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Thursday, 19 June 2008
Page: 5412

Mr SIMPKINS (11:27 AM) —As a former major in the Australian Regular Army and a member of my local RSL, the Wanneroo-Joondalup RSL, I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Military Memorials of National Significance Bill 2008 and also to make some comments with regard to that very fine Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial in Ballarat. I say at the outset that it has been many years since I have been to Ballarat. Having been involved in the sport of rowing competitively at a reasonably high level, I used to make a few journeys to Ballarat and compete on Lake Wendouree. I am not sure whether that is still possible with the amount of water in the lake, but there are some other highlights within that town. It has a rich history, and probably no greater history than this magnificent memorial to the ex-POWs. I have seen pictures of the memorial in the Ballarat Botanical Gardens, and I hope to visit it one day. It is a magnificent structure and, as others have said, a memorial which provides ex-prisoners of war, their descendants, visitors and future generations with a place where they can pay their respects to those who endured so much as prisoners of war.

But there can be no denying that this memorial has a political history. Funds had been granted by the previous government—half a million dollars of the $1.9 million that was put into the memorial from all sources. It is not my intention to go back over which side of politics helped the local community to construct the memorial. But I will take my comments back to mid-2007 to put this matter in its true context. I understand that it was on 27 June last year that the then Leader of the Opposition visited Ballarat and promised that he would:

… move anything necessary to ensure that this is properly recognised as a national war memorial.

What does the talk of recognition and a national war memorial actually mean? Definitions are very important because under the National Memorials Ordinance 1928 the central issue is that recognition of a national memorial, or to call something a national memorial, can only occur for a memorial located in the ACT. Of course, that does not mean that there are not a great many very important memorials around the rest of the country. They are very important to people in the little towns and suburbs of this great country. We have to remember that, with regard to this specific memorial, the former government said that it could not be recognised as a national war memorial because the law required all national monuments to be located in the ACT. With $500,000 granted over a couple of periods by the former government, there was no doubt that there was a huge commitment by the former government. But, I repeat again, a national memorial had to be in the ACT. A national memorial would also attract maintenance funding, and I will come to that very soon. The previous government said it was clear that it could not be done. The ordinance was clear on the point that a national memorial had to be in the ACT, and if it was not, no maintenance funding could be allocated.

The Labor MP for Ballarat apparently got legal advice last year. She said that national monuments could be located outside Canberra, and no doubt a lot of people were very pleased with that information. The member for Ballarat had legal advice and the leader of the then opposition said he would move anything necessary to ensure that this was properly recognised as a national war memorial. So two significant people had promised the people of Ballarat, the veterans and the former POWs that their memorial would be recognised as a national war memorial, which, according to the 1928 ordinance, attracts funding for maintenance. That was in June 2007. So, game over, all done, vote for Labor and it would be so. Not quite, it would seem.

Earlier this year the new Minister for Veterans’ Affairs was in Ballarat where he announced that the federal government would introduce legislation allowing memorials outside Canberra to get national recognition. He also announced a $160,000 funding package over four years to help with the memorial’s upkeep. The reality therefore is that the former government was right—it could not be done—and the legal advice of the member for Ballarat was wrong. Fortunately, plenty of money was put up to get her and the new PM out of the mess. There was, of course, plenty of money due to the previous government’s sound economic management, which saw $96 billion of debt from the last government paid off. So Labor did not actually need that 1928 ordinance any more; they did not need that law because that law could not be applied. All they needed was a new law and a grant of $160,000. You basically ticked all the boxes for what the ordinance did in any case. So they created this bill and put up $160,000. And what did the minister say? He said, ‘It was part of our stated policy.’ So now we have history being rewritten—a new law is created, money is put up and it is all done and dusted again.

Fortunately, though, this memorial is a great memorial, as I said before, which the City of Ballarat and the local people are justifiably proud of. Even though this is not a national memorial, it will be recognised by this bill and it has been given a higher profile as a result. Maybe it has even encouraged more people to visit the memorial, and I think that is a great thing. I understand that over 1,000 people a week visit the memorial already. Ballarat is a very pretty city, there is a lot to see there, and this is another great addition to that great city. I do not know the specific words used in Ballarat by the Prime Minister when he was there last year. I do know that the Age newspaper reported that he promised that the memorial would be recognised as a national memorial if Labor won government. If those were the specific terms that he used, he was either misinformed or possibly deceived, or he either misinformed or deceived the people of Ballarat and the veterans’ community about the absolute status. Perhaps it is better to not concentrate on the motive or political manoeuvrings by the then opposition, because the people got what they wanted in the end, even if it is not strictly speaking a national memorial.

