House debates

Monday, 8 February 2016

Private Members' Business

Vietnam Veterans Day

12:09 pm

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

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that Vietnam Veterans Day:

(a) is held on 18 August every year;

(b) commemorates the service and sacrifice of the almost 60,000 Australians who served in the Vietnam War, including the 521 who were killed, and the 3,000 wounded; and

(c) was, until 1987, known as Long Tan Day, which commemorated the service of the 108 personnel of D Company 6RAR, who on 18 August 1966, with limited supplies and in torrential rain, successfully fought off 2,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops near the village of Long Tan;

(2) reiterates its sincere appreciation for the service of all veterans of the Vietnam War; and

(3) expresses its regret that many veterans of the Vietnam War did not receive appropriate recognition of their service upon their return to Australia.

Vietnam's veterans stay is held on 18 August every year, and commemorates the service and sacrifice of the almost 61,000 Australians who served in the Vietnam War, including the 521 killed and the 3,000 wounded. Vietnam Veterans Day was, until 1987, known as 'Long Tan Day', which originally commemorated the service of the 108 personnel of D Company, 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment—6RAR—who on 18 August 1966, with limited supplies and in torrential rain, successfully fought off 2,000 North Vietnamese and Vietcong troops in a rubber plantation off the village of Long Tan. Long Tan Day came about on 18 August 1969, three years after the Battle of Long Tan, when veterans of 6RAR gathered at the site to raise a cross to commemorate their fallen comrades.

Australia's engagement in the Vietnam War had troop numbers winding down from late 1970, and a complete withdrawal by December 1972. The Royal Australian Air Force returned to Vietnam in April 1975 to conduct humanitarian missions—specifically the evacuation of South Vietnamese civilian refugees and orphans, which concluded on 25 April 1975 with the evacuation of the Australian Embassy. By 1972, for all but a few the Vietnam War was over. But what many Vietnam veterans did not realise at the time and that occurred through painful experience over the proceeding decades, was that there were new battles waiting for them at home. Many of Australia's servicemen returned to Australia with little fanfare or recognition, let alone gratitude. What they experienced in the subsequent months and years ahead was a contemptuous and unwelcoming reception from the Australian public.

Many faced vilification upon their return to Australia—even from some politicians—tarred by stereotypical representations of the Vietnam War, particularly those popularised in American film. Some Australians laid blame for the Vietnam War, including Australia's decision to enter it, at the feet of returned servicemen. Veterans were accused of genocide, murder and rape, precisely the things that they had gone overseas to try to prevent. For those who had sustained injuries, physical and psychological, or who had lost friends in the war, these accusations took a serious toll on their morale and mental wellbeing. Unfortunately, to this day many have never fully recovered.

Over time, Long Tan Day was increasingly recognised and commemorated by all Vietnam veterans, and in 1987 Prime Minister Bob Hawke, following the welcome home parade for Vietnam veterans, announced that Long Tan Day would be known as Vietnam Veterans Day. On that day 25,000 Vietnam veterans marched in Sydney to a reception by several hundred thousand members of the public. The commission of a national memorial for the Vietnam War in 1992 was another important step forward in recognising the service of the 61,000 Australians who fought in Vietnam and the sacrifice of the 521 who never came home. It is to our eternal shame that it took us so long as a nation to recognise the service of those 61,000 Australians, including the 19,450 young men who were conscripted. And while we have come a long way since 1972, there is more to be done.

On 18 August every year, thousands of Vietnam veterans and their families attend commemorative services throughout the country. However, the experience of many veterans is that Vietnam Veterans Day is still little-known and seldom commemorated throughout the wider community. Some veterans, because Vietnam Veterans Day is not an officially-gazetted national day of commemoration, struggle to persuade their own RSL sub-branches to hold a ceremony.

I believe that the time to officially gazette Vietnam Veterans Day is long overdue. Next year will be the 30th anniversary of Vietnam Veterans Day, and it would be wonderful to see the day gazetted in time for that anniversary. Officially, gazetting Vietnam Veterans Day will ensure that it is commemorated widely across Australia.

Gazetting Vietnam Veterans Day would cost the government nothing, but it would mean so much to our surviving Vietnam veterans and to the memory of those who are no longer with us. I take this opportunity to call on the Prime Minister, the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Veterans' Affairs to take action to officially gazette Vietnam Veterans Day as a national day of commemoration. I commend the motion to the chamber.

