SBS INSIGHT – Are our soldiers equipped for the transition to everyday life?

SBS Insight
Tuesday, August 15, 2017 – 20:30

Are our soldiers equipped for the transition to everyday life?

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This week, Insight speaks with veterans to see how prepared they were for civilian life and what can be done to make it easier.


Opinion – Strategy has to move forward

A KEY factor in New Zealand’s defensive posture is its geographic isolation.

While Australia’s air-sea gap from potential aggressors has also been cited as a key defensive asset, that gap has become less reassuring.

Pundits are speculating whether rogue Marxist state North Korea’s latest rocket technology could deliver nuclear weapons to Australia.

How far that rocket could reach into the Australian mainland and whether North Korea’s erratic technology could actually successfully detonate a nuclear device are simply speculation.

In all that speculation, New Zealand as a potential target is never mentioned.

Acres of trees have been sacrificed by defence planners and staff college students who have written endless treatises on defence of the Australian mainland.

These will now have to address whether Australia possesses or should acquire the appropriate defensive missile technology to counter a North Korean missile threat.

Australian defence strategists once subscribed to the Domino Theory, that as Asian states were allowed to fall to communism, they would tip neighbouring states as well.

The Domino Theory was topical in the immediate World War II aftermath when it took six weeks by sea to travel to England, but only seven days by flying boat.

In 1945 RAAF transports regularly plied the route from Australia to PNG through Indonesia to Borneo and The Philippines and return, a journey over several days.

It was reasonable to assume then Australia had sufficient time to react to a southward thrust, though it was thought better to deal with any perceived threat in its country of origin.

The argued response was forward defence, which involved wars in Korea, Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam.

Various US, UK, Australian and NZ alliances saw troops stationed in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand but as the Domino Theory lost credibility, standing foreign forces were gradually withdrawn from South-East Asia.

Some token remnants remain, such as the Australian Rifle Company at the Malaysian Air Force base at Butterworth, a force whose intent over many years was the defence of RAAF assets based there, particularly as a ready reaction force during what is now acknowledged as the second Malaysian Emergency.

Long a security problem, radical Islam has since replaced communism as the dominant regional threat, particularly in southern Thailand and in the southern Philippines. Modern transport and communications make travel between distant lands let alone our nearest neighbours quick and simple.

Despite strict security controls over international travellers including those moving illegally, borders are porous.

Additionally in poorly supervised international waters it is nigh impossible to prevent illegal movement between jurisdictions.

While NZ can afford to be complacent in its splendid isolation, the southern Philippines and North Borneo are contiguous states. The ability of Islamic State aligned individuals to move freely between them is of serious concern.

Australia’s decision to commit RAAF surveillance aircraft to the region and the possibility ADF advisers might assist Philippine forces are sensible precautions.

Forward defence still has its considerable merits, particularly when offence is often the best form of defence.


IT was a travesty narrowly avoided — an ex-soldier estranged from his family who had taken his own life almost ending up in a pauper’s grave because no one would pay for his funeral.

That was until Perth-based charity Bravery Trust stepped in to ensure this man — who had served his country, but like many others had returned home broken, damaged and fighting his own internal war — received a proper farewell.

They even bought replica medals for his teenage sons, which they proudly wore to his funeral and promised to wear on Anzac Day.

Even though it was not strictly in Bravery Trust’s charter, when chairman Peter Fitzpatrick heard about how the Government and 12 other military charities had declined to help, his first thought at the prospect of this veteran being buried in a cardboard box was: “Not on our watch.”

“How can you say someone is not in need if they’re going to be put in a pauper’s grave when they’ve served their country?” he said.


Peter Fitzpatrick, chairman of Bravery Trust, a charity that gives urgent financial aid to veterans in crisis. Picture: Daniel Wilkins

Sadly, this man’s demise is not isolated and he’s one of dozens of veterans who have taken their own lives so far this year.

There have been 325 confirmed suicides of people with at least one day of service with the Australian Defence Force between 2001 and 2015.

Mr Fitzpatrick estimated that figure would be more than 400 by now — 10 times the number of soldiers killed in battle over the same period — and more than 40 suicides alone so far this year.

Bravery Trust was one of more than 400 organisations and people to make a submission to a Senate inquiry into suicide by veterans, which was prompted by an investigation by The Sunday Times one year ago. A report on its findings is due next month.

Bravery Trust, which started in Perth in 2012 and is lesser-known than other military charities such as the RSL and Legacy, is an urgent financial safety net for veterans and their families, helping them pay their mortgage or rent, utility bills, children’s school fees, health expenses and providing them with Coles food vouchers.

The charity spends about $100,000 a month — or more than $1.1 million last year — to help struggling families. On top of that, it provides education and training scholarships for veterans and their partners.

Mr Fitzpatrick said it was a sad truth that we seemed to be more focused on honouring the dead than supporting the living.


Opinion – Self-interest the enemy of action

ONLY someone who has attempted to take a large bone from a small terrier understands the fury it can generate.
Multiply that by several terriers and bones and the fury increases exponentially.
Larger dogs usually, but not always, tend to be less possessive, particularly if they have taken control of all the bones.
Australia’s state and federal bureaucracies mirror that fanaticism with departments jealously protecting their independence while resisting what they regard as gratuitous intervention in their affairs.
When it comes to countering Australia’s real and present terrorism threat such bureaucratic independence can be counter-productive.
Australia’s co-ordinated response to terrorism grew from the 1977 Hilton bombing when Malcolm Fraser understood the need to develop a co-ordinated response between those agencies likely to be given that responsibility, state police forces and the ADF.
Fraser established a standing committee to advise on appropriate responses to acts of terrorism, with the additional responsibility of co-ordinating those responses.
The problem then and since has been the multiple agencies involved with their competing agendas but more stiflingly their competing bureaucracies. Bureaucrats are like those small terriers, fiercely protecting their departmental bones when a collective need to act is paramount.
Only those who have not been involved in exercising those processes could argue against a centralised super security ministry with responsibility for the disparate, competing parts.
This includes many of the Australian media commentariat who mostly have no idea but express their ignorance exquisitely and vacuously.
Although other national departmental amalgamations have had their difficulties – think the Defence Department – most critics of a super security ministry are simply defending parochial self interest.
The intolerably arrogant Canberra bureaucrat Sir Arthur Tang oversaw the amalgamation of separate service departments. The small terriers protecting their bones snapped at his heels but the universally despised Tang simply ignored their plaintive protests.
Likewise the establishment of a joint defence force academy which, for all its many faults, has now trained generations of senior ADF leaders who understand each other and their individual strengths and weaknesses.
While single service agendas can and still do arise, it’s hard to argue Australia’s defence interests haven’t been better served by a single department.
The main weapon for defeating terrorism however is detailed and timely intelligence.
While each of the agencies proposed for the amalgamation has its own independent intelligence gathering and interpreting capabilities, their product is not automatically available to other agencies.
As important as this proposed departmental amalgamation could be, the proposed Office of National Intelligence within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet as recommended by former diplomat Michael L’Estrange is even more crucial.
Getting that intelligence to those who need to use it in a timely manner is also critical.
If a single home affairs ministry improves inter-agency co-operation it will prove its critics wrong.
If it reduces bureaucratic hesitation and obfuscation, decision making and responses will be enhanced.
If it allows government to shave off layers of duplicated public servants, even better.
Ross Eastgate
21 July 2017

Memories – The Vung Tau Ferry

A trip down memory lane for those who sailed on the HMAS SYDNEY. In this case 8 RAR forward and 9 RAR return.


Any death by suicide is tragic. Defence is committed to increasing our understanding of this issue so that we can continue to improve the support services available to our people.

Most importantly, we need to help those who are suffering to understand that support is available to them – they do not need to suffer alone.

Suicide remains one of the leading causes of death in Australia, and ADF personnel are not immune from this. The rate of suicide of those serving in the ADF is lower than the national average when matched for age and gender. Of course we must do more.

For this reason Defence is investing significantly in suicide prevention and mental health more broadly, with more than $180 million in funding allocated to a range of education and support programs for all Defence members since 2009.

As a result of this investment, and by working with DVA, significant enhancements have been made to the provision of mental health care for current and ex-serving personnel over the last few years. The extension of non-liability health care arrangements which cover current and ex-serving members for a range of mental health conditions without the need to establish a link to their service is one example of this progress.

