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Thursday, 19 June 2008
Page: 5407

Mr SLIPPER (11:04 AM) —At the outset I indicate my support for the Military Memorials of National Significance Bill 2008 and for the motion moved by my colleague the honourable member for Mackellar. It is important that a grateful nation thanks veterans who risked everything to ensure that, as Australians, we enjoy the freedom, the stability and the way of life that we have as a nation and which has made us the envy of people around the world. As the previous speaker indicated, it is certainly healthy that on both sides of the parliament—and indeed right throughout the nation—there is a sense of collective gratitude to those people who helped to make sure that Australians today have the sort of society that we do. It is also important that, regardless of whether individuals support a sphere of conflict in which Australian service men and women have participated or not, the service given by those service men and women to the nation be respected and honoured. That also is something which is now, I think, guaranteed for the future. I trust that we will never see again the shameful treatment that Vietnam veterans received from some sections of the Australian community when they returned from service abroad. It took far too long for these Australians to be properly recognised. As a nation we have moved on, and as a nation we now recognise the service of those people who risked everything so that Australians can be part of the most wonderful nation in the world.

I support the principles contained in this bill. I do note the provisions of the amendment to the motion and that, prior to the election, the Prime Minister, when Leader of the Opposition, promised to declare the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial in Ballarat a national memorial. Technically that election promise is being breached because, as the then government said, it is only possible to have national memorials in the Australian Capital Territory. The government has sought to give what it deems to be an appropriate level of recognition to the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial in Ballarat by creating a new category of military memorial, namely the military memorials of national significance.

While this bill will allow the Ballarat memorial to be recognised or for its recognition to be elevated, it is also possible for other memorials around the country to be similarly recognised as military memorials of national significance. There will be guidelines and it is very important that we do not water down the significance of military memorials of national significance.

It is widely recognised that the Ballarat memorial has enjoyed the support of both sides of politics. In fact, the former Howard government provided a grant of half a million dollars towards the memorial, which is the largest federal government grant allocated to a memorial outside of Canberra. The honourable member for Corio in his contribution appropriately recognised the role carried out by the former member for Ballarat, the Hon. Michael Ronaldson, who is now a senator, in relation to supporting the memorial and also he mentioned the work done by the current honourable member for Ballarat.

It is important that, as a nation, we always thank those people who have been responsible for ensuring that we are protected. I want to say that the veterans in our community are role models for all of us; we should put them on a pedestal. Veterans, in particular ex-prisoners of war, have continued to serve their communities many years after their war service or their overseas service has finished. My great uncle was a prisoner of the Japanese in Changi. My grandfather’s brother, John Slipper, was a prisoner of Changi for a considerable period and when liberated weighed only four stone. He went on to live a fulfilling life, but his health was never the same and I suspect that members around the chamber would be able to relate similar situations where family members or friends also suffered as prisoners of war.

The fact that the memorial at Ballarat highlights the role carried out by ex-prisoners of war is important. I want to see more memorials in regional areas right around the country. I must say that over the years I have been privileged to visit numbers of war cemeteries. At my own expense, as a young person backpacking around, I went to Lone Pine at Gallipoli and I was shocked by how young many of those were who fell in the service of their nation. I also went to Kranji in Singapore and to El Alamein and I have to say again that those people who lost their lives to make sure that as Australians we live in a safe country ought to be lauded and respected. Our memory of them must be upheld. That is why the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial in Ballarat is really important.

Right around our country on Anzac Day and on other days of commemoration of military matters we seem to have an increasing level of support from all sections of the community, particularly young Australians. Like other honourable members I go to large numbers of Anzac Day services, in particular dawn services. I am actually able to get to two or three dawn services held at different times—for instance at 4.28, 5.28 and 6.28. I suppose it is a minor climatic miracle that dawn seems to break a whole hour or two hours later over the space of 20 or 30 kilometres. But, whenever I go, I am heartened by the fact that so many young people, even babes in arms, come along with their families to help remember those people who risked everything and in some cases lost all to ensure that Australians can enjoy the freedom that we do. Many of our schools increasingly and quite appropriately are having Anzac Day celebrations. I have been to large numbers of Anzac Day celebrations at schools in the electorate of Fisher where those schools actually recognise the service given to this nation by family members of the children at the school.

I applaud the fact that the government has introduced this bill. I suppose this bill is a recognition of what the former government said prior to the election—namely, that national memorials could only be located in Canberra. But the fact that we have this new category of military memorials of national significance does not, in my view, reduce the significance of the other memorials of national significance. It is not really important what we call them; what is important is how we regard them. What is important is that, as Australians in 2008, we give thanks to those people who have served their country—those people who lost their lives, were prisoners of war or were prepared to lose everything so that we might thrive and survive as one of the most prosperous nations in the world today. So I do applaud the government for, I suppose, partially meeting its election promise. The government said that the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial in Ballarat would be a national memorial. The government is not delivering on that promise but instead is creating a new form of memorial—namely, the military memorial of national significance.

Whatever you call it, it means that this government, like its predecessor, is highlighting the importance of the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial in Ballarat. The former government helped to fund it, and this government is indeed recognising it as a military memorial of national significance, even if the introduction of this bill is necessary for that to occur. I support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Mackellar and I hope that the government will accept that amendment; but even if the government does not accept that amendment, I support the bill and laud the sentiments behind it.