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Thursday, 19 June 2008
Page: 5417

Ms HALL (11:47 PM) —I found the contribution of the member for Cowan quite interesting. He argued against the Military Memorials of National Significance Bill 2008 but then he very quickly put up his hand for three more memorials to be made memorials of national significance—two in his electorate and one in the electorate of Curtin. His contribution demonstrates to me the differences between a national memorial such as the one in Ballarat and the two local memorials within his electorate. These memorials have a lot of community support and they sound like fantastic memorials, but they are local memorials, as opposed to the national memorial that will be established at Ballarat under this legislation.

This bill gives effect to a commitment given by the Rudd Labor government prior to the 2007 election to recognise the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial in Ballarat in Victoria—and I emphasise ‘Australian’—as a memorial of national significance. In the future, this bill will also enable other significant memorials that meet specific criteria to be recognised as military memorials of national significance. I say to the member for Cowan that these memorials must be of national significance. A little later in my speech to the House, I will be putting up for consideration a memorial that I think is of national significance. I congratulate the member for Ballarat, Catherine King, who has worked tirelessly to see this legislation brought to the parliament. In her contribution to the parliament before she went on maternity leave, she pointed out that this memorial should be recognised as a national memorial, not because of the people in her electorate, not because of the enormous community support, but because it pays tribute to Australian ex-prisoners of war. It is not just for Australian ex-prisoners of war from her community but for all Australian ex-prisoners of war. Their names are recorded on this memorial, and that makes it very special.

I am disappointed that the previous government did not take the steps that the Rudd Labor government have taken today in introducing this or similar legislation. They had the opportunity, but not the will, to do so. I find that disappointing. Australian ex-prisoners of war made an enormous contribution to Australia’s war efforts. Once they returned to Australia, many of them were never the same again. The contributions that I have heard in this House today reinforce that point. This bill has very narrow criteria under which memorials can be recognised. I suggest once again that the member for Cowan have a look at those criteria, because he would then understand that a memorial of national significance really must have a national focus. Once again, I congratulate the member for Ballarat. She knows how important this is to Australian veterans, to our veteran community, to our community and for our recorded history.

The Military Memorials of National Significance Bill 2008 will provide a mechanism to honour our election commitment. It will provide a head of power to enable existing memorials to be granted the status of military memorials of national significance. The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs may, subject to the agreement of the Prime Minister, declare a memorial to be a military memorial of national significance by publishing a notice in the gazette.

Memorials must meet a number of very strict criteria, and I suggest that the member for Cowan have a look at those. The memorial must be of an appropriate scale, design and standard in keeping with its nationally significant status. The memorial must be appropriately dignified and symbolic in keeping with its purpose and standing as a war memorial. I know that members of this House have a number of war memorials within their electorates. At this point I would like to pay tribute to all the RSLs and all those people in my community who have worked hard to have their memorials built and upgraded. I know the dedication that they have to preserving those memorials and keeping them in outstanding condition.

Further criteria include that the memorial’s sole purpose must be the commemoration of Australia’s military involvement in significant aspects of Australia’s wartime history. The memorial must have a major role in community commemoration. The memorial must observe Commonwealth flag protocols. The memorial must be owned or managed by a state or Northern Territory authority. That state or Northern Territory authority must be responsible, including financially—and this goes to the point raised by the member for Cowan—for the ongoing maintenance of the memorial and its refurbishments. The memorial must comply with all applicable planning, construction and related requirements. The memorial must be located on public land within a state or territory. The memorial must be publicly accessible and entry must be free. The memorial must be a complete and functioning memorial. The memorial must not be linked to a commercial function that conflicts with the commemorative purpose and spirit of the memorial. The Ballarat memorial meets all those criteria, and I would like to put to the House another memorial that I think would meet those criteria.

Quite often we tend to forget the contribution that merchant mariners made to Australia’s war effort. Under the Hawke government recognition was given to merchant mariners and the contribution they made. The House may not be aware that many ships were sunk off the coast of Australia and that many merchant mariners lost their lives during the Second World War in particular. Australia is now learning about the vital role performed by merchant mariners.

The sinking of the MV Nimbin eight miles off Norah Head on 5 December 1940 was the first sinking of a ship off the coast of Australia. It was not the first Australian ship to sink; I will tell the House a bit about that later. The Nimbin and the Iron Chieftain were two of the 54 merchant ships attacked in Australian waters during World War II, of which 38 were sunk. I think some 26 ships were sunk off the eastern coast of New South Wales. About 14,000 Australian merchant mariners served during the Second World War. Every year on the first Saturday in December at Norah Head there is a memorial service at a memorial on the cliffs overlooking the ocean where those merchant mariners who lost their lives are remembered.

The Nimbin was attacked by the German raider the Pinguin. Seven mariners, including the master, William Bysantson, loss their lives and 13 other crewmen were dragged from the sea. The Nimbin became the first Australian ship to be sunk by German action off the east coast. That is a significant part of our military history and it is something of national significance, recognising the contribution that merchant mariners made to our war effort.

Almost 18 months later, some 35 miles south-east of Norah Head, at about 9 pm on 3 June, the Japanese submarine I-24 opened fire on Howard Smith’s steamer the Age. The Age escaped to the safety of the port of Newcastle. Ninety minutes later the I-24 torpedoed BHP’s Iron Chieftain. Thirteen mariners, including the master, Captain L Haddelsey, went down with the ship. Twelve survivors in two rafts were rescued and the remaining 25 survivors came ashore in a lifeboat.

This is very significant to our Australian military history and fits within the guidelines, and it does not require enormous contributions from government to recognise this as a national memorial. Just as the Ballarat memorial—which has been recognised in this legislation today due to the fine work of the member for Ballarat, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and the Prime Minister—has now been given the national status it deserves because of our ability to realise that you can have national memorials that are not situated within Canberra, just as that has been facilitated by this legislation, I would put to the House that the Merchant Mariners Memorial at Norah Head is a memorial that should be considered in the future. I have great pleasure in supporting this legislation, as I know do all members on this side of the House.