Photo of John CobbJohn Cobb (Calare, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Karen McNamaraKaren McNamara (Dobell, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion.

12:14 pm

Photo of Gai BrodtmannGai Brodtmann (Canberra, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Ryan for moving this important motion, and also commend her on her powerful speech. It really is imperative that we as a nation take the time to pause, to reflect on the enormous sacrifice made by our defence personnel. And in the case of the almost 60,000 Australians who served in the Vietnam War, including the 521 who were killed and the 3,000 wounded, we must also reflect on the way we as a society treated them upon their return. We must acknowledge the emotional scars this created, we must learn from our mistakes, and we must now show the appreciation and recognition that was in many cases absent immediately after the war.

This year Vietnam Veterans Day will hold a special significance, because it will be 50 years to the day since the Battle of Long Tan. The Battle of Long Tan represents a very important turning point in the war in Vietnam, and is often called a defining moment in our involvement in the conflict in Vietnam, as we have just heard from the member for Ryan. It was 18 August 1966 that this famous battle took place, a battle between an Australian battalion of just over 100 men and up to 2,000 enemy troops.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of this battle, I am very aware that many of our Vietnam veterans are now well and truly in the autumn of their lives. This is often a time when they need the most support, and so I want to take this opportunity today to pay tribute to and to thank the wonderful organisations who work tirelessly to support our veterans. There is the RSL, of course. My own father-in-law, a Vietnam veteran, passed away late last year, and the RSL was a great support to him in his final months and also to our family following his death. And here in the ACT we also have the ACT branch of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia and the Vietnam Veterans and Veterans Federation ACT. Both of these organisations do a wonderful job in supporting the veterans of the ACT: in advocating on their behalf. in providing assistance to individuals lodging claims with the Department of Veterans' Affairs or dealing with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, in providing social and emotional and even financial support when it is needed.

As we know, these organisations are predominately run by volunteers, and often, usually, on the smell of an oily rag. But the role they play and the support they provide is vital to the physical and emotional wellbeing of our veteran community, so I want to take this opportunity to thank them. Today, I would like to single out one individual who has made an enormous contribution to the veterans community here in the ACT. Peter Ryan was president of the ACT branch of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia for a decade, from 2002 to 2012. He is currently a national vice president, and vice president of the ACT branch. Peter has personally assisted hundreds of veterans to ensure they receive their entitlements. He even gained a law degree late in life to make himself a more effective advocate. He has made a significant contribution to the interests of the war veterans community not just here in Canberra but also nationally. In particular, he has been the driving force for the success of Vietnam War commemorative activities in the ACT. Unfortunately, Pete is battling poor health at the moment, and I know this is of great concern to his many friends and his colleagues in the veterans community. So I want to take this opportunity to publicly acknowledge his enormous contribution and to thank him for his ongoing dedication and to hopefully cheer him up in the process.

In summing up, Vietnam Veterans Day is an incredibly important day. It is a chance to pay tribute to the men and the women who served in Vietnam, to those who made the ultimate sacrifice and to those who were wounded either physically and/or emotionally and who still bear the scars. And in summing up, I also want to acknowledge the sacrifice of the families who supported those Vietnam vets. As I mentioned, my late father-in-law was a Vietnam veteran, and my late mother-in-law maintained that she got a different husband when he came back from the war. He really did bear the scars, both physically and emotionally, from the war. I do want to acknowledge and thank the families. They went through a very tough time. Chris tells me about a time when protesters stormed one of the bases that they were living on, and that was terrifying for the women and the children who had to see that. They were there just trying to mind their own business, just living their lives without their fathers, so thank you to them. Lest we forget.

12:19 pm

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

It is with great pride, as the member for Herbert based in Townsville, that I speak on this private member's motion from the member for Ryan on Vietnam Veterans Day and on the veterans of the Vietnam War. The period from 2014 to 2018 is an important period for our country. It is the centenary of events from the First World War. 2015 saw us commemorate the centenary of the Anzac landing; 2015 saw the centenary of the 3rd Brigade, which is based in Townsville; but 2016 will see the start of the 50th anniversaries of the major conflicts of the Vietnam War. We need to reflect upon the 60,000 men and women who served our country so bravely over there and the 521 who died—who paid the ultimate sacrifice and were killed; and upon the circumstances under which they served, and the respect they were denied during that time. With the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan coming up on 18 August this year, it is right and proper that Brisbane 6 RAR will be the focal point for those commemorations. The Battle of Long Tan was a fierce battle: there are men in Townsville who will tell you all about it, given the opportunity.

Townsville is a great city when it comes to Vietnam veterans. We are the place where Anzac Day really started its commemorations again and became relevant again.. We drove it. The two most important positions in the City of Townsville are the 3rd Brigade Commander and our mayor. It is a relationship our city holds dear—that is, the relationship between the ADF and our veterans. The Howard government gave back to the people of Townsville Jezzine Barracks, which is at the end of our of beautiful Strand. The redevelopment there by the Townsville City Council, aided by funds from the federal government, is now a beautiful parkland.

I would like to see a monument to Vietnam veterans in Townsville. The Vietnamese government still do not like to have groups of Vietnam veterans making pilgrimages to sites in Vietnam. It is difficult for people to get across there, as veterans. Our city was immortalised in the Redgum song—'And Townsville lined the footpath', and they were 'young and strong and clean'. I would like to see Townsville—and I have spoken about this to my Vietnam veteran groups—as the spiritual home of the Vietnam veteran. I would like to see a place where we have a bronze of a soldier coming out of a rice paddy field, in his greens and his slouch hat and his SLR. I would also like to see a part of this monument being a place of peace, and a part of it being a place of healing. As the previous speaker has said, and as the mover of the motion, the member for Ryan, has said: it is tough being a Vietnam veteran.

As part of one of my first acts as the member for Herbert, when we were sending 2 RAR across to Afghanistan in 2010, I was walking down to the function with a retired RSM. General Gillespie gave the speech to the army, and he spoke to all the families there about what it was to be a member of the Defence family. And as we were walking back, I said to this old bloke—he was telling me that he had served in Vietnam—'did you get all this when you left?' He said: 'We got nothing when we left and we got less when we came back. We were told to get out, get home, get dressed in civvies, and get off the base.' And he said it with a smile on his face, and a little bit of irony. But the thing is that they did do it tough. It was not a popular war, and many of them had no choice about going there. I tell everyone that I never served—and the country and the ADF are both better for that. I think those are the things that we have to understand—that we put people who were conscripts into that place. We put people in that place who did not want to go over there, and they showed great bravery in going there.

We as a country must make sure that, when we come to this period of the 50th anniversaries of the Vietnam conflict, they are held with as much esteem and as much respect as we give to the Centenary of Anzac, and to the centenary events from World War I. I know that ex-Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Michael Ronaldson, was hugely responsible, and hugely responsive to the Vietnam veterans. And I urge my Vietnam veterans to make sure that they do come out. It is hard now when you go to the Vietnam veterans' events, and they all have to stand there—at attention and at ease—when they are all getting towards needing a stool or a seat now. The Vietnam veterans are very popular in Townsville, and they are a very important part of our lives—and long may they be. Lest we forget.

12:24 pm

Photo of David FeeneyDavid Feeney (Batman, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very, very pleased indeed to rise today to support this motion from the honourable member for Ryan. The first Vietnam Veterans Day was held on 18 August 1988 to mark the 22nd anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. Also in 1988, the government announced that a site would be provided on Anzac Parade for a Vietnam veterans memorial. The first Vietnam Veterans Day was commemorated at the 1988 National Congress of the Returned & Services League, and it was supported by financial assistance by the Hawke government and attended by Prime Minister Bob Hawke, of which I am very proud.

On 18 August 1966 the Battle of Long Tan was fought, primarily between Delta Company of the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, supported by other Australian task force elements, and a force of up to 2,500 from both the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army. Starting in the afternoon, the Battle of Long Tan was fought in a rubber plantation and lasted until the early hours of 19 August. The Australian forces were able to repel the enemy assaults and inflicted remarkably heavy losses on the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army. It was perhaps the most significant battle of the Vietnam War for the Australian forces. Some 18 Australian soldiers died, and another 24 were wounded. It was, without a doubt, the most famous action fought by Australians over our very long period of engagement in the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam War took a very heavy toll on our nation. Unfortunately, many of our Vietnam veterans did not receive the appropriate recognition for their service and sacrifice when they returned home from the war. As ever, the Australian soldiers serving in Vietnam upheld the very high traditions and standards of the Anzacs and remained faithful to one another and to their duty to our nation.

On Vietnam Veterans Day, Australians pause to remember the service and the sacrifice of all those who fought in the Vietnam War. More than 60,000 Australian service men and women were deployed to Vietnam between 1962 and 1975, with some 521 killed in action.

To recognise the participation of Australian service personnel in the Vietnam War, the Australian government is undertaking a range of commemorative activities over the next 12 months. Labor has provided and will continue to provide bipartisan support for these commemorations. Further, Labor has continued to support the government's offer to repatriate the remains of deceased Vietnam veterans who are buried at the Terendak Military Cemetery, in Malaysia, and the Kranji War Cemetery, in Singapore, if requested to do so by their families. These are important markers for what must be an important series of events for our nation.

It is vitally important that we remember that those who survived the Vietnam War nonetheless endured great hardship in the aftermath of that conflict and that they returned home with both physical and emotional scars. Sadly, the attitudes that they encountered upon their return to Australia can only have exacerbated their struggle with the demons of the past. These were people who were obeying the lawful instructions of their government, and to have thrown at their feet the sins of the Vietnam War was, of course, an enduring outrage. It was, very sadly, the fact that many Australians failed to provide those veterans with the recognition or, indeed, the gratitude to which they were entitled. It meant that the political conflict around the Vietnam War became for them a question of personal conflict and, all too often, of personal shame.

I am pleased to say that I believe Australia has learnt critical lessons from the Vietnam War, and one of those is that we properly recognise the work and contribution of the ADF and our veterans. We properly acknowledge the fact that our young men and women are serving overseas on the lawful instructions of their government and that they are not part of the political debate that deploys them. There is, I think, in today's political milieu a careful distinction with the political debate which gives rise to deployment—and, of course, that has in recent times been exemplified by the fact that those service men and women who served in Iraq are honoured by both sides of parliament and the community as a whole, notwithstanding the fact that that war itself was a matter of sharp political debate. This distinction is critical because those young men and women should not be held accountable for the decisions that deploy them. That properly rests with government and the parliament.

On that basis, I am very pleased indeed to support this resolution so that the scars of the past can continue to heal, so that the service of our Vietnam veterans is put into a proper frame and so that we as a nation can acknowledge and honour their work and their sacrifice, notwithstanding the fact that that war remains a matter of sharp political contest.

12:29 pm

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

I am very pleased to speak on this most important motion on Vietnam Veterans Day. I thought I would start by quoting a passage written by Private Jim Richmond, who was injured in the Battle of Long Tan:

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.

Private Terry Burstall said:

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.

We lost over 500 Australians in the Vietnam conflict. What is shameful for this nation is the way we treated those service men and women when they returned from Vietnam. When we should have been holding them up as heroes, they were demonised by many people, by many segments of Australian society. That is to our eternal shame.

When you look at the long bow of history of the previous century, the battle in Vietnam was just one small conflict in the war against communism, a war that was eventually won. The domino theory was real at that time in history. If you go back to the early sixties, there was a real concern, a real debate, about what the best form of government organisation was. Was it the communist form of government or was it free markets, giving individual liberties? That debate was still a practical experiment. The Vietnam War was actually a holding pattern against communist advance. If you look at it like that, it was successful. During the late sixties and early seventies the nations that believed in free markets and freedom of the individual became stronger. They grew stronger economically, providing more resources and prosperous standards of living for their people.

When we entered the eighties, the contrast between governments that had gone down the track of communism and governments that had gone down the track of democracy and freedom became obvious through the lifestyles that one system was able to achieve against the other. Many of those nations that, if Vietnam had fallen quickly, would have turned over to communism and gone down that track adopted the policy of free markets and democracy. We have seen that that has made the world a more prosperous place. That has made all those nations that would have gone down the communist track more prosperous places. We have the Australian veterans and the South Vietnamese veterans who fought the battle against communism to thank for that.

