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Monday, June 24, 2024

Dumped minister appeals for work to continue on veterans’ reforms

In the wake of his dumping from the portfolio of Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel, Darren Chester has issued a heartfelt statement to his supporters.

The long-serving minister has been replaced by NSW MP, Andrew Gee as part of new Nationals leader, Barnaby Joyce’s frontbench reshuffle.

Members of Australia’s veterans community had warned Mr Joyce and Prime Minister Scott Morrison against removing Mr Chester, given a royal commission into veterans suicides will be conducted in the near future.

“The issue is more important than any minister,” Mr Joyce said.

“Darren has absolute competencies, and so do so many of my colleagues. I’m going to compliment Darren for the work that he has done, but that is the process of politics.”

In a lengthy statement released online, Mr Chester said he had entered politics to make a difference and over the past three years his focus had been to save lives and transform the system of veteran support.

“We have invested heavily in veterans employment and transition services, while boosting mental health care and developing a network of well-being centres. Our introduction of the Veterans’ Recognition Package and Veterans’ Covenant, along with the redevelopment of the Australian War Memorial, will help define how we respect and remember our service personnel in the future,” Mr Chester said.

“And as a renowned dog lover, the successful introduction of psychiatric assistance dogs for veterans experiencing PTSD, will remain one of my proudest achievements.”

He said he had been incredibly humbled by the support expressed both publicly and privately in recent days by veterans organisations and individuals.

“There was still plenty of work to be done but that task will fall to the incoming Minister. I urge the ex-service community to provide the same constructive feedback, practical advice and input that my team benefited from.”

“The Royal Commission is a chance to unite the veterans community and everyone has a chance to have their say.

“As a back bencher, I want to see the Coalition Government maintain the momentum for reform, and build on all the good work we are doing while the Royal Commission runs its course.

“I will continue to advocate strongly for Australians to understand that the majority of veterans will transition successfully to civilian life. The myth that all veterans are broken is damaging to their well-being and creates a vicious circle of despondency and desperation.”

He said that Australia as a “grateful nation” must support those who need our help but at the same time promote the many achievements of our veteran community.

“I also want to recognise the extraordinary leadership of the Australian Defence Force and the many thousands of serving personnel I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.”

“Three years ago I started saying ‘thank you for your service’ at every public event, not to embarrass you, but to remind those of us who have never served about the risks you take on our behalf. You keep us safe in an ever-changing world and you are the first people we turn to when the job gets too big for local agencies.

“As a civilian, it has been a privilege to see you training and deploying at home and abroad.

“In my own electorate, with your work on Operation Bushfire Assist and more recently with the flood and storm recovery, I have been constantly impressed by the professionalism, determination and resilience you display.

“The character values of always looking after your mates, and acting with dignity and respect in adversity, have set a standard which I hope to emulate.”

Mr Chester said it had been “the greatest honour and privilege of my working life to spend time with you and represent your interests within the Federal Government”.

“Thank you for your service. Finally, to my wife Julie and my four beautiful children. Ministerial responsibility takes hours away from family life and the biggest benefit of being sacked from Cabinet for the second time is that we get to spend more time together in the place we love. I love Gippsland, and I’m not going anywhere.”

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