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Thursday, 5 May 1994
Page: 386

Senator McGAURAN (7.14 p.m.) —We have heard about members of the Australian Labor Party, now in government, carrying what they say is a shame on their shoulders for so many years. That seems to be quite evident in their dealings with the Vietnam government. It needs to be said that, regardless of the arguments for or against the Vietnam War, this lost war—and in many ways a disgraceful war—our service personnel should never be forgotten. And they were forgotten. Regardless of how Senator Gareth Evans tried to gloss over this matter, we have forgotten.

  It was never explained why our fallen diggers were not recognised by the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) during his visit to Vietnam. He was the first Prime Minister to visit Vietnam since that war, so it was a significant occasion. The damage has now been done, regardless of a late effort by the Prime Minister to cover the outrage that was going on in Australia while he was over there. Australians are unconvinced by the Prime Minister's late efforts.

  For Senator Evans's information, he should know that there are Australians lying buried in Vietnam. There were several Australians missing in action. I think we can safely assume that they lie in the fields of Vietnam. So it is significant to know that we did leave some of our servicemen behind.

  I also note Senator Loosley's contribution. He boasted, as did many other members of the government, of the Vietnam War shaping his politics and shaping his very being. That is good; that is fair enough—but he must also then take the responsibility and the guilt for never welcoming home these troops, for sending them away into the bowels of our society, and in some cases even spitting on them. They were not recognised in any homecoming until 1987. There are many unsung heroes, thanks to the attitude taken by the likes of Senator Loosley, who so proudly boasts about the politics of that time shaping his politics today.

  Probably the worst, most humiliating, destructive, silent policy—and it was a silent policy—ever run was that by the likes of Senator Loosley and the demonstrators of that time. It should be added that neither the march nor the memorial was organised by this government; it was organised by the Vietnam veterans themselves. For that matter, the government did not even tip the money into it. I believe the memorial ended up a dollar for dollar contribution. The government did not generate any homecoming for our Vietnam veterans.

  The Prime Minister joins the ranks of the likes of Senator Loosley in having the politics of that day shaping his politics today. It has to be remembered that the Prime Minister entered the parliament in 1969, when that issue was at the forefront of all issues of the time. He is a product of the Vietnam politics.

  We would be forgiven for believing that on this issue this Prime Minister has locked himself into a 1960s mentality and is relishing being able to administer the prejudices and the spitefulness of those times because he was a first-hand witness to the division of the nation in those times. I believe it was succinctly and intelligently captured by an article by Laura Tingle in the Australian. I believe she gave a very good insight into the Prime Minister and how this issue has cut deep into the psyche of Australians. She finished her article in the Australian on 16 April by saying:

  The Vietnam war is the one episode in our history of conflicts that we feel uncomfortable about as a nation.

  For this reason, Keating's failure to find a way of using his trip to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to help Australia come to terms with its past—something he has advocated on so many issues in the past—is more than a bumbling political error.

  It is a failure of leadership beyond any political mistake.

I think that puts it most succinctly. I believe that the decision distinctly lacks an understanding of the Australian people and their history.

  Debate interrupted.