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Thursday, 19 June 2008
Page: 5394


Mr SIDEBOTTOM (10:08 AM) —The Military Memorials of National Significance Bill 2008, like just about all the bills that have been introduced into this parliament this year, is fulfilling a promise. This bill gives effect to the 2007 election commitment by the now Labor government to recognise the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial in Ballarat, Victoria, as a memorial of national significance. The bill also provides for other significant memorials that meet specified criteria to be recognised as military memorials of national significance in the future. Along with all members of this House, particularly those who have spoken on this bill, I want to recognise the service of our service men and women. They have given of themselves in the service of this country and unfortunately some lost their lives in the service of Australia. In particular, and in relation to this bill, I want to recognise those ex-prisoners of war who still survive today and those who unfortunately lost their lives. I recognise that and thank them for their service.

Today I would like to speak of a group of service people who I believe do not receive the recognition they are due and who are often ignored—the national servicemen of Australia. Unfortunately, their fight to get recognition took some time. I wish to take the House through some of the history of national service and some of the history of the recognition, or lack of recognition, of national servicemen. I also wish to speak about their memorial, which is to come into reality here in the national capital. It has exciting prospects, and I know that they are very excited about it. First and foremost, it is informative to understand that the National Servicemen’s Association of Australia was auspiced by the late Barry Vicary, in Toowoomba, Queensland, on 28 November 1987 to seek a better deal for Vietnam era national servicemen and a medal recognising national service. When Barry learnt of the earlier and much larger national service scheme, he immediately widened the organisation to include them. The association now has branches Australia-wide and is the second largest ex-service organisation after the RSL. National servicemen added a new word to the Australian language: ‘nashos’. National Service Day, on 14 February, marks the day the last nasho marched out of camp. I am very appreciative to Allen Callaghan, who is the national media officer of the National Servicemen’s Association of Australia, for a lot of this information. I am a patron of the National Servicemen’s Association—and proudly so—of my sub-branches of Mersey and Burnie. As I mentioned earlier, other members in this House are patrons of that mighty association.

I think it is illuminating to look at the story of national service. There were two main periods of national service between 1951 and 1972, and each of these surrounded real and/or perceived threats to our national interest. Between 1951 and 1959, it was in the context of the Cold War, the communist victory in China, the Malay situation of 1948 and the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. It was designed to build up our depleted forces after World War II, to raise a force of partially trained men and—I quote from the time—‘to improve physical fitness and the discipline of young men’. Between 1951 and 1957, about 33,000 young men per annum trained. All but 5,000 of them trained in the Army. In effect, they spent something like three months in training and—people tend to forget this—three years in the Citizens Military Forces. In 1957, the universal obligation was abolished and replaced with a selective training system, which was eventually abolished in 1959. As many in this House will remember, events in South-East Asia in 1965—and of course closer to home, including in New Guinea—saw the reactivation of the previous system, with conscripts being liable for overseas service.

Apart from these strategic considerations, it was a time of full employment, and recruitment figures were allegedly low. Selection for military service was by ballot, variously dubbed ‘Russian roulette’ and ‘the birthday ballot’. I remember being subject to that—and it was a very, very worrisome time. Between 1965 and 1972, over 800,000 registered for national service. Of these, 64,000 were called up; 19,500 served in Vietnam alongside 21,000 regulars; 200 were killed; there were 1,279 non-fatal casualties, alongside 242 regulars killed; and there were 1,500 non-fatal casualties.

National service was abolished on 5 December 1972. Over 287,000 men had their lives interrupted. They spent time and effort to be trained, and were on call to defend their country. Over 200 died in service and over 1,200 were injured. They deserve our thanks. Whatever their views were on national service, I must say that many supported it and enjoyed it, and still speak very fondly of those days. Indeed, I think they would have it that all people should have a stint in national service.

They were conscripted for training in peacetime. Let us not forget that their lives were in the hands of others. They had no choice. They did their job and many found fellowship in each other’s company, especially with the formation of the National Servicemen’s Association, as I just mentioned, in 1987 and, in my home state of Tassie, in 1995. But their compulsory service was not formally recognised by this nation until late 2001, at the onset of—you guessed it—a federal election. In 1998 the Minster for Veterans’ Affairs said, and it was reiterated right up until 2001:

National Service was no more demanding that normal peacetime service and does not, in its own right, warrant the award of a medal

But normal peacetime service is voluntary. National service was compulsory. National servicemen had no choice but serve—and serve they did at the behest of their government and their nation.

I remember on 12 May 1999 rising in this House to try and argue for recognition of national servicemen—particularly recognition more formally through a medal. I remember it received a very short hearing and certainly was not greatly supported by many others. As I said, it took until 2001 and the onset of a federal election to finally have their service recognised. I would just like to comment on that before I go on to speak about their national service memorial.

In 2001 the Australian government recognised the contribution of national servicemen to Australia’s defence preparedness with the award of the Anniversary of National Service 1951 to 1972 Medal. The bronze medal—it is a beautiful-looking medal—is of a double-sided design with the recipient’s service number and name engraved on the rim. The front depicts the triservice badge surmounted by the Federation Star and the words ‘Anniversary of National Service 1951 to 1972’. On the other side is the Southern Cross on a field of radiating lines inside a cogwheel, representing the integral role of the armed services in our community. Both sides are surmounted by the crown. The ribbon uses the colours of the three services during the national service era: Navy white, Army jungle green and RAAF light blue, and Australia’s then national colours of blue and gold. The ochre strip represents our land. In 2006 national servicemen, along with all other servicemen and servicewomen, were awarded the Australian Defence Medal.

