Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Statements by Senators

Rifle Company Butterworth, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

1:15 pm

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In my maiden speech I called for the introduction of the Australian Defence Veterans Covenant, which I was extremely proud to see introduced by this government in 2019. I've spoken in the Senate before about the significance of such legislation in ensuring recognition and thanks for the men and women who serve this country. Recognition is one thing; action is another. The Australian Defence Veterans Covenant states in part:

We undertake … to support all military veterans as respected and valued members of our community.

All Australians should be reassured that the government not only says what it will do but also will do what it says. There is no greater expectation than in defence and veterans affairs.

Many times the Australian government, on behalf of the Australian people, has sent Australian men and women into combat to fight for our freedoms and the freedom of other countries and other people. We sleep safely in our beds at night because of these men and women who give their all. Meanwhile, too many times, governments and bureaucrats have dismissed genuine claims by veterans for rightful recognition.

The men and families of Rifle Company Butterworth Review Group have been tirelessly representing the men and women who served at the Butterworth RAAF base in Malaysia before and during the communist insurgency war from 1968 to 1989. Australia took responsibility jointly with the Malaysians for the defence of the air base from 1970 to 1989. For decades the review group has fought for the rightful recognition of the service and sacrifice they have rendered this great nation. I'm deeply concerned at the likely cost the taxpayer has paid for successive governments and bureaucrats—behind computers—to dispute their claims. Rather than give fair attention to the nature of the claim, the attitude by some has been to assume that the claim is invalid before even beginning to consider the alternative.

Military service is not the pursuit of someone seeking to amass a fortune in funds or other resources. Many of our veterans are doing it tough because they put aside pursuits that may have been more rewarding in favour of serving our country. Too many gave their lives and too many have given their physical and mental health in that endeavour. It is moral that that service should be recognised.

Australia's history has been forged on hard work and sacrifice, no more than through the blood of our Anzacs at Gallipoli and every defence involvement since. Right beside us have been our New Zealand brothers and sisters. When the need has arisen to defend our way of life, our values and our customs, we have fought side by side with New Zealanders.

Australia paid a terrible price in World War I, with 62,000 killed and over 156,000 wounded out of a population at the time of just under five million. That is a substantial proportion. Since then, Australia has never missed an international call for help, sending troops and accepting refugees at a per capita rate that is amongst the highest in the world.

We are a moral people. We are seen by others as being good, decent people from a peaceful country. We have good laws and we believe in a fair go for all. Our veterans continue to acquit themselves in all endeavours regardless of the risks required of them or the threat we expose them to. We don't know them all but we owe them all. It is time to formally recognise Rifle Company Butterworth. The members who served between 1970 and 1989 made a pivotal contribution towards protecting the air base. Their deployment provided such a deterrent that the communist terrorists preferred softer targets than the air base at Butterworth. They knew the retaliation expected on them by the rifle company in defence of the air base would have been both substantial and significant. Many times these communists planned to attack the air base but, equally as many times, they did not. Incidents took place, but no substantial attack was ever launched. People in the surrounding areas slept soundly in their beds because our troops stood watch over them. Previously secret and top-secret documents reveal the intention of the communists. Those documents were sourced from the intelligence resources of Australia and our allies and subsequently located by Australian veterans from the National Archives.

Don't forget: we trained these men to prevail in times of adversity and we should be rightly proud of their efforts. In the first week of November of this year the government of New Zealand, following an independent investigation, determined that their veterans' service at Butterworth was indeed warlike in nature. They cited the volumes of empirical evidence collected by the Rifle Company Butterworth review group and shared with their New Zealand counterparts in a spirit of brotherhood and support for a common cause. At this point, the question is obvious: If the Malaysian government is grateful for the service of our RAAF and Army personnel, including New Zealanders, and considers their service in defence of the air base as warlike, and the New Zealand government is grateful to its veterans for their service and considers that service as warlike, then what are we doing here in Australia? Is this what is meant in the covenant when we say, 'Support all military veterans as respected and valued members of our community?'

Sadly, historically, governments of Australia have ignored those veterans, denying them a voice, sometimes not willing to meet with them to hear of their claim, even going so far as to create a deception to cover up the denial of the warlike nature of the service at Butterworth. Is that moral? At their own expense, the veterans of the Rifle Company Butterworth review group commissioned an independent ethicist to examine their claim. That ethicist group's findings support the claim and purports a breach by the Australian government and the Australian Public Service in denying this recognition. This breach has spanned decades, denying our diggers what is rightfully theirs. The effort applied to denying their claim has been far greater than the claim.

Sadly, a great many of the veterans who served at Butterworth during the period 1970 to 1989 have passed away, and the remaining number is fewer than 2,000 who served for the period of the communist insurgency war. The Morrison government is in the prime position to do what many governments should have taken the opportunity to do so previously. It is time to recognise Rifle Company Butterworth. Not only do the RCB members deserve it but it is the right thing to do; it is the moral thing to do. Again, I will restate my cause for the government to correct a wrong that has been perpetrated on our veterans for over 50 years.

I thank the members of RCB for their service. I thank and honour the service of all Defence Force personnel past, present and future. I would also like to commend the devotion of the Rifle Company Butterworth review group and their families for their tireless advocacy. Wouldn't it be great if those surviving veterans could proudly wear medals in recognition of their warlike service next Anzac Day? The brothers across the ditch will be, as will those who now call Australia home. Now that will be a moral and just outcome.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation really has been taken over by a cabal of locusts who are in an axis of power-sharing with first-nighters who love going to the opera. I think it is time for there to be a review not just of the ABC and the SBS but of the future of public broadcasting in Australia. We have a $1.1 billion woke corporation that is out of control, that has sneered at mainstream Australia and that has failed to understand where the quiet Australians are at. We have a chair of the ABC who believes the ABC is a country apart from Australia. It is time for a commission of inquiry into our public broadcaster. (Time expired)