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Thursday, 26 June 2008
Page: 3502

Senator MINCHIN (12:53 PM) —The opposition does not oppose the Military Memorials of National Significance Bill 2008, but I do want to take this opportunity to record our criticism of the government in relation to what I think is quite misleading behaviour in relation to this issue. The government claims this bill will provide a mechanism to honour its election promise to declare the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial to be a national memorial. That is in fact not true. It is not what this bill does, and the government is not fulfilling its commitment, because it cannot. This bill creates a new mechanism to enable a memorial located outside the ACT to be recognised as ‘a military memorial of national significance’, not a national memorial as the government said before the election. So this bill in fact confirms the coalition’s position, and Labor now effectively acknowledges that its election commitment cannot in practice be achieved. We condemn the government for misleading the citizens of Ballarat over this matter.

The Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial in Ballarat was completed in February 2004. The names of more than 35,000 POWs from the Boer War through to the Korean War are etched into the memorial, and it is a great tribute to those 35,000. As we know, many Australian prisoners of war did not make it home. Of the 8,400 who died in captivity, 4,000 have no known grave, so this is a very significant memorial and one that the coalition has always supported. The previous coalition government was a strong advocate of the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial at Ballarat, and my colleague Senator Ronaldson, as the then member for Ballarat, announced in 1999 on behalf of our government that Ballarat would be the site of an Australian ex-prisoners of war memorial. The then coalition government allocated half a million dollars towards the memorial, the largest federal government grant allocated to a memorial outside Canberra, and Senator Ronaldson was instrumental in supporting and promoting that concept. In 1999, the then Assistant Treasurer, Senator Rod Kemp, announced that gifts to the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial Fund to the value of $2 or more would be tax-deductible, so our commitment to this memorial is very longstanding and clear.

As I said before, this bill has resulted from a Labor Party election promise to declare this memorial in Ballarat a ‘national memorial’. That is now a promise we know they are effectively abandoning by creating a mechanism to establish this memorial as a memorial of national significance, and we do criticise the government for their grandstanding on this matter in Ballarat. Our position has been clear from day one. The legislative base for declaring a national memorial is the National Memorials Ordinance 1928, which restricts such memorials to being situated in the ACT. What the Labor member for Ballarat and the Labor Party have failed to recognise is that the National Memorials Ordinance 1928 only applies to such national land. This bill does not in fact make the Ballarat memorial a national memorial; by this bill they have introduced a new category to declare the Ballarat memorial a memorial of national significance, which is very different from declaring it a national memorial. Labor in opposition argued there was no legal impediment to declaring this war memorial a national memorial, contrary to our advice, and now that they are in government they understand the basis of our advice and have effectively admitted the error. The introduction of this bill demonstrates obviously that they now agree with our position that it is simply not possible to make memorials outside the ACT national memorials.

Clause 4(1) of this bill provides that the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs may declare a memorial to be a military memorial of national significance if certain conditions are met, and those conditions are set out explicitly in the act. Therefore, on that basis we are happy to support this bill, but I felt it necessary to put on the record that the government misled the people of Ballarat prior to the election as to its capacity in government to declare this a national memorial. This bill now exposes that falsity and exposes the deception of the people of Ballarat. We are quite happy to support this bill for its effect of declaring this a memorial of national significance and we are grateful that the government has at last admitted the error of its ways.