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Thursday, 26 March 1998
Page: 1722

Mr TAYLOR —My question is addressed to the Minister for Defence Industry, Science and Personnel. Can the minister inform the House how the government has met its election commitment in respect of a Vietnam end of war list?

Mrs BISHOP (Defence Industry, Science and Personnel) —I thank the member for Groom for his question. I know his interest in this matter. Might I mention also the member for Stirling, whom I also know has a particular interest. Before the election the coalition, in accordance with its constant stand on the question of an end of Vietnam war list, promised to establish the list of people who had suffered as a result of the quota system that operated during the Vietnam war, whereby 28 people who were in fact recommended for an award were downgraded and 50 people who were recommended for an award in fact received nothing.

Indeed, those awards were for meritorious service or gallantry. The difficulty has arisen with regard to the list because in 1992 the ability to recommend to Her Majesty the Queen that imperial honours be awarded was abolished. That has meant that the awards that were recommended back at the time of the war being imperial awards can no longer be given. Had something been done about it at the time that a private member's bill came through this place before 1992, then the medals as they had been recommended could have been given.

Because this cannot be done, we are using the Australian honours and awards system. There are no direct equivalents and the difficulty then is to ensure that the most appropriate award is given to the person who missed out previously. In order to do that, a decision had to be made and the decision was made that no order could be higher than the order that was previously recommended.

Here is the difficulty. The difficulty relates to six nominations that were made for the Military Medal. It is argued by some people, including Mr Ruxton and others, that the Military Medal should be treated the same as the Military Cross. To have done that would have meant that those six people would have received a medal higher than the 84 people who received it during the war, the 41 people who received the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the one person who received the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal and the three people who received the George Medal, all of which rank in between the Military Cross and the Military Medal. I have great sympathy for those people who would really have liked to have received their imperial awards. I understand the feeling they have towards that particular medal.

But we do believe that the way we are awarding this system is the fairest outcome. To those people who say that to receive a commendation for gallantry is to be regarded as being belittled, I say that is not so. A commendation for gallantry is a ribbon with an emblem upon it which is mounted on a bar in the ordinary way and worn with pride. Our solution is the fairest solution to fulfilling our promise—and I know that people will appreciate the difficulties that were entailed.