Senate debates

Tuesday, 21 August 2018


Vietnam Veterans Day

7:40 pm

Photo of Chris KetterChris Ketter (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to talk about Vietnam Veterans Day, which is commemorated on 18 August each year. Vietnam Veterans Day has a long history. It goes back originally to the Battle of Long Tan. Over a period of time, the anniversary of this battle became a day to commemorate those who served and died in Vietnam. And I'm indebted to the Australian War Memorial for information about the Battle of Long Tan.

The men of D Company, 6 RAR, fought this battle in 1966. On that day 108 Australian and New Zealand soldiers fought a pitched battle against over 2,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops in a rubber plantation not far from the small village of Long Tan. The Australians prevailed but only after fighting in torrential rain for four hours. They were nearly overrun but were saved by a timely ammunition resupply, accurate artillery fire from the nearby Australian base and the arrival of reinforcements by an armoured personnel carrier. Eighteen Australians lost their lives and 24 were wounded—the largest number of casualties in one operation since the Australian taskforce that arrived a few months earlier. After the battle, they found the bodies of 245 enemy soldiers, but there was evidence that many more bodies had been carried away.

As I indicated, the anniversary of Long Tan became a day that was adopted to commemorate those who served and died in Vietnam. It was formalised in 1987 following the very successful welcome home parade for Vietnam veterans in Sydney. Prime Minister Bob Hawke announced that Long Tan Day would be known as Vietnam Veterans Day, and since then it's been commemorated every year as the day on which the service of all the men and women who served in Vietnam are remembered. This year I was honoured to lay a wreath at two services. The first was with the Caboolture RSL sub-branch at the Burpengary memorial—that was in the morning—and in the evening I was honoured to lay a wreath with the Bray Park-Strathpine RSL sub-branch at the Pine Rivers Memorial Bowls Club.

I want to talk a little bit more about the Vietnam War. I think it is always timely to reflect on this. We know that—from the Parliamentary Library—approximately 61,000 personnel, including 500 women, served in Vietnam from 23 May 1962 to 29 April 1975. Australia went to Vietnam at the invitation of the government of the Republic of Vietnam in 1962, initially in the form of a group of military instructors to that country. But in 1965 Prime Minister Menzies announced that Australia would send an infantry battalion to Vietnam following a request from the government of South Vietnam. It's important to note that approximately 521 Australians died as a result of service in the Vietnam War and around 3,131 were wounded.

One of the controversial aspects of the Vietnam conflict was the issue of national service. It was brought back in for a fourth time in 1964. In May 1965 the Liberal government introduced new powers that enabled it to send national servicemen overseas. From 1965 to 1972, 15,381 national servicemen served in the Vietnam War, 200 were killed and 1,279 were wounded. The national service scheme was abolished on 5 December 1972 by the newly elected Labor government.

I also had the wonderful honour of representing Amanda Rishworth, shadow minister for veterans' affairs, in Canungra at the memorial service recognising the 56th anniversary of the initial deployment of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam and the return to Australia in Operation Reunite of the bodies of team members originally buried overseas.

In closing, I think it's important that we commemorate this event and never forget the courage and sacrifice of those Australians who served overseas in our name.