Current programs which address various mental health issues and provide support to ADF members throughout their military careers, including when they have returned to civilian life, include:

ADF mental health and psychology services

establishment of regional mental health teams
implementation of the mental health integration project to ensure consistency and best practice
creation of the ADF Centre for Mental Health to provide clinical advice and specialist training
establishment of the Second Opinion Clinic to help treat members with complex mental health issues

Prevention initiatives

publication of the ADF Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy
establishment of the ADF Suicide Prevention Program to ensure a comprehensive approach across the organisation
establishment of the Keep Your Mates Safe peer support program
introduction of BattleSMART (a self management and resilience training program)
introduction of ADF operational-specific mental health screening
implementation of the Mental Health Screening Continuum Project to expand current screening framework

Awareness and education programs

dissemination of ADF mental health fact sheets
creation of the annual ADF Mental Health Day
establishment of ADF mental health awareness presentations and mandatory training for all members
creation of mental health first aid courses for members
establishment of the Army Industry Partnership Initiative
introduction of workshops to assist commanders to provide support to members
creation of the ADF alcohol, tobacco and other drugs awareness program
creation of web-based ADF Health and Wellbeing Portal which is available publicly
establishment of the Chief of Army Wounded Injured and Ill Digger Forum
development of mental health mobile applications
publication of the ADF Rehabilitation Member and Family Guide
publication of the ADF Health and Recovery Commanders’ Guide

Crisis support and recovery programs

establishment and promotion of mental health and crisis support help lines
establishment of the intervention Critical Incident Mental Health Support (CIMHS) process
establishment of RESET (a coach facilitated, skills based early intervention program)
creation of the Support to Wounded Injured or Ill Program
establishment of the Soldier Recovery Centres
creation of the Army Rehabilitation through Employment Initiative
establishment of the ADF Arts for Recovery, Resilience, Teamwork and Skills Program
establishment of the ADF Rehabilitation Program.

We need to recognise that mental health problems affect our entire society, and yet for each individual the circumstances of their situation are unique and deeply personal. What might help one person may not be successful for another; that is why there are a range of support services available.

The factors that lead a person to die by suicide are complex, which is why we need a mature discussion encompassing the entire community. Together we can continue to break down the stigma that, even today, our society attaches to mental health issues so that everybody feels they are able to access the support that is available.

More information on the services available, including how to access support, is available here

The Defence All-hours Support Line (ASL) is a confidential telephone service for ADF members and their families that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling 1800 628 036.

Crisis support and confidential counselling is also available by calling the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) on 1800 011 046.

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Most ADF soldiers ‘believe Islam promotes violence and terrorism’

The vast majority of Australian Defence Force personnel believes the Muslim religion promotes ­violence and terrorism, despite “cultural sensitivity training” by the ADF to have its soldiers take the view that Islam is a religion of peace.

The bombshell new study sponsored by the army finds that such “anti-Muslim sentiments” are “probably quite widespread” among Australian frontline troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that the military’s efforts to reverse this trend are counter-productive.

The study by academic Charles Miller, published yesterday in the Australian Army Journal, was clearly perceived by top military brass as likely to be highly controversial, prompting Chief of Army General Angus Campbell to write a preamble saying his staff “have a number of opposing views on this article’s content”.

The study was financially supported by the ADF’s Army Research Scheme.

Dr Miller, who is a lecturer in Strategic and Defence Studies at the Australian National Univer­sity, writes that “in this study, I use a technique designed to ­elicit frank responses to sensitive questions — the ‘list experiment’ — to examine ADF views on Islam.”

“I find little evidence that the official ‘Islam as a religion of peace’ narrative is widely ­accepted, nor is there evidence that cultural sensitivity training has any effect,” he says.

“The best estimate … for the proportion of soldiers who have received cultural sensitivity training and who believe that the Muslim religion promotes violence and terrorism is 91 per cent.

“The corresponding figure for those who have not had cultural sensitivity training is 17 per cent.”

Dr Miller, who surveyed a sample of 182 soldiers, writes that “there are a number of issues which could arise if anti-Muslim sentiment is widespread within the defence force.

“If Australia’s Muslim community perceives the security services as inherently hostile, this may reduce the flow of intel­ligence on the activities of ­Islamic extremist organisations in Australia,” he says.

“Probably most important at present, hostility to Muslims in general could hamper the effectiveness of the ADF on deployment in the greater Middle East in a number of ways.”

To counter Islamophobic tendencies, the ADF employs cultural sensitivity training that “attempts to familiarise ADF personnel with the main ­attributes of the culture of the ­nations to which they are to be ­deployed”, Dr Miller writes.

He said the “list experiment” aims to “persuade individuals to freely express views which may be deemed socially undesirable or for which they could otherwise be punished.”

Dr Miller said more work should be done by the ADF to get a better understanding of the issue, but the problem was that “the open expression of anti-Muslim sentiment in the ADF can and has led to disciplinary charges and dismissal.”

Most ADF soldiers ‘believe Islam promotes violence and terrorism’

Australian Army Journal Autumn Edition 2016

Army vet Angus Sim exposes shocking truths about the DVA

  • By Ian McPhedran National defence writer
  • : News Corp Australia Network
  • August 25, 2015 10:00PM

click here for full article

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Australian Iraq war veteran Angus Sim on duty in Iraq. Picture: Supplied Source: Supplied

AN unofficial survey by an East Timor and Iraq War veteran flatly contradicts an official $174,500 taxpayer-funded survey by the Department of Veterans Affairs that sings its praises and claims a 90 per cent satisfaction rate.

Angus Sim claims he lost his lucrative offshore drilling job after the DVA contacted his employer to verify that he was off work and eligible for his veteran’s payment.

He had signed a statutory declaration swearing that he was off work so that he would be eligible for incapacity payments, but Canberra-based bureaucrats insisted on contacting his employer.

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Australian East Timor and Iraq war veteran Angus Sim (left) with a truck bomb that exploded near the Australian Embassy in Baghdad. Picture: Supplied Source: Supplied

Mr Sim suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and was so outraged by his experience that he formulated his own survey of DVA clients to find out what veterans really thought about the department that allocates about $13 billion of taxpayer dollars each year.

The results from 730 respondents bear no resemblance to the official DVA 2014 client service survey of 3000 people that showed satisfaction rates of above 90 per cent and included comments such as: “Excellent service and good communications.

“They really look after people. Overwhelming — they listen so well. It’s like a family.”

Mr Sim’s survey included 41 questions and found that between 58 per cent and 73 per cent of clients under the three Veterans Acts had spent more than six months fighting for their claims.

Between 28 per cent and 54 per cent said they were “extremely unsatisfied” with DVA’s service and just three to 10 per cent said they were “extremely satisfied”.

In one of the most disturbing findings it found that between 63 per cent and 84 per cent of clients had been given conflicting information by DVA staff.

One of the worst areas was incapacity payments where between 77 per cent and 80 per cent said DVA had caused them hardship by delaying the payments.

Between 81 per cent and 94 per cent of those surveyed supported a fresh inquiry into the DVA’s treatment of veterans.


By contrast the official survey reported that 89 per cent of clients were satisfied or very satisfied with the service DVA provided and 90 per cent agreed that DVA was committed to providing a high quality service.

When News Corp questioned the credibility of publishing only positive comments from the survey DVA insisted that the, “comments published were demonstrative of resoundingly positive feedback received in the client survey.”

The Department refused to provide a detailed breakdown for “commercial” reasons of the age of respondents or a list of the questions asked by the survey company ORIMA Research.

In stark contrast with the taxpayer-funded official survey comments from Mr Sim’s respondents were far more damning.

Here is a sample; “They treat you like you are trying to get something for nothing and that you should be grateful for their ‘assistance’.

“Woeful at best, criminally negligent if they’re honest.

“It was demeaning and enhanced my PTSD symptoms causing my family and I huge distress.”

Quite simply, the MRCA Act (that was introduced in 2004) is not working as well as it should be for our younger veterans.

Army chief lets fly at Diggers’ assassin

AUSTRALIA’S top soldier has voiced the anger of his troops at the assassination of three Diggers by a rogue Afghan soldier, branding it “murder” at a time when the men were defenceless.

Chief of the Army Lieutenant General David Morrison spoke out as bereaved family members joined military top brass, representatives and members of the fallen Diggers’ units and a guard of honour to mark their sad arrival home at the Amberley Air Base, west of Brisbane.

