Radio Interview – 2GB Ben Fordham with DVA Minister The Hon. Matt Keogh 13 Feb 2024

13 Feb 2024

SUBJECTS: Defence Recruitment, Clearing the Veteran Compensation Claims Backlog

BEN FORDHAM:  Matt Keogh is not the Minister for Defence, he’s the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, but he’s joining us on the line right now, Matt Keogh, good morning to you.


BEN FORDHAM: This impacts you because it impacts veterans, you must be concerned. 

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, it impacts me on two fronts, both as Minister for Veterans and Minister for Defence Personnel and the work we’re doing in the veteran space, and I’m sure we’ll get onto that in more detail in making sure that veterans are getting the services they need actually helps in this space. Because when the story out there is negative for veterans, that doesn’t help with recruitment. But we are happy to see that our retention rates in the Defence Force are starting to improve now after being pretty bad over the last few years, what we inherited was certainly a very bad scenario. 

But in view of everything you’ve just gone through as well. It’s why we’re undertaking a number of measures to really improve that rate of recruitment, to make sure that we are growing our Defence Force as we need, making sure that you know, we’re improving the flow put, flow through in our recruitment. So for example, I might have mentioned this to you before, we inherited a situation where for somebody who said, hey, I want to put their hand up to join the Defence Force, it was taking 300 days for us to actually get them enlisted. And that was ridiculous. You know, people find other jobs, they move they you know, find a partner and don’t want to join the Defence Force anymore or something else. We’re now targeting bringing that down to 100 days or even shorter if we can, we have a new recruitment partner to do that, Adecco they’ve only just come on board. And certainly we’ve had a few teething issues with them coming on board, as well. And we’re working very closely with them to get through those issues, because that is of concern. But we’re also opening up the sort of the cohorts we can recruit from, there’s over 200 different sorts of roles in the Defence Force. 

And what we’ve traditionally done is said, you’ve got to meet, you know, fitness and health levels on the basis that we’re going to send you on to the frontline overseas. But a lot of those roles, never even leave Australia, some of them, you’re more likely to be wearing a hoodie in a basement doing cyber ops than holding a rifle on the front line. And so making sure we’ve got sort of fit for purpose standards, we can accept people with different medical conditions, if they’re doing roles that are only ever going to be Australian based, for example. So look, broadening that cohort of people, we can recruit from really important 

BEN FORDHAM: Your recruitment campaigns seem to be targeting women, is that right? 

MINISTER KEOGH: We’re targeting, we’re absolutely trying to increase the proportion of women that are joining the Defence Force, the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders that are joining the Defence Force, we do want to make sure we have a Defence Force that looks more like the Australian community. That’s really important. 

BEN FORDHAM: Let me jump in, why does diversity matter in Defence when if we come under attack the only thing we care about is someone able to fight back? 

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, if you think about only hiring white Anglo Saxon males, that’s a only a cohort… 

BEN FORDHAM: I’m talking about hiring people who wanna sign up. 

MINISTER KEOGH: Oh yeah, no, this is the point, we’re trying to encourage more people to join, so that we can grow the size of our Defence Force. And doing that means appealing to people that have not traditionally been people that have joined the Defence Force in great numbers so that we can grow that pie of people that are joining, that’s what we’re trying to do. 

BEN FORDHAM: Okay, the other thing, and you mentioned this in your first answer, people are looking at the treatment of veterans. And they’re thinking why would I sign up to that? Now we set you a bit of a challenge when you came into office because there were more than 45,000 outstanding claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs, which was in September of 2022. And we said we’d check in regularly with you. So the 45,000 outstanding claims, how many is there right now? 

MINISTER KEOGH: So we divide that backlog into two groups, initial liability and permanent impairment. And initial liability is where a veteran comes forward and says I’ve got a health condition mental health, physical condition, disease that’s related to my service, they need to establish that so they can get access to health care. We now have that number down to a situation where basically all new claims coming into the Department are with someone for assessment within two weeks so that back we’re now back to business as usual for that cohort and claims are being processed and that backlog is effectively gone. 

The remainder which is your permanent impairment, that’s down to just over 3,000 now, and to give you a sense of where we’re going with that, in January, we processed over 7,000 claims in the month of January. Back in November, we processed nearly 10,000 in that month. So we’ll be through that backlog and, back to a situation where people put in a claim, and then they’re being assessed within two weeks of them putting them in, very shortly. And that means people, you know, veterans are getting access to the services the support, the compensation payments, that they frankly deserve, when they need them. And that’s really, really important. 

BEN FORDHAM: Well, well done to you.  This is Matt Keogh, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, joining us, and congratulations on those achievements and keep the good work coming. Just one more on Defence recruitment, the overwhelming feedback I’m getting from people Matt is that people feel like the Defence Force is too woke in 2024, when we’ve had the head of Army coming out in years gone by, saying don’t use the word “guys” anymore. When we’ve had, you know, medals being stripped from people that have served their country, what do you say when people say Defence is too woke? 

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, I think, you know, celebrating the diversity of our country, whether you’re in the public service, in BHP or you’re in the Defence Force, is a good thing. You know, this is the country people are signing up to defend. It’s our national security. And I think it’s important that our Defence Force is part of our community in that way, as well. And people shouldn’t feel in any way because they are from a diverse background, that they’re not welcome in our Defence Force. But the number one thing that our Defence Force does is act in our national interest in protecting our national security. And that’s what they’re always doing, regardless of their background. And we always support our personnel in doing that.

BEN FORDHAM:  We gotta be careful though that people don’t steer clear of signing up because they feel they’re treading on eggshells when they join the Defence Force. 

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, that’s not the case at all. But of course, obviously, we expect people to behave well, when they’re in our Defence Force and to comply with Defence values. That’s incredibly important. That’s all consistent with our national security and making sure that you can trust the person standing next to you on the frontline, as well. But I don’t I don’t really buy into this whole idea that people don’t join because they think the Defence Force is too woke. I mean, just look at what the Defence Force does on a day to day basis. That doesn’t really fit into the whole, you know, what people like to call woke, and if people want to join our Defence Force, if they’re interested in protecting our national security, the place to do that is in our Defence Force. 

BEN FORDHAM:  Do you use the word “guys”? 

MINISTER KEOGH: Sometimes I do and I don’t use it in a gendered way. And I think people can live with that. 

BEN FORDHAM:  We appreciate you jumping on the line. 

MINISTER KEOGH: Cheers mate. 

BEN FORDHAM:  Thank you very much. That’s Matt Keogh the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs.