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Wednesday, 18 February 2004
Page: 25180


Mr ALBANESE (7:50 AM) —I rise tonight to congratulate Marrickville Council on its initiative to establish a monument to World War II veterans in Steele Park, in my electorate of Marrickville. The ceremony for this memorial took place today. Unfortunately, because of parliamentary duties, I could not be there, but I am pleased to place on the record tonight my respect for Australia's veterans. This memorial to World War II veterans is in the grounds of the new Debbie and Abbey Borgia Centre. That centre, which was opened last year and named after two of the Bali victims, is a reminder that the nature of war has moved from war between countries to the current war against terrorism.

In the early part of this century there were memorials to World War I all over my electorate—in Ashfield, Camperdown, Newtown and Marrickville—but in the post-World War II period we stopped building memorials. We built RSL clubs and had monuments and plaques that paid tribute to our war veterans. I think it is important to recognise that there are not many memorials—certainly not around Sydney—paying tribute to World War II veterans. The Debbie and Abbey Borgia Centre is built on the site of an old RSL bowling club and hence is a very appropriate venue.

It is also appropriate in terms of the timing because 15 February is the anniversary of the fall of Singapore, on 19 February Darwin was bombed for the first time and on 20 February the Japanese landed in Timor. In 1942 Australia was very much under threat. It was particularly pleasing to note that today there were present representatives of the RSL movement from Petersham, Newtown and Marrickville, and representatives of Marrickville Anzac Club. It was also pleasing to note also that the Singapore Consul General, the New Zealand Consul General and the Timorese Consul General were all present at today's ceremony.

I also want to note the importance of giving recognition to our veterans. It is now more than a year since New South Wales judge John Clarke presented his report to the government on veterans' payments. A government response was due yesterday. It is unfortunate, given that veterans were flown into Canberra from all around Australia in expectation of that response, that it was shelved because of its inadequacy, because of its failure to look after TPI pensioners and because of its inadequate allowance for benefits for prisoners of war and the wives of veterans.

Blue Ryan, from the Total and Permanent Incapacities Federation, said it all today when he said:

Oh, well, this has been an ongoing fight for a long time. The Cabinet, that is the Federal Cabinet, had not been taking any notice of this Minister for Veterans' Affairs or the previous Minister for Veterans' Affairs. You know, all we're asking for is some fairness. The TPI special payment that we get has been eroded in real terms, there's no debate about that. It's just an ongoing battle.

It is important that we recognise the contribution of our veterans. I am very proud to regard Tom Uren, a great Australian, as my mentor. I was very privileged to meet Weary Dunlop in his company while going to the opening of the memorial at Hellfire Pass on the former Burma-Siam railway. That was an incredible experience for a young man, as I was then. It is important that all parliamentarians never forget that the freedom we enjoy in this democratic parliament is due to the sacrifice of those veterans who were prepared to fight for our democracy and for our freedom. (Time expired)