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Monday, 22 August 2011
Page: 8937

Mr BROADBENT (McMillan) (18:06): What marvellous recognition it would have been if my Vietnam veterans could have been here in this parliament in the last hour or so and heard the heartfelt addresses from the members for Macarthur, Fowler and Eden-Monaro. I could not even contemplate entering into the feelings that they have for their communities, especially the Vietnam vets community, but I am sure that if my Vietnam vets were here they would know that there are members in this place who remember what they did, determinedly work for their betterment through this parliament and their communities and do it with a passion and an understanding that they probably do not believe exists in this House. I want to commend them for that in the first instance and say, 'I recognise you.' As the member for Macarthur pointed out, when you have direct family pain such as he has been prepared to volunteer to the records of this parliament and you come into this place, it is great recognition not just for your father but for all the Vietnam vets who have felt alienated from the communities that they left to go to Vietnam and then returned to in difficult circumstances.

I had the great pleasure of being the debutant partner for Margaret Kennedy. Margaret Kennedy was the draper's daughter in Pakenham and I was from the neighbouring town of Koo-wee-rup. Those towns were sporting mortal enemies, but I had the great pleasure of being invited to escort this girl to make her debut. Her brother was Robert Kennedy. We called him 'Noddy'—Noddy was taller than most boys—and I was with him yesterday. But Noddy is not Noddy anymore; he is now 'Buzz'. We were different people in the 1960s. It was a wonderful time for all of us, but those who went off to Vietnam had a different experience. It was a distant war for us. We went on. I was not balloted. We got on with our lives. Buzz went through the Vietnam War and I met him yesterday as a member of the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club's Gippsland chapter. Having grown up with my wife, Bronwyn, he was thrilled to see her there with all the other Vietnam vets. We remember that even in this House we had Tim Fischer and Rod Atkinson, who were returned soldiers. I do not know whether there were any others; someone might fill me in, I will get back to the office and someone will say there was someone else. There was Ron Edwards, the Western Australia member for Swan; I think it was Swan. I think that is correct.

Honourable members interjecting

Mr BROADBENT: It was Cowan; he was the member for Cowan, of course. He came back with severe injuries but ended up in this House. So that is three that we can think of.

Yesterday there were many, many beautiful motorbikes. There were also a lot of fractured men and families. They were supported by God's Squad, and I should have said that Buzz is a patched member of the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club chapter in Gippsland. I can only enter in but cannot understand how their fractured lives have affected all of them over those years and how they congregate around Harley-Davidsons. It is a lovely way to be, because they are with their own. They are in their comfort zone. Yesterday you would have been proud of every one of them, including Russell Oakes —'T Rat', as I have to call him—who was a president of the club. They had organised around their memorial and around their clubhouse there at the old Longwarry Hall, which they had made into a fantastic clubhouse. They had organised a whole ceremony to remember Vietnam Veterans Day and the Long Tan remembrance. In that, probably the most heartbreaking moment was when the words of the song I Was Only 19 were not sung but just read out as a poem. There were many tears that flowed in those few moments as that was read out. The sun was shining on a most glorious day in Gippsland—unusual with the wet we have had. So you can imagine the sparkling motorcycles surrounding this whole place. Not all the Vietnam veterans there came on motorbikes, you know; some came in cars. There were people like me, hangers on, that came along to the commemoration with them. But you felt a quiet comfort in the place as they remembered those fallen and as they remembered their mates who have fallen since and who have not made it into what we call old age—and there was a lot of grey hair yesterday; I think the boys would forgive me for saying that.

So I want to recognise one—not only the boys who were there yesterday at Longwarry but all the support that they have had around them from their loved ones that support them in what they do; all of the people that went away with them to support them and that were part of that conflict; and the Defence Force support that came from this nation for them. That probably has not been recognised either, but they know who helped them. I will come to a plea in a moment, but I will just say this to you: yesterday, as a member of parliament, you would have been proud to stand amongst those men at the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club commemorations at Longwarry. It was a place where any member of this House would have been pleased to be standing. I know the former minister knows all about what I am talking about because he was the minister when much of these funds that were provided to this group were extended, allowing them to rebuild what they have done there at the moment. There is a bit of controversy right now over some money that is not going out to veterans in regard to welfare. I have raised that with the new minister and we are doing the best we possibly can. I admit that Victoria has had generous payments in regard to the welfare of veterans and that there has been a pull back. But I have a different set-up in Gippsland.

There are welfare agencies quite close to each other across parts of Australia and they may be duplicating services. Government always has a right to question its own expenditure—there is no doubt about that. However, South Gippsland has one service only and it goes from Wonthaggi all the way through the bottom country to Fish Creek, the Foster area, then right up to Korumburra and Leongatha—one service. I have been told there are some transitional funds, so I think in the process we can work through that for those transitional funds. In the north of my electorate, I do not have the same issue because there are welfare support groups for veterans all the way through. I think we will get a good outcome from the government on that. I have been in this parliament through a number of administrations and there has not been one administration in this place, from Hawke to Gillard, that I have been a part of that was not totally and absolutely supportive of the welfare of veterans, to the best of the government's financial ability. There has not been one Prime Minister who has not been in support of veterans, as best they possibly could in the financial straits of the government of the time. If we have failed veterans, we will take responsibility for that and endeavour in the processes into the future to support veterans and support them well.

Vietnam Veterans Day was a great celebration. I congratulate all at Longwarry. I congratulate all who played a part in its presentation. But the moment of excitement came when one training aeroplane from the Roulettes came straight out of the sunlight towards the clubhouse, twisting and turning and throwing itself up into the air to a complete stall, then dropping towards the clubhouse again, circling three times, rolling and then flinging itself back to sail—a fitting tribute that is only given to very special occasions.