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Thursday, 25 September 1997
Page: 8546


Mr BOB BALDWIN(4.50 p.m.) —I concur with the member for Newcastle (Mr Allan Morris) on his thoughts about the Knights on Sunday and his thoughts about the forgotten people in the Vietnam War. It is most appropriate that at this particular time, when the highly successful `Their service, our heritage' initiative is beginning to demonstrate its effectiveness by making Australians, and in particular our young Australians, more aware of the huge contributions our ageing service personnel have made in Australia, that the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Budget and Compensation Measures) Bill should be introduced.

Only too often do we perceive that the Anzac spirit and our Australian veterans belong to an era past, leaving only an aura of gratefulness, pride and memories of old soldiers and battles. The reality is that our current veterans in some cases include soldiers who are still young with young families and are still serving our great nation in many parts of this troubled world—be it Somalia, Cambodia or, even closer to home, Papua New Guinea.

We should always bear in mind that we, as Australians—and I mean all Australians—have a responsibility to honour the commitment that our service personnel make time and time again in the tradition of our forebears. As true ambassadors for all that is good, honest and true, our service personnel never shirk their responsibility and, like the Anzacs of old, demonstrate that the spirit of mateship and of being true blue is far from dead.

Recently the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam, known as the AATTV or The Team, which produced some four VC winners and numerous other bravery awards, celebrated their 35th reunion. A message arrived from the Commandant of the US Marine Corps, General C. C. Krulak, who wrote in part:

. . . on the occasion of the 1997 AATTV 35th birthday, and on behalf of the Marines in posts and stations around the world, it is with great pleasure that I extend my greetings and warmest best wishes.

During the Vietnam war, AATTV worked alongside our Marine units. Working as advisers, AATTV was an invaluable asset to the many successful missions. The indomitable spirit and raw courage of the AATTV will forever remain a significant part of the history of the Vietnam war and remains the standard by which US marines measure the mettle of a warrior.

Although that war has now been over for some 25 years, the memories, the pain, the pride and the ghosts of this conflict are still very much part of our current community. Sometimes we forget this. As the National President of AATTV, Brigadier Garth Hughes, said recently in a response to an address by the South Australian Governor:

. . . when we came back from Korea and Malaya, we were largely ignored, but we accepted this with a soldier's stoicism.

After all, what was it Kipling said?

`Oh, its Tommy this and Tommy that and Tommy go away, but it is "thank you Mr Atkins", when the bands begin to play'

. . . and while we were ignored, at least nobody spat on us when we came home from Korea. There is not much point in reiterating what happened during and after Vietnam. We all know about that.

Further, he went on to say:

. . . the war has been over for more than 25 years. I think it is time to let the dead rest in peace, and for the rest of us to get on with business of living out what's left of our lives in whatever happiness we can find.

Personally, I do not think that I can accept that gracious epitaph. We can, should and must do more as politicians and legislators.

Every year, as I stand and watch the Anzac Day parade, I see a sea of new young faces wearing service medals and awards proudly earned on peacekeeping missions that they display and share with veterans three times their age. Even in this Parliament House there is ample evidence of a younger generation of veterans who served their country.

Madam Deputy Speaker, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen in the gallery, next time you walk through the entrance to the House of Representatives or pass a security station, allow your eyes to wander to the left side of the jackets. You will notice that quite a few of our parliamentary staff are wearing Korean, Malaya and Vietnam medals and awards. For example, there is: Des Campbell, ex-training team Vietnam, who served in Malaya and Papua New Guinea and who is up in the gallery at the moment; Bruce Glossop, engineer, who served in Malaya and Vietnam; Garry Cosgrove, engineer, Vietnam; `Buff' Phillips, air force, Vietnam; Lindsay Kidd, navy, Vietnam; Klause Wendt, RAAF, Vietnam; Tony Forbes, infantry, Vietnam; Frank Armour, navy, Vietnam; and even Lynne in our parliamentary post office is the daughter of Neville Dodds, ex-training team, Vietnam. Peter Hulsing, who works as my chief of staff, is ex-training team Vietnam and has also served in Papua New Guinea.

But it would be remiss of me not to mention our own Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, the Hon. Tim Fischer, and my colleague and friend John Bradford, the member for McPherson, who also saw overseas duty in Vietnam. We should never lose sight of our responsibility towards this serving community.

Our legislation, therefore, must keep pace with the ever-changing conditions and needs of this very important legacy of our nationhood. This bill goes a long way towards addressing this issue. It delivers the outcome of an election policy undertaking to review perceived anomalies in the eligibility for veterans' entitlements for overseas deployments since World War II. It nominates areas of operation not included previously, where the level of risk existed above that of normal peacetime conditions. It includes Far East Strategic Reserve naval service in Malaya between July 1955 and May 1963.

It adopts the defence classification of warlike and non-warlike service which provides a consistent closer link between the eligibility for benefits and the nature of services rendered. The existing legislation dealing with the operational service has been rewritten and restructured to improve readability. By presenting new operational service provisions within the revised setting, the government is continuing its commitment to simplify the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986. It also provides access to an annual lump sum advance on pensions and excludes liability for the effects of tobacco usage started or increased after 1 January 1998.