However, this has created a precedent for other memorials around the country to also achieve recognition of national significance and payments for maintenance. That brings me to the very fine electorate of Cowan over in Western Australia—

Mr Keenan —Hear, hear!

Mr SIMPKINS —Thank you. In my electorate we have two very fine war memorials. Of course, I am speaking about the Ballajura War Memorial and Peace Park and the Wanneroo War Memorial. I would like to spend a few minutes speaking about the Ballajura War Memorial because it was a very special project for the local community. Ballajura itself is arguably the second most popular suburb in Perth. It has four primary schools and a secondary school, which is the Ballajura Community College. On 3 May 2004, a decision was made by local individuals and organisations to undertake the development of the Ballajura War Memorial and Peace Park. The park itself is now located on the grounds of the Ballajura Community College. It was created using grants totalling $155,000 from the former federal government, the Howard government, and a $150,000 grant from the state government, as well as a significant donation by Mr Mark Creasy.

A number of individuals apart from Mr Creasy also need to be acknowledged for their part in the great project. I make mention of my predecessor Graham Edwards; Senator Chris Ellison; John D’Orazio MLA; Mayor Charlie Gregorini; deputy mayor and great local advocate for Ballajura Mr Mel Congerton; Mr Mike Foley, the CEO of the City of Swan; Dr Steffan Silcox, the highly regarded principal of Ballajura Community College; and not least, of course, the representatives of the Ballajura RSL sub-branch—guys like Scotty Alcorn and Roy Daniels—and the WA branch of the RSL. They and their staff worked very hard to see this project through to a great conclusion, with the official dedication of the memorial and park on 3 May 2006, two years after the original concept was created.

1 also mention that $125,000 of the Commonwealth’s contribution was via the Regional Partnerships program. The history of that grant was somewhat rocky, and in my ultimately successful attempt to persuade DOTARS and the Perth ACC that this was a good project I was supported with letters from local principals: Dr Silcox, Rob Stewart of Illawarra Primary School, Peter Smith of South Ballajura Primary School, Josh Jahari of Ballajura PrimarySchool and James Danaher of the Mary McKillop Catholic Community Primary School, along with several religious and other community leaders. They were there when the grant hung precariously in the balance and, together with their letters of support, we got it over the finish line.

The memorial and peace park is a magnificent example of design and decoration, commemorating and serving as a perpetual reminder of the service and sacrifice of Australians who have given their lives in war. Stepped grassed terraces, low limestone walls and rammed earth blocks are all set off by a one-tonne granite sphere turned by a spring of water. This is a magnificent structure, but it is the way the community came together and realised the vision that really underlies the true strength of the memorial, the park and ultimately the Ballajura community. The area has its fair share of problems like most suburbs in Australia but, despite the park not being fenced, it has never been vandalised: there is no graffiti at all. This is in sharp contrast to the remainder of the suburb which, unfortunately, in many ways is pretty typical of suburbs around the country. Given the way the park was created and built and the way it is held in the highest regard and with great respect by all members of the community, this is a very special place. I therefore feel that this is a memorial that could be considered of great significance.

I also speak of the Wanneroo War Memorial, just off Civic Drive in the town centre. Each year on Anzac Day the service draws more than 2,000 local people. The memorial is significant for local people not only on Anzac Day but also as a place for reflection throughout the year. I have previously made mention of the good work undertaken by the custodian of the memorial, Mr Doug Valerian. He raises the flags each day and ensures that the memorial is maintained.

Finally, I mention the Republic of Vietnam-Australia War Memorial in Kings Park in Perth. I recently attended the commemorative service for the anniversary of the fall of Saigon. It was clear to me that that memorial is of great significance to Australians of Vietnamese origin. These are the people that still feel the effects of the fall of Saigon and the demise of the Republic of Vietnam, also known as South Vietnam. With the fall of Saigon, the hopes of these residents of South Vietnam for a positive and democratic future were dashed and their hopes for political and religious freedoms were undone. The memorial therefore represents a focal point for a significant, long-term and persistent feeling for the loss of a democratic dream. The Vietnamese community in Western Australia has added great value to our state following the migrations of the 1970s and 1980s, and I thank the president of the community, Mr Nam Nguyen, for the work that Vietnamese Australians have done and will do in the future for our state. I have now mentioned two war memorials in Cowan and one in the Curtin electorate. It is my view that these memorials in Cowan and Curtin represent important and meaningful commemorative focal points for the community.

