Opening of the Soldier On Robert Poate Reintegration and Recovery Centre

February 26, 2016

Well thank you very much John, and its, your leadership and Danielle’s in founding Soldier On is so inspiring. You’re right, we’ve known each other for a while now and I was introduced to you, Lucy and I were introduced to you by our son-in-law James who like you is a veteran of both Afghanistan and Iraq and the work you’ve done, the leadership you’ve shown, has been really transformative.

You can see the results of that here today and right around the country with what you’re doing for Australia’s veterans. So thank you. Can we applaud the leadership of John and Danielle.

Now it’s the, John has acknowledged the many leaders and dignitaries, civil and military, I won't go through the whole list again, but it says, John, Danielle, something about - quite a lot, about the admiration and support your work has. That you have the Government represented, the Defence Minister and our Ministerial colleagues, the Opposition, the Shadow Minister for Defence Materiel and his colleagues, leaders of our Diplomatic Corps, we're all here. We recognise the great work you're doing and that's why you have such great support.

Now, it's my privilege to launch the Robert Poate Reintegration and Recovery Centre. On 29 August 2012, while serving for their country, in Uruzgan Province, Private Robert Poate, Sapper James Martin and Lance Corporal Stjepan Milosevic made the ultimate sacrifice for Australia. Their commitment and our commitment to Afghanistan has been the longest in our military history.

Over 25,000 Australians have served there since 2001. Forty one Australians were killed on operations in Afghanistan and many others were wounded.

We join Robert's parents Hugh and Janny here today in honouring the memory, the service, the sacrifice of their son. A young man of whom they and all of us are immensely proud, Australia's finest. A young man who was an accomplished, talented, skilled, dedicated professional soldier, a natural leader and a great teammate whose sense of fun made life in Uruzgan  Province quite a bit more bearable. He brought light. He brought light and good humour to very challenging times and his comrades loved him for that. So once again, we express to you, the Poate family, the condolences of the Australian people, our love and our sympathy on your loss.

Now I visited Afghanistan last month, where I attended the Afghan National Army Officer Academy at Camp Qargha. I saw there first-hand the work of Australian servicemen and women where Australian mentoring teams provide training to develop the Afghan security forces. Just as Robert and his battalion did those young men and women are working hard for a stronger, more secure Afghanistan, because a more secure Afghanistan makes the world more secure and it makes Australia more secure, it makes us all safer.

Robert was proud of his work there, as we are today of all of the ADF personnel who have served in Afghanistan and in other theatres, including Iraq, which I also visited, carrying out the defence of Australia around the world.

Now here in Canberra where he was born and raised Robert's memory is commemorated, his service is commemorated in this centre, helping veterans from this part of Australia make the transition from the warzone to life back home. More than 300 regular veterans are registered for support at this centre and 275 seek assistance every month.

Again I congratulate John Bale and his team at Soldier On for expanding the services here as we’ve just seen so veterans can access full-time psychology services and ex-service organisations can now operate from offices here to better assist veterans and their families. There are as we've heard from Robert Pickersgill writing workshops, music lessons, a library, photography courses, yoga classes, a gym and employment support to reintegrate veterans into the community.

Soldier On recognises a holistic approach to healing and reintegration is absolutely necessary. Now the Government takes the same approach as you've seen in the Defence White Paper which the Defence Minister and I launched yesterday. We’re committed to investing in better health systems, including a $133 million e-health centre for ADF members throughout their career, particularly those who've been wounded or injured, including we’re adding additional medical personnel.

It is critical that we do not ever forget that we best honour the veterans of 1916 by caring for the veterans of 2016. That's how we honour that ANZAC memory best, most powerfully. The grandsons and the great-grandsons and the great-granddaughters of the Diggers of 100 years ago, they are the veterans we care for today and we do that very well as we, when we support Soldier On and I'd encourage everybody, everyone who's watching this here today or elsewhere, to consider supporting Soldier On. It is a great charity and it's worthy of private and indeed of course public support.

Now, across a century of service Australians at home have always been prepared to volunteer, to support, our returned armed services men and women. That spirit is embodied in Soldier On and its work and so I commend John's work, that of his wife Danielle, Cavin Wilson, who founded Soldier On in 2012. As John described I've had the honour to meet with him many times in my electorate, in Wentworth at North Bondi RSL the centre of many progressive ideas in terms of supporting veterans and their reintegration and of course, here in Canberra in Parliament. John's own experience of war, his commitment to support others who've lived through its traumas has led to the establishment of centres like this across Australia and I have no doubt there’ll be more. The number of veterans that Soldier On is assisting has jumped from 200 a year to 500 a month. So it is my great honour, as Prime Minister, to declare the Robert Poate Reintegration and Recovery Centre officially open. Thank you.

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