In my electorate of Paterson, I meet with many ex-service personnel—like Peter Lord of the Maitland RSL who, with his team, works tirelessly raising funds to have a World War II memorial erected. Then there is Bill Gardner and Graham Chandler of the Vietnam Veterans Association, who are constantly striving to have the Department of Veterans' Affairs recognise the many problems these much maligned warriors experience.

Les Dwyer, President of the Naval Association of Newcastle and President of the Newcastle and Districts Council of RSL Sub-branches, and former Chief Petty Officer John King, Pensions Officer of the Naval Association of Newcastle and the Nelson Bay sub-branch, are tireless fighters for their groups to have their World War II and post-World War II efforts recognised. And not forgetting Bill Paterson of the Gona Memorial Association, who recently visited Papua New Guinea to commemorate their fallen mates with the unveiling of a special memorial they have built. We must also pay homage to the work of Ron Anelzack, President of Karuah RSL sub-branch, and his efforts to build a new memorial at Karuah.

I would like to advise this House that I have a special affinity for the Harbourside Haven Aged Care facility located at Port Stephens, which the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) during a recent visit described as a model by which others could be measured. On 9 October, the Harbourside Haven Aged Care facility will open a $3 million recreation centre for the aged veterans who live on site at the new complex at Fingal Bay.

The opening will be performed by the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, the Hon. Bruce Scott. This occasion will also mark the first visit of the minister to my electorate. During the visit to Paterson, Bruce Scott will be taking the time to visit the Newcastle Vietnam Veterans' Association and will present cheques to the Karuah and Maitland RSL sub-branches as part of the Their Service—Our Heritage initiative.

The one common goal of all these organisations and associations is to look after their mates who are in need. The least we as politicians can do is to assist them to the full, and the most appropriate way to do this is to regularly update and improve the legislation which deals with the conditions affecting our affected veterans. I know that the inclusion of nine areas of service which extend eligibility for disability pensions and treatment for injuries or diseases incurred whilst serving there will be applauded by the many ex-service men and women who to date have not received this recognition.

In addition, this bill will give those veterans who are income support recipients the ability to claim an annual advance on pensions. Disability pensioners, war widows and war widower pensioners will welcome the access to a lump sum advance on their pension and simplification of the calculation of the amount of this advance.

Another important part of this bill deals with the Commonwealth's liability for the effect of tobacco use. The dangers associated with the use of tobacco products have been well known for some time, and there is wide community awareness of these dangers. There are prominent health warnings on tobacco products and smoking is forbidden in Commonwealth buildings and many public places. Current service personnel in the Defence Force are discouraged from smoking and encouraged to maintain healthy lifestyles. The Commonwealth should therefore not continue to accept liability for conditions caused through an individual's lifestyle choice. This bill amends the Commonwealth's liability for deaths, diseases and injuries among veterans and members of the Defence Force caused by the use of tobacco products where that use commenced or increased after 31 December 1997. There is no doubt that this measure will also be applauded by the veteran community.

The Commonwealth should provide clear warnings and guidelines which are in the best interests of the individual. Too often it is found that wisdom comes easy in hindsight. Not only should compensation be entertained when legislation does not allow for certain incidents but education and clear measures designed to protect each serving individual should be enacted as well. I again reflect on Brigadier Hughes's speech:

Each of us brought home our own private ghosts from that war. Personally I don't think they were much different to ghosts from any other war. When one considers the conditions under which soldiers fought during the first world war, then the Vietnam War was a walk in the park. What makes the ghosts from Vietnam appear worse to us is the treatment meted out to returning servicemen by the media, the politicians, the bureaucracy and worst of all, by the public. We were made to feel guilty for serving our country! Those who served during WW1 and WW2 were treated as heroes and cloaked in an aura. If they drank too much they were forgiven because, after all, "they'd been through the war". If they couldn't hold down a job everyone understood because: "weren't they just out of the army?" I know! I was one of their greatest admirers.

We should learn from our mistakes and never again allow a negative attitude to reflect on those who served and still serve. Instead, we have the solemn responsibility to ensure that, for those we send out in our name to uphold peace and the great Australian tradition of looking out for our mates, our legislation recognises and protects their interests on their return to our shores. For instance, the recent announcement by the Minister for Defence Industry, Science and Personnel, the Hon. Bronwyn Bishop, recognised the fact that the additional issue of the Australian Service Medal to Australian servicemen who received imperial awards made all the difference in feeling accepted by Australian authorities.

Following the minister's recent visit to my electorate of Paterson, I have received numerous letters of congratulations on her solid support for this initiative. Surely that is a strong indication that our role as legislators is appreciated but, even more importantly, constantly monitored. In addition, it is important to recognise the other people who serve, like the women's auxiliaries of the RSL, and the tremendous work which is undertaken by Legacy.

The bill before the House at the moment, although small in measure, marks another important milestone in the history of our veterans' affairs. Although we have a lot further to go on our veterans' affairs legislation amendments, I wholeheartedly support the current bill and commend it to the House.