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Wednesday, 23 May 2001
Page: 26856

Mr FORREST (12:24 PM) —I am delighted to have an opportunity to support in particular the Compensation (Japanese Internment) Bill 2001. I am delighted at the speedy process that has been put in place to deliver some of the announcements made last evening in the 2000-01 budget. I would like to spend most of the time that is available to me to speak about some of the experiences that prisoners of war of the Japanese went through. It is very close to my heart. Three uncles of mine found themselves in the 8th Division—Uncle Herbert, Uncle Jack and Uncle Hughie—and, of the three, only Uncle Hughie returned. He never spoke about his experiences, but one could always tell that they were harrowing.

The Mildura region in the division of Mallee was the source of a large number of enlisted men to the 8th Division, which found itself in Singapore in 1942. I want to speak about one particular prisoner of war whom I have spoken to this morning to give him the news about the announcement last night. There are only 23 prisoners of war of the Japanese left in the division of Mallee, when once there were many hundreds, and there are only three war widows who will benefit from the restoration of their war widows pension. I think it was the member for Moreton who said that sometimes in budgets there is more in small matters than in big matters. Those 23 prisoners of war of the Japanese living in Mallee are delighted with the news.

Neil Collinson is an 87-year-old such veteran—a dear friend of my late father—who found himself in Singapore in 1942 in the 4th Antitank Battalion of the 8th Division of the Australian Imperial Forces, having enlisted with my three uncles. He was a great Scottish piper in the pipe band, and my father was president of the Mildura District Pipe Band for 25 years—hence their strong relationship as mates. He sailed in 1940, was captured in 1942 and found himself incarcerated in Changi prison at the hands of the Japanese. He has subsequently written a book in his retirement twilight years. He has called it Kicking with the Wind. It is inspiring to read of the harrowing experiences that prisoners of war like him went through. Such was the compassion that he had learnt by being part of that that Neil Collinson spent 35 years as the veterans welfare officer of the Red Cliffs RSL. Red Cliffs was a soldier settlement district of World War I and is still the home of many veterans. Lex Milne is another similar veteran and he is a great friend of my family. Lex used to prune my vine property for many years and looked after me, an absent landlord, in that role. I am delighted for Lex that this news has now been received by him.

I note that the member for the Northern Territory has raised the question about the distinction between prisoners of war—between those at the hands of the Germans or Axis forces throughout Europe and North Africa and those interned by the Japanese. My father found himself in the 9th Division of the Australian Imperial Forces. He went straight to the campaign in north Africa and found himself in Tobruk, El Alamein and harrowing places like that. Fathers never talk much to their sons about their experiences of war, but I remember one occasion when I came home with a business vehicle—a four-wheel drive Japanese vehicle. My father was so upset that he asked me to remove it from his property. At the particular time, I also owned a Volkswagen campervan, and I said to him, `Dad, I also own a German made car.' His reaction to that was, `Well, the German soldier was an honourable soldier, son; the Japanese were not.'

I have thought about the comments that the member for Northern Territory has made, long before he did, and there is a heightened distinction. Even the reading of history will make a distinction about what prisoners of war of the Japanese endured. It is regrettable and it is painful to talk about, but there is a special poignancy about what they endured. You have only to read about the notorious death march from Sandakan to Ranau, when more than 2,000 Australian and allied prisoners died in that dreadful march. You have only to read about the experiences in Burma on that notorious railway and visit the monuments there and read of the experiences of the survivors. That is what I have learnt from reading Neil Collinson's book Kicking against the Wind. He is a wonderful Australian, Neil Collinson. He served and was incarcerated with my Uncle Hughie. In a telephone conversation with Neil this morning—he is now accommodated at the Sunraysia Hostel for the Elderly, in Red Cliffs, my home town—he kept referring to me as Hughie. It was kind of special and I did not want to remind him that I was not Hughie but was in fact Hughie's nephew. A very special Australian is Neil Collinson. His reaction was instantly, `Well, you really did not need to do that. I have used my harrowing experience to make me a better person and to try to make the most of my life and that of my children.' But he wanted to say thank you.

My purpose in ringing him was for something I think the parliament needs to do—and I am pleased that there is bipartisan support to get the bill through both houses so that we can get this payment forwarded on— and that is that the nation needs to say thank you. Something that I am very careful to do every Anzac Day is to make sure that I shake the hand of a veteran and to say—as one who, like the member for Moreton, has never been asked to endure what they have endured—thank you: thank you for being prepared to defend the fundamental principles of democracy which Australians have come to know and cherish; thank you for your endurance; thank you for your long suffering.

To Neil Collinson and Lex Milne and the 21 Japanese prisoners of war across the division of Mallee, I say thank you. I am sorry that it has taken 50-odd years to deliver this. The member for the Northern Territory is right: governments of whatever colour and persuasion have taken too long. But I know it will be gratefully received by those prisoners of war who are still with us and by the surviving widows. I am very pleased to be here to support the bill this day.