House debates

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Statements by Members

Vietnam Veterans Day

4:00 pm

Photo of Alan GriffinAlan Griffin (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Two days ago, before this debate was interrupted, I was going through a range of matters relating to Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War. I talked about a number of individuals who have crossed my path who can be very proud not only of their contribution at the time but also of their contribution since in honouring the memory of, and supporting, those they fought alongside so many years ago. I mentioned before that it was not just the Army; it was also the Navy and the Air Force. When you talk about the Army, you have to mention the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam, the AATTV, our first troops on the ground in 1962 and there for over 10 years. They fought with distinction with troops from South Vietnam throughout the conflict. A number of their members received gallantry honours, most deserved. We cannot talk about the Vietnam War without talking about conscription. Not only did many conscripts serve with distinction; it was a very divisive issue back here. We must not forget the fact that Australian women were also present as nurses in the Army, RAAF and SATO. They performed with distinction supporting our troops.

We cannot talk about Vietnam Veterans Day without referring Long Tan. And we should not forget the many other engagements: Coral/Balmoral, Binh Ba, Operation Bribie, Operation Coburg and the many patrols conducted by others who served with distinction as part of our ground forces. We also have to remember HMAS Sydneythe Vung Tau Ferry—and the excellent work done by the Navy in supporting our troops. Many ships served on the gun line. I particularly mention HMAS Hobart, a guided missile destroyer which was tragically hit by three missiles from a US Air Force Phantom. Two RAN sailors lost their lives and seven were wounded on that occasion. The Air Force also made a significant contribution, whether through forward air controllers or those who operated caribous, helicopters, Canberra bombers and a handful of Phantom fighter jets, and, in one of the last acts of the war in 1975, the Hercules aircraft helped ferry people away at the time of the fall of Saigon.

They should all be very proud of the courage, dedication and the professionalism of those involved. They did their duty at a time when their duty was sometimes very unfairly questioned back here. I take this opportunity to apologise for what happened at the time and in the time since. As a nation, we have grown since that time and we have learnt from it. I am very pleased that we have not had to face that sort of situation over issues we may sometimes disagree about with respect to our involvement in wars since. We unanimously, and in a united fashion, honour the commitment, courage and sacrifice of our troops and the work that they do.

I will finish with two points which are very relevant and are something to be remembered with respect to our contribution. The first is the Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Study. The former minister played a significant role in kicking that study off in his time as minister, and the study is ongoing. It is a very ambitious study looking at the long-term impacts and effects on the families, particularly the children of those who served in Vietnam. The study has results coming through now and will continue to have over the years ahead. To all those who worked hard to get it going, I salute you. It is an important and difficult exercise but something needed to better understand how to properly deal with the long-term impacts of war not only on the individuals who fought but also on the families who suffered with them. The final thing I will put in as a plug, and that is for the Vietnam Veterans Museum down at Phillip Island in my home state and the former minister's home state of Victoria. I would urge anyone who is travelling down that way to get along and have a look at that museum. It is a fantastic developing work in progress that shows so much of what took place during that war, and it gives an opportunity for Australians of other generations to better understand what occurred at that tumultuous time in our history. Lest we forget.

4:05 pm

Photo of Bruce BillsonBruce Billson (Dunkley, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Small Business, Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I join with other colleagues in paying tribute to our Vietnam veterans and the broader Vietnam veterans community, and to thank all those involved in making Vietnam Veterans day on 18 August the ongoing and unbridled success that it is in bringing the Vietnam veterans community together for a day of commemoration, reflection and camaraderie.

I should declare a pecuniary interest as a former veterans' affairs minister and patron of the Vietnam Veterans Association—Frankston District. It has always been an honour and a privilege to be associated with our Vietnam veterans' community.

It was often said that people knew there was something strange about my judgment when I actually sought the position of veterans' affairs minister under Howard government. Some have suggested that the veterans' affairs minister's role is a bit of a career cul-de-sac. It is a very challenging role when the broader nation has such understandable and well-deserved affection for our veterans' community, and the veterans' community are not terribly shy in advocating for their interests. If you are caught between that strong public sentiment to do all that one should do as a grateful nation for those who have served for our country and a very vigorous advocacy movement in the veterans community, you know you are in for some interesting times. But they were very worthwhile times.

To Ray Weston, the president of the Vietnam Veterans Association—Frankston District, to Frank Matons and all the team down at the Southern Peninsula—(Quorum formed) I was just paying tribute to Vietnam veterans' organisations in the Dunkley and Mornington Peninsula area. I particularly want to mention Cheryl Myers, the secretary of the Frankston RSL, who works very closely with the Vietnam veterans' organisations and who always is a key part of a very successful occasion at the Frankston cenotaph, notwithstanding our concern about broken fingernails when she approaches me.

The occasion of Vietnam Veterans Day is a very important one. Some 60,000 Australians, including ground troops, Air Force and Navy personnel served in Vietnam for over a decade from 1962. As my colleague and successor as veterans' affairs minister, the member for Bruce, pointed out many others were involved in that exercise of supporting our national involvement in Vietnam: the SEATO nurses, the courageous media personnel, the Qantas crews and many other civilians involved and associated with that effort.

The loss of life was very substantial: 521 Australians paid that ultimate price. We today continue our work in supporting those who returned with injuries, with wounds and with scars from their experience. Many helped secure that region and to shape its trajectory in a positive way but have carried deep personal scars as a result of that service. I also want to pay maximum respect to the partners of our Vietnam veterans. They have endured much over the years and are incredibly important as a cohesive influence in the Vietnam veterans' community. I support all that they do and the love and care that they provide to the veterans.

There was a point about this year's Vietnam veterans' commemoration which was particularly significant for those of us involved in ensuring that there has been appropriate recognition afforded to the Long Tan veterans for their remarkable deeds so many years ago. The Vietnam veterans' community itself chose Long Tan Day as its commemorative day and that shows you the strength of feeling and respect that Vietnam veterans have for their colleagues who served at Long Tan. But there was a long unresolved issue that was very much to the fore in my time as minister.

Some years earlier my friend and colleague Mal Brough had guided through the Howard government an overdue recognition of having medallic recognition upgraded. It was belated but his recognition that decisions to downgrade recommendations in Canberra were in contradiction to what was recommended in theatre was a courageous thing to do and that happened at the time that we were involved with Vietnam. Those on the ground, the command structure and hierarchy in Vietnam, had the best feel for what acts of gallantry were being undertaken by our personnel and for recommending appropriate recognition. At that time though those recommendations landed in Australia and people a long way away from the frontline in a number of cases decided that those well-grounded, well-informed recommendations should not be implemented and downgraded some of those medallic recognition recommendations from the field.

Thankfully that wrong was righted and Mal Brough was crucial to that making the simple point that for whatever reason—and often it was concepts of quotas and the like–if people had earned the recognition and that was a grounded and informed recommendation from the field it was a bit tough to have people a long way from the battlefront override those recommendations without the benefit of the context and the command structure on the ground. I am pleased that Mal dealt with that.

That only partly resolved some of the issues. It left open the question of recognition for the extraordinary gallantry at the Battle of Long Tan. It was an issue quite close to me. Dave Sabben is a friend of mine, he was a platoon commander in the battle. He is recognised within his peer group for his remarkable gallantry but, in the informal structure of medallic recognition, he and a number of others that were involved in the battle were not given, in my view, appropriate recognition for the gallantry and the remarkable deeds that they displayed on that historic day. Just what to do about it was a question that landed in my lap as minister.

It is very hard to revisit recommendations for the recognition of gallantry when all the core material that may have been available at the time is no longer available. What, let's say, a force of nature in the shape of Harry Smith was able to do was to make sure as a commander of the battalion in that contact that he persisted. He knew what he had recommended. He knew what he saw and he understood the context vividly because he was there. His recommendations had not survived the in country hierarchy and therefore had not been implemented in the way that he had hoped. This differed somewhat from the category that Mal Brough dealt with because the recommendations in country were clear and where they were changed back here in Canberra was also clear but all the core material was available to action. The difference in the case of Long Tan was that Harry's recommendations were not supported by his command structure in country which meant that a lot of that input, a lot of that source documentation, had disappeared. It did not move any further and it was substituted with other recommendations from the command structure in country. That meant that the base material on which to revisit that subject was not readily available. That in large part accounted for why over many decades revisiting that wrong was not undertaken by successive governments.

I and many others felt that a wrong had occurred. The question was: what to do about it? It was a decision of the Howard government in my time as minister to create the panel of three generals who would objectively look at all of the available information and arrive at a conclusion about whether Harry Smith's recommendations needed to be revived and whether we could bring together adequate material to make that a sound and justified action and then evaluate that material.

I am pleased that for this Vietnam Veterans Day those wrongs of years ago were put right. Harry Smith, a remarkable soldier, an extraordinary man and someone I greatly admire, was in receipt of what he had earned so many years ago during the Battle of Long Tan. Harry was awarded the second highest medal available under our current structure to recognise his extraordinary gallantry—the Star of Gallantry. Harry Smith was then the commander of D Company 6RAR. He earned that. I am pleased that this Vietnam Veterans Day he was in possession of that.

The platoon commanders at the time, Dave Sabben and Geoff Kendall, had also been offered a medal of gallantry, which was equivalent to the Military Cross that Harry had recommended at the time under the imperial system. Those two remarkable soldiers were also in possession of the award and medallic recognition they very much deserved. It was a long journey for those three men to get the nation's recognition they had earned, but they finally got there. I was pleased that work that was kicked off in my time as minister saw that wrong being righted.

I know in the eyes of Harry there is still work to be done. I have never met a man so single-minded in his approach to these issues. At the time of the battle he held no higher obligation than to look after the men he commanded. He still feels that passion today. There is more that needs to be done in his eyes. There are some discussions still going on with the overriding concern of how we can fairly and equitably deal with these wrongs so many years after the event. I talk particularly around some anomalies concerning Roberts and Sharp. But that was a good outcome for this Vietnam Veterans Day.

I would briefly like to touch on another area. When the war started I was not alive, I had not been born yet, but I did grow up with a lot of people whose dads had fought and I feel a very deep affection for our Vietnam veterans. I hope we have learnt a lesson. When I was minister I apologised to the veteran community for the way they were treated on their return. I hope our country and our citizens never again take out their disagreement with the government of the day in terms of the nature and the timing of a deployment on those who did all that their country asked of them. If people have a truck or an argument with the nature of a military involvement, they should take it up with people in this place; they should not take it up with the people in uniform. When they come back we should be proud and give them as much recognition and support as we can because they did all that their country asked of them. My simple belief is that the country should do all that it can to support them as a result of that service. That was something we sought to address. I hope we as a nation and a parliament continue to address those issues.

For me that has played out in some interesting ways. For the six Australian soldiers we did not bring home, I could not look their families in the eye and say that we had done all we could to find them. I pay respect to some incredible people at Operation Aussies Home, including Jim Burke. I do not know whether you have met Jim. Some think I am his love child. I can put on the record that that is not the case. He is far more gruff than I would ever be. He is a remarkable former soldier and he is still soldiering for those he served with.

Jim was instrumental in making sure that the Commonwealth and the defence forces, the Army and the Air Force, got off their backsides and did what they needed to do to find the remains of the Australian MIAs. I was incredibly honoured and blown away to be there on that tarmac to receive the remains, to fly there with family members and to return home and see those service personnel under my watch brought home and laid to rest. We needed to do more to find those brave Australians and I am pleased that the nation got around to doing what it should have done a long time earlier.

My colleague the member for Bruce mentioned the work we had instigated on the Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Study. This is another area where we need to remain vigilant. There is quite a body of evidence that service impacts on the next generation of a soldier's family, and we do not understand enough about that but we need to. That is why having that study commenced on my watch was again something I thought extraordinarily worthwhile. We should continue with that work and encourage families to participate because we can and need to keep learning.

The other area was in the Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service, which we reshaped as the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Services, again for that simple fact that serving the nation as the nation asks can have an enormous impact not only on the service personnel but on their families. In imagining some of the scenes that our serving personnel see, in realising that in places in the Middle East there can be a car swerving towards you and you have to decide if it is a threat to your people or just a bloody awful driver, in realising that you can then be called forward to help with a humanitarian response such as in an area that I was associated with after the tsunami—being involved in the clean-up of the hospital up in Bandah Aceh and recovering the remains of infants in hospital wards—you see that this stuff messes with your head. We need to realise that, just as our hardware needs through-life support so it can continue to perform at an optimum level, our people need that as well. Just as important as preparing people for deployment is bringing them back into a civilian world where they can go from being a combatant to being someone's Casanova all over again. This is a difficult transition and we need to keep working in that space.

My last comment is to the government around changes that are happening. I hope the savings that have been talked about with best funding do not undermine the veterans community's capacity to support themselves. I fear that it will. Our system revolves around volunteer support for service personnel bringing forward the injury, the impairment or the harm and the hurt of their military service where that has detracted from their quality of life and their capacity to earn, and appropriately recognising that and compensating for it. We make sure that ex-service organisations are the allies of veterans and serving personnel as they go through that process. If we undermine the capacity of the veterans community to support claimants for compensation and benefits to obtain all that they are deserving of and require then we weaken the foundation of the support system that is there to support serving and ex-service personnel.

I say that in the particular context of Vietnam veterans, many of whom are now approaching retirement age and many of whom have carried emotional scars and impairments from their service but have soldiered on. They have soldiered on in their careers and through that have continued to earn a livelihood and supported their families. But as they near the end of their working lives they may in fact put their hands up for support that is justified as a result of the impact of their service. If a veteran retires prematurely, perhaps because of an injury or an impairment, that has a profound impact on their eligibility for TPI and other benefits. Why? It is because those benefits are available where the capacity to work is impeded solely as a consequence of the impairment or the injury that relates to their service. If there is a sense that there are other factors at play, such as retirement, redundancy or some change in their life trajectory, that can undermine their capacity to access the benefits to which they are entitled. Right now is a critical time for the Vietnam veterans community because they are in that retirement age. I would hate to think that the trimming of the support in the BEST program would undermine people's capacity to access that help.

Finally, I want to put in a plug for a book I launched when I was a minister, Vietnam: Our War—Our Peace. So often Vietnam veterans share with me what a defining part of their life journey and their character their service is and was. But they also want to make sure that people realise that Vietnam veterans are doing remarkable things in our community, in our economy and in our nation day in, day out. This book captures a little bit about their service but it also captures a story about what Vietnam veterans have achieved for our nation as they continue to serve. They continue to serve not only their peer group but also the broader Australian interest. So I say to our Vietnam veterans: thank you most sincerely for your service. We are a grateful nation that made some mistakes that we are seeking to fix, and those remedies might not always be what they might hope to be, but we have to persevere in that effort. Also, thank you for what you have done as citizens of Australia not only in the broader community but in the veterans space, teaching so many of us about what we need to do to support the serving community that we ask so much of—how to keep them healthy, how to keep them happy and how to make sure the quality of their life is positive and the opportunities in the future are still there. We have learned that from our Vietnam veterans. So they are still serving and they have my utmost respect.

4:26 pm

Photo of Jason ClareJason Clare (Blaxland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Defence Materiel) Share this | | Hansard source

Last Thursday, 18 August, was Vietnam Veterans Remembrance Day; 18 August is also the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. In that battle members of the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment engaged a much larger Vietcong force. One hundred and eight soldiers from Delta Company fought a Vietcong force of more than 2,000 in driving rain near the village of Long Tan in South Vietnam. Supported by Australian, New Zealand and American artillery, as well as Royal Australian Air Force Iroquois helicopters, they withstood the Vietcong attack and through their actions established Australian dominance in the area, which was never again seriously challenged. In the battle 18 Australian soldiers lost their lives and 24 were wounded. As other members have noted here, Long Tan has long held a special place in Australia's military history. The memorial cross at Long Tan hidden amongst the rubber trees where the battle was fought is visited by many Australians each year. Last week Delta Company 6RAR was awarded a Unit Citation For Gallantry for their actions at Long Tan—something long overdue. A Unit Citation For Gallantry recognises the collective extraordinary gallantry in military operations—gallantry that was recognised by our ally the United States in 1968 when the unit received a Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism from President Lyndon Johnson. The text of that citation reads, inter alia:

While searching for Viet Cong in a rubber plantation northeast of Ba Ria, Phuoc Tuy Province, Republic of Vietnam, D Company met and immediately engaged in heavy contact. As the battle developed, it became apparent that the men of D Company were facing a numerically superior force. The platoons of D Company were surrounded and attacked on all sides by an estimated reinforced enemy battalion using automatic weapons, small arms and mortars. Fighting courageously against a well armed and determined foe, the men on D Company maintained their formations in a common perimeter defence and inflicted heavy casualties on the Viet Cong.

The enemy maintained a continuous, intense volume of fire and attacked repeatedly from all directions. Each successive assault was repulsed by the courageous Australians. Heavy rainfall and low ceiling prevented any friendly close air support during the battle. After three hours of savage attacks, having failed to penetrate the Australian lines, the enemy withdrew from the battlefield carrying many dead and wounded, and leaving 245 Viet Cong dead forward of the defence positions of D Company.

The conspicuous courage, intrepidity and indomitable courage of D Company were to the highest tradition of military valour and reflect great credit upon D Company and the Australian Army.

That is part of the citation from President Johnson dated 28 May 1968.

The anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan has also become the day on which we remember all Australians who served in Vietnam. We remember the nine infantry battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment who saw service in Vietnam and the seven who carried out two operational tours. One of those men was my grandfather Jack Clare, who fought in the Second World War and did two tours of duty in Vietnam.

At times like this it is also important to remember the role played by the RAAF, which provided a squadron of Iroquois helicopters, a squadron of Canberra bombers and a squadron of Caribou transport aircraft. It is also important to remember the role played by the Royal Australian Navy, which provided gunfire support to American forces and a clearance diving team for port security and mine clearance, as well as transporting our troops to and from Vietnam. We also remember the Australian military nurses who served in operating theatres and hospitals across Vietnam. We remember the sacrifice of the 521 Australians who lost their lives in Vietnam and the more than 3,000 who were injured in service to our nation.

More than 17,000 national serviceman served in Vietnam, and 212 of those lost their lives there. Of the 60,000 Australians who served in Vietnam, approximately 47,000 are still alive today. It is our Vietnam veterans who run many of our ex-service organisations and play a very important role in kindling the Anzac spirit.

It is also important in motions like this that we remember the bravery of those whom we fought alongside, the soldiers of the South Vietnamese Army, many of whom had to flee their own country when Saigon fell and many of whom live in my electorate today.

We are all indebted to those who serve our country and it is appropriate that this House pause to recognise and remember the sacrifices of those who served so bravely in Vietnam and ensure that the courage they displayed and the sacrifices they made, like all who have fought in our name, are never forgotten.

4:32 pm

Photo of John AlexanderJohn Alexander (Bennelong, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Last week on 18 August our nation commemorated the 45th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. This battle proved so symbolic of Australia's service in the Vietnam War that we now use this date to commemorate Vietnam Veterans Day. For anyone of my vintage, we will never forget the nightly pictures zoomed into our living rooms of the horrors faced in Vietnam. The stories of the courage of 108 soldiers from D Company of the 6th RAR, fighting in a rubber plantation at Long Tan against a Vietcong force of up to 2,500 strong, have been recounted many times today in this place and over recent years. Despite being outnumbered by nearly 10 to one, the Australian soldiers stood their ground in atrocious monsoonal weather, without any radio support, for hours on end and halted the progression of the dogged North Vietnamese force towards a position of great strategic strength.

The record shows that 18 Australians were killed on that day and another 24 wounded. After the battle, more than 245 enemy combatants were found dead on the battlefield. It is with great pride that we retell the stories of our national heroes. It is also with great shame that we accept the fact that, in the 15 years immediately following the Vietnam War, there was no recognition for these diggers and their heroic acts in the face of fire—the equal of their forefathers in the two world wars.

This lack of acknowledgment and appreciation for such incredible human sacrifice is not limited to this battle or just to this war. We in this place cannot change history but we can make sure that we learn from it to ensure that it does not repeat. Last week in this place I spoke on a condolence motion for our nation's greatest war heroine, Nancy Wake. I referred to the travesty that our nation refused to formally honour this World War II legend as, technically, she fought against the Nazis under the banner of our allies rather than in an Australian uniform. The fact is that the post-war governments of France, Great Britain and the United States all separately gave Nancy Wake high military honours, yet it took until John Howard in 2004 for Australia to bestow an award upon Nancy. It was not lost on many who defend our nation.

Last month, I spoke in this place in support of my first private member's motion to recognise this year's centenary of the Royal Australian Navy. I highlighted that none of Australia's 97 Victoria Cross recipients served in the Royal Australian Navy, despite incredible stories of heroism and self-sacrifice that have been recounted about many of our sailors over the past 100 years. In a speech last week, the shadow minister for veterans' affairs described the 15-year gap between the actions by those at Long Tan and our formal recognition of their bravery as a dark stain on our nation's history. Such stains do not erase easily.

As a group, the efforts of the men of D company 6RAR were finally honoured last week when they received our nation's military's highest honour, the Unit Citation for Gallantry. In the provision of this recognition, I echo the shadow minister's sentiments that, as a nation, we should not limit our thoughts and our appreciation just to those who carried a gun. For every life lost there will invariably be a parent, a sibling, a partner and, tragically, sometimes a child who will mourn this loss and carry a scar as indelible as the national stain I spoke of.

To those lost in the rubber plantation on that fateful day 45 years ago and to those who came back, irrevocably changed from the experience, to everyone else who has served, to the tens of thousands who have served more recently in Samoa, in Timor, and now in Afghanistan, and to the families, friends and local communities all impacted by the tragic loss of our finest in their prime, this Vietnam Veterans Day and all veterans days are our nation's way of saying thank you and we will never forget.

4:37 pm

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this very important motion and to acknowledge the contribution that our service personnel made in Vietnam. The Vietnam War was a war like no other war. In practically every other war and every major conflict where Australians fought, our service personnel had the support of this nation. The Vietnam War took place during my teenage and early adult years and it involved a number of young men I was associated with. I know it had an enormous impact on them and has had a subsequent impact on their lives. Those young service personnel who served in Vietnam did so based on a decision of their government. Unfortunately, when public opinion in this country changed and the war was no longer supported, those young service personnel felt the brunt of that lack of public support.

I have a very strong Vietnam veterans community within the Shortland electorate. I like to sit down and talk to the guys and to their wives and partners about what it meant to them and how it impacted on their lives. The partners of Vietnam vets is a very strong organisation. It started in the Shortland electorate. Those wonderful women have provided enormous support to their husbands and partners over a very long period of time. I think the type of support that they have needed to provide has to a large extent been determined by what happened during that period of time.

It was the longest major conflict that Australia has been involved in. It covered the span of years from 1962 to 1972. The start of it is just a very vague memory to me. The concluding stages of it are very vivid to me. Sixty thousand personnel were involved in the conflict. Every one of our service bodies were involved: the Army, the Navy and the RAAF. All of those had casualties and all of those had soldiers, sailors and airmen injured. The highest casualties were within the Army and then the Air Force; the Navy also lost eight personnel. There were 521 lives lost all up. The actual casualties are greater than those who died in the conflict. Those people who were involved in that war have had to come to terms with a very different type of war that was fought in Vietnam, the reaction to that war at home and then the reaction that they had when they came back and tried to resume their lives in Australia.

It is important to note that there were a number of national servicemen involved in the Vietnam conflict and in my area a number of them were involved in Vietnam. They have told me about what it was like and how it impacted on their lives.

I have attended two Vietnam veteran services following Vietnam Veterans Day on Thursday, 18 August. One was before and that was at Doyalson RSL, where they celebrated victory in the Pacific and Vietnam Veterans Day; it is a tradition within that RSL sub-branch, a very strong sub-branch. The guest speaker there really portrayed what it was like to be involved in that conflict and how it affected him and his fellow Air Force buddies. He also managed to bring out very clearly the camaraderie that existed between all those who were involved. That camaraderie has extended beyond the battle and has in some cases been the very thing that has helped those Vietnam vets to survive their involvement in that conflict. Those Australians who served in Vietnam showed courage and they made enormous sacrifices; so did their families. Some of those people are still making enormous sacrifices each and every day and are coming to terms with what that war meant to them.

I suppose the message for all of us in this House is: you can disagree with a war, you can feel that it is not a place that Australian troops should be, you can feel that maybe we would be better if we were not involved there, but each and every person of this parliament needs to stand up and support our service men and women when they are fighting for our country. Australia's history has been intertwined with the conflicts we have been involved in. It has been very formative on our nation. We need to learn from what happened in Vietnam. We need to support our Vietnam veterans. I commend the Prime Minister's motion to the House.

4:45 pm

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Last Sunday I had the honour of being invited by the Sydney chapter of the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club to join their march through Menai to commemorate the Battle of Long Tan. At the service following the march, there was hardly a dry eye in the house as Macca spoke about the Battle of Long Tan and told the story of how, on 18 August 1966, the North Vietnamese were poised to deliver our most crushing military defeat of the war, where more than 2,500 Vietnamese troops had just 108 Australians and New Zealanders, most of them rural conscripts, pinned down in a rubber plantation that offered almost no natural protection. The odds of annihilation were overwhelming. But, instead, the Battle of Long Tan became one of Australia's most extraordinary military victories.

Macca then read out a passage written by Private Jim Richmond, who was injured at the start of the Battle of Long Tan, which I think is worth repeating here today:

I rolled over on my side hoping that the mud would dry out the wound and help to stop the bleeding. The artillery was still coming in and it was dark by now and I knew I'd get no help till morning at least. I kept hoping that the artillery wouldn't get me. I was worried about my mother, and I kept thinking if I died she would be up shit creek, so I prayed a lot and made a lot of promises, but I'm afraid I never really kept any of them after I got back home. It was the longest night I've ever known. The artillery was still coming in and I can remember thinking, 'This one's going over, and this one's falling short, and this one's for you Jim.' … The other thing that was really worrying me was the thirst. I drank all my water and during the night I got painfully thirsty and reckoned if I could survive the Viet Cong troops and the artillery I'd probably finish up dying of thirst. I just lay there helpless and praying and trying to stay awake and wishing to hell it would get light soon.

Macca also read out a passage written by Private Terry Burstall, a survivor of Long Tan, who wrote of the aftermath of the battle:

We recovered the bodies of our friends who had been laughing living beings the day before. Nothing takes the supposed glory out of war more quickly than the sight of dead mutilated friends. Unfortunately it brings about a hardening of feeling toward your enemy that pushes normal human feelings of compassion to the back of the mind. It brings conflict down to a very personal level and gives you the licence to remain aloof from the suffering of others as long as your own little band is protected.

…   …   …

I personally do not care how many troops we faced at Long Tan or whether the body count is accurate or not. Jingoism is the last thing we need. I do not care who claims victory. The only fact I care about is that a lot of good men from both sides died that day and I will be forever saddened by that.

In the Battle of Long Tan we lost 18 young Australians. The eldest was just 22; the youngest only 19. Eleven of the 18 who were killed were national servicemen. Looking through their list of civilian jobs, of those who gave their lives at Long Tan, they included: a butcher, a farmhand, a storeman, an apprentice electrician, a student, a clerk, a labourer, a postman. This was a group typical of any group of 19- to 21-year-olds you would find in any town or suburb throughout Australia. Yet this group was called on to make the ultimate sacrifice. Those 18 who were killed at Long Tan were part of the 500 Australian lives that we lost in Vietnam.

It is to our nation's eternal shame that we did not give those who fought in Vietnam the due recognition that they deserved when they returned home. This left a large number of veterans deeply traumatised and adrift from the society that they returned to. But with the hindsight of time it is now evident that those who served in Vietnam did in fact achieve many of the long-term strategic objectives that our nation set out to accomplish in Vietnam. Firstly, and it must never be forgotten, when Australia first became involved in Vietnam the world was in the midst of the Cold War. The ideological confrontation between communism and those that believed in democracy and free enterprise was at its height. Eastern Europe was one great concentration camp. The communists had taken control of the world's most populous nation—China. Soviet imperialism was on the march in Asia, Africa, South America and Western Europe. The Soviet Union had the intent of dominating the world by using subversion or military power to convert countries to communism. The Warsaw Pact forces had invaded Czechoslovakia. The domino theory was real.

These were dark days for the very future of freedom and democracy. In the 10 years of Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War, when we fought alongside our American allies, this became a holding action for freedom and democracy. During these 10 years we halted the communist advance and this period allowed the Western democracies and other ASEAN nations to grow strong enough to outlast the enemy. It was during this period that history proved for all time that the entrepreneurial efficiencies that are generated by a free market combined with equality of opportunity and protected by strong anti-trust laws would deliver greater wealth and greater prosperity than the communist-socialist ideology of a nation's economy being controlled by giant industrial concerns and centralised planning. It was during the 10 years of Australia's involvement in Vietnam that countries that followed communist ideology of a centrally controlled economy run by a few elites saw their economies stagnate while in contrast during the same period those countries that followed the principles of democracy, freedom and equality of opportunity saw their economies grow and prosper.

It was also during this 10-year period that the contrast between the standard of living between West German and East Germany and North and South Korea became undeniable. So there was a domino effect, but not the one that we rightly worried about in the early 1960s. The domino effect that occurred after the Vietnam War was when countries saw how their neighbours that had rejected communist and socialist ideologies and instead followed the principles of free and open markets prospered and grew strong—and those countries followed. Today communist and socialist economic ideology has been rejected throughout South-East Asia and also the rest of the world, and we see the Vietnamese economy prospering from free-market incentives through the encouragement of private businesses and foreign investment, which has lifted millions of Vietnamese out of poverty. For that we have our troops' service in Vietnam to thank. Their 10-year holding action, a period history will record as being truly the critical decade in the fight against communism, was a period that enabled the Western democracies and other ASEAN nations to grow strong and their economies to flourish and for democracy and freedom to win out. For that we have our Vietnam veterans to thank.

The second outstanding achievement for which our Vietnam vets can proudly take credit for has been the consolidation of our relationship with the USA. During the many trips that I have had the privilege of making to America, many Americans will often comment to me how they will never forget how Australia stood by America during the time of Vietnam. The special friendship that we enjoy with the USA underwrites our national security. It provides immeasurable economic and strategic benefits. For this we have the service and the sacrifice of our Vietnam vets to thank.

We also have our Vietnam vets to thank for standing up for their mates when the government let them down. After they returned from Vietnam many veterans experienced a degree of bitterness from their peers who did not share their experiences during the war. So it has been no surprise that the many Vietnam vets that were shunned by society upon their return in turn shunned society and turned inward to the only people who they could trust and rely upon—their brothers in arms, other Vietnam veterans. It was their mateship forged during the unique nature of military service, where they developed an absolute trust in one another at all times and a strong sense of doing the right thing by one's platoon, ship or aircraft crew that enabled Vietnam vets to be there to take care of their mates when the government failed them. So, to the members of the Sydney chapter of the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club, I say: I am proud that you have elected to be based at Menai, in the electorate that I represent. And to all Vietnam vets, to Spike, and the Sydney chapter of the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club, on behalf of my generation, that enjoys the benefits of your service and your sacrifice, I simply say: thank you, on a job well done. And to my constituents: if you see a member of the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club wearing their club colours with the distinctive black leather jacket with the skull and slouch hat, go up to them and simply say thank you—say, 'Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your service, your sacrifice and your great achievements in helping win the Cold War and making the world a better place for future generations.'

Photo of Yvette D'AthYvette D'Ath (Petrie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you for your contribution.

4:55 pm

Photo of Gai BrodtmannGai Brodtmann (Canberra, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a great honour to rise today to echo the words of the Prime Minister in honouring those men and women who served their country in the Vietnam War. I was very sad that I was not able to join the Governor-General, Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition at last week's commemoration due to my commitments in the chamber. I would very much have liked to be there to pay my respects to the dedication and sacrifice of those Australians who count themselves among Australian's Vietnam vets, my father-in-law included.

I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the great work that has been done in the Canberra community by the local RSLs, particularly the RSL in Tuggeranong, Woden Valley RSL and also the Hellenic RSL. I recently addressed the Woden Valley RSL at a special lunch seminar. It was a great honour and I really enjoyed that occasion. So they do great work around the community in supporting the vets from all wars by helping them through difficult times and just keeping them active in the community. They have also been a great help to my father-in-law since my mother-in-law died last year, dropping in to see how he is going and just making sure he is faring well and keeping his spirits up. So I would really like to take the opportunity to thank them very much for their work in the community.

The 18th of August is the day chosen as the date to recognise Vietnam vets because it is the day of the Battle of Long Tan. That battle has come to symbolise Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War in much the same way as the Kokoda Trail symbolises World War II. The story of Long Tan is a compelling one. It is a story that tells of how a handful of men from D Company, 6 Royal Australian Regiment, cut off from support, faced down an opposing force many times larger—perhaps even of regimental strength. They did so in monsoon rain, with withering machine-gun fire and wave after wave of enemy troops. They showed immense courage. It was an impressive feat. I am also impressed by the stories of the helicopter pilots who, on hearing that D Company was running low on ammunition, risked heavy fire to drop boxes of it and blankets for the wounded. I would like to recognise the courage of the relief force from 2 and 3 Troop of the first APC squadron who would not stop at anything, including heavy machine-gun and anti-tank fire to reach their mates and also the members of the 1st Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, 161st Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery and the US 2nd Battalion, 35th Artillery Regiment who provided excellent artillery fire to protect their mates. I understand that A Battery fired a shell every 15 seconds. They did so through the entire engagement, despite exhaustion, because they knew their mates needed help. But with the determination for which Australian soldiers are well renowned and with good training and tactics, they managed to take the day. Eighteen men did not return to base that day, and another 24 were wounded.

Over 500 Australians were killed in the Vietnam War and many, many more were wounded. But they were not just wounded by enemy fire. Many carried the emotional and mental scars that would not heal. It is a sad fact that we have not always recognised the sacrifice of those Australians who served in Vietnam and that their deeds were not given appropriate recognition. All too often individual stories of gallantry and heroism of Vietnam vets are forgotten because of the deep divisions in this country, and indeed the Western world, about the legitimacy of the conflict and Australia's involvement in it. Here it is about not just vets but the families of the vets, and I talk here as the wife of an Army brat. My father-in-law did two tours of Vietnam, leaving behind a family of five children, all under the age of 10, at Woodside Barracks in South Australia. This was the time of the antiwar moratoriums and protests, and my husband, his brothers and sisters and the other Defence kids were vilified at school, as were their mothers whenever they went out to the local shops. There was such antiwar sentiment that even the families copped it, which is really tragic. It seems grossly unfair, given that Mary and the other women were bringing up their families on their own while their husbands were at war.

I take this opportunity, too, to acknowledge the work of the families, mainly women, who are left behind when their loved ones are deployed to war. Yesterday I attended the launch of the Defence Community Organisation initiative FamilySMART with Minister Snowdon. It is a series of programs designed to help partners of ADF members identify strategies and support that will help build their resilience through the life cycle of military careers and beyond. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, the women and men who are left behind with little children do it tough. I was talking to the wife of someone who has just come back from Afghanistan and she told me that, though it was difficult when her husband was away because of worrying about him and wondering whether he would be okay, the wives, husbands and children who are left behind get into a bit of a rhythm. She said it was actually the predeployment that was the most stressful period. There was a lot of tension and anxiety about him actually going, and that was the most difficult time for her. I found that most interesting.

It is so important that organisations like the Defence Community Organisation and Defence Families Australia are there to help those who are behind as well as the troops who come back. They provide a fantastic support network of friendship, assistance and community, because quite often these families are isolated in barracks that are away from capital cities. I applaud the FamilySMART initiative and the work of the Defence Community Organisation and Defence Families Australia.

Going back to Long Tan Day, I know that feelings at the time of the Vietnam War were exceptionally strong, but now we must put aside our opinions on the virtues or otherwise of the Vietnam War to honour those Australians who did serve the nation overseas, regardless of how we feel about the validity of their mission. They were not responsible for the decision to go; they were just the ones tasked with carrying it out. They did so with honour and courage and they risked much. I add my voice to those honouring their service today. Lest we forget.

5:03 pm

Photo of Luke SimpkinsLuke Simpkins (Cowan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Vietnam Veterans Day is commemorated on the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan, it being arguably our finest moment in the Vietnam War. It was on that day, 18 August 1966, that D Company and supporting troops took on a vastly superior enemy force in the Long Tan rubber plantation. In that desperate fight, against such terrible odds, victory was achieved. I pay tribute to the courage and bravery of the members of D Company and those who shared the fight with them that night.

