The minister in charge of war veterans has admitted he has no idea how many Diggers are living in Australia.
Since 2001, 41 Australians have been killed in Afghanistan with another 249 Defence Force personnel injured in the U.S.-led campaign against Islamist Taliban militants.
An unknown number of past and present soldiers are continuing to suffer from post-traumatic stress, even though Australia’s sense of national pride for the past 114 years has been defined by the sacrifice of the Anzacs during World War I.
Despite that, Veterans Affairs Minister Darren Chester has admitted the government is unaware how many Australians have served in the military.
‘We actually don’t know every veteran in Australia,’ he told Sky News on Tuesday.
‘The only veterans we know in Australia are those who’ve registered with the Department of Veterans Affairs and are receiving some level of support.’
Mr Chester told Sky News interviewer David Speers the next Census in 2021 should feature a new question.
‘I believe we should have, on the next Census, a question in relation to, “Have you ever served in the military?” so we get a better handle on the exact number of veterans in our community,’ he said.
Mr Chester admitted that in previous decades, the details of short and long-term Army veterans didn’t necessarily transfer over to his department.
‘That doesn’t happen anymore, I must hasten to say,’ he said.
‘Everyone who leaves now, we get their details so we’re able to track them but historically that hasn’t been the case so we don’t necessarily know every veteran in Australia.’
Mr Chester said he had written to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg seeking to rectify the next Census in two years’ time.
‘That’s a question to be addressed as the Census is developed in the coming months,’ he said.
Baby boomers who served in Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s and more recent soldiers who were deployed to Iraq in 2003 are continuing to suffer from mental challenges.