If I may, I would like now to share with you the ideas of the National Servicemen’s Association of Australia and their dream—which, hopefully, soon will be a reality—of a memorial. They have been invited by the Australian War Memorial to have a memorial nearby the Australian War Memorial. It is great to know that the memorial plans have been approved by all state branches and all the members. The memorial has a target date for completion and dedication of 2009 or early 2010. We all know how long these things take, but like all good nashos they want this thing to be done properly; it is very important to them. The national service memorial—as you probably know, Mr Deputy Speaker Schultz, because you are very well informed—is based around a fountain, but I am told the fountain can stand alone as a monument anyway. They are looking to use the water from the Australian War Memorial for the fountain. But if there is no water because of drought then, with the good nasho common sense, the bowl can stand as it is. It will have a plinth of Wondabyne sandstone from Gosford, on the New South Wales Central Coast, matching that of the Australian War Memorial itself. So here we have, symbolically, this relationship between the War Memorial and the new national service memorial. I think that is lovely. The stone will also be used to pave the surrounds and for the seating.

The highly polished black slab is expected to be of South Australian granite with hollowed-out shapes, and the bowl will be of solid cast bronze, so it will be quite beautiful. Indeed, the granite part reminds me a little bit of our black granite fountain here in Parliament House. The Anniversary of National Service 1951-1972 Medal, which I have just been speaking about, will be reproduced on the corner nearest the Australian War Memorial and the Navy, Army and Air Force badges will be on the other three sides. The memorial will bear the simple inscription:

Dedicated to those who served and in memory of all who died.

A total of 212 national servicemen, as I mentioned earlier, died on active service in Borneo and Vietnam. I have just received a copy of the National Service Honour Roll and it really is poignant and quite moving when you see all these names listed. They served our country through national service and lost their lives. I would like to recognise publicly the seven Tasmanians who lost their lives: David Banfield, Kevin Brewer, Geoffrey Coombs, Guy Godden, Francis Hyland, Albert McCormack and Peter Penneyston.

Two plaques adjoining the seats will name the memorial for visitors and give a brief outline of national service—and I have just given the text, if I can offer my services; although I think Allen Callaghan can do a better job in that regard. The full history will be told inside the Australian War Memorial in the post-1945 gallery. The sandstone plinth represents the Army; the sky reflected in the polished black granite slab represents the Air Force; and the bronze bowl, hopefully with water in it, represents the Navy. The memorial is intended to be non-triumphal and to invite reflection. The intended site for this memorial is beautiful. The view from the seating around the fountain is down Anzac Avenue over the old and new parliament houses to the Brindabella ranges in the distance.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you might be interested to know that the funds include a donation of $150,000 from the federal government, and I acknowledge that and thank the former government; $150,000 from businessman Kerry Stokes; donations from state governments and local authorities around Australia; and contributions from national service and RSL sub-branches and individuals. The estimated cost, including the paved surrounds, seating and box hedges is up to half a million dollars.

The National Servicemen’s Association of Australia undertook the memorial on behalf of all Australian national servicemen. All nashos will be invited to the dedication parade and service and the dinner to follow that night. The memorial’s architect is Mr Richard Johnson, one of our nation’s leading architects, of Johnson Pilton Walker.

I would like to conclude by paying tribute to the National Servicemen’s Association and to all nashos who served this country. Though many of them may not have served overseas, they did indeed prepare to serve this country, and psychologically they were prepared to do so. It took us far too long to recognise that. The story of the Vietnam nashos did us no credit for a long time. Many people’s views—I was one of them—of the war were unfortunately mixed with our attitudes towards those who served us. Since then, I have been very proud of how our nation, particularly in relation to Iraq and other places of conflict, has made it very clear that we respect and honour the service of those who are ordered into these areas of combat to serve this nation. We should have been very proud of them in the past, and now we are. I personally want to put on record that I mixed my politics with a dose of humanity and the politics came out but not the humanity, and I certainly have reflected on that for many years afterwards.

I would particularly like to thank my local branches. They were one of the first groups that schooled me in politics. I am not a political person by nature and I do not have a background in it. They schooled me in politics and certainly reminded me that they wanted some recognition for their service. I want to thank my late friend, Frankie Watts, whom I miss, for all the support he gave me when I first came into parliament. I certainly thank him for the great work he did in getting recognition for the nashos and bringing them together. They are a fine group of people and I know that many members in this House have a lot to do with them. I am really glad we have recognised them and I am looking forward to their memorial being opened. I know they will be inviting all of us to the memorial and that they will be very proud to see it. I certainly commend the bill to the House. I thank the government for honouring their commitment to the ex-POWs from Ballarat, whom I thank very much for their service. I wish to recognise their families, particularly the families of those who lost loved ones in the service of this country.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr AJ Schultz)—Before I call the member for Mitchell, I would like to inform the House that the interruption caused by the exhaust system in the parliament had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the member for Braddon commenced his contribution, and the ceasing of the noise created by that glitch had nothing to do with the fact that the member for Braddon finished his contribution!