Some people in this country talk of the Vietnam War as a defeat. It is not correct to say that we were defeated. When the last of our troops left Vietnam in 1973, the war had not been lost. Our soldiers had not been defeated and we and our allies had not been driven into the sea. At the start of 1973 the Paris Peace Accords had resulted in a cessation of the fighting, so when we left Vietnam the north had been stopped. Our soldiers had fought with distinction and overall success in Vietnam from the days of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam, 'the Team', all the way through the war until the withdrawal. Thousands of our soldiers have the right to be proud of their achievements but, as we know, they were treated terribly upon their return. That constituted what I think we all acknowledge is a national disgrace. Although subsequent events have at least partially redressed that terrible wrong, the pain is something that will always live with our veterans. It is most definitely the case that when you look back upon the Vietnam War and compare it to the Korean War or even the Second World War there is a big difference between a war where you could walk out of the jungle one day and be back on the streets of Sydney the next day, and a war where you could be on a boat for one or two months coming back from Europe and have the time to wind down and hang out with your mates under less arduous circumstances. So when you see those sorts of comparisons it makes the treatment of our Vietnam veterans at the time even worse because they were repatriated back to Australia and almost thrown directly out on the streets into circumstances of great adversity. People did not have a great regard for them at all and that was, as I said, a national disgrace.

Australia was not the only country, particularly in the late 1960s and early 1970s, where there was a lot of opposition to the war. It seems that many civilians took on the side of the North Vietnamese communist government; that was the case in the United States as well. Big protest marches took the simplistic line of how evil we were in prosecuting the war and how our opponents were, in some ways, the epitome of goodness. I think the only real comparison that can be drawn between the Vietnam War and the current war in Afghanistan is the way left-wing opponents of the war always see those who we are fighting as legitimate freedom fighters or some other romanticised view of such people.

The first point that is always overlooked is that our involvement has never been about colonialism or permanent occupation. With Vietnam, it was not like the French in Indochina or the Dutch in Indonesia; instead, it is about being in these places—Vietnam or Afghanistan—to achieve stability. The other major point that is always overlooked by the political opponents of these sorts of wars is that our enemies in these wars do not represent what the local people want. The people of the south of Vietnam wanted their democracy to succeed; they did not want a communist government. It is the same in Afghanistan: they do not want the Taliban and their allies from other Arab Islamic countries to control their country; they want control of their own destinies. That is the mission that we continue to support.

In returning to the issue of Vietnam, I still consider it a great tragedy that we and the United States did not remain in Vietnam to ensure the communists complied with their obligations under the Paris Peace Accords. The people of South Vietnam wanted a democratic future—that has not been a reality. When Saigon fell to the communists on 30 April 1975 the communists were not pleasant or nice people. They treated their opponents brutally. An example is that, despite their wounds or injuries, the soldiers of the South Vietnamese army who were in hospitals were thrown out of those hospitals and told to go back to their families. They still suffer to this day with the disabilities and injuries they were suffering from when they had to leave the hospitals. I also pay tribute to the Vietnamese veterans of the Vietnam War who now live in Cowan in Western Australia and elsewhere around this country because they still undertake significant fundraising for their comrades who still survive in Vietnam. They raise money and send those funds back to Vietnam to alleviate the suffering of those treated so inhumanely by the communists.

On around 30 April each year I attend the Black April commemoration service in Kings Park in Perth with the veterans and the leaders of the Vietnamese community. On those days we remember the high hopes that were held for democracy in Vietnam and how very distant the reality has become. We remember the examples of the brutality and the inhumanity with which the communists treated their adversaries. We talk of how the hardworking people of Vietnam, the families and friends of Vietnamese Australians, continue to be held back by the communist government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. It is a government that serves itself and its elites before it serves its people.

It is in that context and in the light of the history of the Vietnam War that I pay tribute to our soldiers, our airmen and our sailors who served in the Vietnam War. Theirs was a noble cause, a cause where the weak needed to be defended and they were defended while we were participating in that war. We should be proud of the achievements of our troops in the Vietnam War. They fought with great honour and great distinction. They achieved their tasks. They protected South Vietnam and the people of South Vietnam. They fought to defend a democratic dream, and that was the right thing to do. The Vietnam War had been halted by a ceasefire on 27 January 1973, four days after President Nixon had declared that peace with honour had been achieved. The reality was that treachery and betrayal would follow in 1975, and it was only then that defeat came and not at all during the Australian involvement. So once again I pay tribute to every Australian serviceman and servicewoman who served our country, our national interests and the great cause of democracy in the Vietnam War. As I said, theirs was an honourable effort; theirs was a distinguished effort. We should always remember and do whatever we can to look after them in the future.

5:10 pm

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise in acknowledgement of Vietnam Veterans Day and in thanks on behalf of a grateful nation to all who partook of the conflict in the Vietnam War. 18 August is a day on which the Battle of Long Tan has long been remembered and is now the day on which we remember and pay tribute to the sacrifices of all Australians who participated in the Vietnam War. This conflict may have been the first modern war where the community back home saw the horrors of war on their television sets. This horror was felt by everyone—not only the public through the many protests and the things that we saw here back home but, more realistically, by the veterans themselves who witnessed the horrors firsthand and who were actually there. The veterans have always suffered throughout their lives as a result of their service in times of war. The lack of adequate support on their return to their homeland increased the suffering tremendously, and we have all heard and seen stories of Vietnam vets and heard about the non-existent services when they first returned and the horrendous things that they went through, even on their return here to their homeland.

This year it was a great honour for me on Anzac Day, when I was actually in Vietnam and I attended the wreath-laying ceremony at Long Tan this Anzac Day, in the year of the 45th anniversary of the battle. It was attended by government officials, by the Ambassador to Vietnam and by the consul-general in the area, and we were joined by many Australian veterans who paid their respects at this place and at the time to the service of members of the Australian Defence Force throughout that conflict and to the recognition of the suffering that has continued since. It was a very eerie feeling turning up at dawn that morning in this rubber plantation. The current rubber trees that are there would all have been new growth from when the battle took place. As I said, it was very eerie to think that these young kids, really—19 or 20—were in this forest of rubber trees and then were pounced on by the enemy. But they did us proud. We heard stories that morning from many veterans who were there recounting what took place in that horrible, horrible battlefield. They did us proud and we are here to acknowledge their heroic efforts. It will be one of the battles that will go down in history as one that was so significant to Australia. As I said, it was a really eerie feeling being there at dawn watching the sun come up and conducting the ceremony for Anzac Day. I thought: imagine how those young lads felt being in that rubber plantation and being fired upon as they were on patrol.

I would also like to take this opportunity to give thanks to all those who aid and assist veterans through their civilian lives here in the Australian community. All of us have RSLs within our electorates and have connections to those RSLs. As I go round my electorate and visit the numerous RSLs, such as the Henley and Grange RSL, the Plympton Glenelg RSL and the Hilton RSL, I see first-hand the services they offer to a lot of the Vietnam vets. A lot of those RSLs today are run by Vietnam veterans; the presidents, the secretaries and the welfare officers are all Vietnam vets. Local RSLs play a wonderful role in the lives of those veterans and the Vietnam veterans in particular.

I would also like to give a special mention to the Vietnam Veterans Association in South Australia, who deserve special recognition. The amount of voluntary work that they do in South Australia, giving 24/7 service by phone or in person, is truly remarkable. It is absolutely tremendous assistance in the alleviation of the ongoing suffering that many of our veterans still endure today. Nobody knows the thoughts and feelings of a veteran better than another veteran, and the fact that there are veterans out there who are willing and able to serve their fellow veterans in itself deserves recognition, thanks and support from all of us. A group of members of the South Australian branch of the Vietnam Veterans Association go back regularly to Vietnam, where there is a particular orphanage, the Baria orphanage in South Vietnam, that they sponsor and support. You can see a lot of this sort of good work going on today in Vietnam, as many Vietnam vets go back to visit the places where they were and want to contribute something to those communities. This year, I was with some of them, and they were welcomed with open arms by the local community.

I would like to conclude simply by conveying my deep and profound respect to all Vietnam veterans—those who lost their lives and those who had their lives irrevocably changed by their service to this nation. Lest we forget.

5:16 pm

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too feel very privileged to speak in this chamber about Vietnam Veterans Day. Originally, 18 August was a day that commemorated the Battle of Long Tan, which was in 1966, but it has now been adopted by all veterans. I wish to make a short contribution to these statements to acknowledge the Vietnam veterans in the electorate of Parkes and recognise the significance of the Battle of Long Tan. Some years ago, I read an account of the Battle of Long Tan in book form and I was very moved by the contribution that those few soldiers made, and the level of courage and resourcefulness that they showed in such overwhelming circumstances.

I would also like to acknowledge the atmosphere in the Australian community to which the Vietnam vets returned. I was a teenager at the time—I missed out on being in the ballot by a few years—but I was aware that they were treated differently and thought of differently by the wider public. I remember seeing on television some of the marches and some of the animosity towards the Vietnam vets. On one of the darkest days in Australia's history, Vietnam vets were flown into Mascot airport in the middle of the night, under cover. So I would like to mention today the hardships that they have faced and the fact that many of the Vietnam vets that I know personally have been profoundly affected. Some of the vets have managed to lead very resourceful lives but many have been affected by late-onset traumatic stress and have battled mental illness in their fifties and sixties.

I would also like to acknowledge, following on from the member for Hindmarsh's comments, the great role that the vets are doing now in looking after the veteran community. As the World War II and Korean War veterans are getting on in years, the returned services community in my electorate is run by Vietnam veterans. Apart from running the club, the vets do great work looking after war widows and looking out for each other, so I wanted to recognise the role that they play. Today I would also like to make special mention of the Dubbo Vietnam Veterans Association, of which I am the patron. It is one of the positions that I am most proud of. I hold it in such high regard that those members have asked me to be their patron. I hope that I can do justice to the great honour they have given me. In conclusion, I would like to acknowledge all Vietnam veterans around Australia on Vietnam Veterans Day, but particularly the veterans in the seat of Parkes.

5:20 pm

Photo of Ed HusicEd Husic (Chifley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to associate myself with the comments made last week by the Prime Minister on Vietnam Veterans Day. Although we were all here on that day, I did take the opportunity last Friday back in the electorate to commemorate this important day by hosting an afternoon tea and recognising the service of three veterans. It was a privilege to present these ex-servicemen with Saluting Their Service certificates, the first I have had the pleasure to present. In their own way, these men made a significant contribution to Australia's wartime efforts—two in Vietnam and the other in Japan. I would like to recognise in this place the service of Michael Anthony Gillett of Rooty Hill for his service in the Vietnam War; Roy Tootell of Blacktown for his service in the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan, and Allen Peter Williams of Hebersham for his service in the Vietnam War. Michael Gillett served with the 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment in Vietnam. Roy Tootell served in the British Commonwealth Occupation Force workshop in Kure, Japan and told some really great stories about his time there in 1946 and walking through Tokyo at that time. Allen Williams served seven months as an infantry rifleman before serving with Army aviation for the next year and a half in Vietnam, and again he recounted some of the things that he had to do—in particular marking targets and having to be placed in a position of great risk evading fire to do the work that he had to do and did so proudly. All three men were delighted to receive their certificates, but so too were their families—and in particular Jenny, who is Roy Tootell's daughter—who came with them for their presentation.

It is well documented that veterans of the Vietnam war suffered terribly after their return to Australia, particularly from the lack of recognition and appreciation by the broader community, divided as it was at that time in the political debate surrounding that conflict. There were also people in the community at that time who had lost interest and confidence in the war. But those people who had served had done so responding to a call by their nation and should never have been placed in the position that they were on their return as a result of their services and their respecting that call. Veterans themselves suffered innumerable health complaints such as post-traumatic stress disorder and the effects of the chemicals they used in jungle warfare. More than in any war before, Vietnam veterans suffered lasting psychological damage as a result of what they saw in battle and what they were required to do. The war itself was one of the longest major conflicts in which Australians had been involved, lasting 10 years from 1962 to 1972 and involving some 60,000 personnel. A limited initial commitment of just 30 military advisers grew to include a battalion in 1965 and finally in 1966 a task force. Each of the three services was involved, with the dominant role being played by the Army.

