to work for peace.
He said: “There is no greater champion of peace than those lost, silent witnesses of war. Through commemoration, it is our solemn duty to give those silent witnesses a voice.’’
Mr Keogh is in the UK at a time of increased tension ahead of Saturday’s Armistice Day minute of silence with a pro-Palestinian march, which could attract 70,000 people, and which has had some extreme anti-Semitic elements attach themselves at previous marches, planned for the same day.
British prime minister Rishi Sunak has held the police commissioner to account for allowing the pro-Palestinian march on the same day as Remembrance for the war dead, while the Home Secretary Suella Braverman has accused the police of double standards in selectively enforcing the law.
Both believe the respectful commemoration of acknowledging the sacrifices of the war veterans should be quarantined from any protest march, but the police say a threshold of public disorder in order to ban the march has not been reached.
Mr Keogh said the commemoration of war will always have a role to play in the cause of peace, noting that the Australian War Memorial commemorates around 103,000 people who lost their lives in Australia’s name.
“Those are 103,000 stories, 103,000 people who never came home, all with families left to mourn,’’ Mr Keogh said.
“In Australia we value and honour the service of our veterans. We tell their stories and remember their sacrifices. And we want to do everything in our power to prevent that number from growing.
“Commemoration of war will always have a role to play in the cause of peace.”
Source: Jacquelin Magnay-The Australian Reporter dated November 10, 2023