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Thursday, 19 June 2008
Page: 5392

Dr STONE (9:55 AM) —I rise to also support the Military Memorials of National Significance Bill 2008. This bill is being introduced in order to overcome a problem for the Labor government. The member for Ballarat, in the lead-up to the election, promised that the new Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial in that very fine city would be designated a national war memorial, with the expectation of the funds from the Commonwealth which flow from such a designation. Unfortunately, of course, under current legislation the Ballarat POW memorial would not have been listed as promised because the National Memorials Ordinance 1928 quite categorically requires a memorial to be located in the Australian Capital Territory. Therefore, this bill creates a new category of memorial.

There is in fact a national POW memorial in Canberra: the Changi Chapel at the Royal Military College, Duntroon. It is the original chapel from Singapore, and as such is a very poignant and fitting memorial to those extraordinary 22,376 Australian POWs who were captured by the Japanese in the Second World War. While 8,031 of those POWs were worked and starved to death, all of them suffered unimaginable horrors. The RMC Duntroon memorial is a superb and important place for remembering the dead and those who suffered. However, it is not readily accessible to all of the Australian public, so it was a very important thing that the Ballarat veterans community did when it created a memorial which covers all conflicts involving Australian forces, from the Boer War through to the 21st century. It is a very commendable achievement of a group consisting largely of volunteers from the Ballarat veterans community. They were supported, of course, with over half a million dollars in funding from the John Howard led coalition government, and we were very pleased to contribute that funding for such a very worthy and nationally significant cause.

It is therefore a shame that not all of the expectations of these Ballarat veterans have been met through this bill. If the Ballarat POW memorial had been designated a national memorial, as originally promised by the Labor member, it would also have attracted the federal funding for maintenance and the ongoing relevant costs of ensuring that the memorial was there for all time. This legislation creates a new category of memorial, to be called a military memorial of national significance. This might sound to the politically naive like the same thing as a national memorial, but in fact this legislation creates a new class of memorial. Such a memorial needs to be purpose-built or exclusively dedicated to the memory of our veterans and service men and women, and does not necessarily have to be in Canberra. Most significantly, in this bill there is absolutely no funding that will go along with the new designation. This funding must come from another source. It is suggested in the bill that it is most likely that a memorial that receives this new designation will be owned by a state government or a local government authority and they will be responsible for the funding. There is to be absolutely no way that a new memorial so designated by this new bill will be given federal funding. I think that that is sure to be a disappointment to those in Ballarat who hoped—indeed, expected—that their memorial was of sufficient significance that, along with the special designation, there would be maintenance by all Australians through appropriate funding from the Commonwealth government. This is not the purpose of the bill, and this is not going to be the case when this bill is passed.

So I hope that the people of Ballarat who worked so hard to create this POW memorial and to obtain the $500,000 in funding from the John Howard government will not feel let down, because let me assure you it is a magnificent memorial. As a daughter of a POW from the Second World War, I particularly appreciate it, although there were indeed some problems with the way the names were collected to put on that memorial. It was done by very worthy volunteers, and I suppose it was to be expected that there would be some omissions. In the case of my father, he went to look at the memorial not just expecting to see his name as a POW of the Germans, having been shot down over Germany as part of the RAF Bomber Command, but even more hoping to see the names of his fellows in the crew—the Australians—who died as POWs, with the exception of one of the crew members, Jim Coitties, who lives on in Sydney. The rest of his crew were killed after being captured, taken to a German prisoner of war camp and then, a short time later, released to a civilian mob who hacked them to pieces. That led to a war crimes tribunal hearing and, after the war, there was appropriate dealing with those who let those Australian POWs in my father’s crew out of the POW camp and into the hands of a maddened mob where they were, within a short time, killed and buried in the gardens, still in their uniforms and with their identification. Later they were disinterred and reburied in an appropriate place in Germany. My father was devastated to find none of the names of those Australians on the POW memorial; their names had been forgotten. I commend the veterans of Ballarat who shared the concern, not just for people like my father but for many other POWs and mates whose names were accidentally omitted.

So, at the end of the list of names in alphabetical order on the Ballarat memorial, there is another list of the forgotten. Descendants therefore may never find those added names—after all, there are over 35,000 names in total on this memorial. You would presume that the descendants in years to come will go to the alphabetical listings and they will not find their grandparents, great-grandparents or fathers on that list. Let me put on the record that I appreciate that the volunteers who put together this memorial felt very sorry about the omissions when putting down the names of the POWs. I appreciate the incredibly hard task it was to include everybody.

Australians in fact suffered horrific POW numbers in the Second World War, in particular. The First World War was a war where the courage of Australians was established and the reputation of the young nation was forged on the battlefields, beginning in Gallipoli and then on the Western Front, in Belgium and in France. Australians had the most horrific experience, particularly the AIF as they suffered in the trenches. We remember their courage and determination, their comradeship, their creativity and their make-do attitude when they often did not have adequate weaponry and did not even have adequate uniforms. All of those characteristics forged the reputation of this great nation as a people willing to give their all at a time of great disaster.

In the Second World War it was very often the sons and daughters of those First World War diggers or their close family relations who served. They forged a different understanding about the character of Australia. This was very much through the POWs’ absolute tenacity, their love for one another, their caring attitude and their sheer determination to live. There was the most horrific experience of the Japanese POWs in the Second World War. Who will ever forget the death marches of Sandakan, where there were in fact just six survivors of the two death marches. The British and Australians, some 2,500, in 1945 were forced to march to Ranau and only six of those 2,500 survived. I am very pleased that the Howard government established memorials at Sandakan in Malaysia, and of course we now have memorials to the POWs at Hellfire Pass in Thailand. I hope that, as the years go by, young Australians will be as likely to go to Sandakan in Malaysia and Hellfire Pass in Thailand as they are at the moment to go to Gallipoli and honour the dead and those who fought and forged the reputation of this country—a country that values freedom for its own citizenry but is also prepared to fight for the freedom of others. I hope that we continue to see this as being of paramount importance if we are to be regarded as a civil society.

We have never had such POW numbers since the Second World War, but it is right and fitting that we now honour all of them with that memorial in Ballarat, with a special designation. But I do repeat that it is a very great shame that in honouring them with the memorial in a very beautiful place, in Ballarat, in southern Australia, the memorial will not have ongoing federal funding to make sure that as the years go by the gold letters never fade and the gardens do not fall into disrepair, and that there is appropriate interpretation, visitor facilities and maybe publications to come which further describe the importance and meaning of the POWs, with their names listed there row after row.

In supporting this bill I say congratulations to the Ballarat group who struggled for very many years, first with an idea and then in delivering a very significant and superb memorial. I also want to say, regarding memorials to come that may be eligible for this designation, that they should not hesitate to seek the designation—even though they must understand that a very important and focused part of this bill is that they cannot ask for or expect any federal funding support. Let me just say finally, now that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts has joined us, that in the same vein the Labor government is nominating a whole list, as we must, of new places for the national register of heritage listed places. I very much support that.

For example, just the other day the Myall Creek massacre site in central New South Wales was listed. If I had known that site was to be listed, I would have made an enormous effort to get there myself to acknowledge its significance. But unfortunately, while we are listing more and more heritage places of great significance to this nation, there is no funding to support that heritage listing—perhaps to help restore a property or a place, to introduce interpretation, to maintain the locality or to make sure there is proper access to and security for that site. I think that is a very serious problem. With the government nursing the coalition created $22 billion surplus, I would very much like the minister to ask caucus to redress this failure of funding for the national memorial at Ballarat, and the new category it will fit into, and for places of national heritage significance right across the country.