Vietnam Veterans Day, originally a day to commemorate the Battle of Long Tan in 1966, has now been adopted by all veterans. Last Saturday I had the pleasure of attending the Long Tan memorial dinner at Rooty Hill RSL, a dinner hosted by the Rooty Hill naval subsection of the Naval Association of Australia. The subsection themselves were celebrating their 35th birthday on the night and had Commodore Bruce Kafer, Commandant of the Australian Defence Force Academy, there to cut their birthday cake. For me one of the highlights of the dinner was an address given by Mr Vin Cosgrove from the St Mary's Vietnam Veterans Outpost where he recounted key events in the Battle of Long Tan. He certainly captured everyone's attention through the events that he recounted on the night, and it was an important part of the evening to recognise what had gone on and the odds that were faced by our servicemen in that particular battle as part of the broader conflict. It was Australia's most significant contact with the Viet Cong in the 10 years of the conflict itself. In May and June 1966 soldiers of the 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, or 6RAR as they are known, arrived in South Vietnam. By August 1966 the Australian task force base at Nui Dat was only three months old. Concerned at the establishment of such a strong presence in their midst, the Viet Cong determined to inflict an early defeat on the Australians. In the days before the battle itself radio signals indicated the presence of a strong Viet Cong force within five kilometres of the base, but patrols found nothing. On the night of 16-17 August Nui Dat came under fire from mortars and rifles. While the Australians believed an assault would follow, none came.

Patrols continued the following day, 18 August, and Delta Company 6RAR left the base at 11.15 that morning bound for Long Tan rubber plantation. They entered the plantation at 3.15 that afternoon and less than an hour later the Viet Cong attacked in force, putting the Australians under mortar, machine-gun and small-arms fire. Only the quick response of a New Zealand artillery battery to desperate calls for support saved Delta Company from annihilation. Captured documents and information from prisoners suggested that Delta force had faced some 2,500 Viet Cong. On returning to the plantation the following day, the Australians counted 245 enemy dead with evidence that others had already been removed from the battlefield. Eighteen Australians unfortunately lost their lives in that battle and 24 were wounded. All but one of the dead were from Delta Company.

It is understandable, given the toll our soldiers paid in the Vietnam War, that so many were left alienated by their treatment after returning home. The war itself was an important theatre of war for Australia strategically and politically and deserves to be recognised as such. I hope that students in Australian schools are being taught about the war, in particular this battle, the Battle of Long Tan. It is an important part of our history. I am grateful to hear of Vin Cosgrove's account. Finally, I would like to thank Mr Peter Hamrol, President of the Rooty Hill Sub Section of the Naval Association, for their invitation to attend the dinner and I congratulate them on their 35th birthday. I indicate my personal thanks, a debt of gratitude and the gratitude that many feel for the services that have been carried out by these people who operated under extreme circumstances.

5:27 pm

Photo of Ewen JonesEwen Jones (Herbert, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It was only a short time ago that I was walked from a morning tea down to the parade ground to farewell 2RAR as 800 men and women were in the process of being deployed to Afghanistan. I was walked down and back by the same warrant officer. On the way back we talked. He was near retirement. I asked, 'Did you serve in Vietnam?' He said, 'Well, as a matter of fact I did. I was very young then.' I said, 'Did you get a send-off like this?' He said, 'We got nothing, mate. We got nothing on the way out and we got nothing on the way back.' What a great change we have seen and it is for the people who served in Vietnam that we see this change. The people who served in Vietnam and went through what they had to go through in this most unpopular war have seen the way Australians have changed and now re-embrace the members of the Australian Defence Force.

Townsville is very lucky to be Australia's garrison city. We are very proud of that. But it has not always been the case. Up until the Somalia conflict in 1990 it was them and us. There were whole suburbs of people segregated. You would not go anywhere near the AJs. You fought with them in the pubs; you fought with them on the streets. When they came back from Somalia it was the Townsville Bulletinthat started calling them 'our boys'. From there, the city and the ADF have made a concerted two-way effort to change the relationship between the men and women of the ADF and the city. I want to say how proud I am to be associated with the men and women of the 3rd Brigade of the 5th Aviation Regiment at the RAAF base and the Navy contingent in Townsville. We are truly lucky to have them in our city. We are very proud of them. They live amongst us; they go to our schools.

Everyone has focused on Vietnam, today being the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. We should never shy away from that being a truly remarkable achievement. Whether it be the big battles of Long Tan, Coral-Balmoral or Binh Ba, we should not take away from the skirmishes that went on all over the place and it should not just be about the people who were there in conflict. I have a good friend who was a captain in the Army at that time—he is now a retired brigadier—who called artillery onto his own position to defeat the enemy. That was a very brave thing to do. I have mates who had to sleep next to artillery for the first three nights they were there. They did not sleep at all but now they can sleep through anything. If you can sleep through an artillery barrage going on outside your tent you can sleep anywhere. I have friends who came back from Vietnam as shattered men. I have friends who came back from Vietnam saying it was the greatest time of their lives. I have friends who served in the jungle and friends who drove armoured personnel carriers. I am part of that lucky generation from the end of the baby boomers to the beginning of the generation Xers who has not had to serve in a war. We missed conscription. It was terrible to watch people being conscripted, with some trying to get out of it, along with the rage in the streets that went with it.

To everyone who had anything to do with it, including the people who continue to have something to do with it, such as the Vietnam Veterans' Counselling Service, the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the Department of Defence and the wider community, I say: let us make sure that we recognise our Vietnam veterans. They are now becoming almost the elder statesmen of Anzac Day. Let us turn Anzac Day into a celebration of what these men and women did for their country. A lot of them did it without volunteering.

I cannot let this opportunity go without referring to the people who lost a brother, a son, a husband or a father. There are lots of people floating around who have had people killed in that conflict and they will always carry those scars with them. No-one wants to go to war, but soldiers train for it. They train hard. You should go to the 3rd Brigade and watch those guys from 1RAR and 2RAR and the rest of the guys go through their exercises. It becomes muscle memory. They are battle-ready. They are ready to go and they want to go.

I also must use this opportunity to reinforce the fact that these people went to Vietnam and we had a government that changed the way that their pensions were indexed. We have an opportunity to right a terrible wrong for Vietnam veterans, and for other people who have served at least 20 years in the Defence Force, by correctly indexing the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefit scheme. It has broad based approval from both sides of the House; we just cannot get it across the line. Let us not lose this opportunity to right this terrible wrong.

5:32 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Vietnam Veterans Day, commemorated in Australia on 18 August each year, remembers those Australians and New Zealanders who served during the Vietnam War and also commemorates the Battle of Long Tan. It gives us an opportunity to stand as one and remember those who did not come home. One of the most well-known Australian engagements in the Vietnam War was the Battle of Long Tan from 17 August to 20 August 1966. The battle saw the action of 108 Anzacs against a Viet Cong force of many thousands. The battle was one of the heaviest conflicts of the Vietnam War as well as one of the few battles in the recorded history of the world to be won against such overwhelming odds.

The Vietnam War was the longest war Australia has ever been involved in. Australian involvement in the Vietnam War was marked by controversy, significant levels of public opposition to conscription and a concern about casualties. For this reason the Vietnam War was sadly a taboo subject for many years. Our men and women risked their lives for their country only to be shunned when they returned home. It took many years for these soldiers to gain the recognition they deserved. Now, 45 years since the Battle of Long Tan, we know these men and women can hold their heads high, as they should be able to, and be shown the respect they rightly earned.

On Thursday and on the weekend, ex-service men and women from around the country conducted ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the famous Battle of Long Tan. The biggest ceremony in my electorate was held in Wagga Wagga, the home of the soldier. In the Vietnam War 139 servicemen and women who listed their city of birth as Wagga Wagga fought in Vietnam. In Griffith, the other city in my electorate, 103 people who had listed their place of birth as Griffith went to Vietnam. All up, about 250 men and women from Wagga Wagga saw active service in Vietnam. With two major military facilities in the locality at the time, Kapooka Army Base and the RAAF Base Forest Hill, it was predictable that a majority of these people would be enlisted service personnel from other localities who had been posted to either Kapooka or the Royal Australian Air Force training base at Forest Hill. However, some 70 service men and women were locals and they are commemorated in the city's Victory Memorial Gardens.

Various organisations for Vietnam veterans have been established in the Riverina. The Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia is the main voice for veterans. Its mission is simply summarised in its motto: 'Honour the dead and fight like hell for the living'. Australia's service personnel, past and present, have given so much to their nation, and they deserve to live out their lives in the knowledge that they have financial security.

Australians are rightly very proud of our past and present service men and women. We recognise the dangers they have faced and continue to face, and we admire their professionalism, skill and capability. Let us continue to show them the respect they rightly deserve and, after they have given so much, not take away from them by way of financial security. Thousands of men and women have been lost in conflict. In the Vietnam War, 60,000 Australians served our country. Five hundred and twenty-one died and more than 3,000 were wounded in that war.

I will finish with the words of Lieutenant Colonel Harry Smith MC Rtd, who now lives in Hervey Bay, Queensland, which is in the electorate of Hinkler. Earlier, the member for Hinkler spoke very eloquently on this motion about Harry Smith's involvement, dedication and bravery and how members of his company had not been properly recognised. Whilst I am not an advocate for retrospective awards, I feel as though the member for Hinkler's words should be heeded to by the authorities. I will finish with the words of Harry Smith, who said:

I am very proud to have commanded Delta Company, 6RAR who gave their all on that fateful day, above and beyond what would have been expected of them. That is why my company, which bore the brunt of the battle and lost 17 killed and 21 wounded, was awarded the US Presidential Unit Citation, and was offered the South Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry Unit Citation. I am also proud and thankful to those who supported us—all the artillery, the RAAF, the USAF, the APCs, our A Company and the B Company platoon, and others.

Although nowhere near the same scale, Long Tan will be remembered alongside Kapyong, Tobruk, and Gallipoli. I am saddened by the loss of life, and the tragic loss to all the loved ones, on both sides. Like the errors of Gallipoli, a proper assessment of intelligence reports would have averted my company being sent out to face a VC regiment. But we saved the Task Force Base from what would have been a disastrous attack by the 5,000-strong VC 5th Division, and their influence in the province was reduced thereafter. That is why Long Tan has become so significant and is feted as the icon of the war for all Vietnam veterans to commemorate those lost or maimed between 1962 and 1972.

5:38 pm

Photo of Stuart RobertStuart Robert (Fadden, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Defence Science, Technology and Personnel) Share this | | Hansard source

There are a few days in the national conscience when we stop to remember and reflect on battles and wars fought and won. We remember the soldiers, sailors and air men and women who served. We think of Anzac Day on 25 April, and we think of Remembrance Day. I personally reflect on Kapyong Day, 24 April. In the Korean War, the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment stayed the Chinese offensive at Kapyong. Of course, 18 August marks a special day, Vietnam Veterans Day. This is a special day in our national conscience when we stop and remember Vietnam—the longest war Australia has been engaged in. This war began on 31 July 1962, when Colonel Ted Serong alighted from a civilian airliner onto the tarmac at Tan Son Nhut Airport, Saigon. Three days later his unit arrived. This was a small group of 29 officers, warrant officers and engineers—mostly infantry and some elements of engineering and signals. They were specifically chosen for their tasks. More than half had served in Malaya and had been trained in the art of counterguerrilla warfare. Indeed, the early days of the war saw the arrival of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam, which included my old school sergeant, Warrant Officer Class 2 Jim Geedrick. He had fought in World War II, in the Malayan emergency, in the confrontation in Vietnam and then with my old unit, the 3rd Battalion, in Korea. Vietnam would end on 8 December 1972, and the Australian Army training team in Vietnam received orders to return to Australia 10 days later, thus completing the commitment to Vietnam.

Fifty-nine thousand Australians served in Vietnam. It turned out to be a very costly war. 2,122,244 is the official number for those killed during the war. Over 3.65 million were wounded. There were 58,169 Americans killed and 11,465 of them were teenagers. There were 304,000 wounded. More than 74,000 French had been killed before the first Americans arrived in 1956. Australia lost 511 of its finest, and seven civilians were killed. Six more were missing in action, their bodies have now all been recovered. I give credit to the Labor government for ensuring that was finalised and occurred. There were 2,069 wounded.

