Formally introduced in November 2019, the Veterans’ Covenant promised to be a practical demonstration of respect and recognition for veterans’ service, especially in formal settings.
How does it work?
It was my understanding that when speechmakers first addressed an audience, an acknowledgement of “the traditional owners of the land on which we meet” would be followed by acknowledgement of those who protect and have protected it.
In the almost two years since its introduction, I have only witnessed a couple of occasions when the ‘covenant’ was read in the appropriate circumstance.
I often thought to raise this as an issue over those many months – but didn’t, because I thought I’d give it time to percolate through the system.
However, I received a ministerial press release today that resulted in me spitting coffee at the computer screen and prompted me to write this piece – after I calmed my nerves.
Addressing the Defence Reserves Association 2022 National Conference in Melbourne today by video link, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel Matt Keogh began his video-cast speech in the traditional manner – “by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today… [and] the traditional owners of the land from which I am beaming to you…”
Two Aboriginal nations acknowledged – fair enough, under the circumstances.
But Mr Keogh then went on to say – “As the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel, I also pay my respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who have served our nation in the past and continue to do so today“.
And there went my coffee!
Surely, as the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel, Mr Keogh should have paid his respects to all the men and women he was addressing – who were, as he said himself, “from every corner of our country, from almost every profession and trade, and from every stage of working life, many of you with your own full-time ADF career experience as well“.
Instead, the Veterans’ Covenant was missing in action, ignored by he who should be the office-holder of primary carriage.
But worse, in a room full of people, all of who have served or are currently serving in our military forces, Mr Keogh singled out just one small cohort to thank for their service – thereby failing to acknowledge the vast majority of those he was directly addressing.
The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel surely slighted that conference room full of the very people he is charged with protecting and advocating on behalf of, while clumsily trying to impress with how ‘PC’ he is.
As a result, the message he was trying to deliver has been overshadowed by the careless gaffe – at least on this platform.