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Monday, 22 August 2011
Page: 8920

Mrs ELLIOT (RichmondParliamentary Secretary for Trade) (16:43): I am pleased to speak on the Prime Minister's statement on Vietnam Veterans Day. Last Thursday, 18 August, our nation recognised and honoured the veterans of the Vietnam War. Really, Vietnam Veterans Day is a day for all Australians to pay tribute to those who served in the Vietnam War. The day is commemorated each year on the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan, one of the most significant Australian actions of the Vietnam War. This year marked the 45th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. This battle occurred on 18 August 1966 and during this battle 18 Australians were killed—the most killed in any one engagement of the Vietnam War—and 24 were wounded. In the years since it was fought, many people have said the battle has achieved a symbolic significance for the Australian military in the Vietnam War which is similar to that of other battles Australians remember, such as the Gallipoli campaign, the Kokoda Track and the Battle of Kapyong. Indeed, Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War remains the longest in duration of any war in Australia's history. It lasted from August 1962 until May 1975. Although the Australian commitment was predominantly Army personnel, there were also significant numbers of civilians as well as Air Force and Navy personnel. According to the Nominal Roll of Vietnam Veterans, almost 60,000 Australians served in Vietnam and 521 Australians died as a result of the war, with over 3,000 wounded. Of the 521 Australian who died in the war, 496 were Australian Army personnel, 17 were RAAF personnel and eight were RAN personnel. The involvement of Australian forces in Vietnam was a gradual escalation, taking place over many years, and our forces battled against extremes of terrain and climate, through dense jungle and monsoonal conditions. They faced a very well-organised force.

We must never forget the service and sacrifice of those very brave Australians; they fought with such great courage and valour in the face of adversity. As many speakers have commented on today, when those Australian troops came home from Vietnam they returned to a nation that was really divided in its view of the war and, mostly, they were not welcomed home by a grateful nation in the same way as troops returning home from World War I or World War II were welcomed before them. For many of the surviving Vietnam veterans, time has not always healed the physical and psychological scars that resulted from their service, and often their families share this physical and emotional burden. It is important to acknowledge that the aftermath of war has been difficult to deal with, and we should recognise the contribution that veterans' families also have made. That is just as vitally important. In acknowledging the very difficult time that many of our veterans had when they came home, it is important to realise, too, that the veterans of the Vietnam War did not receive an official welcome home parade until 1987. That was a significant period of time later and was an issue, understandably, for many of those veterans. It is for this reason, and of course for so many other reasons, that on 18 August each year Australia as a nation recognises, remembers and honours the veterans of the Vietnam War.

My electorate of Richmond has one of the largest numbers of veterans throughout the nation. It has been my honour to meet and work with many of them over the years and to see their great commitment in so many ways. I note that many of them are veterans of the Vietnam War. As other speakers have mentioned, with parliament sitting last week, many of us were not able to attend local events. One of my staff members, Jodie Bellchambers, attended the event of a Vietnam veterans group in my electorate and she laid a wreath on behalf of the Commonwealth. Peter Crockett, a veteran, a lovely man whom we all refer to as 'Davy' Crockett, has organised this event for many years. It is held at South Tweed Sports club, which has supported the veterans group. The club has a lovely memorial garden, and the service is held there every year. I certainly would like to commend Davy for organising this very important event. I know there are many events locally and throughout the nation. It is important that we continue to have those events so that we can take the time to remember the service and sacrifice of all Vietnam veterans.

I would also like to note that the Governor-General marked the day last week on behalf of the nation with the presentation of a unit citation to Delta Company, 6th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, at Gallipoli Barracks at Enoggera in Queensland. The unit citation recognises acts of extraordinary gallantry in action by Delta Company during the Battle of Long Tan.

In concluding today, I would like to quote from Paul Keating's speech at the funeral service of the Unknown Australian Soldier on 11 November, 1993. The Unknown Australian Soldier was a casualty of the First World War, but I believe the sentiments translate to all our veterans from all wars, who have made such sacrifices in the defence of our nation.

For out of the war came a lesson which transcended the horror and tragedy and the inexcusable folly. It was a lesson about ordinary people - and the lesson was that they were not ordinary. On all sides they were the heroes of that war; not the generals and the politicians but the soldiers and sailors and nurses - those who taught us to endure hardship, to show courage, to be bold as well as resilient, to believe in ourselves, to stick together.

The Unknown Australian Soldier whom we are interring today was one of those who, by his deeds, proved that real nobility and grandeur belongs, not to empires and nations, but to the people on whom they, in the last resort, always depend.

Lest we forget.