Afghanistan is a country of immense physical and cultural beauty, yet is ravaged by corruption and terrorism.
It is not a country you go to as a tourist, yet our men and women of Australia’s defence force have left their families and friends to deploy to this critical and dangerous country as part of a large coalition of multi-nation forces.
Late last year I had the opportunity and privilege to travel to Afghanistan as part of a Parliamentary delegation to see our defence personnel training, advising and assisting Afghan army and air force.
Our presence is small but our reputation is highly regarded by both coalition partners and the Afghan defence force and government. The physical presence of our soldiers on coalition bases and their professionalism is admired by others. We should all be immensely proud of them.
As a member of the Parliamentary Committee on Public Works I see millions of taxpayer dollars expended on our military bases to support training. From this visit, I can see it is worth it. While green on blue attacks, or Afghan terror attacks on coalition forces within a military base, do happen, you can’t help but feel safe around our highly trained soldiers.
I met a few Tasmanian soldiers; one, without introduction, sat in front of me in a US mess hall and said “you know my mum and brother”! A Devonport soldier, one of very few on this base, tells me he plans to come back to our region with his family when he leaves the army. Many, who are deployed, contemplating life after the defence force while away from their families, would be making plans to return to civilian life.
Yet we as a nation and our federal government do not do enough to support our returning and retiring defence personnel. Military life is very different to civilian life. Our troops are highly skilled and trained and should transition into civilian work and life easily. But in some instances they don’t. Employers need to be assisted to recognise their skills and how they translate into private business.
Some return home after seeing things no-one should ever see. PTSD and other mental ill health is prevalent in our veterans. Again, the federal government should be doing more. But they have cut DVA services and budgets, leaving veterans with less access to dental and allied health services.
While in the Middle East I spoke to many of our defence personnel about what the government should do for them when they return and retire. I believe Labor has the right plans and policies to help address these gaps to support our troops and their families. If elected Labor will develop a Family Engagement and Support Strategy, provide $121 million for our veterans’ employment policy and sign Australia’s first Military Covenant, recognising the immense commitment our armed forces make to serve our country and a formal commitment to look after those who have sacrificed for our nation.
Those men and women I met in the Middle East deserve better when they come home and leave the armed forces. Labor’s commitment to those who serve, and have served, is rock solid and we will state this commitment as a core value and principle.