Monday, 2 December 2019
Private Members' Business
Nelson, Hon. Dr Brendan, AO
That this House:
(a) the importance of the Australian War Memorial to our nation in commemorating, acknowledging and recording the service of our defence force personnel; and
(b) that after seven years of service to the Australian War Memorial, the Hon Dr Brendan Nelson AO is retiring as its director;
(2) acknowledges the outstanding leadership Dr Nelson has provided at the Australian War Memorial, including:
(a) introducing the daily Last Post ceremony;
(b) leading the Memorial through the:
(ii) 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War commemorations;
(c) renovating the First World War galleries;
(d) recognising the need to incorporate the service of our 100,000 younger veterans and therefore introducing the Afghanistan exhibition;
(e) advocating for and securing, with Australian War Memorial Chairman Mr Kerry Stokes AC, a $500 million investment to expand the memorial to enable the stories of younger veterans to be told; and
(f) strengthening the relationship the Australian people have with the memorial and the men and women who have served our nation; and
(3) congratulates and sincerely thanks Dr Nelson for his service to the Australian War Memorial and the nation.
It is my great honour to move this motion today, recognising the service of the Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson AO to the Australian War Memorial and, more broadly, to our nation. I do so as someone who has had the great privilege of knowing Dr Nelson and his wife, Gillian, for over a decade and witnessing firsthand the remarkable impact they have had on our nation and how they have touched so many lives. Dr Nelson's achievements as Director of the Australian War Memorial are just the latest in his extraordinary career. Dr Nelson studied medicine at Flinders University in the heart of my electorate of Boothby and then worked as a general practitioner in Tasmania. He served as the state president of the Tasmanian branch of the Australian Medical Association and then as federal president of the Australian Medical Association.
In 1996 he was elected to the federal parliament, representing the people of Bradfield, and served until his resignation in 2009, having held many roles including as minister for education, Minister for Defence and Leader of the Opposition. He was then appointed as ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg, the European Union and NATO and, upon his return to Australia, was appointed as Director of the Australian War Memorial. It is this role that Dr Nelson has held for seven years since 17 December 2012 that has cemented his place in the hearts of all Australians.
Anyone who's had the privilege of hearing Dr Nelson speak about the service of men and women of our Defence Force and the sacrifice they and their families have made usually cannot help but be moved to tears. He has travelled the nation throughout his tenure as Director of the War Memorial, letting Australians know about the importance of the work of the memorial, the centenary of World War I and the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. However, most importantly, he has told the stories of so many individuals and their families who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, for our safety and our security and for that of our friends around the world.
Dr Nelson has brought to life the work and sentiment of our first war historian and official war correspondent Charles Bean, who recorded the horrific death and destruction in World War I, including at Pozieres, where, as Dr Nelson notes in several of his speeches, a mortally wounded Australian asked Bean, 'Will they remember me in Australia?' Thanks to the work of Dr Nelson and his dedicated staff at the Australian War Memorial, we do remember them in Australia and we will continue to do so.
We remember them through the renovated First World War galleries. We remember them through the individual stories of men and women Dr Nelson has included in so many of his speeches over the years. Most importantly, we remember them through the daily Last Post ceremony, which each day brings to life the story of one Australian named on the role of honour, allowing families to honour their sacrifice, to remember and to heal and allowing all Australians to also honour their service. The Last Post ceremony is thanks to the work of Dr Nelson.
It's not just our World War I veterans Dr Nelson has helped us to remember. I was in attendance when he addressed the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Coral-Balmoral in Adelaide. He told the stories of the young men whose average age was just 22, who died, were wounded and were left with lifelong scars from their terrible experiences there and, to our national shame, their terrible experiences when they returned home. To them, Dr Nelson said:
With humility, gratitude and immense pride we say to you that what you did in Vietnam—at Coral and Balmoral—is as valued by us as those who landed at Gallipoli, endured the Kokoda track, held the line at Kapyong or fought under our flag in the dust of Uruzgan.
