During the early months of 2015 one of the Senators involved in the recent parlianentary inquiry into the mental health of Australian Defence Force personnel wrote to the Australian Minister for Defence regarding the need to support mefloquine veterans, referring to a proactive outreach program that had previously been proposed by Major Stuart McCarthy. The correspondence was forwarded to Stuart Robert MP, who was then the Assistant Minister for Defence. His shameful reply to that letter is shown below.
Shortly after this correspondence, Robert was promoted to Minister for Veterans Affairs, a portfolio that has attracted significant controversy given the problems of veteran homelessness and suicide. Mefloquine is a known cause of suicide. Many Australian veterans are now calling for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to address the systemic problems that plague this department.
Robert’s short stint as the Minister was unremarkable except for his scandalous demise. In February this year it was revealed that Robert had travelled to China in 2014 to attend a “signing ceremony” for a business deal involving a “close personal friend” and major political party donor, during his tenure as Assistant Defence Minister. Robert claimed he was there in a private capacity, travelling at his own expense while on leave, however a company press release from the time stated that he was representing the Australian government and made a speech in that capacity. Soon after this was revealed, Robert was dumped from the ministry and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) launched an investigation into the China trip to determine whether any criminal offences were committed.
The letter of reply from Robert included the usual official deceit to which mefloquine veterans have become accustomed, stating that mefloquine toxicity was rare and that periodic medical check ups were adequate. Yet the most absurd and shameful passage is towards the end of the letter, where Robert states:
“Defence considered Major McCarthy’s proposal for a proactive outreach program to all serving and ex-serving members who have been prescribed mefloquine. … it was assessed that this approach would cause undue distress to the vast majority of recipients who currently have no enduring mefloquine related side effects.”
The recently published report from the Senate inquiry needs no elaboration, including this key recommendation: