Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Matters of Public Interest

Victoria Cross Exhibition

1:51 pm

Photo of Guy BarnettGuy Barnett (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Chairman of the Scrutiny of Government Waste Committee) Share this | | Hansard source

I am moved, like others in this Senate, by Senator Adams’s speech. On behalf of all of us, I think, I associate our thoughts with the remarks made by Senator Adams regarding the late Jeannie Ferris. On behalf of us all, I wish to put that on the record.

In the time I have in this matters of public interest discussion, I want to firstly congratulate the Australian War Memorial for its announcement yesterday of a rare and unique initiative to take an exhibition of Victoria Cross medals around mainland Australia to mark the 95th anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli. It is an excellent initiative in that it wishes to highlight the importance of the service of our armed men in previous conflicts and to remember in particular the service of those men at Gallipoli. The Victoria Cross medal is of course the highest award for acts of bravery during wartime, with the most recent being awarded to Trooper Mark Donaldson in January 2009 for acts of bravery in Afghanistan. Trooper Donaldson was further honoured on Australia Day as Young Australian of the Year for 2010.

But—and it is a very significant ‘but’—it is a great disappointment that, from this tour of our great nation of Australia, Tasmania has been excluded, together with New South Wales. We will get to the bottom of why that is in due course. I do not fully know or understand why it is. I do know that Tasmanians draw just as much pride and inspiration from these brave men as any of our mainland cousins do.

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Hear, hear—more so!

Photo of Guy BarnettGuy Barnett (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Chairman of the Scrutiny of Government Waste Committee) Share this | | Hansard source

In fact probably more so, Senator Polley—thank you very much for that interjection. In Tasmania, we have a very fine record of military service to our nation. Tasmania is actually the home state of 13 of Australia’s 97 Victoria Cross recipients. My understanding is that that is the highest proportion of any state or territory. I am deeply concerned on behalf of Tasmanians. I know that the President of the RSL in Tasmania, Bill Kaine, is equally concerned. This came to my attention yesterday. Frankly, it is not good enough. Tasmanians should not be excluded. Tasmania should not be snubbed in this way.

In my research, I have discovered that at least three of Tasmania’s 13 Victoria Cross recipients also served at Gallipoli. One of them was Australia’s most highly decorated soldier, Lieutenant Colonel Harry Murray VC. I had the great honour of being at Gallipoli in 2005 to mark the 90th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing with Prime Minister Howard and others. I tracked the steps of Harry Murray VC to where he fought, where he was wounded and where he received his DCM, at Pope’s Hill. I have a photo of that proudly displayed in my office in Launceston. He demonstrated such courage. He then went to the Western Front, where he subsequently obtained his Victoria Cross and his many other awards. Just a few years ago, the Governor-General flew to Tasmania to unveil a statue in honour of Harry Murray VC at Evandale, in Northern Tasmania. The Australian government at the time provided taxpayers’ funds to support that memorial and a memorial for all of Tasmania’s 13 Victoria Cross recipients. That was following lobbying efforts by me and the Tasmanian Liberal Senate team to get those funds. We were successful and we are very proud of that. The other two Tasmanian Victoria Cross recipients who served at Gallipoli were Sergeant John Dwyer, of Bruny Island, and Captain Percy Cherry, of Cradoc, in southern Tasmania.

The Victoria Cross is such an important medal, and the service of our men and women at Gallipoli should never be underestimated. At Gallipoli, for example, more than 8,700 Australians died and there were 19,000 Australian casualties. In total, 44,000 Allies and 86,000 Turks died during just eight months of battle there. Nevertheless, the Anzacs at Gallipoli left a profound legacy that lasts until this day. I think we all in this chamber would accept that and support that.

I am advised that this tour by the Australian War Memorial is currently set to visit Western Australia, the Northern Territory, South Australia, Victoria and Queensland, starting on 20 March in Perth, going all the way through to 14 November in Brisbane, with some five or six weeks in each location, including Darwin. As I said, it will go to all states and territories except Tasmania and New South Wales. Frankly, if it is supposed to be a national tour, it should be a national tour and every part of Australia should have the benefit of learning more about our Victoria Cross recipients. It is simply not good enough. It is an opportunity, in my view, for young and old Australians to learn about the important service of our men and women of old and the bravery that they demonstrated.

I personally had the honour of visiting Gallipoli in 2005, and from there I went to the Western Front in France. A couple of years ago now, on Anzac Day, I visited and trekked the Kokoda Track. I have visited Changi and Changi prison in Singapore, and this year I am preparing for an Anzac Day visit to the Thai-Burma Railway. I am investigating and researching the role of our POWs, which is often underestimated. I will not say it is forgotten but it is not considered highly enough, because those people offered their lives and their service to this great country.

So why would the Australian War Memorial not have a national tour going to every state and territory and why would it snub Tasmania? I do not know that, but I raised it with the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Alan Griffin, this morning at breakfast time. We happened to be sitting next to each other and I spoke to the minister, who said that he would be raising it with Steve Gower, the Director of the Australian War Memorial. That is excellent. I appreciate that, and I indicated to him that I would be pursuing this matter on behalf of the Liberal Senate team, on behalf of Tasmanians and on behalf of the RSL, to make sure that we get a result and that Tasmania will not be snubbed. I have also raised it with Louise Markus, the shadow minister for veteran’s affairs. She is likewise concerned and supports our efforts to bring the Victoria Cross medals to Tasmania on that fantastic and unique tour. So we have got support all round. I am hoping that the government will be able to intervene and the Australian War Memorial’s Mr Gower will see fit to bring the tour to Tasmania. I thank the Senate.