I want to also acknowledge the work Dr Nelson has done with his chairman, Mr Kerry Stokes AC, to secure a $500 million investment to expand the War Memorial and to enable the stories of younger veterans to be told. This is critical to support younger veterans who often struggle to explain to friends and family what they have faced in their roles here and overseas, particularly in areas of conflict. The expanded War Memorial will show friends and family, and our nation, what the veterans themselves are so often unable to explain.
On behalf of a grateful nation, on behalf of all those Australians who stop Dr Nelson on the street to thank him, on behalf of the returned service men and women whose lives he has touched, those who did not make it home and those whose memories he has kept alive today and on behalf of all the families related to the service men and women, I say to Dr Nelson: our most since thanks to you today.
My father, John, who's a Vietnam veteran, sent me a message this morning, and it was around the events of 77 years ago, today. It was 1 December 1942 that the HMAS Armidale was sunk by Japanese dive bombers off East Timor. People would be familiar with the famous painting of Seaman Edward 'Teddy' Sheean, who strapped himself into the gun and went down with the ship, trying to shoot down those Japanese bombers and protect his mates who were in the water.
I still remember like it was yesterday when I first saw that painting in the Australian War Memorial and it still has an effect on me to this day, such is the power of Teddy Sheean's bravery as well as the importance of the War Memorial to tell those stories so that we never forget.
As my good friend the member for Boothby said, one of the greatest storytellers and custodians in recent times has been Brendan Nelson. I join with her and with others. Brendan Nelson has so many admirers for the work that he's done at the War Memorial in his capacity as the director over seven years. He's done an exemplary job. Today I pay tribute to him and to the ongoing importance of the Australian War Memorial in telling our national story. Of course, it was Labor in government that appointed Dr Nelson, someone from the other side of politics, such was the feeling about the job that he would do, and he's certainly done everyone proud in that role.
During his time as director, we've seen the upgrading and refreshing of so many stories around the First World War, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts and, more recently, the centenary of the First World War. It hasn't been an easy task, due to space limitations. The telling of the Second World War stories in those galleries is difficult, given the lack of space. I know that significant works are going to be happening over the next few years to redress that. I want to pass on my personal thanks, on behalf of people in the Territory, for Dr Nelson's willingness to work with me and other Territorians on expanding the storytelling around the bombing of Darwin in February 1942 but also the war in north Australia more generally. Some of those stories of the most significant attack on the Australian mainland are well known, but others are yet to be told, and I look forward to working with the War Memorial staff to do that.
The motion recognises the need to incorporate the service of our 100,000 younger veterans, with the inclusion of expanded galleries to tell contemporary stories of service to our nation. This is important and something I'm very keen to support. We need to tell the modern story of conflict and peacekeeping. I can't emphasise enough the importance of the War Memorial to continue telling those stories to all Australians. I know that those opposite join me when I say that investments like this in the Australian War Memorial should never be confused or used as an excuse to underinvest in other areas of support for veterans at both the state and federal levels. The War Memorial plays an important role telling stories about the service of Australians to our nation. It is incredibly important. But the veteran suicide statistics last week were a stern reminder that more work needs to be done in the veterans health space. I just reaffirm my pledge to work with the government on making sure that we tell stories and support our veterans in every way we can.
I rise to support the member for Boothby's motion in recognition of the longstanding service of the Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson AO as he retires from his role as the Director of the Australian War Memorial at the end of this year. Brendan has been a tireless contributor to Australian life, and I'd really like to take this time to thank him for his service to his country, from when he began as the national President of the Australian Medical Association to his time in federal parliament, through to his work in recognising those men and women who have served our nation on the battlefields.
Brendan began his service to the Australian public as the President of the AMA, where he was elected unopposed after a decade as a medical practitioner in Hobart. During his time with the AMA, Dr Nelson led the charge in making Aboriginal health and immunisation a mainstream health issue in Australia, and it was through his various trips to remote Aboriginal communities that he was able to show the nation the inequality within Australia's healthcare system at the time, and this is something that the Commonwealth continually seeks to improve.
