Monday, 21 November 2022
Private Members' Business
That this House:
(1) notes the national importance of observing Remembrance Day this Friday, 11 November 2022;
(2) honours and remembers all those who have died and served for Australia as members of our defence force in all wars and armed conflicts;
(3) remembers that the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month marks the formal cessation of hostilities in World War I in 1918;
(4) recognises the importance of the Marking World War One Graves program as a part of our national commitment to 'Lest We Forget';
(5) further notes the Government cut funding for the program by more than half of the $3.7 million from the former Government's 2022-23 budget to $1.5 million in the October 2022-23 budget; and
(6) calls on the Government to immediately reinstate full funding of $3.7 million.
I would like to start by saying that I had two grandfathers who fought in the First World War—both on the Western Front. One started at Gallipoli on the first day and left on the last, then he went to the Western Front, and in the Second World War, he went right up against the Japanese to Guadalcanal. I'm very fortunate. Both of them were buried. One's buried at Adelong, and I go to visit his grave from time to time. The other one's buried in Hampden in New Zealand, which obviously I don't get to, and I have only been there once.
There are many people who've served our nation. In fact, more than 331,800 people were deployed during the First World War, and well in excess of 400,000 people enlisted. Once they came back, 30,000 of them—60,000 were killed over there—died of injuries that were pertinent to their war service, especially things such as gassing which was a complete infliction. Many of the 240,000 who have been laid to rest privately have unmarked graves. They've served our nation, and they deserve to be respected for that.
Prior to the election, we said that the program that we had—and were putting $3.7 million towards—would continue to be funded, but the current government has only put about half that, or $1.5 million, towards it. When we say 'Lest we forget' we can't remember them if they don't have a grave, and we've found well in excess of 1,000 graves. In fact, I was involved with one of them before I had the shadow portfolio. It was actually an Indigenous gentleman who was buried in the wrong grave. We had to identify and give the proper headstone to a person who had served our nation in the First World War. We need to make sure that this funding is restored. It's all very well to have money for the Environmental Defenders Office and environmental warriors, but it's not money for respecting the people who actually did fight for our nation. In the identification of graves, there are so many families, because for each person who's served—my father served, I served—there are more and more of their children, their progeny, who look back and say, 'I want to find my great-grandfather's grave; I want to find my great-grand-uncle's grave.' People have a real sense of pride.
I remember back in the early eighties, I thought Anzac Day was going to finish, but now no-one would suggest that. It's because there are so many more great-grandchildren, great-grand-nephews, who say, 'I want to identify with this and I respect the service that was given by my family—that my family is a family of honour. My family is one that has served. My family is one in which people before me, of my bloodline, offered their lives for the protection of this nation.' And the bare minimum we can do for those who fell on hard times, who disappeared to corners of our country, who were afflicted in mind, and basically disappeared off the social register—and for them to lie in pauper's graves, for them to lie basically unmarked is a bad reflection on us as a nation. It shows that we don't actually respect what they did, and we have done the worst thing—forgotten them, because that is the ultimate thing. The reason they say 'Lest we forget' is that, if we do forget, then their service was for nothing; their service wasn't respected.
So we should reinstall this funding. We should be making it a part of every member of this House to say, 'Well, let's find out where these people are buried,' and we can do that. We have done that. We found 1,189 graves. That's 1,189 families who can now say, 'I know where my great-grandfather is buried. He served in the First World War.' 'I know where my great-grand-uncle is buried. He served in the First World War. He was a person of honour. We're a family of honour and we have not forgotten him because we've found his grave and we can respect that monument.'
I'd like to thank the member for New England for raising this motion which gives me the opportunity to speak on a topic which is so important to our nation. I could not agree more with the member saying that members of our Defence Force who have died and served our nation in all wars and armed conflicts deserve to be remembered and honoured. This Remembrance Day, we not only commemorated the lives lost in World War I; we honoured the 103,000 Australians who lost their lives in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.
I want to take the opportunity to honour the contribution that the Hunter made towards the battle that shaped our nation, standing there on the world stage in the First World War. The Hunter had many who served in the war, with more than 2,000 who enlisted from Muswellbrook all the way down to Lake Macquarie. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, people all around the Hunter paused to remember all those who gave the greatest sacrifice for our nation, with a special focus on those who died in our first great conflict. At Cessnock War Memorial, 82 brave men and women, whose names are on the roll of honour for World War I, were remembered. In Muswellbrook, 42 were honoured. Singleton paid tribute to the 110 lives lost, and Lake Macquarie honoured the 167 people who paid the ultimate price.
I was honoured to be able to attend the Remembrance Day service in Singleton, which was a fitting service and remembered those who have served with pride. I also want to pay special tribute to the Kearsley Community Dawn Service Committee and all their volunteers who work tirelessly to continue to recognise local people who served in the war. Recognising the service of all who put their lives on the line for our country is of the utmost importance, and I thank the Kearsley Community Dawn Service Committee for all the work that they continue to do to ensure that no-one's service is forgotten and that all receive the recognition they deserve.
On the theme of honouring service, I want to share the story of one courageous man from the Hunter who was awarded the highest honour, the Victoria Cross. Clarence Smith Jeffries, who lived in the Hunter electorate at the time he enlisted, first began serving this country at the age of just 17. Clarence Jeffries built a dignified career in the military, raising to the rank of captain on 12 October 1917. He was awarded the highest military honour for his actions at Passchendaele, Belgium, during World War I. Captain Jeffries was recognised for his 'most conspicuous bravery'. When in battle, his company was held up by machine gun fire from enemy bunkers. Captain Jeffries organised a party and rushed one bunker, capturing four machine guns and 35 prisoners before leading his company forward under extremely heavy enemy artillery barrage and machine gun fire to the objective. He went on to organise another successful attack on a machine gun bunker, capturing two machine guns and 30 more prisoners.
Captain Jeffries went on to be killed during this attack, but it was said that it was entirely due to his bravery and initiative that the centre of the attack was not held up for a lengthy period. He was described as a gallant officer whose example had the utmost of inspiring influences on many. Captain Jefferies, thank you for your service. Your leadership and your courage are lessons for all of us to follow.
I could not be more thankful for those who have served and those who have given their life to ensure that our country enjoys the freedom we all have today. The courage of these men and women underpins who we are as a nation and their actions and stories, such as those of Captain Jeffries, make me feel a great sense of pride in my country and in my electorate, knowing that like all parts of Australia the Hunter played its part. Thank you all for your service. Lest we forget.
I remember. I remember the excitement, the anticipation and the hope that came with being accepted as an infantry soldier in the Australian Army. I remember the feeling of belonging and mateship and the pride in serving our nation. I remember the instant comradeship that came with our first deployment. We were 10 feet tall and bulletproof, driven by the naivete that only comes with youth. I remember the day we lost one of the best men we'd ever had the honour to know, Private Ben Ranaudo, who was killed by an antipersonnel explosive device in Afghanistan on 18 July 2009. He was 22 and had his whole life in front of him. I remember my best mate, Paul Warren, who lost his lower right leg in the same blast. I remember the guilt, the shame that washed over every single one of those who survived war. I remember the weight of reality coming down on us like a tonne of bricks. I remember the deep pain of knowing there was no choice but to wake up and keep going but wishing it was me who had been killed. I remember 19 October 2009 starting off like any other patrol to the Baluchi Valley. I remember the sound of ringing in my ears that was so loud I thought my head was going to explode. I remember the shame of being the one to set off the improvised explosive device that put so many of my mates at risk. I remember the darkness that followed, months that turned into years, struggling to recover from the traumatic brain injury, PTSD, hearing loss and alcohol abuse.
I remember that I'm one of the lucky ones who had an incredible life partner, my now wife, Jenna, along with many mates, who helped me turn my life around. I remember that there are so many who have been before me and have come after me who are not so lucky. I remember our brave soldiers we have lost: Jesse Bird, Brad Carr, Paul McKay, Ben Brown, Peter Atkins, Dylan Clark, Tristan Hardie, Daniel Halpin, Steven Fazel, Shaun Jenkins, Geoffrey Price, Lewis Shelley and many more. I remember their faces, their honour, their incredible pride in serving our nation. I remember the heartbreak of their families, their friends and their colleagues, who wonder how they're going to keep on living without them. I remember that we must do more as a nation and as a government to ensure this unacceptable loss of life stops. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, I remember. I remember all who have come before, and those who have come after. They are us and we are them.
This is something I put pen to paper about a year and a bit ago. It's the first time I have been able to read it out loud. It is challenging, every day, that we look around this nation and see our veteran community succumbing to the war within dying by suicide. There are reports in Townsville, Darwin, Western Australia and all around the country. It's a national shame. I have great pride in my service. I loved every day of it. But it kicks me in the guts every day after that we have lost more to their war within the we did on operations. Out of all of my injuries, the thing that hurt me the most was the invisible one, which was my post-traumatic stress disorder—not the blast, not being deaf, not the brain injury, but the invisible one that would creep up in the middle of the night. Many of my friends are still struggling with their demons today.
This house, Parliament House, regardless of the chamber, has a duty in respecting and looking after our soldiers, regardless of their call, regardless of their branch, because they have paved the way for the freedoms that we enjoy. If we can help one person, one person who knows that their life means something and that we love them, we need to work together to ensure that happens. Lest We Forget.
I'd like to thank the previous speaker, the member for Herbert, for his service and all others in this place and the other place who have served. Two weeks ago we commemorated Remembrance Day. I was in Canberra on Remembrance Day. At 11 am we paused, as did people across this land, to reflect on the enormous sacrifice paid by those who have served and those who have died to protect Australians, our country and our way of life. The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month marks the formal cessation of hostilities in World War I in 1918. But on this day we remember, we reflect, and we honour all Australians who have served and all who have fallen in our name. I, along with a number of colleagues, attended a very moving ceremony here in Parliament House and I was represented by staff at a number of ceremonies across Boothby, at Centennial Park, at Colonel Light Gardens RSL, and at the William Kibby Veterans Shed. I would also like to recognise Blackwood RSL and President Jack Mcguire and the Plympton Glenelg RSL and President Bill Hignett. Plympton Glenelg RSL was the driving force behind the Veteran Wellbeing Centre at the repat hospital in Boothby. This centre, run by SA Health, runs a range of services for veterans through Open Arms, Soldier On and the RSL, and they provide confidential assistance across a number of different areas. I would encourage any veterans needing assistance in the area to reach out to them.
I would like to specifically reflect on the William Kibby Veterans Shed. This is a local facility run by Barry Heffernan. It serves many veterans in the local community who are really struggling. It accepts anyone, no matter where their life has taken them after they have left service, and it helps them get on their feet. I have enjoyed a number of coffees and chats Barry and I'm really impressed with his acceptance of everyone and his commitment to make lives better.
Campaigning in Boothby I heard from many veterans and their families and loved ones about the difficulties they had in accessing help when they needed it. I heard from so many veterans that they put in a claim to the Department of Veterans' Affairs and they were still waiting, sometimes up to 18 months. Their families and loved ones told me that they'd been suffering for years. They had waited until they really couldn't bear it anymore before they put the claim in. To then have to wait in silence, to have no response from the government they had served, just added more distress to their lives. I am really pleased that the Albanese government has funded an additional 500 public servants into the Department of Veterans' Affairs to get these claims moving again, to get them assessed.
Just last week in Senate estimates the Secretary of the Department of Veterans' Affairs was asked by Senator Nita Green when the backlog of claims would have been dealt with if they had not received the additional 500 public servants. The secretary answered, 'Never.' In its report, McKinsey said: 'Unless we had an injection of staff, it would never be cleared. The list would just have kept growing. The backlog of claims was never going to be cleared.' Last year, when I wrote to the former Minister for Veterans' Affairs on behalf of veterans in distress in my electorate, I got no response. Now I know why. That's shocking, that's appalling, to say we are honouring those who served but we are not there when they actually need our help as a result of their service. Words fail me—to imagine overseeing this lack of service, leaving people in pain and distress.
To those veterans who waited for their claims: I'm sorry. We value your service but we also value you not just on Remembrance Day but every day. Please reach out if you need assistance. We will be there for you. Lest we forget.
First, I acknowledge each person who has served our country with honour both in this place and the other. Recently I attended a local remembrance service at Victoria Park in St Marys, hosted by the St Marys RSL subbranch. I love going to these services in our community both to recognise those who have served and to pay respect to those who continue to serve, and also to meet up with people who have become true friends of mine since becoming the member for Lindsay and honouring them in our community.
This year, 2022, is significant for St Marys; it marks the centenary of the opening of the War Memorial bandstand in Victoria Park. The historical monument was built in 1922 to commemorate the tragic loss of so many from St Marys on the battlefields of Gallipoli and Europe in World War I. Others from St Marys and right across my community have died in subsequent conflicts, and likewise we remember them at the memorial.
Remembrance Day is a sacred day for our country, as we honour the sacrifice of our servicemen and women, and, importantly, their families. It's always wonderful to see our young cadets, whether Army, Navy or Air Force, come together and continue the respect of that service. I encourage all young people to be involved in the cadets. It's a time for us to remember the extraordinary deeds of thousands of Australian men and women who ensured our nation's security and the freedom that each and every one of us enjoys in this great country. We pay our respects and honour their legacy with immense pride and a great sense of gratitude.
Remembrance Day, for me, like for so many Australians, is a day full of emotion. It is a day for us to be thankful for what those who have served have done and continue to do by putting our country first during the most difficult times and enduring the best and worst of humanity. We are thankful to those have given their all in the defence of our freedoms and the values we stand for as Australians that we are obliged to protect and preserve for future generations.
On 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we commemorate the signing of the Armistice by King George V in 1918 that brought an end to the Great War, the First World War, from which Australian grew and identified itself as a nation. I remember that when I was a schoolchild every person would stop as the clock struck 11 am to remember the sacrifices of so many great and brave Australians. I vividly remember the sadness and the suddenness of that. It made a deep impression on me and, I'm sure, on every Australian as they traditionally did that every single year. I hope that continues in our schools.
Australia has a deep admiration, respect and affection for our veterans, and this is evidenced by the ever-growing attendance at remembrance ceremonies. On Anzac Day each year, and after COVID, we see the value of the coming together of people in community—the thousands of people who have been turning out recently to services across my community. It shows how important these services continue to be, to recognise the sacrifice of so many Australians to keep our country free. I also acknowledge all the volunteers who provide service to our veterans. I honour our great service men and women and thank them for what they have given and continue to give our country.
In that, it is so important that we recognise those who were lost in World War I. That program that identified and marked the graves of over 1,000 men and women who served in World War I is extremely important when you think about the younger generations coming through and the importance of remembering. I think this is a very just program that should continue at the level of funding that was committed to by the coalition when we were in government and that the Labor Party promised to match should they be in government. So I urge the government to continue that important funding that we committed to.
Finally, in closing, I would like to thank our local veterans in my community, including those at St Marys RSL and Penrith RSL, for all the work they do and for all the work they have done in serving our nation. For those we have lost: lest we forget.
The 11th of the 11th at 11 o'clock is the day that we remember the cessation of hostilities for World War I, as the armistice was signed in a train carriage on that fateful day. In saying this, we remember those who lost their lives during World War I, the war that, it was hoped, would be the war to end all wars. However, sadly, we know that we subsequently went on as a planet to endure World War II and other conflicts after World War I.
Remembrance Day is a day when we not only commemorate those lives lost in World War I but also honour the 103,000 Australians who've lost their lives in all wars, conflicts and, importantly, peacekeeping operations. It is a day when we unite and when Australians come together to mark that day on the Western Front.
That day also recognises this year's 50th anniversary of the end of national service. I want to say thank you to those who were part of Australia's nashos, as they were fondly known. I know that in my electorate I have many people who served in national service, and it is so important that we remember that as well.
Also, I want to mention those peacekeeping activities. Every year since 1947, Australians have participated in peacekeeping missions all over the world, including the Middle East, Africa, Afghanistan, Cyprus, East Timor, Bougainville and the Solomon Islands. Thank you to those peacekeepers, because, at the end of the day, it is that peace that we strive so hard for and many have lost their lives for.
I would also like to acknowledge that on Remembrance Day we remember everyone who has served, suffered or made the ultimate sacrifice. Previously unrecognised veterans of the First World War whose graves are unmarked will now be acknowledged thanks to the grants program funded in October's budget for 2022-23. Following the successful pilot, the First World War Unmarked Graves grants program is being formally established with an initial $1.5 million, which will help recognise veterans interred in private graves who are not eligible for the Australian government's program of official commemoration.
Following the First World War, many veterans were separated from their families for a variety of reasons. Some took up the offer of a soldiers settlement farm, while others may have chosen to live an isolated life. When these veterans passed away, some may have been buried without a funeral or permanent headstone. This program recognises those veterans of the First World War who returned home with the memories and scars of their service and passed away, with their final place of rest unmarked. Official commemoration in the form of a grave-side memorial, managed by the Office of Australian War Graves, was provided to more than 30,000 of these service personnel from World War I, whose death was accepted as directly related to their war service. The remaining 240,000 First World War veterans were buried privately, some of whom are at rest in unmarked graves. When we say 'Lest we forget' at the end of the ode, we mean it: we will remember them. These were people who had names and loved ones who did not receive the acknowledgement for their service that they deserve.
This grants program will help recognise these veterans by providing funding for individuals, non-commercial organisations or community groups planning to arrange a grave-side memorial. The change has no impact on the contribution the government provides this scheme. However, there have been administrative savings, which is a good thing. The government will contribute $450 for an individual marker of each individual First World War grave for successful applicants, the same value as the pilot program provided.
In closing, I'd like to thank everyone who attended the wonderful sub-branch service at Nelson Bay on Friday of last week, the 11th of the 11th. It was a particularly moving service, and it was wonderful to watch the wedge-tailed eagle fly above us while we remember those who have sacrificed so much. Lest we forget.
I would like to thank the member for New England for introducing this motion and also for the opportunity to speak on the importance of Remembrance Day on behalf of my electorate of Cowper. The Remembrance Day services right across my electorate bring the entire community together, both young and old. In the regions, you would be hard pressed to find a family without a set of war medals from a relative or a loved one. Patriotism and service in our country run particularly deep in rural and regional areas, and the communities that I represent right across the Mid North Coast are no exception.
At many of our events, our future leaders are invited to speak, like Samuel Reniers from Hastings Secondary College at the Port Macquarie service this year. The newly elected school heads are given the opportunity to reflect on what Remembrance Day means to them as young people, to them as schoolchildren, and how the sacrifice of so many has enriched their lives today. I'm impressed each year by the calibre of the speeches and the maturity shown by these school students. Most will remember a specific family member who served and will recount the effect of either the loss of life or the repercussions serving members and their families experienced upon returning home. All of them articulate in their own ways how thankful they are to live and to have grown up in modern Australia in comparatively stable and peaceful times as a result of their forefathers' sacrifices. All will express the importance of honouring and remembering those who have served in order to fully appreciate the freedoms in which we live today. Our young leaders have a firm grasp on why it is so important.
So it is sad to note that our current leaders do not appear to have that same sense of respect or care around recognising these very same sacrifices. Just two weeks before Remembrance Day on 11 November, this government confirmed the slashing of $2 million from a dedicated program to mark the private graves of First World War veterans. The coalition, by comparison, had dedicated $3.7 million in funding after a pilot program placed 1,189 markers on the graves of men and women who had served in World War I. The World War I war graves program enabled grave markers to be placed on the unmarked private graves of First World War veterans who had not been eligible to be commemorated formally by the Australian government, which usually occurred if they hadn't died in the war or from causes related to their service. That disrespect hasn't been limited to our First World War cohort. It is particularly alarming to note that, when forming cabinet, the current government decided to dump Minister for Veterans' Affairs, relegating the role to outside cabinet. Why should any current or future ADF member put their hand up to protect and defend this country if the very same government asking them to do so cannot show them the same level of respect?
In my own electorate, this lack of care and slashing of funds has been felt harder than most. The Mid North Coast veterans had devised a cost-effective and proven wellbeing centre, a hub-and spoke model, to better advocate for and support all veterans on the Mid North Coast, rather than having one centre that veterans need to travel significant distances to attend. They proposed four centres for $5 million to service the 11,000 or so current and former ADF members in the region, the same amount of funding that has been provided to other electorates to create just one centre. They were awarded this funding under the previous budget, by the coalition, and this money has since been taken away from them, meaning the entire Mid North Coast is now without adequate resourcing for veterans.
I would like to take this opportunity to reaffirm my commitment to the veterans' community in my electorate to continue to fight for the return of these funds. Lives are literally depending on it. I would like to thank all the veterans for your service to this country and the freedoms that we enjoy today, and, when we say 'Lest we forget', we should mean it.
I can assure the previous speaker, the member for Cowper, that when we say 'Lest we forget' we do mean it, and I think this government, in pushing for a royal commission into defence and veteran suicide, showed it—that we won't forget those who have died by suicide, by talking to everyone that's involved and by having a royal commission so that that great tragedy does not occur and those who served our nation in times of conflict do not pass away.
This Remembrance Day and every Remembrance Day, we not only commemorate the lives that were lost in World War I; we honour the 103,000 Australians who have lost their lives in wars and other conflicts, and peacekeeping operations, and also, like three veterans just last week, those who sometimes lose the battle within, usually connected in some way, shape or form to their service. We remember them all.
More than 300,000 Australians served overseas in World War I. More than 60,000 died, including my pop's uncle in France. We remember those who came home with injuries, like my maternal great-grandfather, Thomas Wood, who was gassed on the Somme, emigrated to Australia and suffered from his injuries for the rest of his life. So I remember them. I remember those who fought in the battle for Australia. I remember those who fought in Vietnam, like my father. I remember those who fought in peacekeeping operations. We remember all those who have served our nation. Of course, we remember those that didn't come back and those that are buried in foreign fields.
Following the First World War, many veterans were separated from their families and, for a variety of reasons, some took up the offer of a soldier settler's farm, while others may have chosen to live an isolated life, as my great-grandfather did. When these veterans passed away, some may have been buried without a funeral or a permanent headstone, and that's why this program recognises those veterans of the First World War who returned home with the memories and scars of their service and passed away with their final place of rest unmarked. Official commemoration in the form of a graveside memorial managed by the Office of Australian War Graves was provided to more than 30,000 of these service personnel from World War I whose deaths were accepted as directly related to their war service. The remaining 240,000 First World War veterans were buried privately, and some are at rest in unmarked graves.
So, yes, when we say, 'Lest we forget,' at the end of the Ode, we mean it: we will remember them. These were people who had names and loved ones and who did not receive the acknowledgement for their service that they deserve, and this grants program will help recognise these veterans by providing funding for individuals or for non-commercial, not-for-profit or community groups planning to arrange a graveside memorial. For successful applicants, the government will contribute $450 for an individual marker for each individual First World War grave—the same value as in the pilot program that has been run.
In the time remaining, I want to reflect on the words of the Vietnam Veterans Association. I visited the Veterans Australia NT men and women yesterday morning in the rural area of Darwin. The minister, who's here in the chamber with us, joined us to commemorate Vietnam Veterans Day in August. They have a saying, 'Honour the dead'—which we will do with this program, be assured—'but fight like hell for the living.' And we have throughout our nation. For those who have served and are battling still, we will recognise them, we will provide them with the services that they need and we will save those lives.