The average age of the combat soldier from Australia in Vietnam was 20 years old. The average Australian combat soldier saw 314 days of combat in a period of one year. That is a long time with a weapon in your hand. By comparison, the average Second World War soldier in the Pacific was 26 years old and saw, whilst it varied, about 40 days of combat in a period of a number of years. There were 444,000 North Vietnamese, over 220,000 South Vietnamese military personnel and over half a million civilians killed. 2,590,000 Americans, and over 59,000 Australians served in Vietnam and 6,700,000 tonnes of bombs were dropped compared with 2,700,000 tonnes dropped on Germany during the Second World War. Vietnam truly was a destructive period of combat.

It has left its mark on our nation. I think it is seared into the souls of Australians that war indeed is hell. There will come a time when we will beat our weapons into ploughshares, and that time will be welcomed. But that time is not now. An effective diplomatic policy must be backed up by an effective force of arms. The nation must retain an effective deterrent in the form of combat of arms. We all pray that the articles of war are not used, that the machines of war are not rolled out, and that the men and women who fight those combat operations are not used. But alas, we find ourselves in this debate in the middle of combat operations in Afghanistan. But this year, this year we stopped, paused, reflected and remembered. We considered the Australian Vietnam veteran community, as together we marked the 45th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan and of course the awarding by her Excellency the Governor General of the citation for those who served with D Company.

All Australians owe a great deal to the men and women who fought in Vietnam, as we do for all those who fought for freedom. Freedom is not free, someone pays the price. The price of eternal vigilance, of course, is what we pay for peace. We owe a great deal to those who fought in Vietnam, and to their families who stayed behind and have borne some of the pain, the sorrow, the joys, the happiness, the tears from those who have returned from their service. As we mark this 45th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan, it is appropriate to make special mention of the 108 men of D Company 6RAR who fought off as many as 2,500 determined Vietcong soldiers in the rubber plantations of Long Tan and Phuoc Tuy Province of South Vietnam, on 18 August 1966.

Eighteen Australians lost their lives in that battle and a further 24 were wounded. More than 245 enemies were killed in action, their bodies found on the battleground when fighting ceased. Hundreds and hundreds of more blood trails indicated the damage that Australia's combat fighters from D Company 6RAR had inflicted. It is fitting that the efforts of the men of D Company, 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, will be honoured and have been honoured when they received Australia's military's highest honour, the unit citation for gallantry from the Governor General.

This award, many years later I acknowledge, is an important recognition of the decisive efforts of that battle. Never underestimate the horror of combat operations at the best of times, let alone in the teeming rain in a rubber plantation, when you are outnumbered 20 to one. You are vastly outnumbered with monsoonal rains driving mercilessly across you as you move forward, radio communications almost non-existent, to fend off a combatant that is determined and aggressive. I think this country has dealt with the shame of those 15 years post Vietnam when there was no recognition of their service. It is a stain on our nation's history. I believe the nation has dealt with it; I believe the nation has addressed it. I think the nation has resolved in its conscience that never again do we bear upon those men and women who have fought in our name, in our uniform with our flag emblazoned across their shoulders, and not recognise their service and their sacrifice.

I pay tribute here this evening to the families of the Vietnam veterans: you have endured so much; you have shouldered a burden many of us can never understand. Thank you for caring for those men and women who returned, in many cases broken and questioning why the nation had not embraced them as its sons and daughters. We will not forget the service and sacrifice of our Vietnam veterans, nor of their families. We resolve once again as a parliament of people representative of our nation that the sacrifice of any Australian who serves in any theatre of combat, sent by its democratically elected government, will be recognised, remembered and embraced. We have learnt the lessons of our past.

We acknowledge today the bravery and the Anzac spirit which prevailed and which continues to prevail, even under the sometimes difficult circumstances of those who come back wounded and those who have been killed in action. Their bravery and the spirit in which they fought is forever forged in our memories. We have come a long way since 1972, when it all ended. I was two years old then. We have had several welcome home parades. We have unveiled and rededicated, quite rightly, a magnificent Vietnam veterans memorial in Canberra. We have issued the Australian Service Medal. We have seen the RSL and other organisations become safe havens for many Vietnam veterans who took on the office-bearer roles when our World War II diggers passed the mantle.

Australians are incredibly proud of you veterans. It is great pleasure to recognise you for the incredible service you have rendered. That is the great joy of Vietnam Veterans Day on 18 August: it gives us all as a nation an opportunity to honour the service and sacrifice you have made. I remember a tombstone in Gallipoli of a very young soldier who gave his life on the first day there, on 25 April, 1915. It said simply, 'When you return, tell them of us and say: for your tomorrow we gave our today.' The same can be said for those who served in Vietnam: many gave their tomorrow for our today. We will not forget that freedom is not free. We will remember them.

5:47 pm

Photo of Jane PrenticeJane Prentice (Ryan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased that the government has called for speakers to commemorate Vietnam Veterans Day. In particular, I want to speak about the 45th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. I was honoured to speak on the adjournment last Thursday, 18 August, on this very topic. I am speaking again today as I feel very strongly that our service men and women should receive the recognition that they deserve, as occurred last Thursday at the Gallipoli Barracks at Enoggera, in my electorate of Ryan. I was disappointed to miss that significant event due to the House sitting. The ceremony involved the presentation of the prestigious unit of citation for gallantry for members of Delta Company, a subunit of 6RAR, as well as a medal of gallantry for retired Lieutenant David Sabben. I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the unit's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Harry Smith, whose tireless efforts have finally seen this belated recognition achieved.

The date of 18 August is a very special day for our nation, Vietnam Veterans Day, and commemorates the Battle of Long Tan. Regardless of whether you supported the Vietnam War, or whether you support or object to war at all, our veterans deserve recognition for the sacrifices they have made, particularly when that sacrifice was made through national service. At the time, the Vietnam War was the longest war in which Australia had been involved. As we all know, it was also one of the most controversial. It was the first war broadcast live on television, witnessed from the comfort of our homes. It was a tragic time, a confusing time, with public opposition to conscription and to the war itself often overshadowing what members of our Defence Force went through. I commend the men and women who ensured that the Vietnam veterans were finally acknowledged as they should be with a welcome home parade in 1987 and the adoption of the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan as Vietnam Veterans Day. Vietnam Veterans Day is commemorated on 18 August each year, the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. This year this day was particularly important as it marked the 45th anniversary of the battle.

There is no doubt that these servicemen deserve recognition for their gallantry. On 18 August 1966, 108 Anzacs unknowingly found themselves pitted against a main force of North Vietnamese army troops as well as Vietcong estimated to be between 1,800 to 2,500 in number. The battle is one of the best known and heaviest conflicts of the war and one of very few battles in recorded history to be won against such odds. We lost 18 Australians in the Battle of Long Tan, with 24 wounded. The opposition losses are unknown but 245 bodies were left on the battlefield.

The conditions were terrifying. Servicemen recalling the battle tell stories of chest-height mist, torrential rain and shots that came out of nowhere. Six men were lost immediately upon first contact, and back-up companies were delayed for over an hour. The low forest meant that there was little air support, although 9 Squadron, standing by their mates in true Anzac fashion, flew their helicopters over the battlefield, well outside operational restrictions at the time. Despite this conditions, our troops kept a numerically superior force at bay, showing unquestionable bravery under circumstances most of us cannot fathom.

I am proud that the men of Delta Company were recognised last week. It is unacceptable that many of the men who were on the ground at Long Tan putting their lives on the line in terrifying conditions had their gallantry awards downgraded. I commend former Prime Minister John Howard for being the first Australian Prime Minister to visit Long Tan and acknowledge the poor treatment Vietnam veterans had received. Thankfully, in 2006, we as a nation went some way to acknowledging our Vietnam veterans, with many of the awards that had originally been downgraded then being upgraded to properly reflect what these brave men deserved. Last week the final piece of the Battle for Long Tan was put in place at the ceremony at Gallipoli Barracks in Enoggera.

I feel privileged to have the opportunity to publicly commend our service men and women, past and present, from the Boer War to those serving around the world today. I hope our defence forces never again face a conflict like the Battle of Long Tan. But if they do, their gallantry, their sacrifice and their trauma must be recognised.

5:53 pm

Photo of Louise MarkusLouise Markus (Macquarie, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to commemorate particularly Vietnam Veterans Day but also to honour those men and women who have served through our history and continue to serve as I speak here in the chamber. The 18th of August is a significant day on the Australian calendar. It is the opportunity for all Australians to remember those who served during the Vietnam conflict and to acknowledge the price paid not just by them and their mates but also by their families. In total, approximately 60,000 Australians served in the Vietnam War between July 1962 and June 1973, and 521 Australians were killed in action and over 3,000 were wounded. Like all men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the fight for freedom, we honour their lives and acknowledge the deep loss of those who loved them.

The Australian commitment consisted predominantly of Army personnel; however, a significant number of Air Force and Navy personnel as well as some civilians served during this period. Australia's involvement began with the Australian Army Training Team arriving in South Vietnam in July 1962. This consisted of 30 military advisers who were known as 'the Team'. The Royal Australian Air Force also sent a flight of Caribou transports to the port of Vung Tau in 1964. At the beginning of 1965 it became evident that South Vietnam could not keep at bay the Vietcong and their North Vietnamese comrades for more than a few months. This led to a major escalation by the US military, who requested that Australia and other nations join the effort. The Australian government dispatched the 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment in June 1965 to serve alongside the US 173rd Airborne Brigade in Bien Hoa province.

There were many significant battles with Australians involved. Australia's heaviest actions of the war occurred in August 1966 in what would later become known as the Battle of Long Tan. This year, as has already been mentioned, we mark the 45th anniversary of the battle. The battle involved a company of the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, 6RAR, and took place in a rubber plantation near Long Tan. The 108 soldiers of D Company held off an enemy force estimated to be over 2,000 for four hours in the middle of a tropical downpour. They were greatly assisted by a timely ammunition resupply by RAAF helicopters, close fire support from Australian artillery and the arrival of reinforcements in APCs as night fell. The armoured vehicles had been delayed, having had to 'swim' across a flooded creek and fight through groups of enemy along the way. When the Vietcong withdrew at nightfall they left behind 245 dead but carried away many more casualties. Seventeen Australians were killed in action and 25 were wounded, with one losing his battle for life several days later.

The 18th of August has become the day that veterans from the Battle of Long Tan observe a day of commemoration. This day has, since the 1980s, come to be recognised also as Vietnam Veterans Day. It is a day when everyday Australians acknowledge all who served in that conflict and their families.

Macquarie is home to two Royal Australian Air Force bases, Glenbrook and Richmond, and has a very strong ex-service community. I was privileged to attend the Vietnam Veterans and Associated Forces Memorial Day activities which were held in Springwood on 14 August. I acknowledge and congratulate all those who organised the day. An event like that takes many months—in fact, probably from one year to the next—to organise. It is attended not just by residents of the Blue Mountains but by many ex-service organisations, members of the ex-service community and current serving personnel from across our region. It was particularly heartening to see the people from different generations—young children from local schools and many from volunteer organisations—who came to acknowledge the service of our men and women. We also had present with us on that day the Governor of New South Wales, Marie Bashir, who is indeed well loved by those in the service and ex-service communities and in the seat of Macquarie.

Another group I particularly acknowledge is the Children and Grandchildren of Vietnam Veterans Network. I was honoured to be invited to the inaugural conference of the network during my time as shadow minister for veterans' affairs. The network is committed to supporting generations of not only families of Vietnam veterans but all military families by understanding and providing meaning through their shared experiences of living with parents affected by their time in the Vietnam conflict. Families are often forgotten. They indeed pay a price as well. The Vietnam Veterans' Family Study, due to be completed in 2012, hopefully will provide insights and solutions for how we assist those impacted by military service.