After three years in the role, Brendan was preselected as the Liberal candidate for Bradfield, where he served from 1996 to 2009. He first served as a cabinet minister in the Howard government, as the Minister for Education, Science and Training, where he was able to highlight the importance of a stronger higher education and VET system. He also served the parliament as the Minister for Defence, between 2006 and 2007, and as the Leader of the Opposition from 2007 to 2008. However, it's Brendan's leadership in Australia's Defence landscape and his advocacy for greater recognition of returned service men and women that he will, arguably, be remembered for the most.
Pursuing his interest in military history, Brendan was appointed Director of the Australian War Memorial in December 2012. During his time as director he oversaw the centenary of the First World War and implemented his vision to acknowledge the Anzacs who have served our nation and continue to serve on the battlefields across the globe. One of the lasting traditions that Brendan introduced early in his time as director was the Last Post Ceremony held at the memorial 364 days a year at 4.55 pm. Each ceremony recognises one of more than 102,700 names on the Roll of Honour each afternoon, meaning it will take almost 300 years to tell each individual story. Visitors to the memorial, including school groups, veterans and their families, are invited to lay a wreath and floral tributes at the Pool of Reflection, to mark their respects to those who have died while serving our nation.
As mentioned earlier, the memorial commemorated the centenary of the First World War. It was during this time that Brendan's vision for recognising the service of the past and current Australian Defence Force personnel was carefully implemented. Some of these projects include A camera on Gallipoli, a digital exhibition of the private collection of Charles Ryan during the Gallipoli campaign; the role of honour name projections on the exterior of the memorial building, for the duration of the centenary commemorative period; and the Commemorative Crosses project, which engaged Australian schoolchildren by allowing them to write messages of hope and thanks to our service men and women on 2,000 crosses that were placed on the graves of Australians who fought on the Western Front.
Also during Brendan's period as director was the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan, where he helped lead the Australian recognition of the 60,000 Australians who served during the Vietnam War. His most recent achievement was securing an almost $500 million investment to redevelop and expand the memorial, which will mean future generations will have the opportunity to pay their respects to those who have fallen and allow all Australians who have served in our Defence Force the recognition they deserve.
I'd like to thank Brendan for his service to the Australian community, especially to those serving, past and present, in the Australian Defence Force. Former service men and women, including in my electorate of Robertson, are indebted to you for the role you have played in recognising the military service they have given to Australia.
On a personal note, I'd really like to thank Brendan for his support and mentorship, when I joined the Liberal Party as a Young Liberal—many years ago—for his advice, for his friendship and for his continual encouragement, and to thank him for being somebody who was known as a person of integrity and a person of authenticity. What you saw was what you got with Brendan. So I wish him, his wife, Gillian, and his three children all the very best for their future endeavours.
Like many of my colleagues before me, I rise today to place on record my thanks, admiration and appreciation for Dr Brendan Nelson and his service to our country as Director of the Australian War Memorial. During his time as director, the Australian War Memorial has only grown in stature and entrenched its place as the epicentre of recognising the brave men and women who have served our nation. He has been quite an extraordinary leader at the Australian War Memorial, but more on that a little later. I would also like to describe him as a visionary leader. I don't know Dr Nelson that well, but I do think it important that today the House recognise his service to the nation, in particular, in a bipartisan fashion, because that's exactly how he has behaved as director.
The War Memorial is a special place for Australians, young and old, who come from all parts of our country not only to pay their respects but also to learn about the history and stories of our nation during wartime. On the many occasions that I've met with students from my electorate who have visited Canberra for their school trips, many of them are quick to tell me about their time at the War Memorial. In fact, Woodcrest State College, from the electorate of Oxley, will be visiting tomorrow as part of their year 6 school trip to Canberra and will be laying a wreath at 2.30 pm at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We're fortunate to live in a country that is largely free from the horrors of war and the War Memorial offers students a glimpse into what our serving men and women experience during these times, particularly, as we've heard in today's discussion, during World War I and World War II, along with all the conflicts our nation has been involved with.
