A message from our Director
Welcome to the March edition of the DAVLS newsletter.
Here in Sydney, we’ve had a month of World Pride Sydney combined with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. It was an amazing atmosphere and good to see a float from Defence in the parade.
What a long way we’ve come.
I urge to you listen to Yvonne Sillett’s moving story of discrimination in the military in the 1980s because she was gay. The fact that her career was cut short was both shameful and a tragic waste of talent.
Her short podcast is the first of a series we are producing called Stories From the Frontline. See below for a link.
It’s been a busy month for us with outreach, a movie screening in Victoria, new staff and more.
As we fast approach the deadlines for registering and private session (28 April) and for submission (13 October), we are stepping up a gear to ensure the no-one is left out.
It feels like we’re entering the final straight.
This is a unique opportunity to change the way we treat ADF personnel and veterans for the better, so please spread the word.
Proud First Nations champion
COL WATEGO followed in a proud family tradition when he joined the Army. Now he is part of the DAVLS Expert Advisory Group.
"We chose to join the Defence Force because of our passion to serve and protect."
For Col Watego, the Royal Commission is all about family.
His career as a gunner started in 1974 in the Army Reserve, when he and his brother took their enlistment letters to the Kelvin Grove Barracks in Brisbane, and ended when he reached his compulsory retirement age in 2018.
The brothers were meant to report to the 9th Royal Queensland Regiment (Infantry) Orderly Room. However, being unfamiliar with ADF acronyms, they went to the wrong building by mistake and found themselves enlisting in the 5th Field Regiment, Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery.
Passion to serve
That was the start of Col’s 43-year career as a ‘Gunner’, transferring to the Australian Regular Army (ARA) and conducting many overseas deployments including active service in East Timor.
“We chose to join the Defence Force because of our passion to serve and protect,” Col said.
“But for me personally, it was an honour to follow in the footsteps of my ancestors who served.
“As I reflect on my service as a proud Indigenous veteran soldier, I now realise that on the day I enlisted into the ADF, I also enlisted my family.
“I believe that most people have some understanding of the significance of what it means for Defence personnel to go into combat - to be away for long periods at a time and conduct the essential high-risk training required to prepare for combat.
Effect on families
“But I also believe that when someone joins the ADF, there’s not enough awareness of the impact and the effect that service can have on their families.
“Too frequently, my observations have been that our Defence personnel experience high rates of breakdown in family relationships.
“As an organisation, divorce rates are sky high, and this breakdown in family relationships can and does impact on the mental health of not only the veterans, but their families as well.
“Without the appropriate social and emotional wellbeing professional support, sadly, it can and has resulted in suicide.
“This needs to be addressed by the Royal Commission.”
As a very proud First Nations Australian, Col worked for more than a decade in the development and delivery of ADF Career Pathway Programs encouraging and equipping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
"Enlistment provided an opportunity for our First Nations men and women to proudly represent their families and communities whilst contributing to the Defence of our great nation,” Col said.
“Not only is it an excellent medium for recognition and reconciliation, but for many it also meant that they too could follow in the footsteps of their ancestors and family who served.”
However, he said that for many First Nations service personnel, there were special challenges that still needed to be addressed.
“I remember being called in to talk to a soldier who had joined the ADF from a remote community, but he hadn’t yet been through cultural initiation,” Col said.
“His family needed him to come home to Country for Ceremony.
“This Ceremony could potentially take several weeks but unfortunately there is no provision for full-time serving ADF Personnel to complete cultural Initiation. For some of our cultures, not completing cultural initiation is extremely serious.
“If he didn’t go back, he could be ostracised from his own family, and even his own mob. Then he wouldn’t be able to go back to his own country without consequences. This stuff is real.”
Unlike some others on the DAVLS Expert Advisory Group, Col’s experience of military life was overwhelmingly positive.
“I have seen a lot of changes over the years and respectfully pay tribute to our Defence leaders, at the highest levels, for their commitment to create equal opportunities for our First Nations peoples,” he said.
“I am also extremely optimistic that moving forward will not only result in the implementation of outcomes to provide the best possible support for our ex-serving, currently serving, and future serving Defence personnel, but essential support to their families as well.
“It has been an honour and a privilege for me to have had the opportunity to serve as an Indigenous veteran in the Defence of our great nation, and to proudly follow in the footsteps of my ancestors, my father and my family.”
JIM MOSS worked in a variety of roles, including rigger and union organiser before he joined DAVLS as a lawyer in Western Australia.
"I am forever grateful that our Defence Force, along with a coalition of partners, stood up to despotic dictator Saddam Hussein."
What brought you in to working with veterans? What do you like about military and ex-military people?
I have a long-standing appreciation of the work carried out by our Defence Force.
My appreciation of the Defence Force stems from my teenage years living in Saudi Arabia as an expat.
I am forever grateful that our Defence Force, along with a coalition of partners, stood up to despotic dictator Saddam Hussein when he disregarded international law by invading Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia with the same.
I recall the day in 1990 when Iraq commenced its aggression against Kuwait. My highly concerned parents along with other members of the expat community met to discuss escape routes through the dessert should Iraqi forces invade.
Needless to say, there was a sense of panic in the community, with many evacuating on the next available flights.
However, despite the risks, my parents decided to stay following the rapid deployment of coalition forces, which many believe influenced the Iraqi forces’ decision to halt their advance into Saudi Arabia.
The mobilisation and deployment of coalition forces was nothing short of impressive on a grand scale and gave the community and wider population a strong sense of security and appreciation.
When the coalition commenced Operation Desert Storm, the number of Scud missiles that were fired directly at my community was drastically reduced through the efforts of the Australian soldiers.
Their efforts saved countless lives as the missiles were inaccurate and Saddam Hussein had little regard for the civilian communities in and around his intended targets.
The security, peace of mind, and relief they brought to my family and community was immeasurable and we will never forget that.
What do you enjoy about your role?
It is a privilege to have an opportunity to work with military and ex-military people in my capacity as a lawyer.
I enjoy working with people to solve problems and to help them reach the best possible outcomes.
What did you do before working as a lawyer with DAVLS?
Before working for DAVLS, I worked as an employment lawyer with the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union.
I predominantly acted for union members who did not receive their lawful entitlements under their relevant contract, award, industrial agreement and/or national employment standards.
Before my legal career, I worked in a number of roles including:
- facilities manager;
- occupational safety and health manager; and
What would you like the Royal Commission to achieve?
I would like the Royal Commission to hear from as many serving, ex-serving Defence personnel and their families as possible, so that it can make the most informed recommendations to government.
What are your strategies for managing stress and burnout?
Spending quality time with my wife and children. In between driving kids around to footy, dance, cadets, beach etc, I enjoy being in the outdoors, bush walking and ocean-based activities.
Stories from the Frontline
We’re proud to announce the first of our podcast series, Stories from the Frontline.
The short audio productions – around five to six minutes each – showcase first-person stories from veterans with a DAVLS connection.
The first story will be familiar to regular readers of this newsletter.
To coincide with World Pride 2023 in Sydney, Yvonne Sillett tells the story of how her beloved military career was forced to an abrupt end due to her sexuality.
You can listen to her story here. Look out on our website and in this newsletter for more Stories from the Frontline.
Outside the wire - outreach across the nation
The NSW DAVLS team caught up face-to-face in Sydney.
DAVLS solicitors Gerry Stapleton and Verity Mannix from our Sydney team flew into Darwin on February 20 to meet many of their clients face-to-face and to spread the word about the Royal Commission and our service.
They attended a morning tea at the Billeroy House Veterans & Families Community Centre near RAAF Base Darwin. At that location, they were given a demonstration of a new chair lift that enables veterans with a disability to attend their morning teas held upstairs
Our team members also had a catchup with staff at Mates4Mates in Palmerston, meeting its new manager, Erin Leach, and counsellor Scott Healing.
They visited the Community Corrections offices in Palmerston and Casuarina and gave a presentation to staff about the services we offer. They were a bit late to their Casuarina meeting after trying to rescue someone’s pet dingo which had got out and was wandering the streets of suburban Nightcliffe.
Lastly, they met up with veterans at the Friday cuppa catch-up at The Mad Snake Café.
They spoke to café owner, veteran Sam Westin, about our assistance for people who want to tell their stories to the Royal Commission.
We will be back in Darwin soon to keep on working with those who want to tell their stories to that enquiry.
DAVLS lawyer Mitch Caubo on outreach in Karratha.
DAVLS in the South West
In late January, our lawyers Mitch Caubo and Jim Moss hit the road, driving from Perth to Busselton in the South West region of WA.
While there, they delivered a presentation to members of the Busselton RSL and visited the regional Legal Aid WA office in Bunbury.
Unfortunately, Mitch and Jim had no time to enjoy the stunning beaches that border Geographe Bay, but they were fortunate to be given a tour at Bunbury Regional Prison and an opportunity to speak to senior members of the prison staff about DAVLS and the Royal Commission.
