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Five Eyes ministerial conference and veterans’ ministers’ meeting

On 20–21 October 2018, to coincide with the Sydney 2018 Invictus Games, the Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel, the Hon Darren Chester MP, met with ministers and delegates from ‘Five Eyes’ nations—Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States to discuss veterans’ issues. Attendees looked at ways that our nations can work together to achieve the best possible outcomes for veterans and their families.

Ministers and delegates discussed veterans’ mental health and wellbeing, education and employment and other issues facing veterans post-transition to civilian life. Ministers signed a joint Statement of Intent acknowledging the benefits of working together and collaborating in areas of common interest that recognise, support and care for the defence and veteran communities and their families.

The Invictus Games also provided an opportunity for federal, state and territory ministers responsible for veterans’ issues to meet and discuss opportunities for closer collaboration in supporting Australia’s veterans and their families.

In recognition of the importance of working together on veterans’ issues, ministers endorsed a proposal to elevate the existing round table to a Veterans Ministerial Council. Ministers also recognised that the games provided an important platform for raising public awareness around veterans’ issues and showcasing the courage, strength and resilience of our wounded, injured and ill veterans.

A key focus of the discussion was the transition process for those leaving the Australian Defence Force—in particular, improvements to the process and programs available to support veterans to enter civilian employment. Ministers agreed that the best support is the economic independence that comes with finding meaningful civilian employment. They agreed that, while significant work is being done at both the state and territory and federal levels to address this, more needs to be done across the jurisdictions in a concerted way. They also agreed on the importance of promoting the skills, attributes and capabilities of Australia’s veterans and reinforcing the message that ‘hiring a veteran is good for your business’.

Ministers discussed other significant issues faced by veterans including homelessness, incarceration, mental health and suicide. They acknowledged that the Australian community needs to better recognise the contribution that veterans and their families make to the nation. They agreed there is the need for robust data collection on veterans’ issues and they strongly endorsed the inclusion of a veteran indicator in the 2021 Australian Census.

The Five Eyes conference and veterans’ ministers’ meetings were held in conjunction with a series of related DVA-led events, such as the Veterans’ Families Forum, the Veterans’ Employment Forum and the Invictus 18 Symposium on transition. The events were attended by Australian and international decision-makers; and those from government, Defence, ex-service organisations, academia and the corporate and not-for-profit sectors who can drive policy and action on veterans’ issues.

Five Eyes international ministerial conference delegates at the NSW Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park.
Delegates at the International Ministerial (Five Eyes) conference. Left to right: Jacquelyn Hayes-Byrd, Acting Assistant Secretary for Human Resources, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; John P. Medve, Executive Director, Office of Policy and Interagency, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Brigadier Andrew Harrison DSO MBE, Defence Attache, Australia, British High Commission, Canberra; General Walter Natynczyk CMM MSC CD (Ret'd), Deputy Minister for Veterans Affairs, Canada; Air Commodore (Professor) Rich Withnall QHS MD MA MSc MBBS FRCGP FAcadMEd CMgr RAF, Head of Research & Clinical Innovation, Royal Centre for Defence Medicine, UK; the Hon Darren Chester MP, Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel, Australia; the Rt Hon Tobias Ellwood MP, Minister for Defence People and Veterans, Ministry of Defence, UK; Liz Cosson AM CSC, Secretary, Australian Department of Veterans' Affairs; Wing Commander Dr Paul Nealis DMed(F), Chief Medical Officer, New Zealand Defence Force; Bernadine Mackenzie, Head of Veterans' Affairs, New Zealand; Air Vice-Marshal Dr. Tracy Smart AO; Mr Michel Doiron, Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery, Veterans Affairs Canada.