Having spoken on the important memorials to the people and communities of Cowan, I close by returning to the bill and the legislation before this House. On 19 March this year, the federal Minister for Veterans’ Affairs made an announcement regarding the matter. The media release said:

The Australian Government will soon be able to deliver on its election commitment to recognise the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial in Ballarat as a memorial of national significance

…            …            …

Legislation was today introduced into the House of Representatives to enable the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, with the written approval of the Prime Minister, to declare military memorials of national significance outside of the Australian Capital Territory.

When referring to the efforts of the local people in building the memorial, and failing to mention the significant grants provided by the previous government, the minister makes this astounding comment:

… the previous government refused to recognise the Ballarat memorial as a national memorial. We have … done this.

This is not true. This is in fact a charade consistent with the usual smoke and mirrors job that defines this government. The term ‘national memorial’ has a meaning within the 1928 ordinance: it means a memorial in the Australian Capital Territory. I know that it is convenient to attempt to pass this deception off in amongst many other paragraphs of this media release, but it is just not true. Further down the media release he gets back to the real term that this bill provides for the memorial in Ballarat, but even here there is another rewriting of history. He says:

I acknowledge the tireless efforts of Catherine King, the Member for Ballarat, to have the memorial recognised nationally as a memorial of significance.

I say that is wrong again. The Age article of 28 June 2007 states that Kevin Rudd promised to recognise the Ballarat prisoner-of-war memorial as a national memorial. I say again that the member for Ballarat was reported as saying that she had legal advice saying that a national memorial could be located outside Canberra. The key words are ‘national memorial’, which has a different meaning altogether than a ‘military memorial of national significance’. So this bill does not do as the minister says it will. Luckily, he rewrites history again by saying that the member for Ballarat called for the memorial to be a ‘military memorial of national significance’. This is not a matter of semantics; this is a salient and crucial issue regarding the facts. I say again that I have no problem with the magnificent and important memorial in Ballarat, but the government should just say that they were wrong about it being a national memorial. They should say that the previous government was right on this matter and apologise for being so misleading about the issue. The minister should come into the House and be accurate. He should say that they were wrong. He should say that the now Prime Minister was wrong when he said he would:

… move anything … to ensure that this is properly recognised as a national war memorial.

The minister should come in here and say that the member for Ballarat and her legal advisers were wrong. Perhaps they should all come in here and apologise to the member for Dunkley for saying that he was wrong last year. Alternatively, they can just rewrite history, try to play games with words and muddy the waters with legislative terms just to allow the Prime Minister and the member for Ballarat to save face. That is in fact what has taken place.

However, there is just one problem that this bill does not cover, and that is the maintenance issue. The problem is that national memorials, as defined under the National Memorials Ordinance 1928, are maintained by the Commonwealth. To cover that little gap in the whole cover-up job, what did the government do? It allocated $160,000 for maintenance—and thus, to them, the job was complete. What is this all about? Is this bill about looking after an important memorial, which the Ballarat war memorial certainly is? It is a national memorial of significance and it is very important to a lot of people in this country. There is no doubt about that. This bill is about covering up the reckless and uneducated talk by the now Prime Minister and the member for Ballarat. Instead of saying that it was not possible to make the memorial a national memorial, they just took the political advantage and said yes to that. Some may say that the then Leader of the Opposition did not know that national memorial can only be located in the ACT. But I do not think that is right because it is my understanding that the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives is in fact a member of the Canberra National Memorials Committee.

This is really all about a government that will create new laws and allocate funding every time they cannot make their political plans fit within the existing laws. The next big examples of this sort of practice are probably the super slush funds and the 50 per cent increase in the issue of government bonds, which will generate another $25 billion. These are more funds that can be allocated by the committee set up by this government—and maybe they will not even create a new law next time. I finish on this note: the memorial in Ballarat is very important. It is impressive and no-one will speak against it. But the points I have made today are about the lengths to which this government will go to cover up their mistakes. With the precedent of these sorts of laws, our country has a scary future.