Monday, 8 February 2016
Private Members' Business
Vietnam Veterans Day
It is with great pride, as the member for Herbert based in Townsville, that I speak on this private member's motion from the member for Ryan on Vietnam Veterans Day and on the veterans of the Vietnam War. The period from 2014 to 2018 is an important period for our country. It is the centenary of events from the First World War. 2015 saw us commemorate the centenary of the Anzac landing; 2015 saw the centenary of the 3rd Brigade, which is based in Townsville; but 2016 will see the start of the 50th anniversaries of the major conflicts of the Vietnam War. We need to reflect upon the 60,000 men and women who served our country so bravely over there and the 521 who died—who paid the ultimate sacrifice and were killed; and upon the circumstances under which they served, and the respect they were denied during that time. With the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan coming up on 18 August this year, it is right and proper that Brisbane 6 RAR will be the focal point for those commemorations. The Battle of Long Tan was a fierce battle: there are men in Townsville who will tell you all about it, given the opportunity.
Townsville is a great city when it comes to Vietnam veterans. We are the place where Anzac Day really started its commemorations again and became relevant again.. We drove it. The two most important positions in the City of Townsville are the 3rd Brigade Commander and our mayor. It is a relationship our city holds dear—that is, the relationship between the ADF and our veterans. The Howard government gave back to the people of Townsville Jezzine Barracks, which is at the end of our of beautiful Strand. The redevelopment there by the Townsville City Council, aided by funds from the federal government, is now a beautiful parkland.
I would like to see a monument to Vietnam veterans in Townsville. The Vietnamese government still do not like to have groups of Vietnam veterans making pilgrimages to sites in Vietnam. It is difficult for people to get across there, as veterans. Our city was immortalised in the Redgum song—'And Townsville lined the footpath', and they were 'young and strong and clean'. I would like to see Townsville—and I have spoken about this to my Vietnam veteran groups—as the spiritual home of the Vietnam veteran. I would like to see a place where we have a bronze of a soldier coming out of a rice paddy field, in his greens and his slouch hat and his SLR. I would also like to see a part of this monument being a place of peace, and a part of it being a place of healing. As the previous speaker has said, and as the mover of the motion, the member for Ryan, has said: it is tough being a Vietnam veteran.
As part of one of my first acts as the member for Herbert, when we were sending 2 RAR across to Afghanistan in 2010, I was walking down to the function with a retired RSM. General Gillespie gave the speech to the army, and he spoke to all the families there about what it was to be a member of the Defence family. And as we were walking back, I said to this old bloke—he was telling me that he had served in Vietnam—'did you get all this when you left?' He said: 'We got nothing when we left and we got less when we came back. We were told to get out, get home, get dressed in civvies, and get off the base.' And he said it with a smile on his face, and a little bit of irony. But the thing is that they did do it tough. It was not a popular war, and many of them had no choice about going there. I tell everyone that I never served—and the country and the ADF are both better for that. I think those are the things that we have to understand—that we put people who were conscripts into that place. We put people in that place who did not want to go over there, and they showed great bravery in going there.
We as a country must make sure that, when we come to this period of the 50th anniversaries of the Vietnam conflict, they are held with as much esteem and as much respect as we give to the Centenary of Anzac, and to the centenary events from World War I. I know that ex-Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Michael Ronaldson, was hugely responsible, and hugely responsive to the Vietnam veterans. And I urge my Vietnam veterans to make sure that they do come out. It is hard now when you go to the Vietnam veterans' events, and they all have to stand there—at attention and at ease—when they are all getting towards needing a stool or a seat now. The Vietnam veterans are very popular in Townsville, and they are a very important part of our lives—and long may they be. Lest we forget.