Wednesday, 14 September 2016
Mr Speaker, at the outset I take this opportunity to congratulate you on your re-election, or elevation once again, to the high office of Speaker and to commend you on the way in which you have conducted this chamber. Having been here for 25 years, I am not making a partisan comment now, because I would say it about any Speaker who I thought was doing a very good job. You have been doing a very good job as Speaker of this House. I congratulate you in that role. It is great to see an electoral neighbour in the chair in this place.
Australians recently observed the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. The heroic efforts of several young Australian servicemen in that engagement were recognised with the upgrade of their military honours. This is entirely appropriate. Indeed, the whole history of the way in which we have treated Vietnam veterans leaves much to be desired. They returned home to Australia to a great deal of animosity. I know many Vietnam veterans, as I am sure all members of this place do, and I suspect that that has contributed to some of the ongoing health problems that many of those Vietnam veterans have had.
It is timely also to draw parliament's attention to two other engagements during the Vietnam War—actions in which young Australians again fought with great valour but whose heroism it could be argued has been undervalued. During the Tet Offensive of late January 1968 the South Vietnamese province of Phuoc Tuy, the defence of which was the responsibility of Australian troops, came under sudden attack and its capital, the town of Ba Ria, was occupied by the enemy. As part of efforts to retake Ba Ria, 2 Platoon, A Company, 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, was tasked with locating and rescuing three American advisers besieged in the town. With great initiative and determination and under the calm leadership of Second Lieutenant Peter Fraser, 2nd Platoon rescued the three Americans and inflicted heavy losses on a numerically superior enemy. In a subsequent action on 19 October 1968 Lieutenant Fraser again exhibited exemplary leadership and remarkable coolness under fire. During what was known as Operation Capital his platoon successfully resisted a battalion sized force, with Lieutenant Fraser directing artillery and helicopter fire and forcing the enemy to withdraw.
Some of those who served with Lieutenant Fraser now reside in my electorate of Menzies. To this day many of those who served with Lieutenant Fraser consider him and his leadership during the Vietnam conflict to have been undervalued. He was twice nominated for the Military Cross, but this award was never made and he was merely mentioned in dispatches, possibly owing to the quota system that was then in place. This is a decision which disappoints many of his comrades to this day. They believe that Lieutenant Fraser should now be awarded the current equivalent of the Military Cross, the Medal for Gallantry.
These men have, therefore, fought a new battle, a long and tenacious one, to see what they consider is an injustice overturned and Lieutenant Peter Fraser's military service properly acknowledged. To date they have not been successful. And while their numbers are now dwindling, given the time since the Vietnam War, those who remain with us still fight on for what they see as a very just cause. The submissions of numerous witnesses, notably those who served under Lieutenant Fraser as well as his superior officers, all attest to his exemplary leadership, extraordinary personal courage and unflagging good humour. Significantly, the Americans fully appreciate the valour of 2nd Platoon, with one member of the platoon awarded the Silver Star and some members of the platoon recently meeting with US Vice-President Joe Biden when he visited us here in Australia.
I think this is a just cause which should be re-examined by the appropriate authorities, but in the meantime I simply wish to assure the veterans of 2nd Platoon, A Company, 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, that, despite their ongoing disappointment about this matter, a grateful nation, Australia, does remember their bravery and, in particular, that of Second Lieutenant Peter Fraser.
House adjourned at 20:00