Lessons learnt and challenges for SA's veteran community

This month we commemorated a significant occasion, the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, the signing of the agreement by Germany to end World War One hostilities.

As always on this occasion, I think of my grandfather. I recall the many war songs he taught me by playing his fiddle, gathered amongst his friends who were lucky enough to return home. He was a Rifleman in the Royal Ulster Rifles who went to France with the first soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force (known as the Old Contemptibles as the Kaiser had supposedly called them ‘that Contemptible little army’) in August 1914. Fortunately, he returned in April 1918 unlike his brother who was killed on the Somme in July 1916.

My Irish background has a strong tradition of soldiering and by nature, I’m a bit of an amateur historian. I’ve travelled to the battlefields and war cemeteries of Normandy several times and during each trip, I try to envision some my grandfather’s stories - where and how he was shot and wounded on two separate occasions. This personal connection sparked my interest in World War One literature and no matter how many accounts I read, I still cannot begin to visualise the vast number of casualties, the devastation and despair during that particular conflict.

This year’s commemorations are my first as the Chief Executive of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet (DPC) and one of my areas of responsibility is veterans’ affairs through Veterans SA. I’m proud of the work they’ve done with the community to coordinate various activities and events marking the Armistice Centenary. This included the Premier’s State Dinner and the commemorative service on Remembrance Day at the South Australian National War Memorial. Both were moving events, important occasions to reflect on all conflicts and the sacrifices others have made for our freedom and democracy.

Locally, my initial observations of the veterans’ community sector is that we are starting to address the increased need for mental health and wellbeing support services.

I’ve noticed though that there are opportunities for harmonisation and collaboration amongst service providers, advocates, community groups and the government. We are all doing valuable work but I wonder if we could do it even better by working more closely together. There’s duplication we can streamline and I would like Veterans SA to lead efforts towards better integration.

My discussions with veterans and current serving members of the Australian Defence Force lead me to believe that they do not want handouts from the government. They want support services that promote self-worth, wellbeing and independence, especially when transitioning into the community after their service. Often they transition to the public sector or defence industry, and I think DPC can play a larger role in easing this.

Our state’s defence industry is uniquely positioned – given our population, we have a significant proportion of the defence budget spent within our state. I plan to draw on my experience in defence contracting to create policy that supports our state’s manufacturing industries like the submarine and frigate builds at the Osborne Naval Shipyard.

While in Paris earlier this month, I attended the EuroNaval expo, where numerous prime contractors and SMEs in the supply chain, particularly of Naval Group were in attendance. We also attended a number of very significant and high level political meetings with President Macron, Foreign Minister Le Drian, Minister of Defence Parly and Secretary of State to the Defence Minister.

These networking opportunities to showcase South Australia would not have been possible without fostering South Australia’s Sister-Region Relationship with the Region of Brittany, France.

By continuing efforts to make South Australia an attractive place to live, work and learn, we can attract similar attention and accomplish greater ventures.

I’m confident DPC will play a further role in driving preference for the state as a destination of choice for foreign investment, migration, study and tourism, as well as being a producer of premium food and wine to the world.