Tuesday, 18 September 2018
Questions without Notice
First I'd like to acknowledge the brave service men and women in the gallery and thank them for their service.
Honourable senators: Hear, hear!
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, Senator Payne. During the Malaysian counterinsurgency war, 1968 to 1989, an Australian infantry rifle company was deployed on rotation to protect RAAF assets at Air Base Butterworth from attack by communist insurgents. The Australian Defence Committee's secret minute of 11 January 1973 stated that this deployment could be publicly portrayed as being for training purposes. Subsequent military directives confirm this deception. By virtue of this deception of classifying warlike service as peacetime service, the troops—some 9,000 in all—were denied their eligible entitlements under the Veterans' Entitlements Act. Why have successive governments continued to perpetuate the deception surrounding service at Air Base Butterworth for this period when evidence provided to government advisers indicates that it meets all the criteria for warlike service?
I thank Senator Anning for his question and also acknowledge those members of the ADF Parliamentary Program who join us here in the gallery this afternoon. I don't necessarily accept all of Senator Anning's characterisation during his question, but I can say, on advice from the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, that submissions seeking a review of a nature-of-service classification for past service are considered in the context of the legislation and policies that applied at the time of the service. The applicable legislation for the period of Rifle Company Butterworth's service in question is the Repatriation (Special Overseas Service) Act 1962 and the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986. Service is considered to be warlike service if certain conditions described in the applicable legislation are met. The matter of Australian Defence Force service in Malaysia, including Rifle Company Butterworth's service, has indeed been considered by several independent reviews. Those reviews include the 1993 Committee of Inquiry into Defence Awards, the 2000 Review of Service Entitlement Anomalies in Respect to South-East Asian Service 1955-1975, the 2003 Review of Veterans' Entitlements, the 2011 Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal Inquiry into Recognition for Members of Rifle Company Butterworth Service in Malaysia between 1970 and 1989, and the New Zealand government, the Medallic Recognition Joint Working Group on Service in South-East Asia 1950-2011 published in 2013. Each of those reviews has consistently found that Rifle Company Butterworth's service, as described by Senator Anning and as I referred to in my earlier remarks, does not qualify as warlike service under the applicable legislation.
I thank Senator Anning for his supplementary question. I'm advised that in fact our government has met with representatives on a number of occasions to hear their claims. And as I noted further in my previous response, a number of reviews have consistently found that the Rifle Company Butterworth service in question has not qualified as warlike service under the applicable legislation.
There are no plans at this point in time to establish an independent judicial inquiry into this matter. The service of ADF members who served at Butterworth during the period 1970 to 1989 has been and always will be valued by Defence and by our government. The service is recognised by the award of the Australian Service Medal 1945 to 1975 with Clasp South-East Asia or the Australian Service Medal with Clasp South-East Asia, depending on the period of service.
In June this year—and I remember advising the chamber at the time—I attended the 60th anniversary of Australia's presence at the Royal Malaysian Air Force Base Butterworth. Generations of ADF members have lived and worked at Butterworth, including my own partner's parents with their two young sons at the time. A formidable group of former ADF personnel and their families attended those celebrations marking the place that Butterworth holds in the hearts and mind of many Australians. I was proud to attend on behalf of the Australian government and I acknowledge Senator Anning's interest in this matter.