Speech: ADF in the 2021 Census

Speech: ADF in the 2021 Census Main Image

Mrs PHILLIPS (Gilmore) (11:58):  Thank you Mr Speaker and I appreciate the Member for Stirling for bringing this motion forward. I absolutely agree that it is vital that we understand our veterans better in Australia. It was disappointing to hear the Minister for Veterans' Affairs admit last year that the government did not know how many veterans we have. This is absolutely appalling, and we need to rectify it immediately. My electorate on the New South Wales South Coast has a proud Defence family, so it is no surprise that we are equally proud of our veterans. It means so much to be able to honour and recognise the invaluable service that veterans have given to our country. In recent weeks I have been proud to attend three local ceremonies to honour and commemorate our veterans. This year we mark 75 years since the end of the Second World War, a momentous occasion. Like many things this year, though, our commemorations have been hampered by COVID-19, with services across the South Coast scaled down or, sadly, cancelled altogether. But many still found a way to honour our war heroes. On the 75th anniversary of the Victory in the Pacific, I joined a small group of veterans at the Nowra War Memorial to mark the occasion. The Shoalhaven City Pipes and Drums, which is predominantly current or former Defence members, played The battle's o'er, and the Nowra and Bomaderry RSL sub-branches managed to put together a fitting yet safe tribute.



Last Tuesday I joined the Sussex Inlet RSL sub-branch for a combined commemorative service to mark Vietnam Veterans' Day, National Servicemens' Day, the Korean War Ceasefire Day and VP Day. I was absolutely honoured to present special commemorative medallions to some of our surviving World War II veterans as well as saluting their service awards to 18 local veterans. It was a moving and special service. At sunset I joined with the Shoalhaven Vietnam Veterans' Association to honour those who had made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. It was fantastic to see a good community turnout as well as many local veterans. Our community holds great pride for our veterans, and it was so devastating to miss out on Anzac Day this year. While all these services were smaller than they might usually have been, it was fantastic to see them go ahead in a COVIDSafe manner. Thank you to all the sub-branches across the South Coast for your efforts to ensure these special occasions were given the attention they deserve. It is incredibly vital that we do not forget the service and sacrifice of those who selflessly fought for our country to ensure future generations could have the freedom that we enjoy today. To mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the war, the Australian Government has now made a special commemorative medallion and certificate available to every living Second World War Veteran. I would be absolutely honoured to help any South Coast veteran or their family apply to receive one of these, and I encourage you to contact my office for support.

It is for all of these reasons and more that we need to understand where our veterans are. We need to make sure our local services are targeted where they are needed—support like health and mental health services, housing and employment. Our community on the South Coast has a number of veterans groups trying to fill that hole themselves, offering advocacy, support and guidance where they can. I have spoken in this House before about the Keith Payne VC Veterans Benefits Group that is doing amazing things to help local veterans. People like Fred Campbell and Rick Meehan are dedicating their lives to it. All of the local RSL sub-branches, and I have visited so many of them, are doing this incredible work. I will always stand with them in their quest to ensure that no local veterans fall through the cracks, but more needs to be done.

The Veterans Wellbeing Centre in Nowra will be an amazing community hub for local veterans, but we are still waiting for crucial details like the location. Most importantly, we still do not have a final date of when this centre will be operational. While I absolutely welcome this change to the census, we still have a long way to go. I will keep working with local veterans and their advocates to ensure they are getting the support they need. I also want to sincerely thank all of our remarkable veterans and serving Defence Force members for dedicating your lives to protecting us. Your service and sacrifice will never be forgotten.