Monday, 8 February 2016
Private Members' Business
Vietnam Veterans Day
I thank the member for Ryan for this motion to commemorate the service and the sacrifice of the almost 60,000 Australians who served in the Vietnam War. Vietnam Veterans Day is an important day and a highly valued commemorative occasion in my electorate of Newcastle. As I am the daughter of a Vietnam veteran, it is a day that holds particular significance for me and my family. Newcastle and Hunter Region Vietnam Veterans and indeed their predecessor, the Newcastle branch of the Vietnam Legion Veterans Association of Australia, have always been at the forefront of efforts to commemorate those who served in the Vietnam War.
Having established what is believed to be Australia's very first memorial for Vietnam veterans, in the War Memorial Grove of Civic Park, Newcastle, we have gathered as a community since the mid-1970s to remember the service and sacrifice of those who served in Vietnam. This first memorial was a very modest stone plinth with a bronze plaque inscribed with the single word 'Vietnam'. Whilst that original memorial holds great significance, a new Vietnam memorial was unveiled in Civic Park in 1987, almost 40 years ago now. Importantly, the names of the 19 local men who were killed in action are remembered on this memorial. Every year at the Vietnam Veterans Day service the 19 Australian flags lovingly embroidered with the names of those who did not return are also mounted at this memorial for all to see.
The Newcastle and Hunter Region Vietnam Veterans association has long been a strong voice and advocacy service for the veteran community in my electorate. Established, as I said, in the early 1970s by local Vietnam veterans to help and assist other Vietnam veterans, their families, those who had fallen on hard times or those who just needed to be reassured that they were still part of a wider community, the Newcastle and Hunter Region Vietnam Veterans association has now expanded its services to provide assistance to veterans from all conflicts.
Many Vietnam veterans found the re-entry to civilian life both disturbing and abrupt. There is no denying that the lack of support and compassion in the wider community compounded matters at the time. As a young child, I was protected from much of the protest that was underway about the Vietnam War. My mother, sister and I lived in the sheltered Army village of Holsworthy while my father was in Vietnam. Like many families, however, we still live the impacts of that war today.
The belated Welcome Home parade in Sydney in October 1987 at least went some way to redressing some of these issues. I recall very clearly the profound impacts that day had on so many veterans and their families. I met men who had served with my father in Vietnam who had not seen their families since they returned to Australia, but they were finally reunited at the parade with children they had not seen for almost two decades. The belated Welcome Home parade was the first significant national act of commemoration of the Australian experience of war in Vietnam. Twenty-five thousand veterans took part on that day. As a nation, we finally acknowledged that we were wrong to shun or abuse those service men and women on their return. Many veterans could now let go of much of their anger and feelings of rejection.
But war is hell, and today it is estimated that 56 per cent of Vietnam veterans in Australia are living with post-traumatic stress disorder. We know that 40 per cent of post-traumatic stress disorder has a delayed onset and that the diagnosis of Vietnam veterans has mushroomed since 2000, 30 years after the war. So there is a very clear need for long-term ongoing support of veterans upon their return from war. No government or nation should send troops into harm's way if it is not prepared to provide the necessary support to those men and women upon their return. For many veterans, their lives and those of their families have suffered untold damage. That is the tragic human cost of war and we should never forget it or, indeed, squib on our obligation to provide the necessary lifelong care and support to those in need.