From the President
My apologies for missing the last month Newsletter and the delay here. Frankly life has been busy and challenging with some family issues. But life continues and here is the news and the issues that have and will consume us all in the coming period.
Ex-Service Organisation Round Table
The Minutes of the ESORT meeting on Friday 30 August 2019 are available here. If there are any queries on these Minutes, contact me if you wish.
The draft agenda for the November 2019 ESORT meeting is available here. Please advise me if there are any item you wish placed on the Agenda at your earliest. Template for agenda items can be downloaded here.
ESORT remains a problematic forum. It is a strategic forum, not one where individual or personal issues are resolved. Often it gets bogged down in the detail of issues which then denies the floor for others and other issues when attendees are often up against the clock.
Royal United Services Institute Dinner
The dinner was at the Tattersall Club Brisbane.
Lt Gen ‘Rick’ Burr, Chief of Army
Lt Gen Burr made the following points:
- The world is changing fast and we must change accordingly.
- We are in an environment of accelerated warfare.
- War is now a ‘thinking persons game’ and it demands a ‘learning organisation’.
- We are in a time where the ADF needs good people to become good soldiers.
- He is conscious of the concerns many have regarding the ‘transition process’ and was determined to work through the many issues with DVA and the ESOs. I spoke with him afterwards and we agreed to meet at some time in the future to discuss the transition and other issues.
Dr. Brendan Nelson, Director Australian War Memorial
An impressive speaker with an incredible grasp of the history of the AWM, the stories that it revolves around and its meaning to the Australian story.
Dr Brendan Nelson also address a daytime meeting of RUSI in Vic Barracks Brisbane. Here he spoke of the AWM as a living place, a place of stories that should resonate with all Australians.
DVA & ESORT Teleconferences
Liz Cosson has initiated a fortnightly teleconference with ESORT members. This is an opportunity for DVA to update on current issues and projects and for ESO members to raise agenda items that are topical. At the session on Tuesday 1 October 2019 I raised the following:
- The Grant in Aid and BEST Grants – see DVA response.
- The Covenant – DVA provided an update. Liz reiterated that it is still the Government’s intention to table the ‘Covenant’ Bill as amended from the Senate in the next sitting of Parliament – we are getting closer.
Other issues raised were:
- Advised of the Draft ESORT Agenda.
- Productivity Commission Report/Deliberations – ongoing.
- Open Arms Briefing to be given at ESORT – there are questions as to the reach, what it does and its significance among the various veteran support organisations.
- Double Taxation of benefits – to be addressed at ESORT.
- ‘More than the Last Shilling’- this is the second volume to ‘The Last Shilling’ published in 1994 which outlined the history of repatriation in Australia from 1914 to 1991. This new volume will be launched in conjunction with the November 2019 ESORT.
Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy
On Wednesday 25 September 2019 I attended a Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy and National Action Plan meeting at DVA in Canberra. It was a follow on from the Ministers Mental Health Summit Strategy meeting of 23 August 2019. DVA has undertaken extensive consultation since that meeting and is now bringing together the results and developing programs and strategies for implementation.
The meeting was termed a “Co-design Session” (remember that term as you will see it more frequently in the future) and was attended by 40 representatives drawn from across the veteran community, state government departments and the ADF. There were 20 representatives from across the DVA. An interesting day.
The aim of the Co-design session, “was to develop strategies to improve the community’s quality of life, achieved through preventing illness where possible fostering social connectedness and enriching health and wellbeing”.
On 30 August 2019 I wrote to Liz Cosson as follows:
Thank you for the opportunity to attend and to participate in the DVA Co-Design Session last week. I expect that you and the organisers would be appreciative of the number of attendees, their extensive experience in the mental health space and the willingness of so many to share their thoughts and ideas on the national issue of suicide.
Despite this I came away disappointed. Some say the veteran suicide is a wicked problem, replete with contradictions and ever-changing situations. Seemingly no veteran suicide is the same so how can the issue be fixed? Maybe my expectations were too high, too demanding of action and the hope that surely DVA and the government is now ready to articulate plans and programs that are ‘roll out ready’. Plans and programs that are fit for the range of environments that we all know exist across the country.
At the beginning of proceedings, we were asked what we hoped to get from the day? I simply said in one word, Action!
Can I suggest that often it is the simple ideas and actions that resonate with the men and women of the ADF. I noted that on the tables during the day’s proceedings were flyers for ‘Trojans Trek’, a program run out of SA and now conducted in Queensland. Trojan’s Trek, a simple activity that is proving to have lasting effects on the individuals who participated. If the presence of the flyers indicates that the TT program has DVA support, then good but such was not the case for many years despite its proven success. A simple peer support activity that warrants ongoing support.
Christmas and the New Year are times of isolation for many. Surely it is a time that DVA and the ADF coordinate public interest campaigns to alert everyone to, ‘Check your Mates’, ‘Call a Friend’, have a coffee with mates and other similar calls to actions. Use the service newspapers, VetAffairs and related media and social media outlets to send a common message in simple English that we all have a role to play in the mental health space.
Liz, congratulations on the work you and your team are doing.
This letter was the subject of discussion at the recent teleconference. The comments were taken on board by the Secretary. This issue has some way to go but the Minister plans to make announcement regarding the mental health issue before Christmas.
Commonwealth Ombudsman Inquiry into DFRDB Commutation
Update on the inquiry from the ombudsman:
Submissions for this investigation closed on 30 June 2019, although the Ombudsman continued to accept submissions and review information received after that date.
Since the investigation commenced on 21 April 2019 the Ombudsman received 3,430 submissions in various forms, from former members of the Royal Australian Navy, the Australian Army and the Royal Australian Air Force.
The Ombudsman thanks all of the DFRDB members who shared their circumstances with the team.
The team of investigators has now completed a first stage analysis of all submissions and agency responses.
What’s been happening?
The primary focus of the investigation is that many members are concerned they may have been misled to believe that the reduction to their retirement pay was temporary and would cease on reaching their notional life expectancy factor age. People told the Ombudsman this was due to a lack of information or because they received information that was incorrect or ambiguous. Many members say this caused them financial detriment.
The submissions process has identified a number of further avenues of inquiry.
The investigation team have spoken with some individuals who provided further information relevant to the investigation.
The Ombudsman has asked for information from the Department of Defence (Defence) and the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation (CSC) to clarify some issues that arose in submissions.
The Ombudsman has also engaged the Australian Government Actuary (AGA) and KPMG to model the commutation outcomes in a number of real life examples, to compare the longer term financial outcomes of decisions to commute or not.
Other issues raised
Submitters raised a number of other concerns, which include:
- concern about the absence of a definition of commutation in the DFRDB Act and about CSC’s interpretation of the commutation provisions in the Act
- dissatisfaction or disagreement with the DFRDB Act provisions, which make the reduction permanent
- dissatisfaction with other aspects of the scheme, including indexation arrangements and administration of spouse payments.
The Ombudsman is carefully considering all of the matters raised. Some of these matters go to issues of government policy, which are not usually within the role of the ombudsman, but the team intends to at least acknowledge these areas of concerns in the report.
What happens next?
The investigation team is continuing to assess all of the information that has been provided, in order to inform the conclusions about what occurred. The Ombudsman’s report will also be supported by the financial modelling that has been commissioned.
At this stage the investigation remains on track for completion and report by the end of 2019.
For further information about the investigation please contact the Ombudsman via DFRDB.email@example.com or by calling 1300 362 072.
Policy Development—Help Wanted!
The future significance of the Association as a representative body largely depends on the attraction the organisation has and will have to the current and future generation of veterans.
What should the Association be advocating for, on behalf of current and former members of the Defence Force? Even creating small changes to policies, rules or how departments interpret existing laws can demonstrably improve the lives of the Defence and veteran communities – but we need the input.
National Office is seeking input from members of the Defence and veteran community, particularly younger veterans and their families, to the development of a Policy Framework and policy positions for the Association into the future. Volunteers most welcome.
If you or any veteran you know would like to assist in developing our future framework or policy positions, then please get in touch, either by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by leaving a voice message on (02) 6152 9166 (you will receive a call back).