In a daring act of defiance, Andrew Gee, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel, stood ready to resign over a budget discrepancy that would strip DVA of the means to address the backlog of 60,000 unprocessed claims for disability compensation and support.
Noting the extent of the problem and the long history of the issues within DVA, Gee labelled the situation within his department as a “national disgrace.” He also highlighted that some veterans have been waiting years for their claims to be finalised.
Although Gee has temporarily forced the hand of the Prime Minister and Treasure to support his demand for more funding, its’ unlikely his colleagues will reward him for his courage in the long term. Regardless, Andrew Gee should find comfort in the newfound respect and admiration he has won from within the veteran community. He did something that his predecessors were afraid to do, he stood steadfast and accepted his moral obligation as a minister.
While it is unlikely that veterans’ affairs will be a major factor the outcome next election, Australian veterans ought to be thinking about how to harness the power of their collective interests and what to demanded from the government of the day. Fixing DVA needs to be at the top of the list.
Should Labor win the next election, Shayne Neumann will find himself in the hot seat vacated by a steely minister prepared to challenge the status quo by putting his own career on the line in the process. As a result of Gee’s actions last week, Neumann would need to tackle the task with at least equal vigour, and he will also need to ensure that Labor has enough money in the kitty for sorting out DVA.
Regardless of what happens next, Andrew Gee has set an important example of what it means to accept ministerial responsibility, and it’s not just about toeing the line.