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Wednesday, 18 June 2008
Page: 5266

Mr PERRETT (6:57 PM) —Before I commence, I commend the member for Cook for his contribution. It was great to listen to. I am quite humbled after that to stand to speak about the Military Memorials of National Significance Bill 2008 before the House.

Australia has a long and proud tradition of honouring and remembering our war heroes. Our war memorials are an important part of this tradition. They ensure that history is not forgotten and tell the stories of Australians at war, which is really our national story, the Australian national story. As all Australians would know, we have never declared war on anybody initially, but we have always been prepared to go to war. That conundrum, I guess, is the Australian story. War memorials provide a focal point for reflection on this and commemoration of those who have paid with the ultimate sacrifice in these foreign wars.

War memorials are found at gathering places for events such as Anzac Day and Remembrance Day. Even though I am a new MP, I have gone to a lot of Anzac Day ceremonies, which I have always enjoyed, but it was particularly poignant and enjoyable going as an MP. It is up there with citizenship ceremonies in defining what Australia is all about. I again commend the work of all the RSL members in my electorate who have done such great work on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day in ensuring that we will remember.

In Canberra national memorials, like the Australian War Memorial, are recognised for their national significance and, of course, their location in the ACT. Who has not been moved when touring the Australian War Memorial and seen that honour roll and that long, long list of people who have made the ultimate sacrifice?

I am very pleased to speak in support of this legislation as it will enable the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial in Ballarat to be declared a military memorial of national significance, and it will be the first memorial outside Canberra to be so recognised. The bill will also provide an avenue for other memorials throughout Australia to be recognised as national memorials. Presently, only memorials on ‘national land’ can be submitted for consideration as national memorials. The authority to approve national memorials lies with the National Memorials Committee, chaired by the Prime Minister. This authority is derived from the National Memorials Ordinance 1928.

The Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial in Ballarat holds the names of more than 35,000 prisoners of war, from the Boer War to the Korean War. I could mention many of the prisoners of war who reside in my electorate of Moreton, and certainly in my visits to, and talks with, the Sunnybank RSL, the Sherwood-Indooroopilly RSL, the Stephens RSL and the Yeronga RSL I have heard many amazing tales, always told in a self-effacing way. But, rather than select a couple of people from my electorate, I am actually going to talk about two gentlemen—or one in particular—from my hometown, which is a little bit west of St George, between Dirranbandi and St George. Two brothers who signed up from there—I think they have actually got Dirranbandi written on their sign-up papers in World War II—were Gordon McCosker and Jack McCosker. I do not know Jack well at all. He was captured in Germany and what was notable about him was that his family had basically conducted a memorial service because they had assumed that he was dead.

Jack’s brother, Gordon Joseph McCosker, serial number QX11185, played a big part in my life. As a young boy in primary school I went to school with his son Paul—and I hope his other sons are listening tonight because I know when I spoke to his widow, Betty McCosker, she told me that she would tell all of her children. I used to spend a lot of time out at their property at Dundee. I spent many, many weeks and months out at Dundee because Betty is very good friends with my mother and mum still goes out there to spend time at Dundee. In fact, I think I earned my very first dollar ever—and it was a dollar note—in about 1971 cleaning out the shearing sheds during shearing time at Dundee. Unfortunately I did not keep it, but I do remember it very well and what it felt like in my hand. But, for all of the time that I was out there in the 1970s and growing up, Gordon McCosker, ex-prisoner of war, never talked about the fact that he was a POW. He never told his story, and in fact his widow Betty said tonight that Gordon basically never talked about it. In fact, I got quite a shock, in year 12, when I saw Gordon at an RSL service. That was the first indication that I had had that he had military service. Not only was it military service but he had been captured at Singapore. He was in Changi and worked on the Burma railway and, having heard from the member for Cook of the horrors that were experienced, I can understand why perhaps it was not something he talked about. Instead he just came back to the land and worked hard all his life. But his name is on the Ballarat memorial.

This memorial recognises the bravery and sacrifice for their country that people like Gordon Joseph McCosker and his brother Jack endured. The memorial was completed in February 2004 and it was the first memorial to prisoners of war that specifically honoured all Australian POWs from all conflicts. In other words, the Ballarat memorial is national in every way except for its location, which is beyond the borders of the Australian Capital Territory. It was for this reason that the Prime Minister committed to recognise the memorial as a national war memorial. This bill delivers on that election commitment.

The government has also provided $160,000—in keeping with its status as a national war memorial—to help maintain the Ballarat memorial appropriately. I have not yet seen the memorial, but it is certainly something that is on my list of things to do. I must note that, unfortunately, the previous government refused repeated requests to recognise it as a national memorial. Their reasoning, as I understand, was that they believed it could not legally be done—which was obviously technically correct. Thankfully, we are able to look beyond the black letter of the law to the intent and what was right and honourable, and so we have this legislation before the House.

It is no small feat to amend legislation, but the very persistent, very vocal and currently, I think, still very pregnant member for Ballarat has proved that it can be done. Incidentally, I do wish the member for Ballarat well in her confinement in the time ahead. On that note I also thank the member for Ballarat and the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs for their efforts in bringing this legislation to the parliament. The Ballarat community also deserves praise for their efforts to honour our POWs in this way. As I said previously, this bill also puts a mechanism in place for other memorials throughout Australia to become military memorials of national significance. The mechanism is there; however, I stress that this process is separate to the National Memorials Ordinance 1928, which will continue to oversee the recognition of national memorials in the ACT.

The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, with the written approval of the Prime Minister, may declare military memorials of national significance outside of the Australian Capital Territory. This bill will in no way undermine the significance or the status of national memorials in Canberra. Nor should we expect a free-for-all because memorials must meet strict and thorough criteria to even be considered national memorials. For example, the memorial must be of an appropriate scale, design and standard in keeping with the nationally significant status—and I should note here that the Ballarat memorial is an impressive 130-metre black granite wall; the memorial must be a memorial for the sole purpose of commemorating a significant aspect of Australia’s wartime history—obviously commemorating all POWs, from the Boer War through to today, is something worth doing in terms of all the sacrifice that the names on that memorial acknowledge; the memorial must have a major role in community commemorative activities; and the memorial must observe Commonwealth flag protocols. These criteria will ensure that only deserving memorials are afforded national significance status.

With the exception of the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial in Ballarat, an application will be required for the declaration of future memorials. The bill also puts in place a further safeguard to protect the status of national memorials. It gives the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs the power to revoke a declaration, should a memorial cease to meet the legislated requirements—although, in terms of Australia’s history of honouring our dead and those who have sacrificed for and served this country, I find it hard to believe that that would ever occur. Still the mechanism is there. The war memorial in Ballarat holds a very special place not only for the Ballarat community but also, even more so, for all Australians—it is a place we should visit to commemorate the 35,000 POWs, from the Boer War to the Korean War, whose names are on that monument. This legislation not only recognises the national significance of the Ballarat memorial but also ensures that military memorials throughout Australia can be esteemed with national recognition into the future. I commend the bill to the House.