Opinion: Albanese’s Legacy at Stake: An Unlikely Morrison 2.0 in Veterans’ Affairs

1 May 2024

As the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide concludes, the swift legislative responses by the Albanese government are being scrutinised. Historical patterns show a continuum of Australian governments pledging substantial support and transformative changes for veterans that seldom materialise. Commissioner Nick Kaldas’s pressing calls for immediate and substantial action echo loudly against a backdrop of previous administrative failures.

The final hearings of the Royal Commission brought sharp focus to the leadership and accountability required from government and military bodies. Testimonies highlighted systemic failures, particularly in mental health support and career transition, emphasising the need for urgent and meaningful reform.

Current legislative efforts, while seemingly proactive, lack the depth needed to effect real change within the Departments of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs. This superficial legislative activity is contrasted with more successful veteran reforms internationally, such as those being implemented in Canada, which include both legislative and systemic cultural reforms that have led to improved veteran welfare.

Window Dressing and Legislative Reform

Meanwhile, the rushed legislative activities under Prime Minister Albanese bear an uncomfortable resemblance to the Morrison government’s approach. The current administration’s actions thus far suggest a continuity of past practices, marked by rapid legislative harmonisation that do not necessarily translate into deeper systemic improvements or address the foundational issues affecting veterans. The limited window for consultation is a farce and the likely outcome is a regulatory framework capable of more efficiently delivering same sub-optimal outcomes of what it has replaced.

The establishment of a robust oversight body, as recommended by Commissioner Kaldas, is critical for ensuring that reforms are not only implemented but also maintained and adapted over time.

The question is, does the Government have the courage to implement such a recommendation without running into the arms of ex-service organisations that have history complicity and dysfunction? I think the veteran community needs to be concerned about the financial and political incentives that are drawing ex-service organisations into the bonds of dependency on Government money.

Time to Read the Room

As the Albanese government stands at a crucial juncture, with the veteran community watching closely. If the current administration continues to mimic the Morrison government’s pattern of rapid, superficial reforms, it risks the perpetuation of systemic failures under the guise of progress. Conversely, embracing the recommendations of the Royal Commission and committing to profound, systemic changes could redefine Albanese’s tenure, setting it apart as a truly transformative era in veterans’ affairs. This shift is essential not only for the well-being of veterans but also for the legacy of the government itself.

The recent remark by Prime Minister Albanese at last Sunday’s domestic violence rally, where he declared, “I’m the Prime Minister, I run this country”, has ignited significant criticism, particularly among the veteran community. Introduced earlier in the article as a contentious assertion, this statement starkly illustrates the ongoing tension between government rhetoric and the actual experiences of veterans. It reflects a broader pattern of disconnect where political leaders appear out of touch with the substantive needs and concerns of those who have served.

As veterans and their families grapple with the repercussions of insufficient government action on issues like mental health and employment transition, such remarks can exacerbate feelings of disillusionment. This growing discontent suggests that veterans are reaching a critical point of frustration with political leaders. They are weary of lofty declarations lacking tangible outcomes and might advise those in power to more astutely “read the room” to understand and address their genuine concerns effectively.

Ultimately, the success of these efforts will determine whether Albanese’s legacy will be remembered as a repeat of Morrison’s shortcomings or be marked by real and lasting improvements in the lives of Australia’s veterans.

Should Albo fail on this, then lest we forget!

Dr. Mark Schröffel

He is a graduate of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, and former Peacekeeper in Cambodia. With a decade of service in the Australian Army, he transitioned to a career in management consulting, focusing on corporate strategy and governance. He holds a PhD from Swinburne University of Technology, where he researched the reintegration challenges of Australian Army Reserve personnel. Currently, Dr. Schröffel is the Director of Schröffel Renwick & Beeson, President of the Bentleigh-Cheltenham RSL, and Director of Australian Veteran News, actively supporting and advocating for veteran communities.