I come from a military family myself with my late father, Allan Baxter Dick, having served during World War II on board the HMAS Ararat serving as a signalman in New Guinea. It was only in his later years that my father began to feel comfortable in sharing some of his experiences during the war. As many veterans do, he kept the scars of the past to himself for most of his life, not wanting to relive the experience or place a burden on others. It is for reasons like this the War Memorial is so important. It's a place where not only Australians but also international visitors can see firsthand pieces of military equipment and uniforms and see for themselves the great sacrifices our service men and women have given to our country. Dr Nelson has played an integral part in this. He has brought his considerable capacity, enthusiasm and diligence to a job that requires diligence and a special touch. With this in mind, Labor has supported the Australian War Memorial redevelopment project, which will ensure the memorial remains a solemn place of remembrance for future generations, especially in its mission to recognise and deepen our understanding of more recent conflicts like Afghanistan and Iraq, and peacekeeping missions to the Solomon Islands and East Timor.
I have been honoured to visit some of these regions as part of the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program. Whilst you can read about it in the papers, or see it on the television, there's nothing like being there in person, side by side with our troops, to appreciate the great sacrifice they give to our country.
The Australian War Memorial holds a very important place in the hearts of Australians and is an important marker of the sacrifice our armed forces have made to keep our country safe. Its director, Dr Nelson, leaves very big shoes to fill and a high benchmark with the honour, enthusiasm and commitment that he has given the role.
On behalf of the Oxley electorate, and the thousands of Australians who have been fortunate to visit the Australian War Memorial, I thank Dr Nelson for his service and wish he and his family all the very best for the future.
I've had the pleasure of knowing Dr Brendan Nelson very well, not only as the fire-brand, earring-wearing national President of the AMA, where he caused discomfort to every government and every minister that was around this building at the time, but also as a member of the backbench, a minister in the Howard government and his ambassadorial appointments. I've had interaction with Brendan in all those places. Most memorable, Brendan was an education minister that was an on-the-road education minister. He was everywhere and he came to people's electorates. As minister, he actually looked at the problems that they had. I'm not having a go at any other minister but Brendan was a real on-the-ground, face-to-face education minister. He wanted to know the issues.
If he came across an issue in an electorate that he thought was worthy of consideration he'd act on it. His department didn't like it, the bureaucrats didn't like it but Brendan loved it. If he could do something really worthwhile, especially for those who may not have been part of the mainstream, he'd act. He had a real heart for those who perhaps couldn't hold their ground at the school level and they were in a specialist centre, and it wasn't really the federal government's obligation to go in and fix those problems. I remember the department told me one time, 'Just remember, this is a one-off. It will never happen again.' But Brendan was the sort of minister that made things happen in his portfolio on behalf of constituents and on behalf of members that drew a problem to his attention.
But probably most importantly, I was hugely impressed with Brendan as an ambassador. He was a highly respected ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the European Union. I met Brendan, again in that capacity, when my wife and I joined Brendan for the celebration of Anzac Day. Brendan had us working like beavers from well before sun-up, all the way to sundown. He was amazing. His work ethic was exactly the same in everything he took on: President of the AMA, then a member of parliament, then a minister. It didn't matter what ministry he took on; he was like that battery—is it the Eveready battery?
He was like the Energizer battery in every portfolio. He was great to be around. He was highly respected in Belgium and he briefed us in such an amazing way. He had a real talent for knowing what the best thing was that our delegation could have done on a trip, and he organised it beautifully; he had everything down pat. I think that's why he was so very successful when he went to the Australian War Memorial. Here's a man who, straightaway, had a bigger vision than just administration. In every area—whether it was Aboriginal affairs when he was AMA president; parliamentary secretary to the minister; backbencher; Minister for Education, Science and Training; cabinet minister; Minister for Defence—he had a vision. He took that vision from his parliamentary career into the Australian War Memorial and made changes that are going to last for time immemorial in the memorial. His name will be remembered by many of us because of what he did at the War Memorial, because the Australian War Memorial is in perpetual motion. It is one of the most visited places in Australia. So it was perfect to throw Brendan into that role.
