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Thursday, 19 June 2008
Page: 5429

Mr BIDGOOD (12:50 PM) —I stand in support of the Military Memorials of National Significance Bill 2008. I note that it provides a stable, consistent and transparent vehicle for the future declaration of other deserving memorials, as well as the memorial in Ballarat in Victoria. As a reminder of what is important about a memorial, the following criteria are required for it to be declared a military memorial of national significance. Firstly, the memorial must be of an appropriate scale, design and standard, in keeping with the nationally significant status. The memorial must be appropriately dignified and symbolic, in keeping with its purposes and standing as a memorial. The memorial’s sole purpose must be the commemoration of Australia’s military involvement in a significant aspect of Australia’s wartime history. The memorial must have a major role in community commemorations. The memorial must observe Commonwealth flag protocols. The memorial must be owned or managed by a state or Northern Territory authority. The state or Northern Territory authority must be responsible, including financially, for the ongoing maintenance of the memorial and for any 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 the Northern Territory. The memorial must be publicly accessible and entry must be free. The memorial must be a completed and functioning memorial. And the memorial must not be linked to a commercial function that conflicts with the commemorative purpose and spirit of the memorial.

It has been a wonderful experience being the federal member of parliament for Dawson. When I was going around the electorate on Anzac Day it was good to see children remembering the history of the nation and the sacrifice of lives in standing up for what this nation believes in—its freedoms, rights and liberties, which have often been fought for overseas. It is good for our children to remember that history and that they seek to learn from past experiences so that we progress and, hopefully, do things better in the future.

I bring to the attention of the House something that is happening in my electorate of Dawson. Mackay North State High School is having a 2008 Anzac Gallipoli tour. I went to the opening of a memorial, along with the Mackay regional mayor, Mr Col Meng, and the state member for Mackay, Mr Tim Mulherin. It is wonderful to see schoolchildren actively engage in creating and constructing memorials where they can remember our military history. I give credit to the teachers who helped to organise this—Mr Mike Goodwin, Bob Shaw, Principal Linda Boyle, Cheryl Johns, Tracey Cameron and Sherry Savage—and the 30 students making the tour to visit Australian military memorials at Gallipoli, the Western Front, Thailand and Singapore this year. They will also be visiting parliament in a couple of weeks time, and I look forward to receiving them and showing them around this place. At this wonderful memorial that has been built they have created a special eating area where the children and the students can go and eat their lunch or have a smoko. Some railway track has been built to remember the Thai railway and there is also some bamboo. Some artefacts have also been put there. At the very moving opening ceremony, a descendant was introduced to us—he was one of the prisoners of war—and we were able to say, ‘We remember and we won’t forget.’ That was very important. Mackay North State High School has done a great thing. The teachers and the principal there deserve recognition and credit for their initiative. I am pleased to say that on Sunday, 29 June the Prime Minister and the federal cabinet will be at that school. It will give me great pleasure to show them this place where the students remember Australian military history and the sacrifices that were made in defending our beliefs, rights and freedoms and the causes that have been fought for by Australians.

I also bring attention to other war memorials in the seat of Dawson. One that is of particular interest and perhaps slightly unique is the Mackay City Council Memorial Swimming Pool in the heart of Mackay. It was built after the Second World War and there is a beautiful mosaic of all the servicepeople returning from the Second World War. The citizens of Mackay rallied around with passion and feeling and raised the money to build this memorial. It stands there today and it truly is a war memorial. Every time someone goes in for a swim you have to pass this mosaic that is most beautiful.

Another memorial we have in Mackay is in Queens Park. It is a more recent memorial and it is dedicated to the Rats of Tobruk. Again, ceremonies take place there when we remember the sacrifices that were made. Another more recently constructed war memorial is one dedicated to the Vietnam veterans, which is in the Mackay City Council precinct known as Jubilee Park. That is where we meet on Anzac Day at 5 am. That is where we remember those who have fallen in defence of the beliefs of this country. It was an honour to be at that 5 am service and to be there with the old diggers and, obviously, to go to the local RSL afterwards and have a bit of brekkie and to mix with people there and to ask them how they got their medals and to hear some of their stories and to hear about the comradeship. We as members of parliament should never, ever underestimate how much the old diggers appreciate our showing recognition of and appreciation for what they have done for this country. We should never forget that. That morning I went from Mackay up to the Whitsundays. Over 500 people gathered on beautiful Airlie Beach and we remembered those who had fallen. After speaking there, some Vietnam veterans came up to me and said, ‘Thank you for coming, thank you for taking the time, thank you for remembering us but, most of all, thank you for being proud of what we did for this country.’ It is important that we show recognition and appreciation.

I went from Proserpine up to Bowen in the afternoon and I spoke at the RSL dinner. There were over 100 people there. I said very clearly to everyone gathered—and I feel very strongly about this—that we must remember the fallen and we must look after those who remain but, most of all, we should pray for all those in active service now. Whether they be in a conflict zone, in support roles or on peacekeeping missions, they are serving this country. We are proud of our men and women in uniform, whatever their role. They are serving this nation and there is no greater honour than to serve this nation.

It has also been a great honour to represent the people of Dawson and those in uniform who come from the electorate of Dawson. Recently I was given the honour on Anzac Sunday of representing the Minister for Defence, Joel Fitzgibbon, in Townsville to receive home troops from East Timor. It was the first time I had done something like that. Brigadier John Caligari gave me a word of advice. He said: ‘You’ve not done this before. These troops that are coming back had only been out of training for six months when they went overseas and performed with absolute excellence. The average age of these troops is around 19, so you might be a little bit surprised by their youthfulness.’ He may have said that because he was looking at me! I shook hands with every single one who came through. I looked into their eyes and said: ‘Welcome home. We are proud of you.’ I said that to over 100 troops. It was a pleasure and an honour to say on behalf of this government and this nation, for all people: ‘Welcome home. We are proud of you.’ We must never again have a welcome home like that which befell those who came back from Vietnam. Never again must that happen. Whatever the reasons for people going into a conflict situation, we must show recognition and appreciation that these men and women in uniform serve our country. They do so in the most professional manner and with integrity. We should always give them the honour and respect that they deserve. More recently, I received troops home on Monday. The Army Aviation Corps came back and, again, it was an honour and pleasure to shake every single hand and say on behalf of the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence: ‘We are proud of you. Welcome home. You have served your country well.’

With those thoughts in mind, the role of memorials in remembering the past is very important. They are important for teaching future generations of our children that we must learn lessons from the past if we are to progress as a society and the way that we do business overseas in defence of the principles, beliefs and territories of this nation. We should also take on board that memorials are not just for those who have fallen. There are people left standing, and some who cannot stand, and we must look after those who remain. We must show them dignity for their sacrifice. Some of them are suffering appalling injuries. We must look after them. They must not live in poverty. They must not suffer due to lack of health care. We owe these men and women in uniform every respect in the provision of their needs, whatever the political colour of the government may be. We must never forget to pray for the protection of those in active service now. With those thoughts, I conclude, and I commend this bill to the House.