There are many vibrant service and ex-service organisations in Macquarie—the RSL, Legacy, the Vietnam Veterans Association and the War Widows Guild, to name a few. I acknowledge their daily and weekly service to both current and ex-service personnel and their ongoing practical support for all our veterans and their families. I would like for a moment to focus on the BEST program, the Building Excellence in Support and Training program, which offers grants to ex-service organisations, pensioners, welfare practitioners and advocates who provide advice and assistance to the veteran and defence communities. This has been an invaluable program. In my time as shadow minister I was honoured to be able to fight on behalf of veterans to ensure that the amount of funding for this program increased year by year. It is very disappointing that the 2011-12 budget has significantly reduced the amount of BEST program grants. The 2010-11 financial year saw around $6.7 million in payments. However, the Labor government has slashed this valued service significantly with less than $3.7 million available in the current budget. This will severely impact the capacity of ex-service organisations to respond to the needs of the community.

Sadly, it is through not only the reduced funding of the BEST program that this Labor government is letting our veterans down. The voting down of the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Amendment (Fair Indexation) Bill 2010 by Labor clearly demonstrated where their priorities lie. It is a shameful betrayal of the men and women who serve and have served our nation in the Australian Defence Force. The decision by Labor to vote this down means that many in the veteran community will see their superannuation continue to lose purchasing power. This is at a time when further increases in the cost of living are impacting their quality of life. The coalition has been very clear on this issue; we believe that military service is unique in its nature and Australian service personnel both past and present, after giving so much for their nation, deserve to live out their lives with the knowledge that they have financial security. Labor made a commitment at the 2007 election to fix military superannuation. We are familiar with these false promises. Unlike Labor, the coalition has consulted widely and has listened carefully to the views put forward by veterans, the ex-service people, ex-service organisations and current ADF personnel. It is time that this Labor government did the same thing. I urge the Prime Minister to offer veterans the support they need and deserve by restoring adequate BEST funding and by supporting a reconsideration of the defence force retirement and death benefits bill. This would be a very practical way that the government could acknowledge that we remember and acknowledge the service of all our veterans.

6:03 pm

Photo of Luke HartsuykerLuke Hartsuyker (Cowper, National Party, Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the House) Share this | | Hansard source

I am grateful for the opportunity to recognise the 45th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan and to note the contribution of Australian troops in the Vietnam War. It is a testament to the sacrifice and courage of Australian troops down through the years that we are here today representing our constituents in a democratically elected parliament. Outside the parliament this week we witnessed peaceful demonstrations against the government, and inside the parliament we have argued our different points of view using debate, not weapons. Australia is one of the world's oldest democracies and we must thank our veterans for their contribution to protecting our way of life.

Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War was the longest duration of any war in Australia's history. The Australian soldiers arrived in 1962 and the final Australian soldiers left in June 1973. Almost 60,000 Australians served in Vietnam and, sadly, 521 men died and 3,000 were wounded during that conflict. Australian soldiers in Vietnam reinforced the Anzac tradition of courage, mateship and bravery, and there is no finer example of that Anzac spirit than the men of D Company 6RAR in the Battle of Long Tan. I will not repeat the details of the battle, as I am sure it has been adequately chronicled here by previous speakers. However, I must pay tribute to the courage of D Company, who faced overwhelming odds and held their ground for three hours under withering fire; 17 men of D Company died on that day and more were wounded. Of course these were not the only casualties suffered in the Vietnam War. Long Tan was the first costly battle for Australians in that conflict. It is remarkable and a tribute to the skill, determination and bravery of those troops that despite being outnumbered some 15 to one, they held out and we can count Long Tan as a victory. I am pleased that the men of 6RAR have finally been recognised as a unit for their extraordinary bravery on 18 August 1966. This unit citation has been a long time coming, but it is fitting for the men of D Company to be honoured in this way. Long Tan was not the only battle in which Australians fought and the men of D Company were not the only causalities but 18 August has become the day on which we acknowledge the service of all our Vietnam veterans.

I wish to commend my ex-services community for their tireless efforts to ensure that the courage and sacrifice of our service men and women are always remembered. It is through their efforts that we see so many people, most of whom have not experienced the horror of war, attending commemorations around this country not only on Anzac Day but on a host of other days that are significant on the military calendar. I particularly note the various RSL sub-branches and associations in my electorate that ensure their fallen mates will not be forgotten. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend memorial services in Coffs Harbour, Nambucca Heads and Woolgoolga this year due the parliamentary sitting schedule. However, I want to place on record my thanks to the many veterans in the Cowper electorate who served our country so valiantly in Vietnam. As we reflect on the Battle of Long Tan, we must never forget the sacrifices made on that day and work towards a future where such sacrifices will not be required again.

6:06 pm

Photo of Karen AndrewsKaren Andrews (McPherson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in recognition of our Vietnam veterans and the contributions that returned service men and women have made to our community, and to specifically speak about Vietnam Veterans Day, which is celebrated on 18 August each year and commemorates the Battle of Long Tan and the Australians who served in the Vietnam War. The 45th Vietnam Veterans Day was recently honoured at the Kirra Sports Club within my electorate of McPherson. More than 200 Vietnam veterans from across the Gold Coast attended the service to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan.

McPherson does have a very large veteran community and the Vietnam veterans certainly form a significant proportion of that community. Our Vietnam veterans should never have had to wait 15 years after the end of the war to get the recognition they deserve. This has been a huge disappointment for the veteran community as a whole. The sacrifices that these men and women made for our community should have never been forgotten.

The Battle of Long Tan was one of the most incredible and bold encounters by Australian troops. During the attack, 108 diggers and six Royal Australian Regiment members successfully held off 2½ thousand Vietcong in a rubber plantation in South Vietnam. Eighteen Australians were killed in this battle and 24 were wounded. Once the fighting had ceased, more than 245 bodies from the enemy were found on the battle ground. I am deeply sorry for the families of the 18 men who did not return after the Battle of Long Tan. These men should never be forgotten and Australia should continue to pay its respects to the fallen.

Two of my uncles were part of the Vietnam War story. One uncle served as a cook with the RAAF. I recall him telling me of his arrival by helicopter in Vietnam and being shot at as they were coming in to land. As a cook, I know that he would have got to know many of the men and women who served in Vietnam, some of whom were wounded and some who never came home. My other uncle was caught up in the national service birthday ballot. Under the national service scheme operating at the time, 20-year-old men were required to register for national service. As there were more eligible men than required, the men were subject to a ballot. If their birth date was drawn out then it was possible that they would be required to serve two years continuous service in the regular Army following by three years part-time service in the Army Reserve. I remember my mother being so concerned that her younger brother might be sent to active service in Vietnam, and whilst that did not happen to him, the memory of my mother's tears remain with me today. I can understand the concerns of the families of our service men and women as they wave farewell to their loved ones, never quite knowing if they will return. As I have mentioned many times before in this place, I have the privilege of representing an electorate with a large veteran community on the southern Gold Coast. It is not only the returned servicemen that deserve recognition; I would also like to extend my gratitude for the support given to these veterans by their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, partners and children when these veterans returned home.

I would also like to mention that these veterans also believed that one of the greatest achievements to come from the Vietnam War was returning home to raise their families. After all that they endured during the battles in Vietnam, these men and women continued to push past many mental and physical barriers to live positive lives with their loved ones. This in itself is a great achievement and one which the veteran community to this day are most proud of.

I urge all members of the community to share the story of the Battle of Long Tan so that the great sacrifices and achievements of these men and women will continue to be remembered in the generations to come. Lest we forget.

6:09 pm

Photo of Peter SlipperPeter Slipper (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Last week on 18 August marked the 45th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan in 1966 during the Vietnam War. This battle is iconic in Australian military history in that it demonstrated the heart and skill of Australian soldiers who did not give up, who stood determined against an opponent that was 20 times larger in number and much better equipped, and who was able to record an inspirational victory in shocking conditions. Sadly, as has been recounted by others, it was with the loss of 18 heroic lives, with 24 wounded.

It is a battle that is often referred to to showcase the skills of Australian soldiers, but it should also be an inspiration to anyone who faces a difficult task against seemingly impossible odds. The anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan on 18 August has become the day that Australians pause to remember the Vietnam War and all its battles and all who served, and the 528 Australians killed during the conflict. The Battle of Long Tan has become entrenched in the Australian psyche as a touchstone for inspiration, motivation and determination. If there was anyone who had a right to fail it was these soldiers, but they did not give up and as a result they were able to record an amazing victory, one that we commemorate and discuss today 45 years later here in the Australian parliament and many thousands of miles removed from that horrible battlefield.

The figures for this battle are outstanding: 108 Australians fought against an estimated 2,500 Vietcong soldiers in a rubber plantation in a driving monsoonal downpour and without radio communications. But through their resilience and courage the soldiers of D Company 6RAR were able to record victory. More than 245 enemy soldiers were killed in the conflict.

I do pay tribute today to not just the soldiers who fought in Vietnam but soldiers who fought in all spheres of conflict during our nation's existence. They have risked everything and in some cases lost all to make sure that, as Australians, we are able to enjoy the freedom, stability and way of life that we have as a nation, which indeed makes us truly the envy of people throughout the world.

On the Sunshine Coast, including in my electorate of Fisher, we have a great number of veterans from various conflicts, including Vietnam. I pay tribute to them all for their efforts in what is the most challenging of vocations, the defence of our country for their families, their relatives, friends and neighbours—and also the defence and protection of complete strangers—in the theatre of war.

Before I conclude I just want to say how pleased I am that collectively as a nation we have moved on in the treatment of our war veterans. I think that it is appalling that people who opposed the Vietnam War found it necessary to take out that opposition on people who in some cases were conscripted and who were sent abroad to serve their nation and to serve the policy of the government of the day. Happily, we have moved on. No-one in our Australian community has sought to ill-treat, or mistreat or blame those brave soldiers who served in Iraq—and that was a war that some segments of the Australian community did not support. Those men and women fought in Iraq for the policy of the government of the day. Collectively as a nation we can take great pride in the fact that we have moved on. We have to recognise that people in our military do whatever the government of the day tells them to do. If there is a deployment to a certain country, whether or not individuals might support that deployment or support the objects of that deployment, as loyal military personnel they go and carry out their duty. I think that it was appalling that Vietnam veterans were treated with contempt—in some cases even spat on—by people who took out their opposition to the war on these veterans who had served the country.

As I said, that is now not the case and I think that, collectively as Australians, whatever our view is on any sphere of conflict, we have now come to a national community consensus that anyone who serves in our military is worthy of respect and that anyone who carries out his or her duty is worthy of admiration. So many of these people have risked everything and lost all. I am very happy to support the motion now before the House but I just wanted to emphasise how pleased I am and how proud I am that collectively we have moved on to a situation where now we respect everyone who has served our nation with great distinction.

6:16 pm

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to support the motion moved by the Prime Minister to commemorate Vietnam Veterans Day and the 45th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. Whilst it is the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan, 18 August is also the day when Vietnam veterans gather with their friends and family, with great support from around the nation, to remember their service and the sacrifices of so many of their mates in the Vietnam War. I had 5½ years as the Minister for Veterans' Affairs and it was a great privilege to serve in that portfolio. I also got to know so well, from a generation similar to mine, those who had served in Vietnam—many of them of course having been conscripts.

Australia's military involvement in the Vietnam War was the longest in duration of any war in Australia's history. From the time of the arrival in Vietnam of the first members of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam in 1962, almost 60,000 Australians, including ground troops and Air Force and Navy personnel, served in Vietnam. Sadly, 521 died as a result of the war and over 3,000 were wounded. Many of those 3,000 had to carry those wounds and injuries for the rest of their life.

On 18 August 1966, 108 men of D Company, 6RAR, fought off as many as 2,500 Viet Cong soldiers at a rubber plantation in Long Tan in Phuoc Tuy Province of South Vietnam. Vastly outnumbered, the Australians endured driving monsoonal rains, which decimated radio communications, to fend off an enemy more than 10 times the size of the Australian company. Tragically, 18 Australians were killed in action in the battle and 24 were wounded. More than 245 of the enemy were found dead on the battleground when fighting ceased.

In 1996, I had the privilege of leading the first official pilgrimage of Vietnam veterans back to Vietnam, marking the 30th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. There were many veterans who found it difficult to travel as part of an official delegation, but who, on the way home were able to tell me that each day of the pilgrimage had been another day of healing. To return to the battlefield for so many of them, to return to parts of Vietnam which harboured so many terrible memories—memories which had troubled many of them since the war—was part of a healing process. They crossed a bridge which many of them had felt might never be crossed. I was privileged to lead them back to Vietnam.