In addition to prisoners, current and former serving members of the ADF form a significant proportion of prison staff. Going forward, getting the word out to these veterans - inmates and staff - will be a key focus for the DAVLS team in WA.
DAVLS in the Pilbara
Earlier this month, Mitch Caubo spent four days in Karratha and Roebourne (about 1500km north of Perth in WA’s Pilbara region) spreading the word about DAVLS and meeting with stakeholders.
Mitch ran a stall at three Aboriginal Justice Open Days hosted by the WA Department of Justice, where he met veterans and people who were either family members or close friends of those who had served.
Undaunted by the temperature threatening to reach 40 degrees, our intrepid WA lawyer also ventured out of the air-conditioning to visit the Karratha RSL and drop into several First Nations support organisations.
Mitch also met with the CO of the Pilbara Regiment to talk about the current supports that are available and how DAVLS can best assist members of the unit and their families to participate in the Royal Commission.
For a regiment made up largely of reservists, the Pilbara Regiment is very active, being responsible for nearly 5000 kilometres of coastline and over 500,000 square kilometres of WA.
The unit regularly conducts reconnaissance and surveillance operations which are akin to overseas deployments in their security-sensitive nature, remote location and inherent risk to personnel.
These factors, combined with the fact that many support services are only available in Perth, make the mental health and wellbeing of its members a key focus for the Pilbara Regiment.
Over 100 clients assisted in WA
This month DAVLS assisted its hundredth client in WA!
Clients have received tailored legal advice, assistance in drafting submissions, referrals to other services, and assistance with private sessions in which people can speak directly with a Royal Commissioner.
A broad cross-section of people has been helped. It’s a reflection on the accessibility of DAVLS that we’ve been able to assist people from each service branch. We have also helped permanent and reservist personnel, veterans and non-veterans, incarcerated people, men and women, First Nations people, and members of the LGBTQIA+ communities.
New to the team - Andrea McGarry.
After a quiet Christmas period, DAVLS Tasmania is returning to full steam.
January saw us assist veterans at several private sessions, with all clients saying they found the process very helpful.
In February we welcomed a new solicitor, Andrea McGarry, to our team.
Andrea has moved to Tasmania from the Gold Coast, where she worked for the past few years in the property section of a Queensland law firm. She has family connections with the ADF and is looking forward to working with DAVLS clients.
Andrea has valuable experience that she brings to this role and will be working Monday afternoons, Tuesday and Wednesday. Welcome Andrea!
With the deadline for applications for private sessions coming on April 28, the Victorian team has gone into overdrive with community outreach around the state.
It all kicked off at Cinema Nova on February 26, where our Victorian team led a forum of leading figures in the Veterans community in a panel discussion about the Royal Commission.
The event concluded with a screening of Living starring Bill Nighy. It was great to meet up with so many veterans and members of the public at the event.
Our outreach continues with the same format of a panel discussion and a movie at cinemas throughout Victoria starting with Ballarat on March 5, Mildura March 12, Sale March 15, Ararat March 21, Horsham March 22, Warrnambool March 26, Mansfield March 31, and Eaglehawk April 5.
It’s great for the team to get out and meet veterans, current service people and their families across Victoria in a social setting and to let them know about our work and the Royal Commission.
Rachael Taylor and Isabelle Whyte at an outreach in the ACT.
Our ACT solicitors had a busy February, with a large focus on outreach events, both locally and interstate.
Our ACT team members Rachael Taylor and Isabelle Whyte attended the ACT ADF Transition Day that attracted more than 200 ADF attendees.
Rach and Issy were able to engage with many transitioning Defence members and their supporters to explain our service and how to get involved with the Royal Commission.
Clients often discuss the transition process within their Royal Commission submissions and outline what challenges, if any, they faced.
Rach also attended the ANU O-Week Market Day with Legal Aid ACT. Their stall received more than 350 visitors, and it was an excellent opportunity to spread the word to younger family members of current and ex-serving Defence members.
She also attended the O-Day at the Bruce campus of the Canberra Institute of Technology.
Isabelle travelled interstate to Nowra on the NSW South Coast to provide outreach services to the local defence and veteran community. This event also included members of our Sydney team including Karen and Rachael Vincent.
Over the course of three days, we spoke to a variety of veteran and Defence organisation and support groups. They included, but were not limited to, the Kookaburra Retreat – Shoalhaven Defence Families Association, Veterans Motorcycle Club South Coast Chapter, and the Keith Payne VC Veterans Benefit Group.
The importance of these groups cannot be understated and it was extremely evident within the community. It was a privilege to be a part of these vital gatherings.
