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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4220

Mr BEVIS (7:16 PM) —I join with the other speakers in support of the service men and women of Australia. There would be few things that I think all members of this parliament would agree with in such a committed way other than the proposition that we should be providing as much support to our defence men and women as our nation can muster. We tend to focus on the men and women of our defence forces when they are on active deployment in high-profile activities. Unfortunately, we do not provide the same focus to those people engaged in less high profile activities, nor—dare I say—do we provide the same degree of concern for them years later, when we should. There are many examples that go back quite some years that bring none of us great glory.

I think of the situation of the Long Tan soldiers who waited many years to gain a proper recognition for their quite remarkable and heroic efforts on that day in August 1966. There were ongoing issues associated with the British Commonwealth occupation forces—those Australians who participated in the early days after the cessation of hostilities in Japan and who occupied territory in Japan in quite difficult circumstances. There is the Australian Women’s Land Army—I have to say that I did not know a great deal about them until 1995, when we had the Australia Remembers program. That was an absolutely wonderful program which my old mate Con Sciacca deserved great credit for. I vividly remember going to a number of functions with these ladies, who were then in their late 60s and early 70s. They were very sprightly ladies in their 70s. Think of them 50 years earlier: they really did the nation proud. They were wonderful people.

We are going back many years in dealing with those issues. With respect to the matter of most concern to the member for Fairfax, those people who were engaged in activities which do not always—for good reason—find their way into the public consciousness, I think it needs to be said that all security forces engage in activities which—for very good reason—are not the sort of things that are publicised or that are heralded in public or even in a semiprivate environment. As the former Minister for Defence has attested to, even within government, few are familiar with some of these things. That is not to say that there is anything untoward or improper in those activities. They are properly conducted, authorised activities.

For the record, I do want to say that the wording of the resolution unfortunately refers to ‘undeclared operations’. That can be a bit evocative. Those who follow Hollywood movies might interpret that in a way which I am sure the member for Fairfax did not intend, but in the reporting of this I think it is important to comprehend that we are not, here, talking about the sorts of things that Hollywood likes to glamorise in some of its movies as ‘undeclared’ military activities.

As I say, these are legitimate, authorised activities which for good reason, as with every other security force in the world, are not publicised. Those engaged in those activities do deserve proper recognition and, along with Long Tan, along with the Women’s Land Army and many of these others, it has been a tortuously slow process. We are talking decades—and inexplicably, I have to say. I was intimately involved in the pursuit of recognition medals for the Long Tan soldiers, and it amazed me how difficult it was to get what seemed to me a blatantly just outcome. These are issues that are being properly progressed at the moment. There are within government necessary reviews in process. I would like to think that, as we were recently able to resolve the Long Tan medal issue, we can deal with many of these outstanding matters as well.

Can I also add my words of endorsement for all those who have served in our submarine fleet. Our submarine capability is critically important for an island nation such as Australia. I wholeheartedly endorse the words of the member for Bradfield, the former Minister for Defence, in respect of that. It is an absolutely essential capability, and the men and now women who serve on those submarines are special people—every single one of them—and they all deserve special recognition.