12:35 pm

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Ryan for this motion to commemorate the service and the sacrifice of the almost 60,000 Australians who served in the Vietnam War. Vietnam Veterans Day is an important day and a highly valued commemorative occasion in my electorate of Newcastle. As I am the daughter of a Vietnam veteran, it is a day that holds particular significance for me and my family. Newcastle and Hunter Region Vietnam Veterans and indeed their predecessor, the Newcastle branch of the Vietnam Legion Veterans Association of Australia, have always been at the forefront of efforts to commemorate those who served in the Vietnam War.

Having established what is believed to be Australia's very first memorial for Vietnam veterans, in the War Memorial Grove of Civic Park, Newcastle, we have gathered as a community since the mid-1970s to remember the service and sacrifice of those who served in Vietnam. This first memorial was a very modest stone plinth with a bronze plaque inscribed with the single word 'Vietnam'. Whilst that original memorial holds great significance, a new Vietnam memorial was unveiled in Civic Park in 1987, almost 40 years ago now. Importantly, the names of the 19 local men who were killed in action are remembered on this memorial. Every year at the Vietnam Veterans Day service the 19 Australian flags lovingly embroidered with the names of those who did not return are also mounted at this memorial for all to see.

The Newcastle and Hunter Region Vietnam Veterans association has long been a strong voice and advocacy service for the veteran community in my electorate. Established, as I said, in the early 1970s by local Vietnam veterans to help and assist other Vietnam veterans, their families, those who had fallen on hard times or those who just needed to be reassured that they were still part of a wider community, the Newcastle and Hunter Region Vietnam Veterans association has now expanded its services to provide assistance to veterans from all conflicts.

Many Vietnam veterans found the re-entry to civilian life both disturbing and abrupt. There is no denying that the lack of support and compassion in the wider community compounded matters at the time. As a young child, I was protected from much of the protest that was underway about the Vietnam War. My mother, sister and I lived in the sheltered Army village of Holsworthy while my father was in Vietnam. Like many families, however, we still live the impacts of that war today.

The belated Welcome Home parade in Sydney in October 1987 at least went some way to redressing some of these issues. I recall very clearly the profound impacts that day had on so many veterans and their families. I met men who had served with my father in Vietnam who had not seen their families since they returned to Australia, but they were finally reunited at the parade with children they had not seen for almost two decades. The belated Welcome Home parade was the first significant national act of commemoration of the Australian experience of war in Vietnam. Twenty-five thousand veterans took part on that day. As a nation, we finally acknowledged that we were wrong to shun or abuse those service men and women on their return. Many veterans could now let go of much of their anger and feelings of rejection.

But war is hell, and today it is estimated that 56 per cent of Vietnam veterans in Australia are living with post-traumatic stress disorder. We know that 40 per cent of post-traumatic stress disorder has a delayed onset and that the diagnosis of Vietnam veterans has mushroomed since 2000, 30 years after the war. So there is a very clear need for long-term ongoing support of veterans upon their return from war. No government or nation should send troops into harm's way if it is not prepared to provide the necessary support to those men and women upon their return. For many veterans, their lives and those of their families have suffered untold damage. That is the tragic human cost of war and we should never forget it or, indeed, squib on our obligation to provide the necessary lifelong care and support to those in need.

12:40 pm

Photo of David ColemanDavid Coleman (Banks, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to be able to speak today in honour of Australia's Vietnam veterans and I thank the member for Ryan for putting forward this important motion. I was born in 1974 so my understanding of Australia's involvement in Vietnam is through talking to veterans and through reading rather than my personal experience. Like most Australians of my generation, I have not been called upon to serve in the manner that was required of young Australians of the Vietnam era and, indeed, of earlier eras. I am very conscious of the fact that my generation has not been required to make those sacrifices.

I am troubled by the experiences of many Australian solders when they returned from Vietnam. From discussions with many veterans in my electorate and elsewhere, it is clear that many of our returning Vietnam veterans were not treated with the honour that their service deserved. Many veterans were badly treated on their return to Australia. Many felt that they were held to blame for the political decisions of governments over which they had no control. Of course, our solders were just doing as they were instructed. They did not start the war; they did not get a say in it. They were simply doing their jobs and risking their lives in the process.

