Heads Up for the New Veterans’ Minister

Opinion Columnist – Ross Eastgate OAM 18/02/16

Ross Eastgate

Of all the attributes applicable to those who serve, the most prized is loyalty. It is not given unconditionally but earned, and it is a two way street. It also starts at the top.

Leaders who are loyal to those they command will receive the same in return. The opposite is also true.

There are few if any veterans lamenting former DVA minister Stuart Robert’s political demise for failing to properly declare a China visit while junior defence minister. Those who hoped having one of their own as minister would provide a sympathetic hearing and a strong advocate in government were subsequently disappointed as it became increasingly clear Robert had little real interest in those issues concerning veterans.

The wider veteran community quickly saw through Robert’s disinterested facade of self-interest.

Nor were they impressed when he accepted both Human Services and DVA ministries.

Despite claims he was the most capable person for the dual role, veterans were concerned he would be the most acceptable if not malleable choice to ultimately merge the separate responsibilities to the detriment of veterans’ needs.  Robert’s acceptance was seen as disloyal.
Incoming minister Dan Tehan starts with a clean sheet.

Dan Tehan

David Hawker, his predecessor in the Victorian Mallee-based seat of Wannon demonstrated great empathy for veterans. The less said about their predecessor’s interest in those who served the better.

Perhaps some gratuitous advice for the new minister might help him succeed in the role.
Firstly, listen to veterans.
They are trained to quickly condense complex situations into precise detail, draw conclusions, then make and give plans in short order.
Do not confuse their apparent bluntness with rudeness. It is simple honesty without obfuscation, embellishment or flourish.
They will ask you for no more than they believe they and their mates deserve, but they will ask with passion. The position they present is the position they have arrived at after careful consideration and from which they will usually not be swayed.
Do not dismiss them out of hand. Respond to all their requests and keep them informed. Be honest in return. They are nothing if not persistent if they feel their requests have been unduly neglected or dismissed.

Respect them for who they are and what they have done. Like loyalty, respect will be returned in spades.
Engage with them at every opportunity. You will develop their trust if you listen, discuss, argue by all means but respond to what they say.
Promise no more than you can realistically offer but in turn engage ruthlessly with soulless bureaucrats who will always attempt to argue for less than the lowest common denominator.

They may not vote in your electorate, but they vote, they care and they lobby among themselves.
It’s a team thing and the team is central to the ADF ethos.
All for one and one for all.

The veteran community is currently bruised and angry by what they see as unconscionable disloyalty from some of their own.
Trust, respect, listen, empathise, and loyalty will be your reward.

This article was first published in The Townsville Bulletin