Senate debates

Wednesday, 25 March 2015


Centenary of Anzac

10:40 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

There have been many speeches in this place and around the world that reflect upon the centenary of Anzac commemorations. Politicians on all sides will talk of the sacrifice and bravery of the ANZAC diggers, nurses and other military personnel. It is right we do so, but it is also the right opportunity to seek the meaning of this sacrifice and question what was achieved by the Great War and how we should best honour and learn from the deaths of so many brave ANZACs. The lessons of history are critically important to us today if we are to avoid the mistakes of the past.

I would like to start this speech on what the centenary commemoration of Anzac means to me by reading an inscription written by my brother, David, with input from my father, Tony, a Vietnam veteran, and myself. This is now inscribed on the new City of Canning War Memorial on the Wish for Peace wall near the Grove of Reflection in Perth, Western Australia. The inscription reads:

For those of us spared the terrors of war, to be worthy of our dead, is to remember them. It is to remember that they died, the men and women of this community, in their thousands, in faraway lands, interred in the ground upon which they perished.

It is to remember those who loved them; their fathers and mothers, wives, children and friends. It is to remember that the pain in the hearts of those who loved them, who lived after them, never healed; the promise of their lives together, unfulfilled.

It is to remember that many who returned were also harmed, so that they and their families continued to suffer. When we wish for peace it is to remember that the lasting meaning of their suffering — their warning to those who follow ¬remains unheeded so long as there is war.

For while their service has now ended - their battlefields covered over with meadow, field and forest, jungle and desert sand — let us make of their absence a powerful presence. May we forever hold them in our minds, and the loved ones they left behind.

On 25 April thousands of Australians will travel to Turkey to commemorate 100 years since the landing of Australian and New Zealand forces on the beaches of Gallipoli. I will not be going, as I plan to visit France in 2018 for the commemoration of the battle for Villers-Bretonneux. This is because I have already been to the Western Front, with my father and my brother, carrying my great grandfather Clarence Hemphill's war diary, and I want my children to experience what I saw, and felt—the extraordinary emotions: the sadness, the shock, the revelations, the perspective on the futility of war—when I walked across the biggest mass grave on the planet, 765 kilometres from the French Somme to the Belgium-Germany border, a place we now call the Western Front.

Australia suffered 60,000 dead and 156,000 wounded in the Great War, and, as my Great Aunt Polly recently told me, the hidden emotional and psychological scars of the war, which were never reflected in the statistics, ran very deep in many thousands of veterans and the families of returned soldiers. In her area of Scottsdale, Tasmania, Polly explained to me, 'An entire generation of children grew up without fathers; even though many were present physically, they were still missing.'

So, what exactly does it mean to commemorate 100 years of Anzac? Why do we choose to do this as a nation? Do we do this for the right reasons? These are important questions to answer. Commemorating means paying respects by remembering and honouring the sacrifice of Australians and New Zealanders who fought and/or died in the Great War. To me, 'commemorate' does not mean to celebrate or to glorify war. We must be careful to avoid this. The two words are easily confused. The commemoration of Anzac must be more than simply a ritual; it must have meaning.

In a recent public Anzac Day address, the late Peter Underwood, the former Governor of Tasmania, made it clear that while honouring the dead and injured was important, on its own it was not enough on Anzac Day. Governor Underwood said:

Anzac Day is a day on which we should also ask those hard questions about the meaning of wars, their causes and outcomes in order to become resolute about peace as well as resolute about fighting when fighting is a genuinely necessary and unavoidable act of self-protection.

And if we do that, Anzac Day will become even more meaningful because after all, that was what 'the dead thought they were dying for.

He put it another way in an earlier speech:

Remembrance and honour alone will neither bring nor preserve the peace for which they thought they died.

And it is not just governors; veterans have echoed these sentiments. In 2012 Bill Denny, of the South Australian RSL, said of the centenary commemoration:

The overarching obligation we have when we anticipate any Anzac commemoration is to truly recognise and accept the brutality, senselessness and futility of war.

That is from a veteran today, but you might be surprised to hear a quote from the opening of the Australian War Memorial, on 11 November 1941, by Australia's then Governor-General, Lord Gowrie, a Victoria Cross winner and a severely wounded veteran of the Great War. Whilst praising the heroic efforts of Australian soldiers and their willingness to sacrifice for the cause they believed in. He stated:

… now the war had lasted for four years. It was responsible for the death of over 8 million able bodied men. It was responsible for the wounding and maiming of many, many millions more .It caused universal destruction, desolation, distress without bringing any compensating advantage to any one of the belligerents. It was a war which settled nothing, it was a war in which all concerned came out losers.

