What gets left out

Journalists bury the lead and PR people put the facts in the best possible light – but governments often just totally omit the critical information which might put their claims into context.

A classic example was the recent release of the Prime Ministers’ (why not the Australian Government’s?) Veterans’ Employment Awards. The blog’s friend Peter Thomas forwarded it a copy of the Veterans’ Affairs Minister, Darren Chester’s, media release on the subject. It was interesting enough for the blog to use it in a talk to a group of media professionals to illustrate the need for deep analysis of statements.

The media statement seemed exemplary. It said: “Nine companies and individuals who have created employment opportunities and helped demonstrate the positive contribution veterans make to Australian workplaces have been honoured through the Prime Minister’s Veterans’ Employment Awards. Around 5,500 members discharge from the Australian Defence Force each year. Many of these men and women are of an age where they still have a long civilian career ahead of them.”

It went on the wave the flag and argue for the benefits of hiring veterans saying: “During their time serving in defence of our nation, they will have led teams, worked with others to solve complex problems and demonstrated resilience and adaptability in high-pressure situations – all qualities that make them a great attribute to any business.”

“The Prime Minister’s Veterans’ Employment Awards are part of a broad program of activity aimed at raising employer awareness of the enormous value and unique experience of veterans. Hiring a veteran is good for business.”

But, the group of media professionals was asked: what was missing from the release? The group found lots of feel good stuff such as: “A priority of the Government is to help veterans effectively transition to civilian life. Finding our veterans meaningful employment after they leave the military benefits individuals, families, businesses, the economy and our nation. The nominations received (from employers) this year were truly inspiring and we congratulate all the winners and finalists.”

Whether the group of media professionals were inspired by the rest of the rhetoric was difficult to establish but given that most of them were millennials it is doubtful that they jumped up to the embrace the flag when they read that: “Our Government’s Veterans Employment Commitment is designed to help connect ex-service men and women with employment opportunities for the excellent skills they bring to the workplace. That Commitment, combined with the new Veterans’ Covenant, Australian Veterans’ Card and lapel pin, are all designed to bring governments and businesses together to support the veterans of today and tomorrow.” The ‘tomorrow’ is a bit of a worry given how many disastrous wars Governments have got our troops involved in – from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan – and one wonders what on earth is next

Veterans in Australia, of the blog’s father’s generation wore their returned servicemen’s badge proudly. The blog has one too although it has never been worn. Jeff Kennett pioneered the practice in Australia of wearing lapel pins – in this case a little Victorian map – which was at least not quite as ubiquitous as US flag lapel pins. Consultants and lobbyists nevertheless quickly learnt that wearing such a lapel pin was a prerequisite for obtaining work or access – and an even better way than the Freemason’s handshake had been a couple of generations before.

The blog’s old boss and later a director of its company, Labor Opposition Leader Frank Wilkes, amazed the blog on campaign trips around Victoria by how well-received he was by Shire Presidents and Mayors throughout rural Victoria. Being a WWII veteran he also wore the badge but it wasn’t until years later that it dawned that the badge and the secret Freemason’s handshake were the keys to this warm embrace. The latter being a bit ironic given that Frank’s State Funeral was held in a Catholic Church.

But today the wearing of lapel pins, other than as fashion items or subtle signals about honours, is probably not that common.

Anyway – the media professionals sadly didn’t work out was missing. Yes the media release listed all the companies and organisations which participated in the program. Yes the media release contained heartfelt commitments to the interests of veterans. Yes there was ample evidence of symbolic support such as lapel pins and Australian Veterans’ Cards (although the blog’s must still be in the mail). And yes the group had to correct the media release punctuation and grammar here and there.

But that all still left the rather crucial missing bit of information – the precise number of veterans who had actually benefitted from the program.

Perhaps if the PM had sent out copies of Nick Jans’ book  Leadership Secrets of the Australian Army, which the blog has written about before, to all employers in the scheme the numbers would have been good enough to disclose.

Meanwhile, while the Minister is celebrating the government’s help for veterans there is a contextual footnote to what’s also missing from the Government’s lapel pins and other show bag glitter. The ABC reported (15 March 2019) “that one in three veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health problems failed to connect with a counsellor when calling an after-hours helpline, previously hidden government figures have shown. (Blog’s emphasis). Figures released under of Freedom of Information showed the counselling run by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) had an average call ‘abandonment rate’ of more than 35 per cent in 2016-17, up almost 10 per cent on two years earlier.

“The revelation has left a veterans’ advocate to question how many former soldiers might have died after not being able to access crisis help” the report concluded.