House debates

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Constituency Statements

Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal

10:24 am

Photo of Bill ShortenBill Shorten (Maribyrnong, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme) Share this | Hansard source

I want to talk about an email I received from Mr Richard Barry OAM of Narrabri. He's drawn my attention to a matter which involves some 3,000 ex national servicemen of the over 15,000 who served in the war in South Vietnam from 1965 to 1972. He has alerted me to a problem which I think needs to be rectified in the parliament by the government. He's proposing that national service personnel and some others who served at least 60 days on active service in South Vietnam be rewarded the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. The Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal informs me it has twice considered this or similar proposals and rejected the idea. The case has since been reviewed by the Minister for Veterans' Affairs but was rejected on the grounds that the government cannot change the criteria of a medal—that is, people had to have served in theatre for 180 days or more. Mr Barry makes the very good point that the criteria used by the tribunal perhaps needs to be reconsidered. There should be a different consideration: that Australia has delegated an enduring sovereign power to determine the eligibility of its own personnel for this foreign campaign medal in a manner that is ethical and equitable. Furthermore, it would be consistent with the motives of the then government of the Republic of Vietnam.

The problem in essence is that some national servicemen and others missed out on receiving this campaign medal because their period of national service obligation expired before they completed a nominal 181 days in South Vietnam. These national servicemen were absolutely under no obligation to extend their service. Some did, but most wished to return to their pre national service life and employment, and rightly so. But, as Mr Barry draws to my attention, it's now high time to settle the matter. Providing this campaign medal award will require political will rather than black-letter legal interpretations. Sixty thousand Australians served in Vietnam and 47,000 of them have received medical care for some 200,000 conditions. I truly believe that the recognition of the campaign medal will go some way to assisting people to try and make sense of that period of service 50 years ago.

There is widespread community support for the proposal from senior ex-service people and ex-service organisations. The proposition that, if people served in the Vietnam War and merely didn't do 181 days because their service obligations finished, shouldn't bar them from receiving a campaign medal which is to do with people's actions there. It is ethically and morally appropriate to right this wrong. What we need is a determination from the Minister for Veterans' Affairs that national service personnel who served at least 60 days but less than 181 days should receive the campaign medal.


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