House debates

Monday, 26 October 2020


COVID 19: Australians Overseas, Army Combat Badge

7:41 pm

Photo of David SmithDavid Smith (Bean, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to take this opportunity to raise with the House the plight of two Australians from Bean. Steven Douda and Tenille Raynor are two constituents of mine who are currently abandoned overseas by this government. The pair left Australia for the UK in early 2019. When the pandemic spread through Britain, Ms Raynor, a registered nurse with expertise in accident and emergency at Canberra Hospital, worked with coronavirus patients in temporary critical care at the Nightingale Hospitals. Meanwhile, Mr Douda worked on critical projects, including the UK and EU epidemiological forecast models for the pandemic, while remaining an active reservist serving on exchange to the UK with 131 Commando Squadron Royal Engineers based in Bath. They were also both part of the Oxford vaccine trial, feeling it was their duty to support this critical cause with great potential benefit to all.

Having taken unpaid leave from their jobs in Canberra, Steven and Tenille are now facing unemployment if they cannot return home soon. They first booked a flight back to Australia in July. They have also been registered on the DFAT COVID portal since it was opened. Yet, damningly, they've been relying on Facebook and social networks to get updates on what the government is doing. As a result of this government's inaction, they now have neither employment nor a permanent living address. They are having to hope for a series of flights on 28 October, with Qatar Airways, out of Doha. The couple are currently in Greece living out of their backpacks and in a rapidly deteriorating situation. This situation is just like that of so many other Australians across the world who feel abandoned by this government. Steven and Tenille do not ask for any special treatment and recognise that there are other Australians whose need to return to Canberra and other parts of Australia is greater than their own. This Prime Minister has had multiple options and offers to fix this, yet in classic Morrison style we hear over and over again the monotonous deflecting drone of, 'It's up to the premiers.'

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Bean will resume his seat. The assistant minister.

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Community Housing, Homelessness and Community Services) Share this | | Hansard source

The member needs to refer to the Prime Minister by his correct title.

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Bean has the call, but he must remember that he must refer to members by their title.

Photo of David SmithDavid Smith (Bean, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My apologies, Deputy Speaker. What our constituents want to see is fewer words and more action.

The other matter I wish to raise this evening is in regard to the service of former Lieutenant Colonel David Brown and other Vietnam veterans in relation to their eligibility for the Army Combat Badge. Mr Brown is the former head of corps of the Australian Army Public Relations Service and served two 12-month tours of Vietnam alongside frontline personnel. Mr Brown believes he and others are eligible for the Army Combat Badge due to the nature of their service in Vietnam. He has sought to have their important contributions are recognised. Unfortunately, the Department of Defence appears to have rejected the reconsideration despite evidence of the veterans' experiences.

For example, a fellow corps member, Peter Thomas, served in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969, covering everything from motor vehicle workshops to some pretty grim operations. In Pete Thomas's words, 'We'd fly in on helicopters, we'd spend three, four, five or six days with an element of one of the battalions or the tanks or the armoured personnel carriers, we'd get our stories and photos and we'd fly back to base to dispatch all that material.' Mr Thomas said there was often only a single day's rest after doing that before they were sent to the next operation.

More recent conflicts have better recognised the contribution of PR personnel, with members with similar service in Afghanistan and Iraq appropriately receiving recognition of their service with the Army Combat Badge—yet those who served in Vietnam have not been recognised. Moreover, as the first member for Bean, a seat named after Australia's first war correspondent, I support their request for recognition for the PR corps with the awarding of the Army Combat Badge. The irony, of course, is that much of the evidence that backs Mr Brown's claim resides in the records of the Australian War Memorial, an institution Charles Bean fought to establish.

It's important that the combat service of those reporting from the frontline are recognised as well as those fighting on the frontline, and it's important to do so with some urgency. The ranks of those that are left are thinning. I urge the government to reconsider this request and for this injustice to be redressed.