“Let’s not gloss over this in any way, shape or form,” General Morrison told reporters, as relatives of the men spent some private time with their flag-draped caskets.

“What happened to the three soldiers who have just returned to Australia here at Amberley this afternoon was murder.

“Murder when they were defenceless at the end of a long day of training the Afghan National Army, which is an absolute requirement if Afghanistan is to be given the type of security that we all want it to have.”

It is the second time that the army chief has presided over a repatriation ceremony for Australian victims of so-called “green-on-blue” killings by Afghan soldiers.

And General Morrison said he recognised that the deaths of Lance Corporal Stjepan “Rick” Milosevic, Sapper James Martin and Private Robert Poate had provoked legitimate debate about the ongoing presence of Australian troops in Afghanistan.

“But I would like to just say this: a debate is absolutely appropriate in a great democracy such as ours, and in fact if there wasn’t a debate we wouldn’t be exercising that democracy.”

However, it was not appropriate that the army joined the public discussion about its role in Afghanistan, he added.

“The mission is the one that has been given to us by the democratically elected government of this country and I support the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in their stance here 100 per cent,” General Morrison said.

“I am deeply sorry for what has occurred to these soldiers and, of course, to their families.

“But I am also very proud of the way the soldiers of the Australian Army are performing in Afghanistan now in the service of their nation.”

Mentoring mission changes hands in Afghanistan

TOWNSVILLE based soldiers are now training and mentoring the Afghan National Army’s 4th Brigade, 205 Hero Corps after a recent Transfer of Authority ceremony in Tarin Kot.

A mentoring task force based on the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, have replaced approximately 730 Brisbane-based personnel from 8th/9th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (8/9 RAR), who have returned home after a five month deployment as Mentoring Task Force – Four (MTF-4).

The new task force took on the responsibility at the official Transfer of Authority ceremony held at Multi National Base – Tarin Kot on 24 June 2012.

The ADF has moved to change the task force name from the Mentoring Task Force to 3RAR Task Group (TG) to accord with ISAF naming conventions for transition.

Lieutenant Colonel Kahlil Fegan, Commanding Officer of MTF-4, said his team had helped the ANA make significant progress in the past five months.

“Security across Uruzgan province has improved as a result of the increased confidence and competence of the ANA 4th Brigade and its Spring Offensive was particularly successful,” LTCOL Fegan said.

LTCOL Fegan said the relationship between MTF-4 personnel and their 4th Brigade colleagues had been integral to the success of the mission.

“Our mentoring relationship was based on mutual respect, trust and friendship,” he said

“This trust and respect was forged in combat and in the face of adversity – the manner in which Australian and Afghan soldiers went to great lengths to protect each other from unnecessary risk has been most impressive.”

“Working with the ANA and seeing its steady progress has proved to be a highlight for many of our soldiers.”

LTCOL Fegan said the steady progress has put the 4th Brigade in a good position to take responsibility for security in the province.

“I am confident that the ANA 4th Brigade will be ready for transition to security lead in accordance with the established timelines,” he said.

“I am immensely proud of the work my men and women have achieved in building the confidence and competence of the 4th Brigade.

“Several successful recent clearance operations led by the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) are testament to the growing capability of the Afghan National Army, not to mention the dedication and hard work of its mentors.”

LTCOL Fegan said the planning, building and manning of a new Patrol Base at Chaka Juy in eastern Uruzgan province was of particular importance.

“The ANA 4th Brigade determined a need to secure a key supply route from Tarin Kot to Khas Uruzgan, and as a result they established a Patrol Base along the route,” he said.

“They have since manned the Patrol Base and it is clear that their presence is having a positive effect on security in the area with an increase in local traffic security along the route.

“MTF-4 personnel assisted in upgrading the route, transporting stores and equipment, provided specialist trade skills at the build site and mentored security patrols in the area.”

The Brisbane-based 8/9 RAR leave the mission in good hands, with 3RAR soldiers, led by LTCOL Trent Scott, already on the job.

“I have no doubt that the new Task Force will continue to build on the good relationship established by all those before them,” LTCOL Fegan said.

“It has been a rewarding deployment and our men and women are looking forward to returning to their loved ones.”

Media Notes:
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Media contact:
Defence Media Operations – (02) 6127 1999