House debates

Monday, 2 May 2016

Ministerial Statements

Anzac Day Commemorations

4:26 pm

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I ask leave of the House to make a ministerial statement relating to Anzac Day commemorations.

Leave granted.

I present a copy of my ministerial statement. I rise to update the House on the recent Anzac Day commemorations, both here and overseas. Anzac Day is a time for all Australians to remember the more than one million service men and women who have defended our country since Federation, and the over 102,700 who gave their lives for their country.

Across Australia, hundreds of commemorations mark the occasion and hundreds of thousands turned out at dawn services, marches and wreath-laying ceremonies. From the Australian War Memorial here in Canberra, to Yarloop in Western Australia, wherever they were and in whatever circumstances they were in, Australians remembered.

Anzac Day commemorations were held in many other locations of significance for Australians, including at Bomana and Isurava in Papua New Guinea, Sandakan in Malaysia and Hellfire Pass in Thailand. I was honoured to represent the Australian government in Gallipoli where I intended a number of important commemorations. On 24 April, the Turkish International Service, the French Memorial Service, the Commonwealth and Ireland service, and the 57th Regiment Memorial service all acknowledged the sacrifice of thousands of young men who lost their lives on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

We cannot forget that this time means as much to Turkey as it does to Australia and New Zealand. Visiting the battlefields and gravesites, the tangible loss of life—87,000 young Turkish men—is heartbreaking. It is remarkable that over 100 years later our countries have bonded as firm friends from this sacrifice. The welcome that is extended to visiting Australians and New Zealanders by the local Turkish community is akin to family. I would like to thank the Turkish people, and the Turkish government, for their ongoing assistance and hospitality to all Australians who visit Gallipoli to remember and commemorate.

On the afternoon of 24 April, I also laid a wreath at the Lone Pine Cemetery with the New Zealand Minister of Defence, Gerry Brownlee. This service is in addition to a formal commemorative service that will be held at Lone Pine on 6 August. It will provide Australians with the opportunity to pay their respects on the anniversary of the battle.

In the darkness of 25 April at Anzac Cove, over 1,200 Australians and New Zealanders gathered to mark the official commemoration of Anzac Day. This year's ceremonies marked the end of the centenary year of the Gallipoli Campaign and served as an opportunity to reflect on how that remarkable story ended as our focus turns to the Centenary of the Western Front.

Delivering the address on the behalf the Australian government, I reflected on the significance of the Gallipoli Campaign as the beginning of our Anzac story and where it has taken us. I told story of Lieutenant Duncan Chapman, an office worker from Maryborough in Queensland, as follows:

As a member of the 9th Battalion, Lieutenant Chapman was in the first wave of Australian forces sent to land at Gallipoli and one of the very first Anzacs to land. He wrote:

What a living Hell it was, too, and how I managed to go through it from 4 o’clock in the morning of Sunday, April 25th, to Wednesday, the 28th, under fire the whole time, without being hit, is a mystery to me.

Duncan was lucky enough to leave alive. Many others did not. Over 11,000 Australians and New Zealanders died in the eight-month-long ordeal that was the Gallipoli campaign.

However, thanks to the talents of Australian Lieutenant-Colonel Cyril Brudenell White, Duncan Chapman was not the only Anzac to leave alive. The evacuation of Gallipoli was an operation which saw more than 93,000 troops, 200 guns and over 5,000 animals leave the Anzac and Suvla sectors without incident. The remarkable story of the evacuation is often forgotten. It was an incredible feat of logistics. It was the equivalent of moving a city the size of Rockhampton in Queensland, Bunbury in Western Australia or Palmerston North in New Zealand from the Gallipoli peninsula without the enemy engaging. It is not often that a withdrawal is held up as a victory, but so much of the Anzac story is more than ordinary.

In Egypt, Duncan Chapman was present when General John Monash paraded the troops on the first Anzac Day in 1916. Even at the time, Monash knew the importance of those first soldiers who fought at Gallipoli to the coming Western Front campaign. In a letter home, Monash recorded that:

Every man who had served on Gallipoli wore a blue ribbon on the right breast, and every man who, in addition, had taken part in the historic landing on 25 April 1915, wore a red ribbon also … Alas how few of us are left who were entitled to wear both.

Promoted to major, Duncan Chapman sailed from Egypt to France with the newly raised 45th Battalion and entered the massive theatre of warfare on the Western Front. On 6 August 1916, German shellfire killed Duncan Chapman at the battle of Pozieres. He was 27. Less than three weeks after Duncan Chapman’s death, his father wrote to the Australian Minister for Defence:

It is a great blow to me in every way as he was my sole support. Still I gave him freely for the cause … still we are human and would almost grudge what we gave. My heart is not very strong being 73 years of age.

In a sad conclusion, Duncan’s father died soon after.

Duncan's story is part of our own commemorations which this year will see us remember the 300,000 Australians who served on the Western Front. It was a campaign where more than 46,000 lost their lives and some 18,000 were left with no known grave. This year represents the 100th anniversary of Australia's entry into the Western Front. It remains Australia's greatest commitment to a single theatre and our greatest loss of life. On Anzac Day at Villers-Bretonneux more than 3,000 Australians commemorated this service and sacrifice.

Further services will be held as each battle marks its centenary. These are battles such as the disastrous and abortive diversionary attack at Fromelles. It was there the Australian 5th Division suffered more than 5,000 casualties in little more than 24 hours. We will also mark the service of the 1st, 2nd and 4th divisions at Pozieres and Mouquet Farm where in six weeks they suffered 23,000 casualties. Over 7,000 of whom were killed in action or died of wounds, including the Anzac Duncan Chapman.

In remembering these centenaries this year we also commemorate Australia's involvement in other significant battles that have become part of the Anzac story. Earlier this month, I attended a service here in Canberra along with 25 veterans of the siege of Tobruk for its 75th anniversary. It was a siege that saw 3,800 Australians lose their lives and heroically defend the city months longer than expected. The 75th anniversary of the Greece and Crete campaign was also remembered this year. It may not be well known that in 1941 the defence of Greece was largely in the hands of the Australian and New Zealand forces.

Looking forward, this year is also the 50th anniversary of the Indonesian confrontation where 23 Australians died in a conflict largely hidden from public view. And 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of one of our most costly days in the Vietnam War, the Battle of Long Tan, when just over 100 Australian soldiers held off a force of almost 2,000 with the loss of 18 men.

One of the most important legacies that can come from the Anzac Centenary is our understanding as a society of our wartime history, particularly for younger Australians. I am pleased to note that there was no shortage of young Australians at the commemorations in Turkey. One significant way we are doing this is through The spirit of Anzac Centenary experience. The travelling exhibition showcases a collection of over 200 artefacts from the Australian War Memorial and will provide a unique opportunity for Australians to view the Anzac tradition. It provides a unique opportunity for people in cities and regional Australia to mark the most significant commemorative period in our nation's history by engaging with this story.

Almost 130,000 Australians have visited the exhibition, which is currently in Tamworth, with Toowoomba and Brisbane to follow. By the end of April 2017, The spirit of Anzac Centenary experience will have been staged in 23 locations around Australia. I encourage all members to promote this important exhibition to their constituents so that the Anzac story can be seen through this collection by as many people as possible.

Each year we remember the beginning of the story of Anzac at Gallipoli. But, while it began on those beaches, we cannot forget where it has taken us. The commemorative day of 25 April gives us as a country the opportunity to remember the value of that story, to honour the men and women who died for our freedoms and beliefs and to thank those men and women who currently serve. I am pleased to say that this Anzac Day Australians have shown in droves that we will continue to remember, to honour and to thank those who began this story as well as those who continue to keep it.

4:37 pm

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

I rise to join my parliamentary colleagues to acknowledge the great debt of gratitude that our nation owes to our serving men and women, both past and present. In response to the ministerial statement today by the Minister for Veterans Affairs, the Hon. Dan Tehan MP, I thank him for the update on commemorations at home and abroad. I also offer my thanks to the Department of Veterans Affairs for their ongoing work on commemorations throughout this Centenary.

Each year on 25 April we pause as a nation to honour and remember all of those who served and died in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations, as well as the contribution and suffering of all those men and women who have served. This year we commemorated 101 years since Australian troops stormed the beaches at Gallipoli and remembered all those who sacrificed their lives in World War I. Last year I had the honour of attending the Gallipoli dawn service. Surrounded by a sea of Australians and, indeed, New Zealanders at the place where thousands of young Australian, New Zealander and Turkish men died—it is an experience I will never forget.

This Anzac Day, I commemorated those lost men with my local community at the Darebin RSL dawn service at All Nations Park in Northcote. Every town in Australia has its own story and its own personal connection to the terrible events of the Gallipoli campaign and the First World War. I offer my sincere gratitude to the Darebin RSL and all local ex-service organisations who honour and renew that personal connection year on year, every year without fail. Whether at home where the journey began or in Gallipoli where the journey ended for far too many, the depth of our gratitude remains unchanged. These things are immutable, neither place nor scale nor time can diminish them.

The Anzac campaign will always hold a special place in our nation's consciousness. But for far too many, it was only the beginning of bitter story that traversed the blood soaked years of World War I. Landing on the beaches 101 years ago today, Arthur Seaforth Blackburn and Phillip Robin penetrated 1800 metres inland from Anzac Cove, further than any other Australian on that day. Phillip Robin died later that day, but for Arthur World War I had only just begun. After surviving the Gallipoli campaign and being promoted to second lieutenant, Arthur would go on to fight in a battle that saw the greatest loss of life in our nation's military history—the Battle of Pozieres.

In 2016 we commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Pozieres and the Battle of Fromelles, two battles that cut short the lives of tens of thousands of Australians. On 19 July 1916 the Australians attacked at Fromelles with disastrous results. The Australians suffered a shocking 5,500 casualties—their greatest loss in a single day. It was a harsh lesson about the scale and intensity of warfare on the Western Front. Four days later, Australians went into action on the Somme, attacking and capturing the village of Pozieres. The Battle of Pozieres saw Australia suffer its greatest loss in World War I and, indeed, of all of our conflicts with some 7,000 men killed and 16,000 wounded. Of those killed, the remains of 4,112 men were never found or able to be identified. These staggering losses accounted for some 12.9 per cent of all the Australians lost in World War I.

To put that into perspective, Deputy Speaker, when you look at the World War I Memorial Rolls in your electorate, you will find that one in eight of those men died at Pozieres. The battle lasted six weeks. Eighteen months after the conclusion of the Gallipoli campaign, many of the Australian veterans who had landed on the shores of Gallipoli and survived would then fight in the battle of Pozieres, and Arthur was one of them.

A small village in the Somme Valley in France, Pozieres was the scene of bitter and costly fighting for the 1st, 2nd and 4th Australian Divisions. Pozieres was overrun by the Australian 1st Division on 23 July 1916. Those soldiers then clung onto Pozieres, despite almost continuous German artillery fire and ferocious counter-attacks but they suffered heavily. By the time that force was relieved on 27 July, it had suffered 5,285 casualties. The Australian 2nd Division took over from the 1st and mounted two further attacks—the first, on 29 July, was a costly failure; the second, on 2 August, resulted in the seizure of further German positions. Again, the Australians suffered heavily from retaliatory bombardments. They were relieved on 6 August, having suffered an astonishing 6,848 casualties. The 4th Division was next into the line, and it defeated a major German counter-attack on 7 August, the final effort by the Germans to retake Pozieres.

Arthur was part of the 10th Australian Infantry Battalion and he led an attack to drive the enemy from a strong point, and made up approximately 370 yards. At just 23 years old, as a second lieutenant, he led an attack for which he received the highest award for acts of bravery in wartime, the Victoria Cross. Charles Bean said that Pozieres ridge was 'more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth'.

In the 99 years which have passed since the Battle of Pozieres, not once have we stopped as a nation to officially commemorate it. This year, as we continue to commemorate the Centenary of Anzac, let us remember Arthur and the Battle of Pozieres.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. On August 18, 1966 the Battle of Long Tan—perhaps the most famous battle for Australia in the Vietnam War—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 2500 from the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army. The Vietnam War took a heavy toll on our nation and an even heavier toll of those servicemen who were fortunate enough to return home. As ever, the Australian soldiers serving in Vietnam upheld the very high standards of the Anzac tradition and the Australian Defence Forces. They remained faithful to one another and their duty to the nation. We must repay that faithful service with our respect and ongoing gratitude.

I am pleased that this year there is to be a national commemorative event, paying tribute to those who served and those who sacrificed all during the Vietnam conflict. I also welcome the decision to repatriate those remaining Vietnam war dead from Terendak, whose families have requested they be brought home. In doing so, we right a half century of wrong.

I wish to make special mention of the efforts and advocacy of the coordinators of Operation—'Bring Them Home': Vietnam veteran Bob Shewring and former ADF member Luke Gosling, who have worked so hard to bring about that result.

Each Anzac Day we remember the staggering sacrifice of a young nation, and the quintessentially Australian values that found expression in the horrors of WWI's trenches: mateship, sacrifice, loyalty to one another, courage, that particular Australian larrikinism and humour, and our own brand of Aussie egalitarianism. This year I encourage all Australians to remember those who have embodied those values in conflicts and peacekeeping missions from France to Vietnam and in the Middle East even today. I thank the House.

4:45 pm

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the House take note of the document.

Debate adjourned.