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Wednesday, 18 June 2008
Page: 5255

Mr ROBERT (6:16 PM) —I rise to support the Military Memorials of National Significance Bill 2008, cognisant of the amendment moved by the member for Mackellar. The bill seeks to provide a mechanism to enable a memorial that is outside the ACT and meets certain criteria to be recognised as a military memorial of national significance. I do so recognising that this is a new category, as the new government now agrees with the opposition that it is not possible to make a memorial outside the ACT a national memorial under the 1929 ordinance, hence the new category called ‘military memorials of national significance’. I also note the broad community support for this measure, while noting the RSL’s desire to see maintenance included in the bill, which it is not.

The genesis of this bill is that the Prime Minister personally promised that the very worthwhile Australian ex-prisoner-of-war memorial in Ballarat would be made a national memorial, which by virtue provides maintenance funding. Indeed, the Prime Minister, as quoted in the Age on Thursday 28 June 2007, whilst he was visiting the ex-prisoner-of-war memorial, said he would:

... move anything … to ensure that this is properly recognised as a national war memorial.

Prime Minister, you have misled the veteran community, as a new category of memorials has had to be created, and there can be no maintenance attached to these memorials. Maintenance will be the responsibility of the relevant state or local authorities, as the bill makes it clear that no funding is attached. I guess the Prime Minister could not move anything after all. It was interesting to note, though, that in question time today the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Mr Griffin, made it very clear what the government can move with respect to veterans affairs—and that is to rip $110 million out of veteran entitlements. Thirty-three million dollars was ripped out by raising the partner pension age from 50 to a massive 58.5 years of age; $77 million was saved by ensuring that partners of veterans, if they separate, lose the spouse pension 12 months after the separation. And, in a particularly insidious move by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, in a bill that was classed as uncontestable and non-contentious was hidden a pro rata mechanism, so that a veteran who was a reservist or was working part time would receive only pro-rata part-time compensation.

On the one hand the Prime Minister and his Minister for Veterans’ Affairs moved to create a military memorial of national significance to honour prisoners of war and others who have served, as more memorials come on line, yet on the other hand they moved $110 million of veteran entitlements simply as a budget saving mechanism when the budget has a $22 billion surplus. It is, in my opinion, unconscionable.

By way of history, between the Boer War at the turn of the last century and the Korean War in the 1950s, 34,737 Australian service men and women were incarcerated in prisoner-of-war camps across the globe. Approximately 8,591 Australian military personnel were captured by German and Italian forces during World War II, predominantly in North Africa, Greece and Crete. Over 22,000 Australians were captured in the Pacific theatre in World War II. Thirty-six per cent of them would perish—8,031 died in captivity in some of the most horrific conditions. Furthermore, 29 Australians were captured in the Korean War. It is also interesting to note that a prisoner of war is not entitled to receive the Victoria Cross, even if their acts of bravery would otherwise deem them eligible. They would receive the George Cross. Under the imperial awards system, the British Defence Medal was given for over 180 days of service, but service as a prisoner of war was not included in that imperial medal award. Why is it so, when over 34,000 Australian prisoners of war were incarcerated and were still, while in captivity, fighting their enemy at every chance? A number of Australian prisoners of war were shipped to the Japanese mainland proper and put in munitions factories and mines and continued the fight against the enemy through sabotage and other means. Why, in such circumstances, is bravery not rewarded through a Victoria Cross but only through a George Cross? It is something I intend to take up with the parliament at a future date.

Looking back in history in recognition of the unique ordeal of the prisoners of war captured in the Pacific in World War II, the former Howard government made a one-off cash payment of $25,000 to all living Australian prisoners of war and civilian detainees and internees who were held by Japan during World War II. This ex-gratia payment was also made to the surviving widows and widowers of former prisoners, acknowledging those who lost their spouse to the POW camps or supported their partner on their return from the war. The payment was made to eligible veterans, civilians, widows and widowers who were alive on 1 January 2001. In those cases where an eligible recipient had died since that date, the payment was made to their estate.

May I reiterate that this is in absolute stark contrast to the Labor budget just handed down that ripped $110 million out of veterans entitlements, even though there was a $22 billion surplus. If you ever wanted to know which side of politics actually respects, esteems and values the veteran community, you only need to compare these two acts. One is an act of generosity, acknowledging the suffering of POWs who served in the Pacific theatre; and the other is an act of unconscionable conduct, ripping $110 million away from those who are least able to afford to have it taken from them.

By way of war memorials across the rest of the nation, my own electorate of Fadden has a number of significant war memorials that I wish to bring to the attention of the parliament. The Coomera War Memorial; the Labrador Memorial Hall; the Nerang War Memorial; the Honour Roll and Memorial Wall at the Nerang Services Club, which is on the border, of course, of Fadden and the neighbouring electorate of Moncrieff; the Pimpama School of Arts Honour Roll; the Upper Coomera War Memorial; the Upper Coomera CWA Hall Honour Roll; the Upper Coomera CWA Hall, which was originally the Coomera District War Memorial Hall before the name change; and, of course, the Pimpama and Ormeau War Memorial. This particular memorial was built thanks to the locals raising the funds to honour those who served in WWI, including the six local men from the Pimpama and Ormeau area who lost their lives. The memorial was originally by the road and was relocated to the church grounds. In 1995 the original Pimpama/Ormeau digger was relocated to Miles Historical Village War Museum in the Darling Downs and replaced with a new digger. The inscription on the memorial states:

They gave their all. Let you who pass, saluting here their names, see that through you no slur, nor stain, nor shame falls on the land for which they gave their lives—Australia.

It is a very suitable inscription that the parliament would do well to remember, especially the current government, when it looks to meet the needs of our veterans.

They gave their all. Let you who pass, saluting here their names, see that through you no slur, nor stain, nor shame falls on the land for which they gave their lives—Australia.

The Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial situated adjacent to Lake Wendouree honours more than 35,000 Australians who were held prisoner from the Boer War through to the Korean War. It was conceived by Ballarat sculptor Peter Blizzard and designed as a journey, with footpath stones cut into the shape of railway sleepers to symbolise the Burma railway built by Australian POWs during the Second World War. The monument is completed by six huge basalt obelisks listing the names of POW camps where Australians were held. It is important because, as Lord Byron once said:

For there are deeds that should not pass away,

And names that must not be forgotten.

Associations today continue to keep the memory alive of those over 35,000 Australians who were incarcerated fighting for their country. Let me acknowledge Mr Norm Anderton MBE, the President of the Gold Coast District of the Queensland Ex-POW Association. It is my tremendous pleasure to join the member for Moncrieff and the member for McPherson as co-patrons of this very worthwhile organisation that seeks to care for, to honour and to meet the needs of former prisoners of war.

War memorials do not praise war; they honour people. In this vein it is suitable and appropriate that I honour some of the people who work hard in the Coomera Oxenford RSL Sub Branch in the cause of veterans, notably the president, Norm Kelly; the chaplain, Len Harrop, and his wife, who provide so much support; and the other branch members who work tirelessly.

I support the Military Memorials of National Significance Bill 2008. Anything we can do to honour our veterans is incredibly worth while. We do not honour war, we do not praise combat; we honour people. And whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, I support the second reading amendment proposed by the shadow minister.

For there are deeds that should not pass away,

And names that must not be forgotten.

The 35,000 prisoners of war, Australian men and women across the globe—their deeds should not pass away; their names will not be forgotten.