We also attended an outreach meeting hosted by Solider On, saw some familiar faces from Open Arms, met with the Defence Member and Family Support Branch, and visited the office of MP Fiona Phillips.
As well as visiting different groups in the area, DAVLS held an afternoon tea meet-and-greet at the Nowra Veteran Wellbeing Centre on February 16. There was great interest in our service from prospective clients and other service providers.
Our ACT team hopes to continue its presence within the Nowra community and will be returning to Nowra in March to help local clients with submission preparation and drafting.
In the ACT, we continue to assist our clients, particularly in relation to preparing submissions and requesting private sessions with Royal Commissioners.
Calls continue to the DAVLS helpline
We provide information, referrals and help with submissions and private sessions through our free DAVLS helpline on 1800 33 1800, and call volumes continue to rise.
The Info Line is staffed by a specialist team that is highly experienced in assisting current and former members of the Defence Forces, as well as their family members.
On your initial call to this service, we can:
- provide introductory information about engaging with the Royal Commission
- direct you to our free resources
- arrange to post information to you
- book you a free appointment with one of our lawyers, anywhere in Australia (these appointments are confidential and there’s no obligation on you to act as result of that appointment).
When you call the Info Line, you can remain anonymous if you wish.
The help provided by the Info Line, and by all our staff, is free, confidential and completely independent of the Royal Commission, DVA and ADF.
If you don’t feel like talking, you can also find online information about our services by visiting us at www.defenceveteranslegalservice.org.au
If you call out of hours, please leave a message so that we can call you back.
DAVLS in your community
Our lawyers are working with local ex-service and veteran support organisations across the country, delivering community presentations and attending community events. You can catch up on a recent webinar on our website. If you would like DAVLS to deliver a presentation or attend an event in your community, either in person or virtually, contact Karen Mills at DAVLS@legalaid.nsw.gov.au.
We can answer your questions about engaging with the Royal Commission, what is involved and how it can benefit you and others in a friendly, relaxed environment. Depending on your event, we can also include opportunities for confidential, one-on-one discussions.
We have been attending all Royal Commission hearings and staffing an information stall at the hearing venues. These have been a valuable point of connection with interested members of the Defence and veteran community and an opportunity for information exchange with members of the Royal Commission team.
We are working closely with support organisations across Australia to spread the word about the specialist services we provide. You know your community and your community’s needs. Through this work, we have identified some groups who may face additional barriers when it comes to engaging with this Royal Commission:
Defence families – We are staffing stalls at family fun days, giving presentations to families through wellbeing centres and events, speaking about the value of families’ experiences and delivering presentations in the community that highlight the important role family members can play in shaping the Royal Commission’s recommendations and legacy.
First Nations people – Through close consultation with First Nations communities, we have developed a range of resources including posters and brochures targeted to First Nations people.
Veterans in prison – We have developed posters for display in correctional facilities and are working to ensure people in prison can access our services wherever they are in Australia, including by offering a separate phone line for prisoner contact to ensure calls are answered as soon as possible and to allow a quality service to be delivered in the limited time prisoners have for phone calls. Follow-up services will be delivered via audio-visual connections.
First Nations resources
The Royal Commission has produced several new resources to support and encourage First Nations people to share their stories. The Royal Commission wants to hear from serving or ex-serving First Nations people about their experience with the Navy, Army or Air Force, including family members. Submissions are open until 13 October 2023.
Resources can be found by clicking here.
Future hearings and dates for your diary
The Royal Commission has held public hearings in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Townsville, Hobart, Darwin and Wagga Wagga.
The Royal Commission will be in Perth in the first half of 2023 and Melbourne and Adelaide in the second half of 2023. Exact dates will be published on the Royal Commission website when confirmed.
Commissioners will travel to New Zealand and the United States in the first half of 2023, to learn about these countries’ military mental health and wellbeing policies and approaches.
Roundtable discussions, stakeholder reference group meetings, and private sessions will continue to be held in 2023 and Commissioners will continue to visit Australian Defence Force bases, review submissions and conduct research.
Key dates to be aware of:
28 April 2023 – deadline to register for a private session (sessions run until December 2023).
13 October 2023 – submissions close.
17 June 2024 - final Royal Commission report due.
Many of our resources are available for download from our website. We are also happy to send out supplies for you to share.
We have additional promotional materials if you can help us get information out about our free services
To order free resources, including posters, brochures, wallet cards and factsheets, or inquire about promotion, please contact us at DAVLS@legalaid.nsw.gov.au.