Monday, 9 November 2020
Private Members' Business
That this House:
(a) that since the First World War, almost two million men and women have served in our defence forces; and
(b) the more than 102,000 defence personnel who have tragically died during, or as a result of, warlike service, non-warlike service and certain peacetime operations; and
(3) acknowledges the service and sacrifice of all those who served in our defence force and the families that supported them by encouraging all Australians to observe one minute's silence at 11 am on 11 November 2020.
On Wednesday morning, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, our nation will fall silent for a minute. It's not an eerie silence or an awkward silence, it's a reflective silence. This is a minute to stop and to think about and remember the brave men and women who fought and sacrificed so that we could enjoy our freedoms, which we hold dear to this day. It is a minute to think about the members of the Australian Imperial Force, who bravely put the needs of their nation ahead of their own self-interest and their own safety. On Wednesday, we think not only of those who fought in World War I but also, as this motion acknowledges, of those who have served in uniform ever since: the two million men and women who have served in our armed forces since World War I and the more than 102,000 defence personnel who during, or as a result of, warlike service, non-warlike service and peacetime operations have tragically died.
On Remembrance Day we pause and take time to remember. We enjoy the freedoms of democracy and life in the best country in the world to live in. It is incumbent on us to not forget what it took to defend those freedoms and the way of life we are fortunate enough to have, because, if we forget, we run into the danger of becoming complacent and forgetting just how valuable what we have is. We need to ensure we do everything we can to defend it so that these lives that were lost will never have been lost in vain.
Fortunately, we have a strong history of marking Remembrance Day since the first Remembrance Day in 1919. I recently came across an article from The Townsville Daily Bulletin, from Wednesday 12 November 1941, which reported on the 23rd anniversary of the signing of Armistice and how quiet the city became at 11 am. The article reads: 'On the hour striking, there was a hush. So general and thorough was the silence that those on the balcony of town hall could hear across from McKinnon's, from the machine in that building. The broadcast of the chiming of the Brisbane Town Hall, and also the bugler in the city, sounding the Last Post. In fact, said the town clerk, when reviewing the ceremony later, the silence was so thorough and complete that you could have heard a pin drop in Flinders Street.'
The tradition continues at my home town of Townsville, Australia's largest garrison city. Remembrance Day is extremely special. Each year a large crowd gathers at Anzac Park down on The Strand for the ceremony supported by members of the 3rd Brigade and many local veteran groups and organisations. At 11 am the city falls silent as we observe a minute's silence. While I'd really like to be present at Anzac Park on Wednesday, I am very glad to be able to attend the national Remembrance Day ceremony at the Australian War Memorial.
So who will I be remembering on this Remembrance Day? In my maiden speech in this place, I mentioned a warrior—a brother, a mate—killed in action on 18 July 2009 in Afghanistan. So on Remembrance Day I will be remembering my mate, Ben Ranaudo, a brave man who served his nation with pride. And I was proud to serve beside him. Of course, there's not a day that goes by that I don't remember him. On this Remembrance Day, joining my other mates, and the whole nation, there's an extra sense of not only sadness but also pride. But, tragically, there are many others who I'll also be remembering, and they may not have died in war but they have succumbed to their war within. On Wednesday, I'll be remembering Jesse Bird, Brad Carr, Paul McKay, Ben Brown, Peter Atkins, Dylan Clark, Tristan Hardie, Daniel Halpin, Steven Fazel, Shaun Jenkins, Geoffrey Price and Lewis Shelley. They too proudly served their nation and should be honoured for their service and their sacrifice.
There has been a lot of talk lately about the tragic loss of life, how we can do better to prevent this happening and the unacceptable numbers of our veterans who have succumbed to their war within. We are taking action, but there is a long road ahead. Wednesday is the time for our nation to unite, pause, remember and reflect. I encourage everyone around the nation this year to stop for a minute's silence this Remembrance Day. Lest we forget.
I second the motion. I thank the member for Herbert for this motion, I acknowledge his service and I thank him for bringing this timely motion to the chamber today. Wednesday 11 November 2020 marks Remembrance Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, when the guns fell silent on the Western Front, officially ending the First World War. It was supposed to be the war that ended all wars; tragically it was not.
Remembrance Day is a time to recognise the service and sacrifice of all those who've served in our Defence Force, and the families that support them, by stopping and observing a minute's silence. This Wednesday, along with the member for Herbert, I, and many members of this chamber and in the other place, the senators, will attend a national ceremony at the Australian War Memorial, where the names of more than 102,000 who've fallen on our behalf are inscribed. The ceremony will be broadcast nationally.
Remembrance Day is about honouring all Australians who served in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations. Every community in Australia has its own story to tell, and Remembrance Day is an opportunity for those local communities to honour and renew those connections. It's a tragic reminder, a sad reminder, of the terrible impact that wars have had on the economies and social fabric of small, regional and country towns, and major cities.
I want to talk about the impact on a small regional rural community in my electorate and an individual in my home city of Ipswich. In Elizabeth DeLacy's 2015 book The Colinton Boys, she tells the story of the harsh reality of the lives of men who returned from the First World War to their small town in the Somerset region in the Brisbane Valley in the electorate of Blair. Colinton is the site of Queensland's first-ever war monument, unveiled on 18 January 1917. With a population of 200, Colinton made an extraordinary contribution to the war effort. By 1917, 44 men out of a town of 200 had enlisted in the AIF. When the war ended, only about 13 men returned home, many to find that their jobs had disappeared from the local dairy industry, so they were forced to move away in search of work. Colinton is now a ghost town, effectively, but there's still a monument there that inscribes the names of 43 men across the whole war who lost their lives. This insightful book by Elizabeth DeLacy talks about how poorly these men were treated when they came home from the war and how many of them suffered from their wartime experiences: mental health issues, relationship breakdown and personal tragedy, and we haven't learnt enough in this country, even today.
The latest newsletter of the Ipswich Genealogical Society in my electorate records the story of Ipswich man Major Sydney Beresford Robertson, who was a local solicitor and the son of a local pastor. He was among the men from what official war historian Charles Bean describes as the outer states—Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia—who landed at Gallipoli on the very first day. On that day, Major Robertson and his comrades were involved in the bloody battle at Sari Bair. Heavily outnumbered by the Turks and with his regiment desperately trying to hold a ridge, Major Robertson was killed in action, cut down by shrapnel while bravely trying to get reinforcements to his troops. On this Remembrance Day we salute the courage of brave soldiers like Major Robertson and all those who made the ultimate sacrifice in all wars.
Reflecting on these conflicts again reminds us of the terrible impacts of war. One of the most important ways we can give weight to the meaning of 'lest we forget' is to ensure that our veterans and their families receive the support and respect they deserve. To paraphrase the motto of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia, 'We should honour the dead by fighting like hell for the living.' In this place we should recommit ourselves this Remembrance Day to giving our veterans the best possible support with policies that provide tangible outcomes, including in areas like mental health and wellbeing, civilian transition and employment programs. As the latest figures on defence and veteran suicide have shown, we need to act urgently to address these issues.
I want to thank the member for Herbert and all those on both sides of this chamber who have served in the military, and remember those who came back from the wars, who served in this place on both sides of the chamber. I want to thank the men and women from the RAAF and the Army units situated at RAAF Base Amberley in my home community. I thank them for what they do for my local community. Member for Herbert, I support your motion, I thank you for your service and thank you for the motion, and I commend it to the chamber.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month each year Australia pauses. We as a nation collectively bow our heads and reflect on the supreme cost, the pain and the sacrifice that paid for our freedom, our security and our sovereignty—just one day a year. For the brave men and women who serve, who have served, or indeed are affected by the sacrifice that goes with defending our nation, these thoughts go on each day. At ceremonies right across the nation, many speeches will talk of the bravery, the loss and the torment of these same young Australians and their sacrifice in defending Australia and its interests. I believe, deep in my heart of hearts, that no words, no speech, much less my own today, will even come close to truly articulating the degree of solemn gratitude that is deserved in remembering the lives lost in war or conflict.
Instead, the day to me is the solace that follows such speeches. It comes in the power of the silence, for it is in the silence that we, as a grateful nation, can begin to embark on our profound act of remembrance. The very first Armistice Day, in 1918, followed the silence—the silence of the guns on the Western Front, the silence over 46,000 young Australians, scattered across the scarred landscape of the Western Front, a place described by Charles Bean as being 'more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any place on earth'. On the Gallipoli Peninsula, again, there was silence: silence filled the 8,141 young Australians who lay dead on that ground; silence embraced their first landing there; and, ironically, it would be silence that would cover their tactical withdrawal.
Regrettably, war seldom remains silent for long. Following the deafening fog of the Second World War in Tobruk, in the Pacific, in Singapore and New Guinea, and in conflicts right across the world, again there was silence: the endless silence of over 27,000 young Australian service men and women. Silence followed in military funerals of more Australians in Korea, in Malaya, in Borneo. Young Australian forward scouts moved in silence as they closed to contact in close country in the jungles in Vietnam. These same diggers listened to the silence as they stood, too, at the dawn. For it is in the silence of the dawn that the danger comes, and every Australian digger knows that. In the Gulf, in Afghanistan, in Iraq: more funerals, more sacrifice and more silence. In East Timor, the Solomons, Bougainville, the Sinai, Somalia, Rwanda and Mogadishu: again, Australians would be called to keep the silence.
But it is in this very silence that the torment and the scars of war remain. It's in the silence that many service men and women continue to suffer. Many—far too many—are deafened by the silence that they endure each day. Many can't bear the silence. Sadly, many succumb to the silence. Silent, too, are the spouses, the kids, the loved ones who are close to our veterans. They're silent because they don't know what to say. They know that their loved one is suffering. They don't know what to do, so they remain silent. But all they get in return is silence.
So, to every last Australian, when the 11th hour comes—when the haunting sound of the last postbeckons the silence—I'd urge you to all truly pause to reflect on the sacrifice and the torment of war and to truly listen to the sound of the silence. Lest we forget.
I'd like to thank the member for Herbert and the member for Braddon for two wonderful speeches, and I thank them for their service. In two days and seven minutes we will mark Remembrance Day with one minute's silence. We take this minute to commemorate the more than 102,000 men and women who have given their lives in the service of this nation and to honour the almost two million who have served in our defence forces since the First World War, including those who serve today. In my thoughts will be Teddy Sheean, a labourer's son from Lower Barrington who strapped himself to a gun aboard a sinking ship to fire at Japanese warplanes that were strafing his comrades in the water. The 18-year-old knew that by strapping himself to that gun he would die that day. His sacrifice saved more than 40 men. Teddy's actions were always worthy of a Victoria Cross. After a campaign that took far too long, that was finally acknowledged this year.
As a nation, we generally do well at memorialising sacrifice on the battlefield, but we do less well at looking after those who come home damaged in mind, body and spirit. A short distance from this place is a monument to our fallen that we have all agreed to spend around half a billion dollars on expanding so that we can extend exhibits and better tell the stories of our military history, and many of us will be there on Wednesday. I cannot help but think that we should be putting at least as much effort into assisting those who return as we do into remembering and honouring those who do not.
I thank the member for Herbert for bringing on this motion and acknowledge his service and his long campaign for better mental health support for returned services personnel. He knows all too well that the rate of mental illness amongst veterans is much higher than that of the general Australian population. Australian male veterans are 21 per cent more likely to die by suicide than other Australian men. Australian women who have served die by suicide at twice the rate of other Australian women. Forty-one ADF personnel and veterans have taken their own lives this year. More Australian service personnel are dying by suicide than in armed conflict.
These are staggering statistics that none of us should be willing to accept. Often, the challenging transition back to civilian life is compounded by the frustration of dealing with the Department of Veterans' Affairs, with long delays for claims and payments, unexplained or incomprehensible rejections and an unfriendly and impersonal bureaucratic interface. Veterans are waiting for three months to access counselling and they can't see a psychiatrist until next February. None of it is conducive to the mental and emotional wellbeing of people who can be suffering with a variety of issues.
Labor acknowledges the government's release of an interim response to the 2019 Productivity Commission report on the veterans' support system. The response and additional funding for mental health, transition and employment in the budget are welcome, but more is needed and more must be provided. We note that of the 69 recommendations made by the PC, the government committed in the budget to implementing just 25. Labor also notes the government's decision to create a national commissioner for defence and veteran suicide prevention. We are concerned that creating this office essentially puts the cart before the horse. That is why we have asked to refer it to the Senate inquiry.
It appears, for example, that the national commission does not have all the powers of a royal commission—some, but not all. We would prefer that a royal commission be instituted. It would ensure accountability, such as holding public hearings, and be able to compel witnesses to testify and produce evidence. Importantly, a royal commission would have the power to refer charges of criminal or official misconduct. It may well be that out of such a royal commission a key recommendation would be to institute a standing national commission like that which the government proposes. But a royal commission may well also uncover other essential information, leading to other important recommendations. We won't know if we don't hold one.
Nikki Jamieson, from Northern Tasmania, told The Examiner newspaper that a national commission doesn't go far enough. Her son, Daniel, died by suicide while serving. She now has lots of qualifications in this area and is working on her PhD. She says:
… all of my participants came to my research because of the horrendous experiences [they had] within Defence and Veterans' Affairs.
Horrendous experiences. We must do better; we must have a royal commission that will get to the bottom of these issues once and for all. Our veterans deserve no less. Lest we forget.