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Wednesday, 18 June 2008
Page: 5268

Mr LINDSAY (7:09 PM) —The Military Memorials of National Significance Bill 2008 is significant. It is significant in that it recognises the need for Australians to be able to recognise throughout the country the service of the men and women of the Australian Defence Force. But it is also significant because it actually breaks a commitment that the Labor Party made at the last election and it underlines a misleading of the veterans community of this country. The commitment previously made during the election was that there would be a national memorial in Ballarat. But, as we all know, that is in fact not possible; it is not possible to have a national memorial in Ballarat. So this bill creates a new category, which is a military memorial of national significance. The veterans community in Ballarat and the veterans community in Australia will be disappointed to know that, in fact, by an artificial device, we are going to have a memorial in Ballarat which is not as was intended and as was promised at the last election.

The Rudd government have been very active in telling the community they are going to deliver on all of their election promises. Well, this breaks an election promise. It is really sad that I have to stand up in this House and express concern about breaking a promise to the veterans community and to the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, because defence is traditionally a non-political area—it is traditionally an area where all of us, on both sides of the House, support what we do in the name of our nation under our flag. But it has to be said that this is a broken election promise that we are putting through the House tonight. I am sad about that. I am also sad that really no funding has been provided for these sorts of things, because as we all know without money things do not happen. That will create some difficulties.

I note also that the previous speaker indicated quite correctly that the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs may declare a memorial of national significance, and then he added: with the approval of the Prime Minister. Why is our country running continually, in everything it does, on the approval of the Prime Minister’s office? I think we have all noticed, I think the government ministers have noticed and I think the media have noticed that nothing happens without the central control of the PMO. That is really debilitating for the mechanisms of government—to have everything run by and approved by the PMO just slows everything down. It is not, I guess, a good mechanism for government in this country.

What I would like to tell the parliament about tonight is Jezzine Barracks in North Ward in Townsville. Jezzine Barracks has a long, famous and worthy history in the order of battle of the Australian Defence Force. It is the home of the Kennedy Regiment and it has been there since before the turn of the last century. I was a key figure in making sure that, when 11th Brigade—the reserve brigade in the north—decided that they would relocate from Jezzine Barracks to Lavarack Barracks in Townsville, we would gift the whole of Jezzine Barracks, except for the military museum and the brigadier’s house, to the community for community purposes. One of those possible community purposes is to have a memorial of national significance in the north, and I will come back to that in a moment.

The significance of the gifting was that the previous government promised $5 million to refurbish the headquarters, 31st Battalion, RQR, so that it could be turned into a modern Army museum; the current museum, which is on the headland at Kissing Point, at the fort there, would move down to its new location; and the headland would be restored to what it was originally, when it was set up to defeat the Russians if they came to invade Australia. It sounds like Fort Queenscliff, and I guess that it is. We gifted the land, which was worth about $25 million in my estimation—prime land in North Ward in Townsville—and we made that available to the community. On top of that we made a commitment that, if the council put in $10 million, we would put in $10 million to redevelop the land; and, if the state government put in $10 million, we would put in a further $10 million. So all up the package was worth about $50 million, to provide the most magnificent bookend to Townsville’s Strand, to be enjoyed and used by the community.

I return to the memorial of national significance. In thinking about what kind of memorial you would put in this sacred place, there are a couple of choices, in my view. You could have a memorial to the Battle of the Coral Sea, which was a turning point in World War II in the Pacific and was run out of Townsville. That would be a very significant memorial, in which I am sure the Americans would be interested in participating because they were so crucial to that battle. Equally, we could have a memorial to Australia’s ready deployment force, 3rd Brigade, which operates out of Lavarack Barracks in Townsville, Australia’s largest Army base. It is the ready deployment force, the online battalion that is tasked with being able to move anywhere within 24 hours. Most recently, when we had to deploy to the Solomon Islands when there was further unrest there, from go to whoa it was 18 hours. To get to nobody at Lavarack Barracks and everybody in the Solomon Islands took 18 hours, a magnificent response. Indeed, virtually all of Australia’s overseas deployments in the first instance in the last 20 years have come out of Townsville, and that is to everywhere: Somalia, Rwanda, Timor, the Solomon Islands and Iraq.

I think either of those two memorial proposals that I am making here tonight would be fitting, and I would suggest my community would certainly support either, but personally I would like to see a memorial to the men and women of the Australian Defence Force in Townsville who have been part of Australia’s ready deployment force.

On Monday in Townsville I was privileged to attend a welcome home for the troops. This was a welcome home for 5th Aviation Regiment, which runs Australia’s Black Hawk helicopters and is soon to run Australia’s MRH90 heavy-lift troop helicopters and the Boeing CH47 Chinooks. We have got the Black Hawks in Timor and the Chinooks in Afghanistan. At the welcome home, about 80 troops arrived back from Timor. I made no bones about it: our nation most admires the work that the men and women of the Australian Defence Force do, particularly those from Townsville. It was quite poignant. The families were there waiting for the troops, both men and women, to return. Outside I saw a grandma and grandad and their grandson, young Declan, who had a bunch of flowers because his mum, Lieutenant Brooke Bailey, was coming home from Timor. It was my privilege, in the welcome home—which is done privately, not with the families—to call out Lieutenant Brooke Bailey from the group and present her with the bunch of flowers that Declan had brought to the airport. They wanted me to do it. There was a universal cheer when that happened, but what it also indicates is the family nature of the men and women of the Australian Defence Force today and how important families are when they are deployed overseas.

When this bill passes the parliament, I will be recommending to the committee charged with planning the redevelopment of Jezzine Barracks in Townsville that it consider the establishment of a military memorial of national significance at Jezzine Barracks. I will recommend that it consider a memorial either to the Battle of the Coral Sea in World War II or to the current ready deployment force that so well serves our nation from Townsville. I commend the bill to the House.