More than 500 Australians died in Vietnam. They did so as representatives of our nation. Those who returned should have been treated with the respect and admiration that has been afforded to veterans of other conflicts. They should have felt the gratitude of our nation. Sadly, many did not. In my lifetime there has been a noticeable improvement in the respect in which Vietnam veterans are held in the community. That is seen most clearly on Anzac Day where Vietnam veterans march with pride and are embraced by the community.

As a nation we have moved beyond the state of blaming soldiers for unpopular wars. Many Australians did not support our involvement in the Iraq War but, as a nation, we knew that the soldiers were not to be held to blame for any personal views that people might have had on the conflict. Regardless of what individual people thought about the war, as a society we knew that our soldiers were conducting themselves in a professional, honourable manner in the best traditions of the ADF. It is sad that we did not have that attitude after Vietnam. We should have. We must never again allow a situation to develop where returning soldiers are held responsible for unpopular conflicts. Vietnam Veterans Day has gone some way in recent years to redressing this historical injustice. Commemorated on 18 August every year, this year it marks 50 years since the Battle of Long Tan—the Battle of Long Tan, of course, being in 1966.

The number of Australians involved in Vietnam was enormous—60,000 service personnel and more than 500 of them paying with their lives. Long Tan was one of the defining chapters of our Vietnam campaign and it is appropriate that in 1987 the then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, declared that the Day of Long Tan would henceforth be recognised as Vietnam Veterans Day. In that battle Australians showed extraordinary courage and perseverance, despite being outnumbered and with a limited supply of artillery to hold the line until reinforcements arrived.

In my area there is a thriving community of ex-services organisations, all of which have representatives who served in Vietnam. The Oatley, Padstow, Penshurst, Panania and Mortdale sub-branches all have Vietnam veterans in their ranks, as does the Riverwood ex-services branch. Each year veterans from the St George area and other parts of Sydney gather at Bankstown Sports Club for the commemoration of Vietnam Veterans Day. It is now a well attended event by hundreds of people, many of whom also attend the service at the Cenotaph in Martin Place.

We have come a long way in acknowledging the sacrifices of our Vietnam veterans. That is as it should be, and we must ensure that the poor treatment of Vietnam veterans is never replicated in any future generation of returning Australian soldiers.

12:45 pm

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

This is a really important motion that the member for Ryan has brought to the House. It is one that deals with the conflict in Vietnam, one of the most controversial conflicts that Australia has engaged in and one that, in the end, had many victims—not only those who lost their lives and were injured but those whose lives were changed. It impacted their families and their overall psychological wellbeing. I know members of this parliament have conversed and worked with many of those veterans over the years—I know I certainly have.

Some partners of veterans have come together and formed an organisation in the Shortland electorate. These women work really hard to make sure that they get the support and services that they need and the support and services for the Vietnam vets who were so injured in so many ways by that war.

I note this motion refers to Vietnam Veterans Day, which is 18 August every year. They have a service in Newcastle that is very poignant. It has a flag for every soldier who lost their life, and every year that person's name is read out and a member of that person's family is in attendance. At that ceremony, young people who lost their lives and some who were more career soldiers are remembered. We learn about the people who went to Vietnam and fought there.

Similarly, I attend the service at Keith Payne Vietnam veterans hostel. As we all know, Keith Payne was a Vietnam veteran and they named an aged-care facility after him. It has a fantastic outdoor chapel and it is an extremely moving service where attendees are in the garden paying tribute to veterans who lost their lives in Vietnam. I pay tribute to all those who are involved in both those services.

Interestingly, Vietnam Veterans Day falls on what was previously known as Long Tan Day. It was not until 1987 that then Prime Minister Hawke stated that it should be known as Vietnam Veterans Day. Long Tan was one of the major battles that Australian troops were involved in where 18 men lost their lives and 24 were wounded. It had the largest number of casualties of any one operation during our involvement in the Vietnam War between 1962 and 1973. It had always been called Long Tan Day and the two are now synonymous. I feel that it is really fitting that it should be known as Vietnam Veterans Day.

Further, in commemorating the contribution that Australians made in Vietnam, I think of all the aspects around that because there were a number of aspects that we as a nation needed to take on board. Doing that on the day of the Long Tan battle in 1966 is very appropriate. I think it is very important that we as a parliament are always mindful of the Vietnam War and all the issues that arose out of it.

Debate adjourned.