Only 10 days ago I was in Brisbane, at the Brisbane Exhibition strangely enough, and a lady came up to me and said, 'You are Bruce Scott, aren't you?' and I said, 'Yes.' She said: 'I am the wife of so-and-so'—I will not mention his name—'who was representing the Navy in the group you took back to commemorate the Battle of Long Tan, the 30th anniversary official pilgrimage. It has made a great deal of difference to our relationship.' To get, 15 years later, that mention from the wife of a veteran is a measure, from my point of view, of how those pilgrimages are so valuable in helping veterans to heal and so valuable for us as a nation in acknowledging the great sacrifices that were made not only in the Vietnam War but in other theatres of war.

I want to acknowledge the families of all our veterans—the wives, the girlfriends, the sisters, the brothers, the mothers, the fathers—who took care of our veterans when so many other Australians turned their backs on them. As a nation we must always err on the side of generosity when it comes to our military. After all, they serve as a result of a resolution of the parliament. They serve with the support of the parliament. They serve and do as the government asks of them. It is up to us as members on both sides of the parliament to make sure we always err on the side of generosity when it comes to compensation and looking after those who serve and, sadly, those who are left behind. I will never stop fighting to make sure that we as a nation, whenever money is available, extend entitlements to all those who have served, to their families and to those who have been left behind.

I know time is short, but in conclusion I want to say that in the year 2015 we will be celebrating—although I would like to call it commemorating—in many ways 100 years since we landed at Gallipoli, when our nation, a nation of less than five million people, lost its innocence. In the year 2015, 100 years on, we must look across all wars and conflicts that Australia has been involved in, not just at Gallipoli. I know a former CDF is going to chair a committee. He will bring great knowledge to that committee and he will do an excellent job of leadership. But it is important that we look not just at Gallipoli in that year. It is important to look at Vietnam and our involvement in the Second World War, the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency, the Indonesian Confrontation, East Timor, Afghanistan, Iraq—the list goes on. And of course so many of our peacekeeping forces have been in theatres that so often do not have a profile—for example, the Sinai and the Sudan. We must make sure that across the board, wherever our Australian men and women in the Australian Defence Force serve as a result of a resolution of the parliament at the wish of the government, we commemorate and remember all of those who have served throughout more than 100 years of service to our nation.

6:22 pm

Photo of Sharman StoneSharman Stone (Murray, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I join others in supporting this motion. As a patron of the Goulburn Valley Vietnam Veterans Association and also as the proud mother of an Australian Army officer, I can say that I have some sense of what it must have been like for the mothers, the wives and the sisters of the Vietnam veterans as they returned from that service some 40 or 45 years ago and were treated with such dishonour and disrespect by the Australian public. I can understand the scars that are still felt by my Vietnam veterans. Even though long ago our Vietnam veterans had their special recognitions and their welcomes back to the country, literally decades after they should have taken place, I can still understand their grief and their deep sense of hurt as a consequence of the way we treated them.

I have to say that a lot of it was the fault of the media of the day. The Vietnam War was the first to be telecast almost every evening into the lounge rooms of ordinary Australian families. I do not think the media took the responsibility that technology gave them seriously or undertook their responsibilities properly. They were driven by the American media behaviour and, with very poor understanding of what was really involved, the edited highlights were often the worst possible way to demonstrate to the Australian people just what efforts were being made—the humanitarian efforts in particular—and how our Australian servicemen and servicewomen not only were following in the footsteps of the glorious Anzacs of the First World War, the Second World War, the Malayan emergency and all of the other conflicts we have been involved with but were in fact building on the reputation of the courageous and honourable behaviour and performance of Australian servicemen and servicewomen. Today, in particular, we recall the Battle of Long Tan. It was August 1966. A company of the 6RAR was engaged in one of Australia's heaviest actions of the war in a rubber plantation near Long Tan. On the nights of 16 and 17 August 1966—almost exactly 45 years ago—mortar and rifle fire was directed at 1 ATF base from the east. A Company of 6RAR was required to search for the firing positions to the north-east of the base and B Company 6RAR was dispatched to search the area to the east towards Nui Dat 2. On 18 August, A company returned to the base and D Company 6RAR relieved the B Company. After an exchange of information and a lot of intelligence, obviously, they followed up a possible enemy trail into the Long Tan rubber plantation. The 108 soldiers of D Company then held off an enemy force estimated at over 2,000 for four hours in the middle of a tropical downpour. An extraordinary thing. The survival of the company and their victory can be attributed to the extraordinary courage and discipline of its members and to the decisive command at each level as well as the devastating effects of the artillery that came in to support them—and this was in very close proximity to each of their positions. Then there was the helpful location of the final company position on a shallow reverse slope that provided some protection from the direct fire. There was also a timely and heroic helicopter ammunition resupply and finally the disruption of enemy plans for further attacks on D Company by the movement, combat action and arrival of the APC-mounted relief force. A number of Australian components were involved in the Long Tan battle, without for a minute taking away from D Company, who were central to the victory in which they were outnumbered.

When the Vietcong withdrew that night, they left behind 245 dead but carried away many more casualties—we will never know how many. Seventeen Australians were killed and 25 wounded, and one of our serving men died of wounds several days later. Many of our service personnel went into Vietnam with jungle warfare experience they had learned from our glorious Anzacs, who fought off the Japanese invasion in PNG during the Second World War. Australians understood the perils of jungle warfare but never before had there been such use of explosive devices and civilian populations—the Vietcong were able to literally disappear into the jungle and come back and fight another day. Australian soldiers, sailors and airmen involved in the whole of the Vietnam conflict were magnificent.

It is ironic that the Australian RSL did not always welcome the Vietnam veterans when they returned to Australia. That is another shameful chapter of the RSL's history. But today, especially in my electorate of Murray, the RSLs are led by Vietnam veterans, who are taking over from the now very elderly Second World War veterans and Korean War veterans. The Second World War men are typically in their mid- to late-80s, but it is the Vietnam War veterans who stand up proudly now and honour all of the previous service men and women in Australia's war histories, and put aside their own insults and grief as a result of what they experienced when they returned. I have a great deal of respect for the way they do that.

The veterans had to wait 40 years to be officially and publicly acknowledged for their extraordinary efforts. They were, after all, trying to stop the advance of communism at a time when communism was a great threat to the globe. Today, we laugh a bit about the reds under the bed notion, but in the 1960s and 1970s this was a very real threat to those countries in the immediate path of communist intentions but also ultimately to Australia. Prime Minister Menzies, the Prime Minister of the day, knowing that Army Reserve numbers were low, introduced national conscription, which of course had been first introduced for the Korean War episodes of 1951. National service, or the Nashos, became part of the mixed understanding and public concern at the time and we had people hiding from the draft or burning their draft cards and talking about harassment and non-democratic processes. I can very well remember my fiance at the time, the night that his marble went into the barrel. It was based on your birth date. His marble did not come out of the barrel and so he was not conscripted, but if he had been I am sure he would have honourably served, like his son has and is now, having served in Iraq and East Timor. That period of national service also tended to be forgotten for a very long time and I want to commend our coalition government under John Howard who minted the first medal to recognise national service in Australia. I still give out those medals to national servicemen who have never before been officially understood and recognised, even when their service was in the 1950s for several months. The point is that they were prepared to serve anywhere that their country asked them to, under any conditions. These national servicemen should never be forgotten. Some, of course, lost their lives in the Vietnam conflict. They fought beside the regular Army, Navy and Air Force to the very best of their ability.

I want to commend the Vietnam veterans, particularly those who were involved in the Battle of Long Tan, but also to reinforce that we are living in different times. I am sure this is a bipartisan thing, that all parties and Independents in this House and in the Senate regret the behaviours of the public of Australia back in the seventies and eighties, until the nineties when we fully understood where we had been very wrong. I want to particularly commend the Vietnam veterans in my electorate who now are shouldering the responsibility of looking after the welfare of one another. They are very concerned that this government has cut back on the funding for welfare support services for the volunteers who have trained to do that counselling. That is a serious problem because most of my Vietnam veterans do not have the spare cash to pay for the transport, the fuel and the time that they spend trying to support one another and to advocate for their fellow Vietnam veterans when they often need to. So I do ask this government to rethink their slashing of the funding for the counselling services, particularly for the Vietnam veterans.

I also want to commend my own special groups that I have called boards of trustees—I have one for each shire in my electorate—and what they do. They are clusters of Vietnam and Second World War veterans and community people who go around to all of the tiny towns or places where my towns have disappeared and they look at the cenotaphs, the honour boards, the old tree avenues of honour and they consider the condition of all of those memorials. Where they are destroyed or degraded or just simply weathered away, those boards of trustees and I come back together and say: 'Where do we apply for funding? How do we cut the grass, trim the trees, replant the trees, put back the fences, and rescue the honour boards?' Indeed, we have rescued some from tips. 'How do we make sure that not one name of a serving man and woman, from the Boer War through, is ever forgotten?' I have to say that one of the things we have been doing very actively is adding the names of Vietnam veterans to those honour boards and rolls and cenotaphs which typically were not added in the seventies and eighties. Now they are there, and I am proud that they are.

This is an important motion. I support it as the local patron. I also say that we abhor war in any guise, but Australians have always fought above their weight in helping to defend our own country and support the freedom of others who have not the power or the means to defend themselves. Long may that always be so.

6:33 pm

Photo of Kelly O'DwyerKelly O'Dwyer (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I make my contribution in this place on this motion on Vietnam Veterans Day, I would like to associate myself with the remarks of my colleague Sharman Stone. She very fittingly, very eloquently, made a very moving contribution to this motion and I would really like to commend her for that contribution. I think it is fitting that Vietnam remembrance day is the day on which Australian soldiers fought the Battle of Long Tan. This battle is synonymous with the Anzac spirit of endurance, mateship, perseverance through adversity, valour and enterprise; the spirit that was born on the international stage during World War One at Gallipoli and one whose thread can be traced through all of the wars and campaigns that Australia has fought. In this motion we honour those that have sacrificed their lives for us during the Vietnam War and we commemorate in particular the 45th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. Our commitment in Vietnam started in July 1962 with the arrival of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam in South Vietnam. It was a campaign of just under 11 years. It is a matter of great national shame that the 60,000 Australians who served our country in Vietnam, in the Army, Air Force and Navy, did not receive the thanks of a grateful nation for that service on their return. The 3,000 men who came back wounded, both physically and mentally, were not given the care and consideration that was their due. Instead, their nation abandoned them in their time of need and left it to their families to fight for them and care for them. The 521 families whose loved ones made the ultimate sacrifice had to deal with both the grief of losing their loved one and public opinion that at the time did not value the enormity of their sacrifice. As my colleague Sharman Stone mentioned before, this disrespect of our serving Australian military, the ingratitude for that service, will be a stain on our history. It is quite wrong that we would confuse the policy of a government with the people who serve in our military. As I said, it is a great source of national shame. It is fitting that, though all too late, these brave soldiers have joined their brothers in the pantheon of Australian heroes to whom we will be forever grateful.

Australians are famous for their resilience and resourcefulness in battle. This was tested on 18 August 1966 during the Battle of Long Tan. D Company 6RAR, which consisted of 105 Australians and three New Zealanders, was sent to resist the Vietcong forces, numbering up to 2,500 troops, that had earlier attacked the Australian operations base in Nui Dat, Phuoc Tuy province. Eighteen Australian lives were lost; 21 Australians were wounded. By contrast, 265 Vietcong were killed. The efforts of D Company 6RAR were honoured last Thursday when they received the Australian military's highest honour, the Unit Citation for Gallantry, in recognition of their efforts in battle.

There were other significant battles. One of the worst days for Australian forces during the Vietnam War was the afternoon of 17 February 1967, during Operation Bribie. There were also the protracted, 25-day battles of Coral and Balmoral in May and June of 1968, which involved Australian, New Zealand and United States forces. These battles, and so many more, form the enduring history of Australia's distinguished military service overseas. We thank those who served us in Vietnam. We thank their families as well for the sacrifice and service they have provided to our country.

In conclusion, I place on record the thanks we also extend to current soldiers and their families for the service that they give us today. I record particular thanks to those 3,280 Australian Defence Force personnel who are on active service in Afghanistan, East Timor, Egypt, Iraq, the Middle East, Solomon Islands and Sudan. For those who served us and those who continue to serve us: we will never forget.