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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9105


Mr GRIFFIN (Bruce) (11:28): I rise in support of the motion of the member for Hinkler, but I do need to make a couple of minor comments on aspects of the motion, just to pick up on a couple of points that I think are very important. Firstly, in point (a) his motion says:

Vietnam Veterans Day is held on 18 August each year to commemorate the iconic Battle of Long Tan in 1966 …

Let us be clear: Vietnam Veterans Day commemorates the service of all Vietnam veterans. It commemorates the courage and sacrifice of all Vietnam veterans. It is, I think, appropriately on 18 August because that is the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan and that has become, justifiably, the iconic battle of the Vietnam War, but it is a day to commemorate all Vietnam veterans.

Secondly, part (2)(c) of the motion reads:

… the Delta Company Commander and four Platoon Commanders, who recommended the awards in 1966, have provided supporting material to the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal, and Part 2 of the Valour Inquiry is currently underway.

Sadly, that is not the case. The Valour Inquiry part 2 is actually not underway—or, arguably, a small element of it has been picked up and referred to the tribunal but the inquiry itself actually has not taken place.

I just want to pick up on that point. I commend the member for Hinkler for his brief outline of the battle and the circumstances around some of the outstanding matters with respect to the awards. Given the shortness of time available I will make several points—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Broadbent ): Would the member consider seconding the motion while he is on his feet?

Mr GRIFFIN: I am more than happy to second the motion, Mr Deputy Speaker. I second the motion.

I will now pick up on a couple of points that I think are central to the argument about where we go from here. The Labor government set up the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal to take the parliament out of consideration of awards, because too often—without reflecting on this matter—matters of heraldry and commemoration, for example what happened at Long Tan, have ended up being pursued in the parliament. The intent was to depoliticise and to provide a process where proper consideration of proposed recognition and awards could be done independent of the political process. That was the point behind the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal. I am a little sad that we are still here, so many years after that tribunal was set up, considering this issue in the circumstances that we are.

With respect to the inquiries that have occurred in the past, the important point I would like to make very briefly is that a number of the inquiries that occurred in the years subsequent to 1966 were not able to consider the circumstances surrounding Long Tan, because the paper work had been disposed of. One can argue as to how that happened; the circumstances were that those recommendations did not go up the line to ensure that they were considered. So it missed the End of War List, for that reason and then also the Tanzer review. You then had a situation where it only became clear to Lieutenant Colonel Harry Smith and his associates after the Official Secrets Act period had expired just what had not happened, and therefore what needed to be done.

Following on from that, there were inquiries under the Howard government, which were pushed on by members of the Labor opposition, like Vietnam veteran Graham Edwards. That came up with some changes and recommendations, which I support, but when at the first hearing of the Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal, the issue came down to the question of documentary evidence versus testimony. I just want to make a quick point about that.

I accept that many years after the event it is not unusual for individuals to have recollections which are inconsistent with respect to what may have occurred in the heat of battle. However, what I do not accept and what I cannot accept is that, when a senior commander like Harry Smith tells you that he submitted documents, that fact is questioned. He submitted documents. There is no question. There is absolutely no question at all. The fact that those documents were submitted was confirmed by other commanders from the day it happened. To use that as an excuse is, in my view, unfair to the honour and the memory of those who did so much and unfair to the integrity of our awards system. The fact of the matter is: the issue of testimony ought to be able to be taken into account.

I will move on to the issue of what happens now. Former parliamentary secretary David Feeney referred this matter to Defence in March of 2013. In November last year, the now parliamentary secretary Darren Chester, member for Gippsland, wrote to the then CDF, again seeking advice on this matter. This has been with the Defence hierarchy now for in excess of 18 months. This matter needs to be brought to a head. The Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal ought to be given a reference to consider these matters properly in order to deal with this issue finally.