We should not forget that quote when we reflect upon this year's commemoration. We should also remember on 25 April this year that we are still in an open-ended war in Iraq—if the history of the West's involvement in Middle Eastern wars is anything to go on, there will be few winners and nothing permanent may be settled from this military conflict.

The senselessness of the Great War is best reflected in the questionable reasons for its occurrence. To date, I have seen very little of the Anzac commemoration's public focus on this topic. Where is the dialogue or messaging on the reasons—the madness and hysteria—and leadership failures that led the world into a war that killed 37 million people, three million of them 'unknown soldiers' whose bodies were never even recovered? It was a war that helped set up another world war, which years later claimed another 85 million lives.

Much has been written over the past 100 years on what caused this hideous and appalling conflict that killed so many people. Possibly the best synthesis I have read is 1914: The Year the World Ended, written last year by the highly respected historian Paul Ham for the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the commencement of the war in August 1914. Building on a century of analysis by writers such as Niall Fergusson and Barbara Tuchman, Ham states in the book's conclusion that 'World War I was an avoidable nightmare ... an unnecessary exercise in collective stupidity and callousness launched by profoundly flawed and emotionally unintelligent men … that determined the direction of the 20th century'. Ham points the finger of blame for this avoidable war directly at politicians and governments, who he claims were 'wide awake, sentient decision makers who collectively manufactured the war'. He wrote:

Europe's rulers and political leaders knew something most of their people didn't, a war was coming. A few powerful, old, aristocratic men brought war on the world from behind closed doors, free from the scrutiny of a fully enfranchised public or an uncensored press and then for four years, European governments compelled millions of young men to go to war, to die, to be terribly mutilated, gassed or mentally ruined. They have used propaganda, plan lies, white feathers, threats and political expedience to goad, threaten, terrify and humiliate men into uniform.

Ham also strikingly stated in the book's conclusion:

Only a legal construction distinguished the Great War from the government sponsored mass murder of youth.

I would like to finish with a another quote from the speech by the late Governor Peter Underwood. He was referring to a quote from Winston Churchill from a few weeks following Armistice Day in 1918. He said:

Mr Churchill's exhortation to us is that we seek out on this anniversary, with the most intense care, every detail of the struggle that was the Great War. Implicit in that exhortation is that we seek the truth, the truth of the causes of war, the truth of what happened during and after the war, and the truth of what we have done to avoid there being another war like it.

Until we seek the truth we cannot begin to pay proper homage and respect those who have fallen in service of this country.

Governor Underwood also had a novel idea that we should declare the centennial year of the start of the war to end all wars as'the year of peace'. This is something important to reflect on—a focus on peace, an alternative means of resolving conflict in our society in our commitment to the fallen. I believe this is the 'powerful presence' referred to in the inscription that my family have written that we should make from the absence of our fallen Anzacs.

I seek leave to have the remainder of my speech incorporated in Hansard. I would like to thank the Government Whip for giving this consideration in the unusual circumstances that we have.

Leave granted.

The remainder of the speech read as follows—

Could the invasion of Iraq over a decade ago, the subsequent war and the region's descent into barbaric bloody chaos have been an avoidable nightmare? Was it also a failure of leadership and a few powerful politicians in an executive—away from scrutiny and a fully enfranchised public—that delivered us to this war?

It is critical at this commemoration that we should reflect upon the causes of all war, just as much as we reflect upon the many acts of bravery and sacrifice in war. A war avoided, is tragedy forgone.

I have stood at Tyne Cot Cemetery, on the battlefields of Passchendaele, and imagined for just the briefest of moments transporting myself to the fear, violence and horror of the Great War. Believe me, the cemetery and its confronting visitor centre is an easy place to imagine such an apocalypse. I had an understanding that this was a place where your biggest fight would have not just been for your life, or that of your mates, but for your own humanity, and your sanity. Brutalised, dehumanised, fighting hand to hand and living to kill for months on end, year on year, mates dying, crying, deafening noise, shock, blood, mud, going barking mad. I got a sniff—and it was terrifying. Many of the real stories I read, from veterans, talked of how cheap life became on the Western Front. On this note, it is worth reflecting on what Prime Minister Paul Keating stated about the First World War. He said that it was 'when the horror of all ages came together to open the curtain on mankind's greatest century of violence, the 20th century'.

Given the horrors and the sheer scale of this war—which I better understand after visiting France—it is also worth reflecting on the late Peter Underwood's concerns about the dangers of Anzac Day commemorations becoming a 'soft focus event'. He said: 'Time has passed. Memories soften with the passage of time. They blur, they lose their sharp and painful edges.' Anzac Day and Anzac mythology cannot be allowed to lose their sharp edges. My visit to France, and the reminder of my great-grandfather's secret diary, will help keep the edges sharp for me.

But what about to others—especially younger Australians? It was explained to me recently that the popularity of Anzac Day dawn ceremonies is only a recent phenomenon because, in decades past, many veterans families were still struggling with the 'sharp and painful edges'—the side-effects of war. This included family breakdowns, alcoholism, domestic violence, mental illness and other side effects of post-traumatic stress disorder experienced by many vets. I note that these hard edges to the remembrance are seldom discussed today in relation to the Anzac myth and legend—at least not from what I have seen.

While these same side-effects still prevail today with vets from recent conflicts such as Vietnam and Afghanistan, they are also virtually invisible and not given the attention they deserve. These diggers, many suffering PTSD, should also be in our thoughts on 25 April. I have supported veterans' group Soldier On in their bid to have an extra minute of silence to respect PTSD and other mental illness suffered by the walking wounded over this past 10 years. This is an important recognition of the true cost of war and violence that is still being paid today.

Whilst on the subject of today's younger veterans, I recently read The Long Shadow of the Anzacs, by Captain James Brown, an Afghanistan veteran. He rejects, as other veterans do, the expenditure of many millions of dollars of Anzac commemoration planning on what he describes as 'a discordant, lengthy and exorbitant four year festival of the dead. He suggests that Anzac commemorations should be silent and respectful, and outlines that Australia's obsessive focus on the Anzac myth obscures the reality of service and reduces the quality of public debate about the role and use of Australia's Defence Force. Captain Brown documents the many negative aspects of Anzac's long shadow, including: a growing gap between myth and reality in the public understanding of what someone in the defence force actually does; the reluctance of politicians to question individual deployments or even the standard performance of the military; and undue pressure on the serving personnel to live up to the model of Anzac.

To many, the Anzac model is the laconic image of a relaxed, cheeky, tall bronzed Aussie, who took it all in their stride, was brave and fearless, stuck by their mates through thick and thin, and distinguished themselves and Australia. My grandfather's diary is very telling in this respect. His early writings did support much of this myth. I will read a few brief exerts from his diary. I can't help wondering what Clarence would have said if he had known his words would be read out in the Australian Senate nearly 100 years after they we written on the battlefields of France. But the diary also suggested an almost split personality—from the enthusiastic young man before the horror of the Somme, to the hardened man who wrote cynical and bitter annotations to his diary near the wars end-admonishing himself for his earlier naivety and stupidity.

Speaking of 'splits', let's not forget on 25 April that the Great War split our entire young nation. If our national identity was born in the Great War, suggesting that we all came together as one following the beaches of Gallipoli and the fields of France, then part of this national identity is that we are a people sceptical of fighting in foreign wars beyond our shores.

This Anzac commemoration must reflect that we were deeply divided and questioning of our commitment to the Great War. The 1916 and 1917 referendum votes on conscription which rejected conscription are examples of how much the war tore the fabric of Australian society apart. And war still divides us today. In conclusion, on this important day, 25 April, we must acknowledge our brave ancestors who fought and died not just to win the war but to win the peace. The war to end all wars—looking back over the last century, the world has collectively failed in this regard. It seems it is easier to win wars than to win the peace.

10:50 pm

Photo of David LeyonhjelmDavid Leyonhjelm (NSW, Liberal Democratic Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On the weekends and in other recreational time, our freedom to enjoy the great outdoors is unnecessarily hampered by the meddling of Commonwealth, state and local governments. Today I want to make a bold claim and propose a bold solution on behalf of both the Liberal Democrats and the Outdoor Recreation Party, our sister party in the New South Wales election. The bold claim is that Australia's national parks are chronically mismanaged by both Commonwealth and state governments. National parks are not protected from feral animals, weeds, rubbish, bushfires or vandalism. These problems are pervasive. Whole mountainsides are covered by mats of impenetrable weeds, undergrowth often fuels massive bushfires and the paucity of native wildlife is such that Tim Flannery describes our parks as 'marsupial ghost towns'.

The bold solution of the Outdoor Recreation Party and the Liberal Democrats is twofold. First, people should be allowed to use national parks for a much wider range of recreational activities than is currently the case. Second, most of our national parks should be privatised. Australia has over 1,000 national parks comprising 28 million hectares, which accounts for about four per cent of our land area. A further six per cent of our land area is protected in state forests, nature parks and conservation reserves. In our national parks, commercial activities such as farming are prohibited. Even the humble and environmentally friendly business of beekeeping to produce Australia's delicious and distinctive honey is substantially restricted. Indeed, all human activity is strictly controlled. Few dare to challenge the assertion that humans are the main environmental threat and should be kept out as much as possible. Many national park users are disenfranchised and excluded through prohibition and regulation. Even worse, few people in power engage with the numerous groups of knowledgeable and outdoor oriented people who are willing to help.

Loca l communities adjacent to parks along with hunters, fish ers, campers, fossickers, trail bikers, horse-riders, kayakers, four-wheel drivers, bushwalkers and many more are prepared to volunteer time and effort for better managed and more inclusive national parks. Instead, they are largely ignored. Long-time former CEO of Parks Victoria , Mark Stone , used to say that parks could not be managed successfully without the support of local communities and stakeholders. He was right. G overnments will never have sufficient funds to do all t hat is required and certainly do not have the expertise or local knowledge necessary to manage parks via central planning.

In the UK, national parks make up a similar share of the land area as in Australia. In England , they account for 9.3 per cent of the land area; in Wales, 19.9 per cent; in Scotland, 7.2 per cent . But that is where the similarity ends. Much land within UK national parks is owned by private landowners , including farmers. T he thousands of people who live in villag es and towns within those parks plus organisations like the National Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, various wildlife trusts, the Woodland Trust, English Heritage and Historic Scotland.

The management of UK national parks is also profou ndly different. Whereas ours are subject t o central command and control— mainly by sta te governments—each park there has its own national park authority. While these authorities sometimes own bits of land, they work with all landowners to protect the landscape. N ational park authorities are run by boards comprised mainly of locals. They employ staff who work in offices, fieldwork stations and visitor centres, and have many volunteers who undertake jobs such as leading guided walks, fixing fences, dry stone walling, monitoring historic sites and surveying wildlife. Every a uthority is obliged to produce a national park management plan s etting out a five- year plan for the park. Local communities, landowners and other organisations are asked for their opinions and help in achieving the plan.

Farming plays a key role in shaping the landscape of UK national parks. Sheep are common in the more hill y and more rugged areas, while there is some cropping in lower areas. Quite a few farms in national parks have diversified by opening farm shops to sell their produce direct to visitors or by opening their farms to school trips. They are also given preference in grant applications for environmental projects.

In 2013, I visited a farm in the Lake District National Park in England. It ran sheep a nd also had a farm shop and cafe . It was not a source of riches but it supports a farming family adequately well. The farmer explained that there were areas of the farm where he was subject to a range of constraints on such things as grazing, fencing, pasture renovation and use of fertiliser, and where tree preservation was a higher priority. In other areas , he was free to farm as he chose, receiving the same agricultural subsidies as farms outside the park but additional grants for tree planting, maintenance of dry stone walls and other environmental initiatives. Critically, he had to allow access to his land for a number of outdoor pursuits. He took enormous pride in the fact that he was a custodian of both a productive farm and an environmental legacy for the benefit of future generations, including his own children. He was adamant that both productivity and environmental values had been enhanced under his care.

When something is owned by everyone , it is effectively owned by no- one. That is the problem facing Australia's national parks. Management is centrally controlled, governments can never employ enough public s ervants to manage them properly and there is little volunteer involvement. Nobody is personally responsible. This means feral animals and weeds run rampant while bushfires are more serious and difficult to prevent. Imagine if the UK approach were adopted in Australia. Imagine if significant parts of national parks were privately owned and managed by locally run boards in accordance with locally agreed management plans. Imagine if land w ere farmed where viable and tourism w ere encouraged, with some of the money currently used for park management offered as incentives for owners to preserve environmental values. Would the environment be any worse off than it is under a policy of locking it up and l ooking at it through binoculars, with just a privileged group of park staff having free access?

Recruiting volunteers on a large scale to address specific problems such as track clearin g, pest animal and weed control or species monitoring could save taxpayers millions and deliver vastly superior environmental outcomes. As it stands, biodiversity and environmental values in Australia's national parks are in decline. Using the skills and enthusiasm of volunteers in local communities and park users to address basic management tasks would be one way to a ddress this decline. As Pr ofessor Flannery went on to say:

The truth is that things are now so dire that we cannot afford to persist with business as usual; a change of direction is essential…

Farmers would have a strong incentive to control feral pests , such as goats, pigs, foxes, rabbits and cats. Their presence in the parks would also help keep tracks open and detect problems. The proceeds from selling the park, with environmental caveats, could be used to upgrade visitor facilities and fund research.

The very idea of this offends some people, not least the public sector unions that represent national park employees. But it is not radical. As the United Kingdom shows, it is perfectly feasible. Australia is a big country with plenty that is unique. But we are not so unique that we cannot learn from others. National parks are for people as well as nature. We should never forget that.

Senate adjourned at 23:00