I'm going to run out of time in 55 seconds, which is really a shame, because there's so much to say about the Hon. Brendan Nelson. More importantly, it has been mentioned that he has won a major funding boost, because he realised the depth and the heart of the Australian people for conflicts that we have been involved in after Korea—the most recent conflicts—and how important it was to the serving members and the ex-members that they be part of the War Memorial. As Brendan saw it—and I hope I'm not verballing him here—the War Memorial was a living, breathing entity that needed to reflect what's happening in this time, in this day.
To Brendan, Gill, and the kids: all the best. I knew you'd go on to do great things and I think there are great things in front of you still to do.
Two and a half thousand years ago Pericles delivered a funeral oration, reading in part:
… for the Athens that I have celebrated is only what the heroism of these and their like have made her … none of these allowed either wealth with its prospect of future enjoyment to unnerve his spirit, or poverty with its hope of a day of freedom and riches to tempt him to shrink from danger … reckoning this to be the most glorious of hazards, they joyfully determined to accept the risk …
Thucydides quotes Pericles:
So died these men as became Athenians. You, their survivors, must determine to have as unfaltering a resolution in the field, though you may pray that it may have a happier issue.
In honouring those who have fallen in service of Australia, we follow in the footsteps of Pericles. The manner in which that is done fundamentally shapes the character of nations.
When I was at school I was often struck by the way in which the acknowledgement of Australia's military activities sometimes descended into vague bromides about courage and sacrifice, and honour and valour—all important notions, but somehow a little too divorced from the real individuals who had borne great burdens on our behalf. An initiative of Brendan Nelson's that will stand the test of time is the Last Post ceremony initiated in April 2013. The first person to be so honoured was Private Robert Poate, a Canberran who had spent two-thirds of his short life as a student at Canberra Grammar School. He died in a green-on-blue attack in Afghanistan. He was remembered by his close friend Rugby Paralympian Cody Meakin:
He was cheeky, always had a cheeky grin. Nothing ever fazed him. … He was just a top bloke, one of the most genuine and loyal blokes I had the pleasure of hanging out with.
Cody Meakin says that, after Private Poate's death, he had his wheelchair inscribed with a special tribute to his fallen friend.
Private Poate was acknowledged too by Justin Garrick, the head of Canberra Grammar School, who recalls his mother, Ms Jenny Poate, had been the receptionist at the front office of the senior school for much of the time that Private Poate was at school.
It is by telling these stories of real individuals, of their valour and their sacrifice, that the War Memorial comes to life for so many Australians. There's a good reason why it's the most visited site for tourists coming to Canberra: it is because they look to the wall of remembrance and to the galleries to understand what Australians have done on our behalf and to understand the importance of always treating war as a last resort. The 102,000 Australians whose names are recorded on the memorial's wall of honour come to life through these Last Post ceremonies. My friend and college Shayne Neumann has said of his own role:
There is no greater service than the defence of our nation, and no greater honour as a Parliamentarian than to advocate for the welfare of our service and ex-service personnel.
He notes that Labor took to the last election a comprehensive plan for the funding of a national family engagements support strategy to better engage and support families who experience suicide, suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress disorder and major issues pre and post military service.
I commend the member for bringing forward this important motion and pay tribute too to Brendan Nelson for his work heading the War Memorial. I make the important point that Brendan Nelson was appointed to this role by a Labor government as he had previously been appointed to his diplomatic role by a Labor government. They recognise the fact that no party has a monopoly on talent. Labor in government chose to make appointments of appropriately qualified coalition former parliamentarians. But, from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to diplomatic appointments, we haven't seen very much of that kind of bipartisanship under the Abbott, Turnbull or Morrison government. I think that's a pity for Australians. I think Australians miss out by an overly partisan approach to appointments such as that of Brendan Nelson, whom we honour today.